Armed groups threaten human rights defenders

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)Human rights defendersNews

Uvira (East of the Democratic Republic of Congo), 1st of July 2014 – In a region where armed groups continue to commit grave human rights violations, defending human rights of former child soldiers is a high-risk activity. For example, two human rights defenders (HRDs) have been violently attacked by armed men in the office of their NGO. This incident refers to the often precarious working conditions in sensitive areas. In this context, Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) contributes to the set up of support and protection measures for threatened or attacked HRDs.

Alexis (see picture) and David work for AGAPE, a Congolese human rights NGO. The organisation is based in Uvira, a town in the Eastern DRC, located 15 kilometres from the Burundian border. In this region, large numbers of children are forced to join armed groups. This is one of the striking situations, against which AGAPE is battling. The NGO, which has three offices, relies on five employees and fifteen volunteers. Its objective:  denounce the activities of armed groups active in the region, and convince child soldiers to leave them.Alexis_NGANYIRE[1]_webstory

As many NGOs, AGAPE is the target of attacks by these militia. Despite two attacks in 2013, the association has no security system enabling the protection of the sensitive data they collected. Therefore, Alexis and David got into the habit of sleeping in their workplace.

During the night of 9 and 10 March, the two HRDs were sleeping peacefully when six armed men suddenly broke into the office. “They handcuffed our hands and legs and hit us over and over again in the chest” said Alexis. The two defenders have been tortured for several hours.

Suspected of belonging to a militia of the zone, the six men ransacked the office and took with them documents denouncing the exploitation of child soldiers, including by their own militia, and a map of armed groups operating in the area.

As a result of this attack, Alexis and David had to stay several weeks in the hospital. Since then, Alexis returned to his family, while David is still under medical supervision.

ASF covered their health care costs. A legal aid by ASF is being planned, since a complaint will be lodged with the Military Legal Adviser’s Office against the perpetrators; then their case could be monitored by a lawyer within the ASF pool in RD Congo.

For these two activists, the work continues: “Even if it is difficult, we will continue the work carried out by AGAPE. The prime concern is the welfare and future of child soldiers.”

Since 2011, ASF has been supporting and protecting lawyers and other human rights defenders in Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Ouganda and Rwanda. This project is funded by the European Union.

Picture: Alexis suffers from wounds inflicted by armed men © ASF
Cover picture : © Guy Oliver/IRIN