DRC

  • As the climate crisis intensifies, so does the crackdown on environmental activism, finds new report

    New research brief from the CIVICUS Monitor examines the crackdown of environmental activism and profiles important victories civil society has scored in the fight for climate justice.

    • Environmental protests are being criminalised and met with repression on all continents
    • State authorities and private companies are common perpetrators of violations to civic freedoms
    • Despite the risks and restrictions, activist groups continue to score important victories to advance climate justice.

    As world leaders meet in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Negotiations (COP26), peaceful environmental activists are being threatened, silenced and criminalised around the world. The host of this year's meeting is one of many countries where activists are regularly facing rights violations.

    New research from the CIVICUS Monitor looks at the common tactics and restrictions being used by governments and private companies to suppress environmental movements. The research brief “Defenders of our planet: Resilience in the face of restrictions” focuses on three worrying trends: Bans and restrictions on protests; Judicial harassment and legal persecution; and the use of violence, including targeted killings.

    As the climate crisis intensifies, activists and civil society groups continue to mobilise to hold policymakers and corporate leaders to account. From Brazil to South Africa, activists are putting their lives on the line to protect lands and to halt the activities of high-polluting industries. The most severe rights abuses are often experienced by civil society groups that are standing up to the logging, mining and energy giants who are exploiting natural resources and fueling global warming.

    As people take to the streets, governments have been instituting bans that criminalise environmental protests. Recently governments have used COVID-19 as a pretext to disrupt and break up demonstrations. Data from the CIVICUS Monitor indicates that the detention of protesters and the use of excessive force by authorities are becoming more prevalent.

    In Cambodia in May 2021, three environmental defenders were sentenced to 18 to 20 months in prison for planning a protest  against the filling of a lake in the capital. While in Finland this past June, over 100 activists were arrested for participating in a protest calling for the government to take urgent action on climate change. From authoritarian countries to  mature democracies, the research also profiles those who have been put behind bars for peacefully protesting.

    “Silencing activists and denying them of their fundamental civic rights is another tactic being used by leaders to evade and delay action on climate change” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, Research Lead for the CIVICUS Monitor. “Criminalising nonviolent protests has become a troubling indicator that governments are not committed to saving the planet .”

    The report shows that many of the measures being deployed by governments to restrict rights are not compatible with international law. Examples of courts and legislative bodies reversing attempts to criminalise nonviolent climate protests are few and far between.

    Despite the increased risks and restrictions facing environmental campaigners, the report also shows that a wide range of campaigns have scored important victories, including the closure of mines and numerous hazardous construction projects. Equally significant has been the rise of climate litigation by activist groups. Ironically, as authorities take activists to court for exercising their fundamental right to protest, activist groups have successfully filed lawsuits against governments and companies in over 25 countries for failing to act on climate change.


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  • DRC: ‘Civil society action is needed more than ever, but the space in which it can undertake it is getting smaller’

    Bahati_Rubango.jpgCIVICUS speaks with Bahati Rubango, country coordinator at the Women’s International Peace Centre (WIPC), about conflict in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

    WIPC is a feminist organisation seeking to catalyse women’s leadership, amplify their voices and deepen their role in peacebuilding. It started out in 1974 as Isis-Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange, and in 1994 it moved from Geneva to Uganda and deepened its focus on the women, peace and security agenda.

    What’s the security situation in the DRC, and how is civil society working to address it?

    In the DRC, and particularly in Kivu and other parts of eastern DRC, including Beni, Bunagana, Masisi and Rutshuru territories and Ituri and South Kivu provinces, the situation is dire due to ongoing conflict. The prominence of the M23 rebel group exacerbates the crisis. The DRC’s government has accused Rwanda of supporting M23, with these claims substantiated by United Nations (UN) reports. The region is also plagued by the presence of over 120 other armed factions, foreign and local, some of which receive backing from Uganda, further complicating the situation.

    This has precipitated a humanitarian catastrophe, characterised by widespread displacement, killings, rape, plundering of natural resources, instances of sexual violence and severe limitations on access to education and healthcare, worsening the suffering and vulnerability of millions of civilians.

    Despite the deployment of various regional and international peacekeeping missions, the violence persists. The peacekeeping efforts of MONUSCO, the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC, have fallen short. The conflict has regional and global dimensions beyond the DRC’s borders, impacting on peace and security across multiple countries.

    There is a complex interplay of local and international dynamics, including economic interests that perpetuate the conflict. The conflict’s economic dimension has been illustrated by the fact that rebel groups are mainly located where there are strategic natural resources.

    Efforts to quell the insurgency by national militia groups such as the Wazalendo movement find obstacles in the challenging terrain and the firm grip of rebel groups on strategic areas. As a result, access to Goma and other conflict-affected regions is primarily limited to air travel and boats across Lake Kivu, which impedes humanitarian aid and peacekeeping efforts.

    Civil society organisations play a crucial role in peacebuilding, monitoring human rights violations and advocating for justice and security sector reforms. Civil society highlights the need for justice for victims and the involvement of women and young people in peace processes. Despite challenges, including threats to human rights defenders, civil society strives to raise awareness, combat hate speech and protect vulnerable populations.

    How much space is there for civil society action in the DRC?

    The situation has been tumultuous since May 2021, with the declaration of a state of siege in conflict areas that has subsequently been renewed. Under the ongoing state of siege, the military displaced civilian authorities and assumed control. This shift resulted in a significant curtailment of civic freedoms, particularly for public demonstrations and speech. Military justice has taken precedence over civilian law, raising ethical concerns and contributing to lack of accountability.

