DRC: Verdict issued in the Chebeya-Bazana case

Illustration: Rashbrax

Paris-Geneva-Kinshasa, 24 May 2022 — Almost 12 years after the murder of human rights defenders Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana, the High Military Court sentenced on appeal two of those who carried out the assassination of the two men. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights - FIDH - and the World Organisation Against Torture - OMCT), the Association africaine des droits de l’Homme (Asadho), the Groupe Lotus, the Ligue des électeurs, and the Voix des sans-voix welcome these convictions and call for the opening of the trial of General John Numbi, who is considered to be the mastermind of these acts.

On 11 May 2022, the High Military Court sitting in Ndolo prison in Kinshasa rendered its verdict in the appeal trial of the double murder of human rights defenders Floribert Chebeya, executive director of VSV and member of the General Assembly of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), and Fidèle Bazana, his driver and also a member of VSV, on 1 June 2010.

The court sentenced Colonel Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga to death and Deputy Commissioner Jacques Mugabo to 12 years in prison. Major Paul Mwilambwe Londa, considered as the main witness of the facts and back in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after more than 10 years on the run, was acquitted because of his key testimony in the case.

While only a travesty of justice had been rendered in this case in 2015, the arrests of Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga in September 2020 and Jacques Mugabo in February 2021, as well as the revelations in February 2021 of Hergile Ilunga and Alain Kayeye, two police officers currently in exile who appeared to be two of the perpetrators of the crimes, allowed the reopening of the trial, which was held from September 2021 to March 2022.

However, General John Numbi Banza Tambo, former right-hand man of former DRC President Joseph Kabila and Inspector General of the Congolese National Police (PNC), who is considered to be the mastermind of the double assassination, remains at large. A complaint was filed against him in 2010 with the auditorate general of the Congolese armed forces by Floribert Chebeya’s widow. Following the new arrests and revelations made in the case, a second complaint was filed in October 2020 by the lawyers of the civil parties, this time against General John Numbi, General Zelwa Katanga alias Djadjidja and the police officers who executed the two human rights defenders, and the case was sent to the High Military Court for fixation. An international arrest warrant was issued by the General Military Prosecutor’s Office of the DRC against John Numbi and handed over to Interpol.

In addition, on 16 March 2022, the lawyers for the civil parties submitted a request to President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, for John Numbi to be dismissed from the Congolese armed forces so that the Haute Cour militaire (High Military Court) would be able to try him if he were to be arrested. Indeed, as he is still a four-star general in the Congolese army, he is currently too senior for the military courts to judge him, as no magistrate has a rank equivalent to or higher than his.

The Observatory, Asadho, Groupe Lotus, the Ligue des Électeurs, and Voix des sans-voix welcome these convictions, which complete more than 12 years of struggle by Congolese civil society organisations and the families of the victims for justice and against impunity in this case, and call on the Congolese authorities to provide adequate reparations to the victims. However, our organisations underline their clear opposition to death sentences in all circumstances, and call on the Congolese authorities to adopt a moratorium on executions as a prerequisite for the abolition of the death penalty in law. Our organisations also call on Congolese authorities to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, and to support the efforts of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to adopt a Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the abolition of the death penalty.

Furthermore, the Observatory, Asadho, Groupe Lotus, the Ligue des Électeurs and the Voix des sans-voix call on President Tshisekedi to accede to the request addressed to him with a view to obtaining the dismissal of General John Numbi’s armed forces so that, if he is arrested, he can be prosecuted and appear before the competent courts.

Read our Q&A on the Chebeya/Bazana case on the FIDH and OMCT websites for more information on the facts at the origin of the case and the progress of the legal proceedings.

The Observatory, a joint initiative of FIDH and OMCT, is dedicated to protecting human rights defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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 with a view to consolidating the rule of law, the basis of a democratic society; and contributing to raising awareness about human rights. Asadho is a member of the FIDH and OMCT.

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

Ligue des Électeurs (LE), created in 1990; it aims to support democratic development, particularly through the defence 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-raising activities on human rights; and international evaluation and election observation missions. Ligue des Électeurs is a member of FIDH.

La Voix des sans-voix pour les droits de l’Homme (VSV) is a non-governmental human rights organisation created in 1983 and based in Kinshasa. VSV is actively involved in efforts to revitalise civil society in order to increase the effectiveness of the pro-democracy movement for the establishment of the rule of law in the DRC. VSV is a member of OMCT.

Read more