DRC/Senegal : 5 years later, recourse to the Senegalese judiciary to establish the truth in the Chebeya-Bazana case essential more than ever

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As we commemorate the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Floribert Chebeya Bahizire and Fidèle Bazana Edadi, respectively Executive Director and member of the Voix des sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless), and while a judiciary mission is being conducted on this case in Senegal, our organisations [1] join the victims’ families and the Congolese human rights defenders to honour their memory and demand that justice be done.

A press conference will be held today in Dakar attended by Fidèle Bazana’s son, who was heard, yesterday, by the examining magistrate in charge of the case and the families’ lawyers.

“ On this sad anniversary, our thoughts naturally turn to the family and friends of Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana, who are still waiting for justice to be done, five years after this tragedy, said our organisation.

This fifth anniversary coincides with a new step in the proceedings before the Senegalese courts : on 1 June 2015, the son of Fidèle Bazana was heard by the examining magistrate, close to 5 months after the Senegalese justice department charged one of the presumed accomplices, Paul Mwilambwe, on the grounds of universal jurisdiction.

While the attempts to shed full light on the assassination of the two human rights defenders seems to be blocked in DRC [2], due to the clear determination of the Congolese authorities to protect the most senior officials responsible, especially the persons who ordered the crimes, our organisations salute the efforts made by the Senegalese legal authorities and encourage them to continue their investigation into this highly symbolic case. This is the first time since the Hissène Habré case that a case based on extra-territorial jurisdiction is being tried in Senegal, a step which sends a strong, positive signal showing that the Senegalese judiciary intends to play an active role in the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes committed in Africa.

During this second hearing of the plaintiffs, Guylain Bazana came to express all the hope that the families are placing henceforth in the Senegalese judiciary, for it alone that is able to carry out an impartial and independent investigations into the case so that full light can be shed on the double assassination of these two eminent human rights defenders  ”, stated our organisations.

This fight for justice remains a topical issue since Congolese human rights defenders are, still today, regularly subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions, threats and harassment, especially judicial harassment. Our organisations added that : “ the legal proceeding underway in Senegal has inspired great hope for the victims’ families, and also for the whole community of human rights defenders who, around the world, are working in conditions of great insecurity. HIgh expectations are, more than ever, being placed in the contribution of the Senegalese judiciary to the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes in Africa..

Background :
Floribert Chebeya was summoned on 1 June 2010 by General John Numbi Banza Tambo, Inspector General of the Congolese National Police (IG/PNC). He was found dead in his car in the morning of 2 June 2010, while Fidèle Bazana was reported missing. 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, on 23 June 2011, in Kinshasa, acknowledged the civil responsibility of the Congolese state for the murder of Mr. Chebeya, as well as in the abduction and illegal 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 decided to turn the proceedings over to the Supreme Court, operating as a constitutional court. In practice, this decision suspended the appeal proceedings, On 21 April 2015, after an interruption of close to two years, the appeals trial was resumed before the Military High Court.

During the first trial and, now during the appeal, 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.

Faced with inaction on the part of the Congolese judiciary, FIDH and the victims’ families decided to file as civil parties on 2 June 2014 before the Senegalese judiciary on the based on Senegal’s extraterritorial jurisdiction law of 12 February 2007, which integrates the United Nations Convention against Torture in domestic law. Under this provision of the Senegalese Criminal 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. A complaint was filed against Paul Mwilambwe, one of the suspects in the case of the double murder of human rights defenders Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana, who had found refuge in Senegal. On 26 August 2014 the Senegalese courts followed up on the new complaint and heard the plaintiffs for the first time, thereby officially opening the judicial investigation into the double assassination of these human rights defenders, at a time when the case was in a deadlock in DRC. On 8 January 2015 Paul Mwilambwe was heard by the Senegalese examining magistrate before being charged and placed under judicial supervision in Dakar.

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