    Problems have been compounded by the questionable level of training and education in the army. There have been reports of inadequately trained people being integrated, including former rebel fighters with no regard for human rights principles, approaches or values. This has led to a rise in criminal activities and violations committed by security forces, further restricting civic space.

    Human rights defenders and journalists critical of the government have faced persecution. Arrests and criminalisation under baseless charges have become commonplace. Despite legislative efforts to protect activists, implementation has been lacking, exacerbating the erosion of civic space. An example is Lucha (Lutte pour le changement – Fight for Change), an organisation of young activists, several of whom spent four days under arrest simply for signing a declaration urging the state to stop war.

    Advocacy at national, regional and global levels is needed to address the challenges of conflict. However, entrenched power dynamics in the DRC, including the dominance of the ruling party, pose significant obstacles to meaningful reform. Urgent action is needed to reverse the trend of declining civic space, because civil society action is needed more than ever, but the space in which it can undertake it is getting smaller.

    What’s the likelihood of tensions between the DRC and Rwanda escalating into a regional conflict?

    Rwanda’s involvement in destabilising the DRC is concerning, especially considering its history of aggression in the region, but it won’t necessarily lead to a regional conflict. Despite Rwanda’s attempts to exert influence, the DRC has demonstrated significant military strength in defending its territory against its aggression in the past.

    Rwanda’s diplomatic prowess and hidden support from foreign countries – often driven by economic interests around mineral resources – contribute to its ability to manipulate regional dynamics. Rebel groups such as the M23 and the Allied Democratic Forces exploit the porous borders between Rwanda and the DRC, seeking refuge in and support from Rwanda to evade accountability for their actions. This exacerbates tensions between the two countries.

    But the likelihood of the conflict escalating into a full-blown regional war is mitigated by mutual interests and dependencies. Both countries rely on resources derived from the DRC, which acts as a deterrent to all-out warfare. Regional initiatives like the Nairobi Process, brokered by the East African Community in November 2022, seek to address underlying tensions and promote peacebuilding efforts. However, the effectiveness of such initiatives is undermined by external influences dictating the terms of engagement and providing support to conflicting parties.

    Civil society plays a crucial role in advocating for peace and stability, but its efforts are hindered by external interference and power dynamics that dictate the trajectory of the conflict. While regional organisations, notably the African Union, are theoretically focused on addressing conflict in the continent, external influences and interests often compromise their effectiveness.

    Ultimately, it will require a concerted effort from regional and global players committed to peace and stability in the Great Lakes region to prevent the escalation of the conflict and resolve it for good.

    How can the international community support peacebuilding efforts in the DRC?

    There is a pressing need for support from the international community to assist internally displaced people in desperate need of essentials such as food and shelter. Efforts are also needed to document atrocities to ensure accountability further along the road. This includes highlighting the responsibilities of perpetrators and using this information to ensure justice is served, even if it takes years. Support for civil society groups involved in peacebuilding processes is crucial, particularly since the state lacks adequate resources.

    Although it may not generate enthusiasm in all quarters of the international community, security sector reform requires attention. Fortunately, there are promising initiatives funded by international donors.

    Another critical need is justice reform, which should include mechanisms for transitional justice. This will be vital to address the immediate effects of conflict and the long-standing grievances and cycles of violence that have plagued the region for decades. Access to justice for victims is paramount to break the cycle of impunity and prevent further atrocities. There’s a need for collective and individual reparations for victims, as well as guarantees that such violence will not be repeated. This includes addressing psychological trauma and providing survivors the support they need to rebuild their lives.

    Both local and international engagement will be needed to ensure that peacebuilding agreements are fully respected and implemented, including by holding all parties responsible and accountable. Civil society activists, academics and journalists will have a crucial role in monitoring and advocating for these agreements to be fulfilled.

    Finally, it’s essential to recognise that the conflict in the DRC is not isolated but has regional and global implications. Efforts to address the crisis must consider its broader context and involve stakeholders at all levels, from local communities to international organisations. Only through a holistic and inclusive approach can lasting peace and stability be achieved in the region.


    Civic space in the DRC is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Women’s International Peace Centre through itswebsite and follow @TheWIPCentre and@BRubango on Twitter.

  • DRC: ‘Defending the environment means becoming the target of politicians and businesspeople’

    GuillaumeKalonjiCIVICUS discusses the hopes and roles of civil society at the forthcoming COP28 climate summit with Guillaume Kalonji, a youth climate activist and founder of Rise Up Movement DRC.

    Rise Up Movement DRC is a citizen movement founded and led by young people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It aims to help communities combat climate change and adapt to its effects. It amplifies the voices and experiences of young activists in the Global South, provides climate education in schools and communities and promotes sustainable land use and the development and use of renewable energies.

    Why did you become a climate activist?

    I graduated in general biology and trained as a teacher. I soon realised I would be unable to practise my biology skills on a dead planet or teach starving people.

    The DRC is a country in the throes of war, especially in the eastern region. It is also undergoing a huge economic and food crisis. People are hungry and spend much of their time looking for food. As a result, they have no time to think about the climate, even though they are severely affected by the effects of climate change caused by the countries of the global north. A lot of what they are suffering is climate related.

    So I decided to organise and mobilise against climate change. I realised I needed to be ready to play my part at every level, from my local community to international forums. That’s why I taught myself English – my mother tongue is French – within a year of realising that COP climate summits and other major international climate conferences are held in English.

