Kinshasa, DR Congo, 8 June 2015 – The NGO Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) welcomes the start of the trial concerning the attack on the village of Yalisika carried out in 2011. However, ASF is concerned that the perpetrators identified during the investigations have not yet been brought to trial, and recalls the importance of establishing the responsibility of all those involved in committing these crimes. This trial also sends out a signal that the human rights of populations must be respected in connection with logging and industrial operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On 2 May 2011, around 60 policemen and military personnel entered the small village of Bosanga, located in Yalisika, in the Equateur province. During this operation, serious human rights violations were committed, including rape, beatings, torture and destruction of property. This operation is said to have been a means of retaliation against villagers who had seized property belonging to the logging company SIFORCO in order to force it to enter into dialogue.
SIFORCO began its operations in the region in 1993, and signed a mission statement together with local chiefs in 2005. Under this agreement, the company had to implement social infrastructure projects for the benefit of villagers in return for being able to perform its logging activities. After SIFORCO failed to honour these commitments, local populations organised an action of protest.
The attack on the village is said to have been sponsored by SIFORCO, which is alleged to have provided logistical support (vehicles, drivers, etc.) to the police and military personnel acting on the orders of Colonel Koyo, Commander of the National Congolese Police in the territory of Bumba at the time. Colonel Koyo and five other policemen and military personnel are now being prosecuted.
In holding this trial, the justice system is sending out a signal to those in positions of power and to companies. “Serious crimes and large-scale human rights abuses are not necessarily always linked to situations of armed conflict. The human rights of populations must be respected in connection with logging and industrial operations”, recalls Josselin Léon, Head of the ASF Mission in DR Congo.
However, some of the other perpetrators and presumed accomplices have not been prosecuted. It is said that these individuals would disrupt the smooth running of the trial and unsettle victims and witnesses. “There have been cases of intimidation, threats and manipulation during the pre-trial phase. The safety and the well-being of the victims as well as others involved must be guaranteed throughout the procedure”, states the Head of Mission.
ASF wants protection measures to be taken in order to encourage victims and witnesses to participate in the procedure and to guarantee their safety after the trial is over.
The NGO is calling upon the Higher Prosecutor and the Military Court for the Equateur province to fully exercise their roles, independently and impartially, and to ensure that the requirements of a fair trial are met in the interest of proper administration of justice.
“We will closely follow the entire trial up until the verdict is issued. Once the culpability of all those involved has been established, we will continue working to ensure that the victims receive compensation”, confirms Josselin Léon.
The trial began last Friday at a mobile court in the region of Mbandaka, and is due to be closed by the end of June.
Since 2012, ASF has been working to collect witness testimonies, identify victims and raise awareness about participating in the procedures. Forty-two victims have been classed as civil parties and have charged the association of lawyers supported by ASF with defending their interests.
Cover picture: Yalisika, 2013 © ASF/ Bahia Zrikem
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