DRC Human Rights Activist Floribert Chebeya Assasinated; Police Officers Arrested
Floribert Chebeya, executive secretary of the human rights group Voice of the Voiceless is dead. He was discovered dead in his car early in the morning of Jun. 2nd, 2010, in the Mont Ngafula neighborhood. “His body was found stretched out on the rear seat by people in the area, who alerted police. General Jean de Dieu Oleko, chief of police for Kinshasa, told IPS. “(The body) bore no visible signs of an assault. The signs around the scene and the body itself were not enough to establish the circumstances of his death.”
Patrice Citera of AP News reports that several police officers have been arrested in connection to the killing of the leading Congolese human rights activist. Gen. Jean-de-Dieu Oleko in an update on Saturday said that several police officers were arrested late Friday as part of a preliminary investigation. He gave no details on those arrested. The head of police in the Democratic Republic of Congo John Numbi has also been suspended.
In a statement read out on television, Interior Minister Adolphe Lumanu said on Sunday that President Kabila was “determined that all light be shed” on Mr Chebeya’s killing. John Numbi was suspended “To allow the enquiry to be conducted smoothly, the national defence council decided as a precaution to suspend inspector general John Numbi”. According to BBC News,The police chief John Numbi is seen as a close ally of President Joseph Kabila.
According to Human Rights Watch, the body of Chebeya’s driver, Fidèle Bazana Edadi, was found on Jun. 3rd.
“Human Rights Watch also says his family was initially denied access to his body. When a family member, accompanied by one of Chebeya’s colleagues and a representative of the United Nations, did see the body, HRW says there was a bandage wrapped around his head; most of his body remained covered during the visit.”
The facts around Chebeya’s death are disputed. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, said the circumstances of the killing “strongly suggest official responsibility” as he paid tribute to Mr. Chebeya, describing him as a “hugely respected human rights leader.” However, according to Lieutenant Colonel Jean Siasia from the national police, used condoms, a sexual stimulant and traces of fingernails and hair from a wig were found in the car alongside the body, implying that the police was not involved in Mr. Chbeya’s death.
Robert Ilunga, a human rights defender presently leading civil society protests around Chebeya’s death, rejects the implication, saying that as no tests have been carried out, the used condoms could belong to anyone. He told IPS the suggestion that the dead activist had been with prostitutes is out of character. “Chebeya was always an example of good conduct and morals at the heart of Congolese civil society.”
Robert Ilunga and another activist who worked with Chebeya, Godé Mpiana, say that the head of VSV received a phone call on June 1st, inviting him to a meeting with General John Numbi, the Inspector General of DRC’s national police. Chebeya duly left to attend this meeting, but around 8 p.m., he phoned family to say he had received an SMS to the effect that the general could no longer see him. This was the last time the late Chebeya was heard from.
Meanwhile, local and international organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called for an independent investigation. “The government must put in place a joint and independent commission to clarify the circumstances of this death,” Godé Mpiana told IPS. “But the indications lead us to fear that we are looking at an assassination. We have had enough of impunity for murderers who strike more and more frequently against journalists and human rights defenders.”
Numerous journalists and human right activists have been killed in suspicious circumstances in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past five years. George Kazadi, a journalist and member of the Congolese Coalition for the International Criminal Court, said, “This death reopens the demands already formulated by us against impunity.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay said,
“His death is a great loss to the human rights community not only in the DRC but in the wider world. I urge the DRC authorities to promptly and rigorously investigate the death of Chebeya Bahizire and spare no efforts to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.”
She also noted that Mr. Chebeya was considered to be a human rights pioneer in the DRC, speaking out under the repressive rule of the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and then again during the rule of the former president Laurent-Désiré Kabila and the current national Government. The High Commissioner added that the killing is part of a growing trend of intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents, victims and witnesses in the DRC.
“For more than 20 years, Chebeya Bahizire had survived many death threats, arrests, and ill treatment due to his work as a human rights defender. He believed in the cause of human rights and was not afraid to pursue it against all odds,” said Ms. Pillay. Mr. Doss, who is also the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the DRC, said Congolese authorities must swiftly begin an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the killing.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an independent inquiry into the incident.
The United States in its reaction, issued a press statement “We are concerned about the killings of other human rights defenders in the DRC in recent years, and note that Congolese human rights groups remain particularly vulnerable to harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, and other abuses by security forces”. While extending its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr Chebeya, the US called for an immediate and independent investigation and autopsy, with UN oversight, to determine the cause of his death, and welcomed the June 3 statement by the DRC government that it intends to conduct a thorough investigation. The United States says it stands ready to provide U.S. forensic experts to assist the Congolese authorities in their inquiry into the death of Mr. Chebeya insisting that, at the conclusion of these investigations, those deemed responsible must be held accountable.
Born on September 13th, 1963, in Bukavu, Mr. Chebeya was a human rights activist for more than 25 years, since the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko in the eastern city of Bukavu and in the capital, Kinshasa. He founded “Voix des Sans Voix” (Voice of the Voiceless). He was awarded the Reebok Human Rights Award in 1993. He had been arrested, detained and threatened by the authorities and by security forces. The late Chebeya in his role as resident of the Voix des Sans Voix focused on human rights abuses in the DRC, including corruption in the military and the links between militias and foreign political forces. He was also the Executive Secretary of the Réseau National des ONG des Droits de l’homme de la République démocratique du Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo National Network of Human Rights NGOs -RENADHOC).