    What environmental issues do you work on?

    Upon realising that so many people are unaware of the root causes of the problems they face, I started focusing on environmental education. I visit schools and universities to raise awareness amongst young people, in the hope that they’ll join me in one way or another in demanding those who have caused climate change to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to stop causing harm, and pay reparations for the harm they have already caused.

    The DRC is a direct victim of the disruption of the seasons and the rainfall cycle that characterises climate change. This is what’s at the root of the drop in agricultural production, a major source of the food insecurity that currently affects more than 25 million Congolese people.

    In addition, I host the Vash Green School Project, which installs clean cooking stoves in schools to reduce deforestation caused by excessive use of wood as an energy source, as well as to improve cooking conditions in schools.

    Have you faced any restrictions or reprisals for the work you do?

    In the DRC, and in most of Africa more generally, defending the environment means becoming the target of certain politicians and businesspeople, because we challenge their interests. Behind every acre of forest illegally cut down by Chinese or European corporations hides a Congolese politician. When I started my activism, I received threatening messages warning me not to look for trouble by meddling with politicians. Friends and members of my extended family put a lot of pressure on me when I started protesting against oil exploitation in the Congo rainforest. But I can’t stop defending the environment, because I think if I remain silent in the face of a crime I would become an accomplice.

    How do you connect with the global climate movement?

    It wasn’t easy, but it happened fairly quickly. When I realised that expressing revolt against climate change and the destruction of nature was a real possibility, I wanted to make my voice heard. The problem was that when I expressed myself in French, my voice didn’t go far; it stayed close by, only creating insecurity for myself and others.

    But thanks to Twitter, I discovered Uganda’s Rise up movement team led by Vanessa Nakate, who became my friend. They are very active in Africa and around the world. In order to join them and speak up for the Congolese people I decided to learn English – and given the right incentives, I was able to do it very quickly. I downloaded Vanessa´s speeches and listened to them every day, so that I learned more about climate change at the same time as I learned English. The more I tweeted in English, the more followers and new connections I got. Today I have over 3,000 followers and connections on every continent. I’m succeeding in becoming a voice of French-speaking Africans crying out for help in adapting to the effects of climate change.

    What priority issues do you want to see addressed at COP28?

    COP28 must be the one to take a clear decision on fossil fuels worldwide, because this is the main cause of the climate change we are experiencing. In my country, the rainforest is in imminent danger. It is going to be sacrificed for the sake of oil exploitation, choosing to ignore the fact that this forest stores a level of CO2 equivalent to more than 10 years of global emissions.

    The phaseout of fossil fuels must be accompanied by provisions for a just transition, so that costs do not fall on those who have done the least to cause the problem we are now in.

    COP28 should also come back to the issue of loss and damage, by deciding to make those who have polluted the most pay, now and not in the future, so that victimised countries can survive.

    Another big issue that should be addressed is that of migration. Those who are responding to climate disaster by taking the route of migration must regain their right to life, which they currently don’t effectively have. The countries of the global north have turned the Mediterranean and the Tunisian desert into cemeteries in which they are burying migrants by the thousands.

    Because these issues need to be urgently addressed, it’s vital to involve civil society at COP28. Civil society is made up of members of forgotten communities, the real victims of climate change. A COP to which only presidents and ministers are invited won’t work, because they are the kind of people who will cope with rising temperatures by turning on their air conditioners and will be able to import food when there are local shortages, all while ordinary people starve because their land receives no rain. Only victims can bring in the reality of climate change, explain what it really looks like in their communities.

    Civic space in the DRC is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Rise Up Movement DRC byemail and follow@Guillaume0905Kl and@RiseUpMovt_DRC1 on Twitter.


     

  • DRC: ‘The 2018 elections carried the hope of change’

    Felix Tshisekedi DRC1

    French 

    Following the publication of our report, ‘Democracy for All: Beyond a Crisis of Imagination’, we continue to interview civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score in doing so.In the aftermath of the December 2018 election in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which led to a new president being elected, CIVICUS speaks to Pascal Mupenda, Programmes Director of Partnership for Integrated Protection (PPI), a not-for-profit, non-partisan and non-religious civil society organisation that seeks to protect human rights defenders and promote peace. Pascal is also the national rapporteur of New Dynamics of Civil Society in the DRC(NDSCI),a network of organisations established in 2013 to strengthen citizen action in the DRC. It currently has 103 local member associations, including two citizen movements.

    Félix Tshisekedi has just been inaugurated as President of the DRC. What were the major challenges encountered in the DRC between the elections of December 2018 and the inauguration?

    General elections were held in the DRC on 30 December 2018 to elect the successor of President Joseph Kabila, as well as to fill the 500 seats of the National Assembly and 715 Provincial Council seats. The post-election situation has been marked by four major elements.

    First, there was the assessment of appeals that some presidential candidates submitted to the Constitutional Court. The electoral law allows dissatisfied candidates to submit such appeals following national presidential and legislative elections. The final results are only proclaimed once the Constitutional Court has issued a ruling. It should be noted that, ever since the Constitutional Court was established in 2006, the Congolese people in general, and human rights defenders (HRDs) in particular, have decried its composition, given that several of its members have very close ties to the government. By way of illustration, the rulings on the appeals lodged with the Constitutional Court after the 2006 and 2011 elections did not satisfy the applicants and were at the root of the violent post-election conflicts between the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila, and the candidates who claimed to be his legitimately elected successor.

