DRC: Ongoing trial for the perpetrators of Floribert Chebeya’s murder and Fidèle Bazana’s disappearance

Paris-Geneva-Kinshasa, December 7, 2021 - Eleven years after the murder of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya and the disappearance of his driver, Fidèle Bazana, the trial of those responsible for these crimes continues in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), and the member organisations of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) in the DRC, the African Association for Human Rights (ASADHO), the Lotus Group (GL) and the League of Voters (LE), welcome the reopening of the trial and expect that impartial justice will finally be done.

On September 22, 2021, hearings before the High Military Court at Ndolo prison in Kinshasa began, following the reopening of the trial for the assassination of human rights defender Floribert Chebeya, Executive Director of the Voice of the Voiceless (VSV) and a member of OMCT’s General Assembly, and the disappearance of his driver Fidèle Bazana, also a member of VSV, on June 1, 2010.

So far, only a sham of justice has been delivered in this case. Out of the eight police officers initially prosecuted, five had been convicted on June 23, 2011 by the Military Court of Kinshasa-Gombe. However, on September 17, 2015, four of them were acquitted on appeal and the sentence of the fifth, Colonel Daniel Mukalayi, was reduced.

Since the resumption of hearings in September 2021 in Kinshasa, the Congolese justice heard several police officers, including Senior Commissioner Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga and Deputy Commissioner Jacques Mugabo, who were convicted in absentia in first instance and were recently arrested in the DRC. Others who were not tried at the time, such as Doudou Ilunga, Jeancy Mulang and General Zelwa Katanga Djadjidja, are also currently being heard as informants. The court has also authorised a visit in November 2021 to the location where the body of Fidèle Bazana is believed to be buried, on the plot of land belonging to General Djadjidja, who was head of the military police at the time of the events, and is currently being prosecuted in the case as well.

Police officers Hergile Ilunga and Alain Kayeye, both currently in exile, appear to be the two executors of these crimes. In February 2021, they revealed new elements that led to the reopening of the case in the DRC on September 22, 2021, following the arrest of Christian Ngoy in 2020. These elements supported the version presented by Paul Mwilambwe, the main witness in the case, who was sentenced in absentia to death during the trial back in 2011. He has decided to testify voluntarily before the court and will be heard on December 8, 2021. Therefore, all those convicted in first instance are present today before the courts in Kinshasa.

In addition, a complaint was filed in 2010 before the Congolese courts by Mr. Chebeya’s widow against former DRC President Joseph Kabila and his right-hand man and Inspector General of the Congolese National Police (PNC), General John Numbi Banza Tambo, currently on the run, in the same case. Following the new arrests and revelations in the case, a second complaint was filed in October 2020 by the lawyers of the civil parties before the case was sent to the High Military Court for trial.

The Observatory, the League of Voters, the Lotus Group and ASADHO have spoken out on several occasions about this case, calling for the reopening of the trial so that all those responsible, including the highest officials, are tried and punished. The organisations welcome the reopening of the trial and hope that it will result in an impartial and transparent judgment. Congolese civil society and the families of the victims expect the conviction of General John Numbi, who is considered to be the mastermind of these acts (see Q&A below).

Our organisations call on the Congolese authorities to guarantee the right to a fair trial in this case and to ensure that justice is finally done for the families of the victims, as well as for all human rights defenders and organisations in the DRC.

Our organisations also recall that the security of the witness Paul Mwilambwe, who has returned to the DRC after more than ten years on the run, must be ensured by the Congolese authorities to allow the hearings to proceed properly.

Q/A Chebeya and Bazana case

What are the facts behind the case?

Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana disappeared on June 1, 2010, while they were on their way to a meeting with John Numbi Banza Tambo. The lifeless body of Floribert Chebeya was found on June 2, 2010 in Mitendi on the side of the Kongo Central road, on the driver’s seat of the Mazda car in which he had gone to meet General Numbi the day before. Fidèle Bazana’s body was never found.

Floribert Chebeya, founding member and Executive Director of the VSV, was investigating human rights violations committed under the regime of Joseph Kabila. In particular, he investigated the massacres and crimes perpetrated in the Bas-Congo province in 2008 and that were involving the army, the national police and the intelligence services. These crimes were coordinated by General Denis Kalume, General Raus, a close associate of President Joseph Kabila, and General John Numbi. The investigation conducted by Floribert Chebeya was meant to be used by International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators. Floribert Chebeya had contacted a Belgian lawyer to finalize this communication.

