afrol News, 12 September - President Joseph Kabila of Congo Kinshasa (DRC) is asked to finally take step to improve the human rights situation in his country. While peace is approaching, opposition to the Kinshasa government is virtually prohibited and human rights defenders are persecuted.
The US-based group Human Rights Watch today appealed to President Kabila, he should use his visit to the United Nations General Assembly, starting today, "to announce the release of one of the country's leading human rights defenders."
The group especially mentions N'sii Luanda Shandwe, who has been held in Kinshasa for more than four months and is charged with treason and sheltering criminals. He is facing trial before the Military Order Court, and could be sentenced to death if found guilty.
N'sii Luanda, who is the head of the Committee for the Observation of Human Rights (CODHO), is apparently being held because he hosted a former political detainee at his house. He is detained at the Centre Pénitentiaire et de Rééducation de Kinshasa and has recently been suffering from malaria.
- Human rights defenders all over Congo are regularly being harassed and arrested, said Juliane Kippenberg of the US group. She urged President Kabila to show his commitment to human rights by taking the practical step of releasing N'sii Luanda during his visit, "or having him transferred to a civilian court to be tried in accordance with international fair trial standards."
Human Rights Watch had sought a meeting with President Kabila during his current visit to the United States to discuss the case of N'sii Luanda, as well as other issues of human rights protection, the group stated today.
However, methods of intimidation and obstruction against human rights defenders in rebel-controlled areas of Congo were "strangely similar to those in government-held areas," the group - which often is seen siding with Kinshasa against Rwanda, Uganda and rebel groups backed by them - observed in its statement.
On 3 September, forces of the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement (RCD-ML) arrested a human rights activist in Aru, north-eastern Congo. Honoré Mosoko, from the local rights group Justice Plus, was detained until 6 September, evidently because he had given an interview critical about the RCD-ML to 'Voice of America'. The RCD-ML is one of several rebel factions that have been backed by the Ugandan government.
In Goma, activists of Study and Action Group for a Well-Defined Development (GEAD) have been unable to do their work since May 2002, when soldiers of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) occupied their offices. The RCD is a Rwandan-backed rebel force that controls large parts of eastern Congo.
In May, RCD soldiers seized documents and equipment from GEAD, locked the office and left soldiers guarding the building. During the night of 29 May, soldiers visited the home of Delphine Itongwa, a leading member of GEAD, evidently to intimidate the group further. Various efforts to reopen the group's offices have failed. The RCD authorities have accused GEAD of links with Mai Mai rebels opposing the RCD, but have not been able to produce any concrete evidence to support this allegation.
- GEAD has a right to do its work freely and not be harmed, said Mrs Kippenberg. "It is unacceptable that human rights defenders are being obstructed in their work, and their organisation suspended without any procedure or possibility of appeal."
Sources: Based on Human Rights Watch and afrol archives