How to protect human rights defenders?

Human rights defendersNews

Brussels, 28 May 2014 – Dominique Kamuandu, the Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) International Justice Programme Coordinator in Congo, recently spoke at a forum devoted to supporting and protecting Human rights defenders (HRD), organised in Brussels by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).

Q: Whether they are lawyers, members of civil society or journalists, why do HRDs need protection?

“Whether in Africa, Latin America or Asia, HRDs are not well thought of as they denounce human rights violations committed by their governments and/or armed groups. They are subject to threats and intimidation that aim to silence them: anonymous phone calls, arrests, kidnapping, harassment and in the worst cases, assassinations.

In the Congo, HRDs work in a particularly uncertain environment. On one hand, democracy and the rule of law have not yet been sufficiently consolidated, because the DRC is coming out of a war. The priorities are peace and security rather than human rights. On the other hand, the executive power officially controls the judiciary, which prevents the latter from acting freely and independently.”

Q: ASF launched a programme to protect HRDs supported by the European Union in 2011. What concrete action is ASF taking?

“There are many HRDs who need support and protection in the Congo, and ASF is not the only organisation providing protection for them. We play a complementary role and work on several levels. First of all, we provide legal protection for HRDs. This allows them to make their voices heard via their lawyers and to fight against impunity for criminals. Furthermore, we are able to ensure physical protection in the event of a real threat. This means making their place of residence or work secure, or relocating them, sometimes with their families. Finally, we coordinate advocacy actions in order to get a law for the defence of human rights adopted.

Our programme not only benefits lawyers, as we also provide help to journalists who need assistance while practising their profession.”

Q: Several organisations are involved in protecting HRDs. What do you consider to be the added value of ASF?

“We have played a decisive role in revising the bill concerning the protection of human rights in the Congo. A bill was passed in 2011 but was later abandoned. Following a consultation on the national strategy for protecting human rights, organised by ASF in November 2013, a follow-up committee dedicated to this bill was created. This committee, made up of institutional players as well as some from civil society, revisited the bill and the new text was endorsed by a deputy last February. It is now the subject of draft legislation before the Parliament and will be put to a vote.

Meanwhile, we continue to work on providing assistance to HRDs, the ordinary people who take extraordinary risks.”

Picture : Dominique Kamuandu at the EIDHR Forum 2014 © ECDEVCO – T. Rogé