Emergency in DR Congo: protect human rights defenders

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)Human rights defendersNews

Kinshasa, DR Congo, 18 November 2014 – Supported by Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF), the Congolese civil society is reiterating the urgent need to continue efforts, in collaboration with national authorities, to strengthen the legislative frameworks for the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs). Created one year ago, the follow-up Committee of national strategies for the protection of HRDs recently presented its action plan on this issue.

Protecting HRDs in DR Congo remains a challenge. The risks and threats associated with their work remain a daily reality for many of them, including Julien* who leads a local association in North Kivu. “I reported cases of rape and sexual violence committed by an armed group to MONUSCO”, he recounts. “After that I was held prisoner and then released. Finally, threatened with death by the leader of the armed group, I had to flee my village. Meanwhile only my wife is working to feed my family.”

Pending effective responses from the state, members of civil society are committed to contributing to the protection of human rights defenders. A follow-up Committee was established in early 2014 following a conference [1] on national strategies for the protection of HRDs in DR Congo and involving all stakeholders in the sector. This Committee of seven representatives of civil society was then mandated to monitor the priorities and recommendations identified in the framework of the conference.

Since then, ASF and other international partners have been providing technical and financial support to the Committee. Mr Sylvain Lumu Mbaya, Coordinator of the Committee, believes that “Our collaboration with Congolese, regional and international stakeholders – like ASF – is vital for a drastic and lasting reduction of threats against human rights defenders”. “Faced with this challenge, we propose the revision and adoption of legislative measures such as the law on the protection of HRDs. On the other hand, we must put in place effective operational frameworks such as a National Human Rights Commission.”

Given the scale of the task facing the follow-up Committee, it is clear that political, technical and financial support from international partners is critical. Josselin Léon, ASF Head of Mission in Congo, says that “this is the initiative of the entire Congolese civil society and it is important to support the resulting strategy at all levels to enable its optimal and strengthened implementation”.

The ultimate goal is to allow HRDs to continue their work, which is vital for the promotion and protection of human rights, “because we have to maintain hope that things will change”, says Julien*.

ASF has been supporting and protecting lawyers and other human rights defenders in DR Congo as well as in Burundi, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda since 2011. This project is funded by the European Union.

* Name has been changed

[1] National strategies for the protection of human rights defenders in DRC, Kinshasa, 30 October to 1 November 2013, organised by ASF and other partners.