    After the elections held on 30 December 2018, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) provisionally proclaimed the victory of Félix Tshisekedi, the candidate of the Cap pour le Changement (CACH) coalition. In response, supporters of Martin Fayulu, the Lamuka coalition candidate, began demonstrating and faced bloody police repression. In the meantime, Martin Fayulu filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court to contest CENI’s provisional results and request a vote recount at all polling stations. Several electoral observation missions, such as those of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), the Catholic Church, the Southern African Development Community, the African Union (AU) and Congolese civil society organisations (CSOs) also supported this approach, claiming that they hold evidence in that regard.

    Notably CENCO, which had deployed the largest number of election observers - around 40,000 - said that its data did not confirm Félix Tshisekedi’s electoral win. On this basis, Martin Fayulu has consistently called for the intervention of the national and international community to ensure that votes are counted and the popular will is respected. Thus, on 17 January 2019, AU heads of state requested the Constitutional Court to postpone its ruling, scheduled for 19 January, and offered to send a delegation that would arrive on 21 January, to try to solve the blossoming crisis. Their mission was cancelled as the Court went on to issue a ruling on 19 January as planned.

    As expected, the Constitutional Court confirmed and proclaimed Félix Tshisekedi as President of the DRC, after rejecting Martin Fayulu's request on the basis that it was unfounded. As soon as the decision was made public, Martin Fayulu held a press briefing saying that he rejected the ruling and considers himself the sole legitimate president, urging Congolese citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations to demand “the truth of the polls.” But apart from some demonstrations in a few places, overall a precarious calm persisted over the country. However, at the last minute the inauguration ceremony, initially scheduled for 22 January, was postponed, eventually taking place on 24 January.

    Second, there is the fact that the results of provincial and national elections were also challenged in several provinces across the country. CENI proclaimed these results when most of the paper ballots remained in the various localities and had not yet been compiled. Therefore, people wonder where CENI got those results from, given that the law does not allow for electronic voting, let alone electronic transmission of the results. Demonstrations around this issue are now taking place almost daily in various parts of the DRC. In the provinces of Kasai, North Kivu and South Kivu, for example, the population has continued to march to say ‘no’ to the election results. The vast majority of Congolese citizens, who voted for change, find it inconceivable that, although President Kabila's nominated successor failed miserably in his bid for the presidency, his Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition seems to have won an overwhelming majority of provincial elections and the majority of national legislative seats in 23 of DRC's 26 provinces.

    Third, the context has been marked by the violation of the Congolese people's right to access information. Indeed, for more than three weeks, the internet connection and signals from foreign media such as Radio France Internationale (RFI), TV5 Monde and France 24, as well as the text messaging system, were interrupted. To access the internet, listen to foreign radio, or watch foreign television, one had to resort to foreign internet providers. The shutdown of communications, along with the restrictions on the freedom of assembly following the elections, were aimed at creating an environment in which the civil and political rights of the Congolese citizens could more easily be violated.

    Finally, threats against HRDs, which had been massive before the elections, have not relented. The South Kivu artivist known as Cor Akim recently went missing and was found unconscious three days later. I was harassed and arrested during an observation mission and kept overnight in the Bukavu police headquarters. Several activists from the Lutte pour le changement (LUCHA) social movement were arbitrarily arrested. These are just a few of the many cases that PPI published in its monthly newsletter’s December 2018 edition.

    What was the significance of these elections for Congolese citizens?

    For Congolese people, the 2018 elections carried the hope of change, on hold since 2016, when the second and last term of incumbent President Joseph Kabila ended without him stepping down. For the first time in history, our country could now have both an outgoing living president and a living incoming president. All our previous presidents were either murdered before leaving power or driven out and forced to live in exile before being eventually murdered.

    But the elections would have been more interesting if the process had been inclusive. Some candidates were excluded as a result of politically motivated prosecution. In addition, CENI greatly undermined the credibility of the elections, especially because of the way it compiled results. Today most elected officials are young, but at the same time many are also from the FCC, which means that voters’ expectations of change will not necessarily be fulfilled.

    In sum, the elections were more significant in terms of voter aspirations than because of their results.

    What roles did civil society play in trying to make the elections as free and fair as possible?

    In the face of the elections civil society launched several campaigns calling for the renewal and rejuvenation of the political class. These included the ‘We, the Youth Can' campaign carried out by PPI alongside other CSOs. Numerous young people ran as candidates.

    Civil society also worked hard to raise awareness of the importance of elections. It contributed with awareness campaigns and programmes to encourage people not only to demand elections, but also to make a useful and responsible use of their vote to achieve the desired change. Thanks to the work done by CSOs, the population had a relatively good understanding of the voting method and how to use a voting machine, although it was not possible to guarantee total mastery of the voting machines by a population that is more than 80 per cent illiterate.

    In addition, many CSOs denounced the human rights violations orchestrated during the election campaign. They also collaborated with CENI to make sure the electoral calendar was respected, and everything was done in conformity with the Constitution and electoral laws.

    Civil society has continued to play an important role during the examination of the candidates’ appeals to both the Constitutional Court for the presidential race and to the Courts of Appeals for the national and provincial legislative elections, providing evidence that the results from polling stations diverged from the provisional results that were proclaimed.

    Do you think the state of democracy in the DRC will improve in the short term?

