Intervention of the Observatory on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

ORAL INTERVENTION – THE OBSERVATORY

AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLES’ RIGHTS

52nd ordinary session

Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast

9 - 22 October 2012

Contribution of the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

In the framework of their joint programme,
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Under agenda item 9:
“Situation of human rights defenders”

Madame Chairperson,

The FIDH and the OMCT, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, express their renewed concern about the situation of human rights defenders in Africa.

Since the last session of the Commission in May 2012, the Observatory has not recorded any improvement of their situation on the continent. Quite on the contrary, human rights violations against defenders have continued, in particular judicial harassment, threats, intimidations, arbitrary detentions and unjustified condemnations. The situation of human rights defenders has even become alarming in situations of internal conflicts, such as for instance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Impunity and deficient justice

In many countries where impunity prevails, justice continues to be denied to human rights defenders who have been victims of human rights violations. For instance, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the trial of the murderers, in June 2010, of Floribert Chebaya Bazire, Executive Director of the organisation ,“The Voice of the Voiceless” (La Voix des Sans Voix - VSV) and member of the OMCT General Assembly, and of Fidèle Bazana Edadi, member of VSV, is in a stalemate. In June 2012, the defense requested that the main suspect in these two crimes, general John Numbi Banza Tambo, appear as a defendant. However, the military tribunal decided to publicly announce its decision only on October 23, 2012, namely more than four months after that request. The fact that the hearing has been scheduled a few days after the Summit of the Francophonie may not be a coincidence. Whatever the case may be, the absence of any progress in this emblematic trial clearly illustrates the judicial authorities’ lack of will to shed light on those events and to punish those responsible. We are far from the “rapid and impartial” investigation provided for by article 5 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. In addition, it is intolerable that the authorities have still not returned the body of Fidèle Bazana Edadi to his family.

On the other hand, the Observatory welcomes the decision of a court in Belgium, on October 3, to reject a complaint filed by General Numbi to ban the use of his photo in the poster of the documentary “The Chebeya case: a State crime?” directed by Thierry Michel, and screened during the Forum in April 2012.

However, delivering justice implies much more than simply holding a trial and issuing a sentence, as illustrated by the trial of the murderers of Ernest Manirumva, Vice-President of the organisation Anti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (Observatoire de lutte contre la corruption et les malversations économiques - OLUCOME) in Burundi in 2009. The fact that 14 defendants were sentenced to long prison sentences should not overshadow the prosecution’s systematic refusal to take into account relevant and highly credible elements of the investigations that pointed out the responsibility of senior personalities. The judicial authorities have lost an excellent opportunity to hold an exemplary trial: a botched trial is an insidious form of denial of justice.

Judicial harassment

The Observatory has also noted the widespread harassment of defenders in many countries. In some countries, such as in Algeria, harassment is targeting so many defenders that is can rightly be qualified as “systematic”. The simple participation of reputable Algerian NGOs such as the LADDH, the MJIC, the RDLD and the SNAPAP in a peaceful sit-in in April 2012 to condemn the judicial harassment of Abdelkader Kherba, member of the CNDDC and of the LADDH, has led to their prosecution for “incitement to unarmed gathering” that is punishable by one year in prison. On September 25, 2012, the Bab el Oued Court considered itself incompetent to rule on the case and has referred it to the prosecution.

Yacine Zaïd, a trade unionist, member of the LADDH and blogger, has been subjected for more than two year to numerous acts of police and judicial harassment related to his activism. On October 1, he was arrested again by the police, verbally assaulted, beaten and detained until October 8, when the Ouargla Court pronounced a six-month suspended prison sentence and a 10,000 dinars fine against him for “contempt against a police officer while on duty”. On May 3, Abdelkader Kherba was also sentenced to a one-year suspended term of imprisonment and to a 20,000 dinars fine after he was arrested in April during a protest of clerks of the court before a courthouse in Algiers. He is expected to be judged on appeal on November 4. In Algeria, issuing suspended prison sentences to human rights defenders has become a worrying practice to punish them.

