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DRC: UN experts call for reinforcement of investigation into killing of prominent Congolese human rights defender

GENEVA (9 June 2010) – A group of UN independent experts* welcomed the announced suspension of the chief of the Congolese National Police, General Inspector John Numbi, and the arrest of several police officers in the investigation of the killing late last week of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya Bahizire in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the disappearance of his driver, Fidele Bazana Edadi.

“This killing not only deprives the DRC of one of its most vocal and effective human rights defenders, but also sends a message of intimidation and brutality to the entire DRC human rights community“, said the experts. “Failure to identify and prosecute the perpetrators would constitute a huge step backwards, and risks undermining many of the Government’s other efforts”, they noted. “Urgent efforts should also be deployed to locate Mr Edadi, whose whereabouts are still unknown.”

While welcoming the arrests that have been made, the experts urged the DRC authorities to invite independent forensic experts to assist in the investigation and ensure that any prosecutions that are brought are solidly supported by all available forensic and other evidence.

The experts welcomed the call by the UN Secretary-General for a thorough, transparent and independent investigation, and the commitment by the Congolese Minister of Interior in relation to the investigation. “Bringing in international expertise to reinforce the domestic investigation would show clearly and unmistakably the Government’s commitment to solving this terrible crimem,” the experts said.

In addition, the experts recalled the previous recommendation contained in reports of several Special Procedures mandate-holders to adopt national and provincial laws on the protection of human rights defenders, developed in consultation with civil society. Such laws would certainly enhance and give legitimacy to the work of defenders.

In the ongoing context of attacks and threats against defenders and journalists, and the prevailing impunity in most cases, the Special Rapporteurs further recalled that there can be no democracy without human rights defenders, including journalists. “The Government of the DRC has the prime responsibility under international human rights law to ensure the protection of human rights defenders against any violence, threats, retaliation, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a result of their human rights work,” they concluded.

(*) The Special Procedures mandate-holders are Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.