He also investigated the murder of Aimée Kabila, President Kabila’s half-sister, who was killed at her home in Kinshasa in 2008. At the time, he claimed to have information on the President of the Republic regarding an argument between him and his half-sister over the inheritance of their father, former President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who was assassinated in January 2001.

Mr. Chebeya received death threats on several occasions as a result of his revelations, without any official reaction or protection measure from the authorities. He also conducted an investigation into the cases of military and police officers from the Equateur province arrested by the Security Commission headed by General John Numbi, and another investigation into the conditions of detention in police « cachots » (« dungeon »).

Fidèle Bazana Edadi was a member of the VSV since 1999, and was the driver and friend of Floribert Chebeya.

How did the legal process start?

The murder of Floribert Chebeya and the disappearance of Fidèle Bazana Edadi in 2010 sparked a wave of mobilization among Congolese and international non-governmental organisations. Following an irregular trial [1] held on June 23, 2011, the Military Court of Kinshasa recognized the civil responsibility of the Congolese State.

The defendants were the following: Daniel Mukalay, Deputy Director of Intelligence and Special Services and Senior PNC Inspector; Georges Kitungwa Amisi, PNC Inspector; Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga, PNC Inspector and Commander of the Simba Battalion; Paul Mwilambwe, PNC Inspector; François Ngoy Mulongoy, PNC Deputy Inspector; Michel Mwila wa Kubambo, PNC Commissioner; Blaise Mandiangu Buleri, PNC Deputy Commissioner; and Jacques Mugabo, PNC Deputy Commissioner.

They were prosecuted under the following charges: "criminal association" and "murder" against the eight defendants; "terrorism" and "desertion" against the three fugitive defendants Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga, Jacques Mugabo and Paul Mwilambwe; and "diversion of weapons" against the defendant Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga.

At the end of the trial, Colonel Daniel Mukalay Wa Mateso, Lieutenant Colonel Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga, Jacques Mugabo and Paul Mwilambwe were sentenced to death, and Lieutenant Michel Mwila wa Kubambo was sentenced to life imprisonment. The other three defendants were acquitted.

On May 7, 2013, the Military High Court, acting as an appellate court, declared itself incompetent to deal with procedural matters and decided to refer the case to the Supreme Court of Justice, which acts as the Constitutional Court, effectively suspending the judicial appeal process. On April 21, 2015, after nearly two years of interruption, the appeal trial resumed before the High Military Court.

On September 17, 2015, Congolese justice acquitted on appeal Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga, Jacques Mugabo, Paul Mwilambwe, all three still being on the run at the time, and Michel Mwila, and lightened the sentence of Daniel Mukalay, therefore leaving a strong sense of impunity among the families and human rights organisations in the DRC. Besides, a complaint with civil party status had been filed on June 2, 2014, before the Senegalese courts, on the basis of its extraterritorial jurisdiction, against Paul Mwilambwe, exiled in Senegal and sentenced in the first instance by the DRC High Military Court in absentia. On August 26, 2014, the Senegalese judiciary opened a judicial investigation into the double assassination, while the case was stalled in the DRC. To date, however, no decision has been handed down by the Senegalese judiciary.

What is the current status of the process?

On September 3, 2020, Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga, convicted in absentia in first instance and on the run since the events, was arrested in Lubumbashi on charges of "possession of weapons of war" and transferred to Kinshasa.

Hergile Ilunga wa Ilunga, who was police adjutant in the service of Colonel Daniel Mukalay at the time of the events, and Alain Kayeye Longwa, driver for Major Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga, both of whom are currently in exile, made new revelations about the affair to Radio France Internationale (RFI) in early 2021. Indeed, both appeared as two executors in the assassination of Mr. Chebeya and the disappearance of Mr. Bazana. They explained how Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana were killed on June 1, 2010 by a team of police officers formed by senior officers of the PNC Inspectorate General in Kinshasa, Daniel Mukalay and Christian Ngoy, on the orders of General John Numbi, then Inspector General of the PNC, a protégé of Joseph Kabila, then President of the DRC. These revelations corroborate statements already made by Paul Mwilambwe to RFI in 2012.