    An improvement of the state of democracy in the DRC is possible, but some preconditions are necessary for it to happen. First, there needs to be systemic and systematic change of government personnel. If CENI would proclaim the actual results yielded by the ballot it would help avoid a popular uprising. It would also be wise for the Constitutional Court and the provincial courts of appeals to manage properly the cases surrounding national and provincial legislative seats so that the door to violence does not open.

    Second, local and municipal elections should be held, as provided for by the electoral law, in order to bridge the gap between rulers and ruled.

    Third, the justice sector should be reformed, including by strengthening its technical and managerial capacities.

    Fourth, bilateral partnerships between the technical bodies of ministerial cabinets and CSOs should be formed so that joint approaches are adopted to face the challenges of democracy.

    Finally, fundamental freedoms must be respected and tolerance encouraged, so that public space gradually opens up.

    What should the international community do to help improve democracy in the DRC?

    The international community can contribute in many ways. First, it should provide sufficient financial resources to CSOs involved in the protection and empowerment of HRDs and pro-democracy activists. It should also support the participation of Congolese civil society in the United Nations Human Rights Council and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and their advocacy to question the Congolese government’s human rights record and demand that it respects the fundamental notions of democracy.

    Second, it should promote accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and for economic crimes committed by Congolese political and economic actors, often with the complicity of international partners.

    Looking to the future, it should also support government plans for security reform and national development, with an emphasis on strengthening relations between civilians and the military in a way that enhances the protection of democratic gains.

    Civic space in the DRC is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with PPI and NDSCI through their websites.

  • DRC: Attacks on activists and journalists persist

    Statement at the 45th Session of the UN Human Rights Council -- Enhanced Dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

     


    Thank you, Madame President, and thank you High Commissioner for your report.

    We welcomed measures taken by DRC in 2019 under President Tshisekedi to open democratic space but regret ongoing civic space violations in 2020. Journalists and HRDs have been subject to threats, harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests – often on accusations of contempt of officials or defamation. Activist Joseph Bayoko Lokondo was sentenced in March 2020 to 13 months in prison for ‘contempt of a member of the government’ and ‘defamatory statements’ for having criticized the provincial governor. He was released in July after an appeal court reduced his sentence. Freddy Kambale, activist for the social movement LUCHA, was killed in May 2020 by live ammunition during a peaceful protest against increasing insecurity in North Kivu.

    Several protests in Kinshasa against the appointment of a new president of the national electoral commission (CENI) in July 2020 were banned by authorities on grounds of the health emergency, while protests in several cities were dispersed and in some cases met with excessive and lethal force. Other protesters in Kinshasa, Goma and Kisangani were dispersed, and tens of protesters detained.

    We call on the administration to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, including by reviewing all restrictive legislation, decriminalising press offences as a matter of urgency, and ensuring the protection of human rights defenders and journalists.

    Further sustained progress will prove impossible without the full participation, and protection, of civil society. We ask the High Commissioner how members and observers of this Council can best support our colleagues on the ground?

    Finally, we call on the Council to ensure the continuation of this vital mandate in order to maintain and build on the increasingly fragile improvements we have seen since 2019.


    Civic space in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is rated as Closed by the CIVICUS Monitor

  • DRC: No steps taken to end impunity enjoyed by state actors for human rights violations

    41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Interactive dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

    CIVICUS welcomes some positive first steps with regards to civic space taken by President Felix Tshisekedi during his first six months in office, including his commitment to release more than 500 political prisoners. The President pledged, during his inauguration speech, to 'ensure that every citizen is guaranteed the respect of the exercise of their fundamental rights’, and that the government would have among its priorities the fight against impunity and the promotion of the press and the media to turn into a ‘real fourth estate’.

    Despite these initial positive developments, no steps have been taken to end the widespread impunity enjoyed by state actors for human rights violations, including by security forces. Despite some noticeable improvements in the area of peaceful assembly, restrictions including the use of excessive use of force to disperse protesters, are at times still imposed.

    One person was killed when police dispersed protesters during opposition protests in Kinsasha and Goma on 30 June 2019.  It was reported that security forces used tear gas against protesters and some of those involved in the protests were physically assulted. Although there has been a decline in media violations, press offenses are still criminalised. TV reporter Steeve Mwanyo Iwewe was sentenced on 1 March 2019 to one year in prison and the sentence was later reduced to a six-month suspended sentence, in Mbandaka, Equateur province, on charges of ‘insulting authorities’ while he covered a protest of local state employees.

    We call on the Tshisekedi administration to take concrete and sustained measures to implement human rights commitments made and to ensure that the freedoms of peaceful assembly, expression and association are respected. This includes reviewing all restrictive legislation–  notably the draft Law on Associations and the draft Law on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – to bring them in line with international human rights law.

    We further urge the DRC  to take concrete measures to end widespread impunity by fully investigating all human rights violations and bringing those responsible swiftly to justice.

  • DRC: Ongoing restrictions on civic freedoms must be addressed and accountability ensured

    Statement at 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Item 10: Enhanced Interactive Dialogoue on the High Commissioner's report on the Democratic Republic of Congo

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President, and thank you High Commissioner for your report. We share your concerns on ongoing restrictions on civic freedoms. Journalists and HRDs continue to face threats, harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests, while protests have been at times met with disproportionate force.

    In the past few months, under the state of emergency laws in the provinces of Ituri and North Kivu, three journalists - Joël Musavuli, Héritier Magayane and Barthelemy Kubanabandu Changamuka – were killed, and numerous others have received threats. Actualite.cd journalist Sosthène Kambidi was arrested by military officers last month on accusations of “criminal conspiracy, rebellion and terrorism” for being in possession of a video of the murder of two UN monitors in 2017. Kambidi was involved in a media investigation on the circumstances of those murders.

