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Olivier Ndoole Bahemuke

HRD, Lawyer
Global Citizen Prize

Olivier Ndoole Bahemuke was the recipient of the 2024 Global Citizen Price for Civic Space.

Olivier Ndoole Bahemuke Receives Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk

The annual Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk was established in 2005 to honour the work of HRDs who are courageously making outstanding contributions to the promotion and protection of the human rights of others, often at great personal risk to themselves.

Olivier is a Congolese environmental rights defender and lawyer from North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has dedicated his life’s work to advocating for environmental rights, land rights and land justice; pushing for transparent, accountable, and sustainable governance of land tenure regimes for the country’s lands. In 2008, he co-founded the NGO ‘’Alerte Congolaise pour l’Environnement et les Droits de l’Homme’’ , through which he has actively supported and represented local communities, groups and individuals working on the environment for over 15 years.

As the second-largest tropical forest in the world, the DRC has exceptional natural resources. The country has faced a complex humanitarian crisis since 1994; plagued by war and violence in the Eastern regions which has led to conflict, poverty, malnutrition and recurring epidemics. Correspondingly, human rights defenders (HRDs) in DRC work in an extremely hostile and insecure context; vulnerable to attacks, intimidation, killings, threats, judicial harassment and physical assault, worsened in areas where there is ongoing conflict. More so, those working on land and environmental rights are seen as threats to economic interests, and their access to certain areas to monitor and report on human rights violations is often impeded, creating further barriers to their work.

Olivier has been persecuted and faced grave danger due to his human rights work, targeted by recurring death threats and an attempted assasination, which caused him to flee his home country and go into exile for his own protection. He has been severely beaten and tortured by security forces; once to the point of needing hospitalisation for 12 days. His organisation has also faced attempts of sabotage such as robbery and break-ins. Despite these harrowing circumstances, he is hopeful and inspired to continue securing justice for the victims of land and environmental injustices in the DRC, especially at-risk and vulnerable groups like women and children.

Olivier is known as the ‘’Green Lawyer’’ in North Kivu because of his defence of Virunga Park and its workers and people. The communities he has represented face economic expropriation and exploitation of their land and resources. In the context of the DRC, this has affected women and children most – many women have lost their husbands in the conflict and are left vulnerable. They are then driven off their land, which has plunged them into grave insecurity. Olivier has ensured that they, and other vulnerable victims, are not forgotten.

Aside from his active human rights work, Olivier has a number of academic accolades behind his name as well; including being an alumni of the Elaw Fellowship, a member of the International Network of Lawyers Elaw, the face of International Union for Conservation of Nature, and has participated in a number of projects working with several highly ranked international universities.


In 2018, the Democratic Republic of the Congo saw the advent of a new government following long-awaited presidential elections. HRDs and other civil society actors were lauded for their advocacy as they worked tirelessly to call for a return to democratic institutions and good governance; their efforts played a significant role in the elections process. The advent of a new government is an opportunity to push forward the human rights agenda and ensure the protection of HRDs as the new president, Mr. Felix Tshisekedi, made commitments to respect human rights, to open up civic space ,and to protect HRDs who are at risk.

Despite these successes, HRDs in the Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk of killings, threats, intimidation and judicial harassment. The risks are especially acute for WHRDs and HRDs working on land and environmental rights who are often seen as a threat to economic interests. The protection of human rights guaranteed under the constitution still lacks implementation. In May 2017, a bill on the protection of human rights defenders was passed by the Senate and still awaiting to be enacted by the president. It contains some provisions that pose a real threat to the legitimate work of HRDs including a limited definition of the term HRD. Furthermore, Article 17 imposes unnecessary conditions for HRDs, such as the requirement to send an annual report of their activities to the Ministry of Human Rights.

Nevertheless, more work need to be done to ensure that all HRDs are able to pursue their work in capital, urban, and rural areas without fear of repression or any form of harassment. In Eastern DRC, HRDs face the possibility of detention and judicial harassment for denouncing violations of human rights in where armed groups are active and responsible for broad human rights violations. The risks in this part of the country are especially high for WHRDs who face specific risks based on their gender including sexual assault. They are often the targets of retaliation from armed groups and former rebels for denouncing incidents of sexual violence that was used as weapon of war .during the past two decades.