Moreover, the presidential pardon that led to the release of the human rights defender Mohamed Smaïn should not hide the fact that he had been sentenced for “defamation”, “insult” and “denunciation of imaginary crimes” in the first place, despite his tireless fight on behalf of victims of the internal conflict in Algeria in the 90s.

In Zimbabwe, members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) have been arrested and iniquitous lawsuits have been filed against them as reprisals for their participation in demonstrations, in particular in Bulawayo.

The rights to freedom of expression and assembly are safeguarded in the constitutions of those countries and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Algeria and Zimbabwe. Restricting those rights is thus unacceptable.

Indictments and sentences

Many defenders are not only judicially harassed but are also sentenced. In Chad, for instance, François Djondang, Michel Barka and Younous Mahadjir, members of the Federation of Trade Unions in Chad (Union des Syndicats du Tchad - UST), have received a 18-month suspended prison sentence and a 1,5 million francs CFA fine for “incitement to ethnic hatred”. Their so-called “crime” only relates to the dissemination of an UST petition in September 2012 that condemned the “high cost of living” and the “pauperization of the population”, which the defenders attributed to corruption and faulty management by the authorities.

Torture and ill treatments

In their attempts to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, the authorities often resort to torture and ill treatments, thereby flagrantly violating non only the right to physical and psychological integrity of every human being, but also the specific responsibility of States to protect defenders, as explicitly required by Article 12 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Torture and ill-treatment very often go hand in hand with threats, including death threats, to force defenders to stop documenting and condemning human rights violations. The case of Grégoire Mulamba, Director of the “Centre for Human and Humanitarian Rights (Centre des droits de l’Homme et du droit humanitaire - CDH) in the DRC, is appalling. Mr. Mulamba was kidnapped on August 14, 2012 for several hours and savagely beaten on the head after he tried to ensure that the police was conducting its work effectively when a corpse was unexpectedly found in a lake near Lubumbashi. The kidnappers turned out to be policemen. This type of ill-treatment demonstrates the authorities’ lack of political will to respect their most basic human rights obligations since

In Sudan, dozens of defenders have been arrested in June and July 2012 following popular demonstrations that protested price increases and called for democratic reforms. They were finally released at the end of August. Several defenders were detained incommunicado for several weeks and were victims of inhumane and degrading treatments.

Human rights defenders victims of armed conflicts

Finally, the Observatory expresses its deep concerns regarding the situation of human rights defenders in North Kivu, a region that is torn by a violent internal conflict. Armes clashes between governmental forces and the rebels have not only impacted the local population but have also jeopardized the security of many human rights defenders who had to flee the area or are still trying to do so at this very moment in order to save their life.

For instance, Mr. René Kahukula, General Coordinator of the NGO “Action for the development of poor peasants” (Actions pour le Développement des Paysans Déshérités - ADEPAD), located in Bukavu, was kidnapped on June 3, 2012, by a commando in Bujumbura, Burundi, then transferred back overland to Bukavu in DRC. The commando, composed of Congolese security agents, reportedly acted with the complicity of the Burundian authorities. As of today, Mr. René Kahukula continues to be detained in the premises of the National Intelligence Agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements - ANR) in Kinshasa.

Recommendations:

To conclude this worrying brief survey, the Observatory reminds states parties to the African Charter of their obligation to respect all its provisions, in particular those relating to the protection of human rights defenders. More specifically, those States have to:

Acknowledge the legitimacy and fundamental role played by defenders in the establishment and strengthening of a society based on justice and respect for human rights.

Implement all provisions of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders, in particular by providing absolute safeguards for their physical and psychological integrity.

Release all defenders who are detained solely for having exercised their right to fundamental freedoms, in particular freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Put en end to the judicial harassment of defenders;

Prosecute those responsible for violating the rights of defenders, in judicial proceedings that upholds the requirements for efficiency and speed;

Establish national protection mechanisms for defenders, in cooperation with defenders themselves and the ACHPR’s Special Rapporteur

Extend an open invitation to the UN and ACHPR special rapporteurs on defenders and facilitate their visit to the country.

***

Yamoussoukro, October 2012
 
To contact the Observatory :
Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
Tel and fax FIDH: + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 34

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