    Protests are too often met with disproportionate force on the part of security forces. An opposition protest to demand the depoliticization of the national electoral commission in September 2021 was violently repressed by police officers in Kinshasa, who also beat and assaulted journalists who were covering the protest, including RFI correspondent Patient Ligodi.

    Human rights defenders have been subjected to arbitrary detention and judicial harassment for their peaceful activism. LUCHA activists Elisée Lwatumba Kasonia and Eric Muhindo Muvumbu were arrested in April while calling for a strike to protest increasing insecurity. They were charged with “civil disobedience” and “threatening an attack” and released under stringent bail conditions in July. Other LUCHA activists, Parfait Muhani and Ghislain Muhiwa, have been charged with defamation, among other charges, and await trial before the Military Court.

    We call on the Tshisekedi administration to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, including by reviewing all restrictive legislation, decriminalising press offences, and as a matter of urgency ensuring the protection of human rights defenders and journalists.

    To ensure sustained improvements, ending impunity for rights violations, including those against civil society, must be a priority. To this end, we call on the Council to maintain critical ongoing efforts towards accountability, including that of the team of international experts on Kasai. We further ask the High Commissioner how members and observers of this Council can best support those on the ground to prevent further civic space violations.

    We thank you.


    Civic space in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is rated as "repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor

  • DRC: Statement on human rights violations

     

    Statement at the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Response during the Interactive Dialogue on the Democratic Republic of Congo

    CIVICUS welcomes the decree signed by newly-elected Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi to pardon about 700 political prisoners detained for participating in peaceful protests or expressing dissenting opinions. While we commend the President for fulfilling a pledge made in his inaugural address, we urge that this is swiftly followed by the actual release from prison of those detained.

    Mr.  President, the people of DRC have experienced years of widespread human rights violations and repression, including serious restrictions on freedom of association, assembly and expression. The use of violence to disperse peaceful protesters was a hallmark of the former regime and continued after the December 2018 elections.  Those targeted have largely been representatives of civil society groups and supporters of the political opposition.  

    The right to freedom of expression and access to information was severely restricted in the aftermath of the elections, when authorities shut down electronic and radio communications under the pretext of preventing the spread of false information.  The government should now lift all restrictions on media freedom, including the 2017 Decree on Freedom of the Press, as a crucial step towards creating an enabling environment for all to express their views without fear of violence and intimidation.

    The human rights violations perpetrated in the DRC have been compounded by the impunity enjoyed by government officials and members of the security forces, including the army, presidential guard and intelligence services.  A major priority for the new administration should be to investigate all human rights violations, including killings, sexual violence, abductions, arbitrary detentions and extra-judicial executions, and to ensure that all perpetrators be held accountable for their actions.  

    The new administration has a responsibility to ensure that the rule of law is strengthened, and freedom of expression, assembly and association upheld. If this is to happen, the new leadership must guarantee the independence of institutions that promote and protect human rights, and to ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without any interference from the state.


    The CIVICUS Monitor rates the state of civic space in the Democratic Republic of Congo as Closed.

  • DRC: The press and the right to protest remain unprotected

    Statement at the 46 Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the Democratic Republic of Congo

    Thank you, Madame President, and thank you High Commissioner for your update. We share your concerns on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including ongoing restrictions on civic freedoms.

    Despite some positive developments and measures taken in 2019, human rights violations have increased in 2020. Journalists and HRDs continue to face threats, harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests, while several protests have been repressed by security forces. 

    In the past year, several journalists have been detained or summoned - often on accusations of contempt of officials, insulting authorities or criminal defamation. Christophe Yoka Nkumu of community radio station Radio Liberté Bikoro was arrested on 22 February 2021 after reporting that a parliamentary representative had used a vehicle earmarked for public health officials fighting Ebola. 

    Protests are too often met with excessive force on the part of security forces, while activists have been arbitrarily arrested for their participation in peaceful protests. In December 2020 and January 2021, ten LUCHA activists were arrested during protests in Beni. Eight activists, detained in the course of a protest criticising the UN peacekeeping mission 's (MONUSCO) ability to protect civilians in eastern DRC, were brought before a military court on charges of ‘sabotage and violence against state security guards’ – facing 10 years in prison – before they were acquitted. On 12 January 2021, police officers beat and physically assaulted several journalists while they were covering a student protest in Bukavu. 

    We call on the Tshisekedi administration to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected, including by reviewing all restrictive legislation, decriminalising press offences as a matter of urgency, and ensuring the protection of human rights defenders and journalists. 

    To ensure sustained improvements, ending impunity for rights violations, including those against civil society, must be a priority, and we call on the government to ensure that those responsible for such violations be held to account. We ask the High Commissioner how members and observers of this Council can best support those on the ground in order to prevent further backsliding on human rights, and what steps the Council should take should the deterioration continue?


    Civic space in the DRC is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

  • NGO soldiers on giving holistic care to rape survivors in DRC

    CIVICUS speaks to Julienne Lusenge, director of SOFEPADI (Solidarite Feminine pour la Paix et le Development Integral), an NGO based in the Democratic Republic of Congo which supports and empowers women and girls who are rape and domestic violence survivors.