Major Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga and Colonel Daniel Mukalay are said to have formed an executive commando of police officers, including Hergil Ilunga, Jacques Mugabo, Bruno Nyembo Soti, Alain Kayeye Longwa, Jeancy Mulang and Doudou Ngoy Ilunga, in order to kill the two defenders. Police officer Paul Mwilambwe was the main witness to these killings, which he observed from his surveillance cameras. General Djadjidja was also cited in this political assassination, accused of having given up a plot of his private land in the hills of Mitendi, in the suburbs of Kinshasa, to bury the body of Fidèle Bazana.

Following the statements of Hergile Ilunga and Alain Kayeye Longwa in 2021, other police officers were arrested. In October 2021, during his hearing, Lieutenant Jacques Mugabo, sentenced in absentia in 2011 and arrested and imprisoned in February 2021 in Lubumbashi, confessed to having participated in the murder of the two defenders. In August 2021, Brigadier Ngoy Ilunga Doudou was arrested in Lubumbashi and transferred to Kinshasa, where he has been held since. General Djadjidja, who is believed to be the owner of the plots of land where Fidèle Bazana’s body would be buried, was placed in detention in June 2021 at the Ndolo military prison.

Since the resumption of the trial in September 2021, several of the concerned police officers and witnesses have been heard every Wednesday, as part of the trial:

· On Wednesday, October 13, 2021, Jacques Mugabo admitted having executed the two human rights defenders. He detailed how Fidèle Bazana and Floribert Chebeya were subdued with their hands cuffed behind their backs and how they were executed by asphyxiation with bags over their heads.

· On Wednesday, October 20, 2021, Daniel Mukalay appeared in open court as an informant and accused General John Numbi of having ordered the assassination. Doudou Ilunga, a member of the execution commando, confessed to having handcuffed the two victims, and Jacques Mugabo confirmed that he had taken part in their death by suffocation.

· On Wednesday, October 27, 2021, Lieutenant Katebere was heard as a witness. He was supervising the construction of two plots of land in General Djadjidja where the remains of Fidèle Bazana would be buried, but stated that he was absent on the day of the murder for family reasons.

· On Wednesday, November 3, 2021, General Djadjidja testified as an informant. He was supposed to present documents showing that he was no longer the owner of some of the plots in Mitendi, but instead filed a memo indicating that he would not speak without the presence of his lawyer, a move that was rejected by the Military High Court. He also refuted the claim that he was an accomplice in the assassination of Fidèle Bazana and that his body was buried on one of his plots in Mitendi.

· On Wednesday, November 10, 2021, the High Military Court raided one of General Djadjidja’s five plots of land in Mitendi, the site where the remains of Fidèle Bazana are believed to be buried. However, the general himself remained evasive in his answers to the court’s questions. The civil parties denounce the fact that to date, despite the closure of the investigation, General Djadidja has still not deposited the title deeds of his plots of land in Mitendi with the High Military Court.

· On Wednesday, November 17, 2021, police officer Jeancy Mulang was questioned. He is one of the guards of the General Police Inspectorate, claiming to have handed "Chebeya over to Jacques Mugabo on the orders of Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga".

What are the next steps?

· Paul Milwambe, convicted in absentia in first instance and now back in Kinshasa, is scheduled to be heard as a defendant in the case on Wednesday, December 8, 2021.

· A verdict in the case is expected in the coming weeks.

· The second complaint filed by the lawyers of the civil parties against John Numbi has been forwarded to the High Military Court and a second trial is expected to be set.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the International Federation for Human rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

The League of Voters (Ligue des Electeurs - LE), created in 1990, aims to support democratic development, particularly through the defense of human rights and the promotion of electoral culture. The League carries out training activities for members of civil society associations as facilitators of the democratic movement; popular awareness activities on human rights; international evaluation and electoral observation missions.

Groupe Lotus is a non-governmental organisation based in Kisangani. It denounces human rights violations, alerts public opinion, and investigates the practices of the authorities in order to force the government to respect the rule of law. It supports those who suffer from discrimination and oppression because of their social, national or religious group membership or their political opinion. It informs, teaches and promotes the values of human rights and democratic principles to advance them in the DRC.

ASADHO, created in 1991, pursues the objectives of defending, promoting and safeguarding individual and collective rights and freedoms; respecting the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in order to consolidate the rule of law, the basis of a democratic society; and contributing to the deepening of human rights awareness.

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