Skip to main content

Press releases Special Procedures

Democratic Republic of Congo: Targeting human rights defenders must stop, UN expert says

19 June 2024

GENEVA (19 June 2024) – A UN expert today expressed alarm at increasing targeting of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), particularly in villages and provinces in the east of the country, as the armed conflict intensifies.

“Attacks, intimidation and killings of human rights defenders continue on a daily basis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, despite repeated calls for authorities to step up efforts to investigate human rights violations in the country and arrest and bring perpetrators to justice,” said Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

From June 2023 to April 2024, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC documented incidents of intimidation, threats of physical violence, attacks and acts of reprisals targeting 387 human rights defenders and 67 journalists, perpetrated by both State agents and armed groups.

Lawlor noted that two women human rights defenders, members of the Youth Movement for Change (LUCHA), had been facing violence and death threats from Twigwaneho armed group since November 2023.

“When LUCHA organised public protests against recent attacks on their village in the South Kivu province, the rebel group sent armed forces to arrest them, forcing them to flee and go into hiding. To this day, they continue to receive death threats and live in hiding,” the expert said. One of the women’s mothers was abducted by the same rebel group in February 2024 and reportedly executed for not revealing her daughter’s whereabouts.

Obedi Karafuru, a human rights defender and head of the workers’ committee, was shot dead by unidentified men in his home village in rebel-held Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province. The Special Rapporteur noted that he had been working to secure fair compensation for former workers on a logging project and had been complaining to authorities for the past four years about death threats against him and his colleagues. “No investigation has been opened into the murder,” Lawlor said.

A human rights defender received death threats in February 2022 when he questioned the effectiveness of the Government’s state of emergency in North Kivu, stating that authorities had failed to guarantee the safety of the population. “The death threats forced him into hiding, as State authorities never responded to his call for protection,” the expert said. Four women human rights defenders from the women-led organisation Tous pour la Paix et la Cohésion Sociale, have been victims of kidnapping and violence following activities they organised around women’s rights.

The expert noted that the DRC adopted a law on the protection of human rights defenders in 2023, which meets the minimum international standards, and ensures special protection for women human rights defenders as well as physical protection of human rights defenders and their families.

“Many executions of human rights defenders are preceded by death threats,” Lawlor said, referring to the report she presented to the Human Rights Council in 2021. “Unless the physical integrity of human rights defenders is guaranteed, they will not be able to fully contribute to the construction of a just society that respects human rights,” she said.

“I call on authorities in the DRC to take all necessary measures to ensure a safe working space and protection for human rights defenders, as well as to guarantee the exercise of their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and to effectively and reliably investigate all cases of executions in accordance with international standards, including the Minnesota Protocol, and bring those responsible to justice,” Lawlor said.

The expert is in contact with the Government of the DRC on these cases.

Mary Lawlor is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

This statement is endorsed by Gina Romero, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Democratic Republic of Congo.

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Sophie Helle ([email protected]).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]) or John Newland ([email protected]).

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.