  • Outcomes & reflections from UN Human Rights Council

    38th Session of the Human Rights Council
    End of Session Joint Civil Society Statement

    Our organisations welcome the adoption of the resolutions on civil society space, peaceful protest, on violence against women and girls and on discrimination against women and girls and the Council’s rejection of attempts to impede progress on protecting civil society space, peaceful protest and the rights to sexual and reproductive health.

    On civil society space, the resolution recognizes the essential contribution that civil society makes to international and regional organisations and provides guidance to States and organisations on improving their engagement with civil society.  On peaceful protest, it sets out in greater detail how international law and standards protect rights related to protests. 

    On violence against women and on discrimination against women, we consider that ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights are vital in efforts to combat violence and discrimination against women, online and offline, as well as to ensure targeted and specific remedies to victims. We appreciate that the work of women human rights defenders towards this is recognised. 

    We consider the adoption of the resolution on the contribution of the Council to the prevention of human rights violations as an important opportunity to advance substantive consideration on strengthening the Council’s ability to deliver on its prevention mandate.

    Following challenging negotiations, we welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on human rights and the Internet, reaffirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, and calling on States to tackle digital divides between and within countries, emphasising the importance of tools for anonymity and encryption for the enjoyment of human rights online, in particular for journalists, and condemning once more all measures that prevent or disrupt access to information online.

    We welcome continued Council attention to Eritrea's abysmal human rights record. This year's resolution, while streamlined, extends expert monitoring of, and reporting on, the country and outlines a way forward for both engagement and human rights reform. We urge Eritrea to engage in long-overdue meaningful cooperation. 

    We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus under item 4 with an increased vote - as it is still the only independent international mechanism to effectively monitor human rights violations in Belarus - while remaining concerned over a narrative to shift the mandate to item 10 in the absence of any systemic change in Belarus. 

    We welcome the consensus resolution on the Democratic Republic of Congo, putting in place continued monitoring and follow up on the expert’s recommendations on the Kasais. However, given violations and abuses throughout several regions in the country, occurring against the backdrop of an ongoing political crisis, delayed elections, and the brutal quashing of dissent, we urge the Council to promptly move towards putting in place a country-wide mechanism that can respond to events on the ground as they emerge.

    We welcome the strong resolution on Syria, which condemns violations and abuses by all parties, and appropriately addresses concerns raised by the COI about the use of chemical weapons, sexual and gender-based violence, and the need to address situations of detainees and disappearances. The Council cannot stay silent in the face of continued atrocities as the conflict continues unabated into its seventh year.

    We welcome the joint statements delivered this session on Cambodia, the Philippines,and Venezuela. We urge Council members and observes to work towards increased collective action to urgently address the dire human rights situations in these countries.  

    On the Philippines, we emphasise that the Council should establish an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings in the ‘war on drugs’ and mandate the OHCHR to report on the human rights situation and on moves toward authoritarianism.  

    The joint statement on Cambodia represents a glimmer of hope after the Council's failure to take meaningful action against clear sabotage of democratic space ahead of elections. Close scrutiny of the human rights situation before, during and after the elections is paramount and the Council must take immediate action on current and future human rights violations in this regard.

    We welcome the joint statement delivered by Luxembourg  calling on the HRC President to provide short oral updates on cases of alleged intimidation or reprisal, including actions taken, at the start of the Item 5 general debate of each Council session and also provide States concerned with the opportunity to respond.

    Finally, the new Council member to replace the United States should demonstrate a principled commitment to human rights, to multilateralism and to addressing country situations of concern by applying objective criteria. 

    Joint Statement by Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the Association for Progressive Communications, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 

  • RDC : CIVICUS demande la libération immédiate des journalistes Patrick Lola et Christian Bofaya

    CIVICUS demande aux autorités de la République démocratique du Congo (RDC) de libérer immédiatement les journalistes et militants Patrick Lola et Christian Bofaya, arrêtés pour avoir fait leur métier. Patrick et Christian sont arbitrairement détenus sans avoir été inculpés depuis cinq mois à la prison centrale de Mbandaka, chef-lieu de la province de l’Équateur. 

  • RDC : la presse et le droit de manifester ne sont toujours pas protégés

    Déclaration au Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations Unies 

    Merci, Madame la Présidente, et merci, Madame la Haut-Commissaire, pour votre mise à jour. Nous partageons vos préoccupations concernant la détérioration de la situation des droits humains en République démocratique du Congo, notamment les restrictions continues aux libertés civiques.

    Malgré quelques avancées et des mesures prises en 2019, les violations des droits humains se sont multipliées en 2020. Les journalistes et les défenseurs des droits humains continuent de faire l’objet de menaces, de harcèlement, d’intimidation et d’arrestations arbitraires, tandis que plusieurs manifestations ont été réprimées par les forces de sécurité.

    L’année dernière, plusieurs journalistes ont été détenus ou convoqués  ̶  souvent sur des accusations d’outrage aux fonctionnaires, d’insulte aux autorités ou de diffamation. Le journaliste Christophe Yoka Nkumu, de la station de radio communautaire Radio Liberté Bikoro, a été arrêté le 22 février 2021 après avoir signalé qu’un représentant parlementaire avait utilisé un véhicule destiné aux agents de santé publique luttant contre Ebola.

