The efforts of the civil society to protect defenders of human rights take root

Justin (2)

For more than 25 years, war-torn South-Kivu has been the scene of countless violations of human rights. Association activists, lawyers, unionists and journalists are among the most affected. For many years, the civil society’ work has been aiming public authorities, to encourage them to develop legal provisions for the improvement of the protection of human rights defenders. This initiative has had a certain success that is now spreading way beyond the province. Justin Bahirwe Mutabunga, coordinator for SOS IJM absl (AEDH collaborator) is one of the driving forces behind this success.

On February 10, 2016, a provincial decree on the protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRD) and journalists has been adopted. It is the result of a long process initiated by NGOs from South Kivu. The civil society involved all the key actors : international NGOs, the United Nations, the African Union as well as a limited group of provincial deputies sensitive to the human rights cause. The latter needed to be convinced that despite 2 decades of war marked by the assassination of countless HRD and journalists, South Kivu could reverse the trend. Even so, this scarred region could be the one to bring to the spotlight on a national level the issue of the protection of defenders.

The feedback was very positive. The deputies were very receptive of the arguments presented by the organisations behind the initiative : in the future, who will defend politicians threatened in case of discrepancy with the central government if no HRD can advocate for the defence of civil and political rights ? Rapidly, the progress in the region became a subject of interest. In September 2016, the civil society of the neighbouring province in the North Kivu met with their counterparts of the South Kivu in the hope of duplicating the legal provision.

At the same time, representatives of the National Commission on Human Rights based themselves on the provincial decree of South Kivu to promote an Act on the protection of human rights defenders in the entire Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the time of writing this article, the decree has been adopted by the Conference of Presidents of the Provincial Assembly of North Kivu and will be debated in a plenary session. At the national level, the Act has been adopted unanimously by the Senate last 15 May and sent to the National Assembly for a second reading.

Encouraged by this success, representatives of organisations from South Kivu were invited to share their experience on a continental scale. In October 2016, SOS IJM participated in the 59th Session of the African Commission on Human Rights and People in Banjul, and in March 2017, it was invited to a Colloquium on the situation of HRD held in Cotonou, where they shared the strategy developed in South Kivu with representatives of other African countries that do not have yet a similar provision. In April 2017, the same experience was shared at the Seminar in Abidjan on the situation of legislation on the protection of HRD in Africa, alongside special rapporteurs of the United Nations and the African Union.

We are pleased that in 2016, arrests and assassinations of HRD and journalists have decreased in South Kivu and that our work is better understood by the provincial authorities who are proving to be more willing to defend it.

 Justin Bahirwe Mutabunga




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