DR Congo

Hope is not Dead

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News and Press Release
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On 10 December, the international human rights day, the international community should support the daily and determined struggle of human rights defenders in Zaire, Amnesty International said today.
South-Kivu region's capital, Bukavu which has become since 1990 the home to a flourishing civil society movement, has been subjected to a clamp down on human rights activists by the Zairian authorities. Since September, many of them have been killed, 'disappeared', attacked or imprisoned either by members of the Zairian security forces or by members of the armed group the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, (AFDL).

Many human rights groups are involved in educating the public about their civil and political rights which have been systematically violated by the political, security and judicial authorities for decades. However, despite threats and continuous harassment, they have not stopped their activities in documenting and denouncing abuses.

Amnesty International has received many alarming reports on the difficult conditions that the human rights defenders face in their effort to investigate and publicize cases of human rights abuses committed by both the Zairian authorities and armed groups. Since September 1996, several members of a church-based human rights and conflict resolution group Heritiers de la Justice, Heirs of Justice, working in South-Kivu have been threatened by the Zairian security forces for criticizing human rights violations in the region.

Furthermore, members of the AFDL have reportedly carried out executions of actual and potential critics such as the Archbishop of Bukavu who was killed in October.

The body of Jean-Bosco Bahati, a member of Heirs of Justice, was found with the bodies of his wife and children towards the end of October. It is unclear if he was killed by the Zairian armed forces or by members of AFDL. Jean Marie Kati-Kati, the president of GRACE, a group of para-jurists based in Goma, was shot by armed groups. He lost his wife and children in the attack. Professor Wasso, an outspoken critic of human rights abuses, has also reportedly been killed. Amnesty International is investigating all these cases.

Dr. Jean-Paul Simbizi , a member of the human rights group, Justice et Liberation, Justice and Liberation, was ill-treated by students and detained by members of the Zairian security forces. His present whereabouts are still not known. Amnesty international is concerned that he may have 'disappeared'.

Emmanuel Lubala, a lawyer and president of Heritiers de la Justice has been forced into hiding in Kinshasa after fleeing in late October from eastern Zaire; members of the Service d'action et de renseignements militaires (SARM), Military action and Intelligence Service, have been searching for him and is being persecuted because of his human rights and professional activities on behalf of Tutsi. Amnesty International is concerned that he may be subjected to arbitrary arrest or ill-treatment.

Because they hid Tutsi in their houses when AFDL took Goma, many human rights defenders, like Bushoki Batabiha, were threatened. Amnesty International is extremely concerned about his fate. The organization believes that he is in hiding, but away from Goma.

In July and August, members of a non-governmental organization in Kamituga, Mwenga district, the Collectif d'action pour le developpement des droits de l'homme, (CADDHOM), Collective of Actions for Human Rights Development, including the General Coordinator of this organization, Didi Mwati Bulambo, were arrested following a series of articles criticizing corruption in the Procuracy at Kamituga. Before being released, some of them were severely beaten. Their office was also closed down by members of the armed forces.

"Human rights protection should be at the heart of all attempts to resolve the crisis in eastern Zaire. A strong international presence in the area is needed to protect people at risk, including human rights defenders," Amnesty International said.

ENDS\

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