Disappointing appeal verdict in the Chebeya case

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)Human rights defendersNews

Kinshasa, 18 September 2015 – The Military High Court yesterday delivered its final verdict  in the Chebeya case. This appeal verdict acquits four of the five defendants and significantly reduces the jail sentence imposed in the first instance on police chief Mukalay . Avocats Sans Frontières , which is supporting the activist’s brothers and sisters in their civil claims, regrets that the Congolese courts did not take the opportunity offered by this appeal trial to put right failings in previous proceedings. This could have enabled certain abuses observed since this case began in 2010 to be remedied.

Floribert Chebeya, President of Congolese NGO Voice of the Voiceless and an emblematic figure in the defence of human rights in DRC, was discovered dead in his vehicle on 2 June 2010 on the outskirts of Kinshasa. The day before, he had been to the headquarters of the Congolese National Police where he was due to meet General John Numbi, at that time Inspector General. The body of his driver, Fidèle Bazana, has still not been found.

Eight police officers were charged with criminal conspiracy, murder and abduction, illegal possession of weapons of war, desertion and terrorism. The case was heard by the Military Court of Kinshasa-Gombe in the first instance, where five defendants were convicted on 23 June 2011. The most significant of these was police chief Mukalay, who was found to have masterminded the murder.

In the view of the civil parties, this decision was unsatisfactory on several counts. It failed to arrive at a precise determination of the facts and the responsibility of the individual defendants, based on the evidence. More specifically, the decision did not contain any information as to the personal motives of the defendants, their respective roles in the murder, the circumstances of the conspiracy and its preparation, etc. Consequently, the civil parties lodged an appeal with the Military High Court.

On appeal, only five of the eight officers were tried for murder, abduction and illegal possession of weapons. The Military High Court reclassified the abduction of Fidèle Bazana as a murder charge.

The appeal verdict, announced today at the central prison in Kinshasa, was a further blow to the civil parties as Mukalay alone was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment; the four others were acquitted without satisfactory grounds. The investigation for the appeal proceedings was not able to take into account new revelations on the events surrounding the murder and the possible involvement of General Numbi. These revelations were made by ex-Major Paul Mwilambwe (convicted in DR Congo and on the run in Senegal) and Kalala Kalao, police chief Mukalay’s private driver.

“The superficial investigations conducted in the first instance were not taken far enough on appeal and today’s verdict demonstrates the unsatisfactory response of the judicial system to violations suffered by human rights defenders in DR Congo,” comments Josselin Léon, ASF Head of Mission.

Alongside this verdict, the civil parties (Floribert Chebeya’s brothers and sisters), are still awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court of Justice in their action against the Auditor Generalof the Armed Forces in DR Congo. The objective of this petition, filed on 3 April 2015, is to condemn the failings of the investigation into Chebeya’s death and request that the case against General Numbi be pursued.

Pending a response to this petition, ASF’s Head of Mission concludes: “We appeal to the judicial authorities to seize this opportunity to shed some light on this emblematic case, at national level.”

ASF’s ongoing support in this case reflects the organisation’s aim to combat impunity in a way that respects national, regional and international norms. ASF’s involvement is part of its programme of support for human rights defenders in DR Congo.

Coverpicture: Floribert Chebeya’s sister attended the hearing © ASF/J. Degaul

The High Military Court of Kinshasa-Gombe © ASF/J. Degaul
The High Military Court of Kinshasa-Gombe © ASF/J. Degaul