    Les manifestations sont trop souvent réprimées de manière disproportionnée par les forces de sécurité, tandis que des militants ont été arrêtés arbitrairement pour avoir participé à des manifestations pacifiques. En décembre 2020 et janvier 2021, dix militants du mouvement Lutte pour le changement (Lucha) ont été arrêtés lors de manifestations à Beni. Huit militants, arrêtés au cours d’une manifestation qui remettait en question la capacité d’une des missions de maintien de la paix de l’ONU, la MONUSCO, à protéger les civils dans l’est de la RDC, ont été traduits devant un tribunal militaire pour « sabotage et violence contre des agents de sécurité de l’État »  ̶  ils risquaient 10 ans de prison  ̶  avant d’être acquittés. Le 12 janvier 2021, des policiers ont battu et agressé plusieurs journalistes alors qu’ils couvraient une manifestation étudiante à Bukavu.

    Nous demandons à l’administration Tshisekedi de veiller au respect des libertés fondamentales, notamment en révisant toutes les législations restrictives, en dépénalisant de toute urgence les délits de presse et en assurant la protection des défenseurs des droits humains et des journalistes.

    Pour garantir des améliorations durables, la fin de l’impunité pour les violations des droits (y compris celles commises contre la société civile) doit être une priorité, et nous demandons au gouvernement de veiller à ce que les responsables de ces violations soient tenus de rendre des comptes. Nous demandons à la Haut-Commissaire comment les membres et les observateurs de ce Conseil peuvent soutenir au mieux les personnes sur le terrain afin d’éviter tout nouveau recul des droits humains, et quelles mesures le Conseil devrait prendre si la situation continue à se dégrader.


    L'espace civique en RDC est considéré comme réprimé par le Monitor CIVICUS.

     
  • SADC fiddles while the DRC burns

    By Teldah Mawarire, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer and Ine van Severen, Civic Space Research Officer 

    When a home catches fire, neighbours dash out to fight the blaze. They are motivated not only by a concern for the occupants’ welfare but also for their own — if the fire is not contained, it could engulf their homes too.

    Read on: Mail and Guardian 

     

  • The DRC: CIVICUS calls for the immediate release of journalists Patrick Lola and Christian Bofaya

    CIVICUS calls on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) authorities to immediately release journalists and activists Patrick Lola and Christian Bofaya, arrested for doing their job. Patrick and Christian have been arbitrarily detained without charge for five months in the central prison of Mbandaka, the provincial capital of Equateur.

  • Widespread arrests, attacks and legal restrictions facing LGBTQI+ activists across Africa finds new report

    Widespread arrests, attacks and legal restrictions facing LGBTQI+ activists across Africa finds new report

    Johannesburg | 4 July, 2023

    • Same-sex relations criminalised in at least 27 countries south of the Sahara
    • Organisations shut down and offices raided for their work on LGBTQI+ rights
    • Widespread bans on the publication of information on gay rights
    • Anti-LGBTQI+ laws and practices disproportionately impact other excluded groups including women, children and victims of abuse 

    From Uganda to Cameroon, LGBTQI+ activists face significant restrictions due to the prevailing social, cultural and legal attitudes towards homosexuality and gender identity. A new report by CIVICUS, Challenging Barriers: Investigating Civic Space Limitations on LGBTQI+ Rights in Africa, looks at some common challenges faced by activists and civil society groups in countries south of the Sahara.

    Many African countries have laws that criminalise same sex activity. The laws, often remnants of colonial era legislation, can be used to target and prosecute LGBTQI+ individuals, including activists. Penalties range from fines, imprisonment to even the death penalty in some countries. 

    Limited legal protection in many African countries offers little or no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This lack of protection makes it difficult for activists and civil society groups to advocate for equal rights or seek justice when they face human rights abuses. The offices and activities of civil society organisations advocating for LGBTQI+ rights have been either raided or shutdown in Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Cameroon.

    Attacks against people who identify as LGBTQI+ are common in countries such as Benin, Cameroon and Kenya. In Cameroon since 2022 there have been over 30 recorded cases of violence and abuse against LGBTQI+ people, while in Kenya sexual minority groups face escalating homophobic attacks. In January 2023, following a series of killings in 2022, unknown assailants murdered and dumped the body of LGBTQI+ activist Edwin Chiloba. Chiloba’s death, which many linked to his sexual orientation sparked public outrage, with civil society groups and members of the public denouncing the murder and calling on the authorities to bring those involved to justice.

    “With the escalating hostility towards the LGBTQ+ community in Africa, this report sheds light on the grave reality faced by many, and compels us to challenge prejudice, and advocate for equality - especially for the most marginalised. Governments must ensure equal protection for all people in accordance with their obligations on non-discrimination under international human rights law. We implore governments to take robust measures to safeguard the rights and well-being of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Sylvia Mbataru, CIVICUS’ Civic Space Researcher for Eastern & Southern Africa.

    Censorship and restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly have contributed to a deteriorating environment for activists. In several countries, the publication and dissemination of material on LGBTQI+ issues face strict editorial controls and bans. CIVICUS also documents how protests are being suppressed, including the use of various laws to deny permits for public demonstrations, specifically targeting LGBTQI gatherings.

    Despite the hostile environment in many countries, civil society groups continue to advocate for LGBTQI+ rights and score important victories. The report also documents  a number of positive developments including the decriminalization of same sex relations in Botswana and Gabon, as well as a recent Supreme Court decision in Namibia to recognise same-sex marriages concluded abroad between citizens and foreign spouses.

    The report concludes by demonstrating the impact of civic space restrictions against LGBTQI+ groups, and shows how the ramifications of these restrictions also affect other excluded groups including women and children.

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