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Democratic Republic of Congo
The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains volatile and human rights defenders remain at grave risk. In the post-conflict transition in the DRC, human rights defenders (HRD) continue to operate at extreme personal risk in an atmosphere of violence, hostility and instability. Absence of the rule of law and a climate of impunity prevail. As a consequence of carrying out activities such as investigating and exposing atrocities, combating sexual violence, advocacy with respect to the elections, and independent journalism, many human rights defenders have been subject to threats and attacks, which have increased since the beginning of 2008.
Congolese human rights defenders are frequent targets of intimidation, judicial proceedings, stigmatisation, death threats, incommunicado detentions, arbitrary arrest, gender based violence, ill treatment in prison including refusal of access to lawyers and medical care, physical assault and in some cases torture or even killing by DRC government agents or armed groups. Many defenders have been forced into hiding or exile as a result of the threats against their security and the safety of their families.
The situation of defenders in Eastern DRC is especially precarious. A number of human rights defenders and journalists have been killed in the last few years. Since July 2005, in Bukavu and Goma only, at least five human rights defenders and journalists were murdered, including Pascal Kabungulu Kibembi, Serge Maheshe, Wabiwa Kabisuba, Patrick Kikuku Wilungula and Didace Namujimbo. The killings and persistent threats have instilled a climate of fear among local defenders, who are made more vulnerable by the ongoing violence, ethnic tensions, and the unstable political and military situation in the region.
Attacks against defenders are political in nature and directly related to their professional human rights activities. However, defenders are also at greater risk of acts of robbery because they are believed to be in contact with the international community and recipients of international financial support, even when this is not the case.
With very few exception, serious investigations of attacks against defenders have not been conducted by the DRC authorities, even in the most serious cases including murders. The government has taken no action to support and promote the work of human rights organisations, or to protect organisations or individual activists from attacks. Human rights defenders are not protected by the national authorities and a national plan for the protection and security of human rights defenders does not exist, particularly in the eastern part of the country.
Human rights defenders are often involuntarily trapped in the political struggle between the government and rebel forces. When they report on violations committed by the regular army (FARDC), they are targeted by elements of the FARDC and depicted as unpatriotic and supporters of the armed groups. When they report on abuses committed by the armed faction groups they are under attack by the same armed groups. One leading activist commented “we are between a hammer and a nail”. Indeed, the government and armed groups regard HRDs with a mixture of deep suspicion and outright hostility. On some occasions the authorities have sought to forment popular anger against human rights NGOs, in apparent retaliation for legitimate NGO denunciations of official abuses.
26 October 2012
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*[http://www.heritiers.org Heritiers de la Justice (DRC)] *[http://www.congonline.com/vsv La Voix des Sans-Voix pour les Droits de l'homme (VSV) (DRC)]