DRC / Senegal: Senegalese Court Follows up on Complaint Based on Universal Jurisdiction filed by FIDH and the Families in the Chebeya-Bazana Case

Following the criminal complaint filed as the plaintiff in a civil action by FIDH and the victims’ families, before the Senegalese courts on the grounds of universal jurisdiction against Paul Mwilambwe, one of those alleged to be responsible for the double assassination of human rights defenders Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana, the examining magistrate heard the plaintiffs to confirm the complaint, thus signifying the beginning of the judicial investigation. Since the attempts to shed light on the double murder of these defenders seemed to be blocked in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), our organisations welcome the efforts of the Senegalese judicial authorities and urge them to continue the judicial investigations into this highly symbolic case.

« This first hearing of the plaintiffs is a fundamental act that marks the opening of the judicial proceedings in Senegal. The testimony that has just been given by the families of the victims will revive their hope that justice will be done. The next step is for a Senegalese judge to convene and hear Paul Mwilambwe, who played a role in this tragedy » said Patrick Baudouin, FIDH Honorary President and head of Litigation Action Group (LAG).

Paul Mwilambwe, a major in the Congolese National Police force (PNC), was in charge of security for the office of General John Numbi, Head of the PNC at the time of the events, in the premises where Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana were tortured and killed. Shortly these killings, Paul Mwilambwe fled through Africa before settling in Senegal. IN a filmed interview with France 24 in French), whilst still on the run, Mwilambwe testified as to his own participation in the enforced disappearance and murder of the two human rights defenders, as well as the role and involvement of senior ranking officers of the Congolese police, including General John Numbi.

«The action of the Senegalese judiciary in a case based on extra-territorial jurisdiction that is applied for the first time in Senegal [1] sends a strong signal and is a precursor, » said Assane Dioma Ndiaye, LAG lawyer for FIDH and the families of Chebeya and Bazana. « The speed with which the courts reacted to the complaint that was filed shows the willingness of the Senegalese authorities to play an active role in the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes committed in Africa, » he added.

Our organisations feel that the confirmation of the complaint against Paul Mwilambwe is especially important for the DRC human rights defenders who work in very insecure conditions and are victims of restrictions to their right to freedom of association and speech, slander campaigns, arrest, arbitrary detention, threats and attacks to their physical integrity on a daily basis.

« By confirming this complaint, the Senegalese judiciary allows us to hope that an impartial, independent investigation will finally be carried out and will provide full information on the murder of our husbands and restore their memory, » said Marie-Josée Bazana, the wife of Fidèle Bazana whose body has still not been found.

On 2 June 2010, Floribert Chebeya, Executive Director of the NGO Voix des sans-Voix (Voices of the Voiceless – VSV), was found dead in his car in a suburb of Kinshasa. His close associate Fidele Bazana was also reported missing. The day before, the two human rights defenders had shown up at PNC headquarters to meet with its Director, the Inspector-General, and General John Numbi. They did not emerge from this meeting alive. Faced with the public outcry triggered by the murder of Mr. Chebeya and disappearance of Mr. Bazana, the Congolese authorities were obliged to open an investigation. This investigation culminated in the precautionary suspension of General John Numbi and the imposition of murder indictments for eight police officers, including Paul Mwilambwe, who fled.

On 23 June 2011, following a trial marked by numerous incidents (see the report of the Observatory for the protection of human rights defenders [in French]), the military court in Kinshasa acknowledged the civil responsibility of the Congolese state for the murder of Mr. Chebeya, as well as in the abduction and detention of Mr. Bazana by several of its officers. The court convicted five of the eight police officers accused. Four were sentenced to death and one to life imprisonment. Three of those condemned to death are still on the run, and three of the police officers found to have played a role in the disappearance of Mr. Bazana, have since been acquitted. On 7 May 2013, the Military High Court, sitting as a court of appeal, declared itself incompetent to investigate the procedural issues in the case and turn the proceedings over to the Supreme Court, operating as a constitutional court. The Supreme Court suspended the appeal proceedings, which remain deadlocked in DRC to date. In addition, Congolese authorities have never instituted proceedings to investigate the role played by General John Numbi, who has since been replaced as Head of the PNC, despite evidence and the complaints filed by the families of the two human rights defenders.

On 10 January 2014, the lawyers for LAG and for the Chebeya and Bazana families had already filed an ordinary complaint against Paul Mwilambwe and all the others for the crime of torture, based on Senegal’s extraterritorial competence law of 12 February 2007, which integrates the United Nations Convention against Torture in domestic law. Under this provision of the Senegalese Penal Code, Senegalese courts can judge all persons suspected of torture if they are found in Senegal, even if the victim or perpetrator of the crime is not Senegalese, and even if the crime was not committed in Senegal. This January complaint has remained unanswered. Faced with inaction on the part of the Senegalese courts on the complaint filed in January, FIDH and the victims’ families filed further a complaint, this time as civil parties, on 2 June 2014.

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