On 10 February 2016, the Governor of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo promulgated an edict on the protection of human rights defenders and journalists in South Kivu.
The vote and adoption of the edict by the Provincial Assembly of South Kivu, as well as the promulgation by the Governor of South Kivu, represent an important step in the establishment of mechanisms to protect human rights defenders, said Protection International today.
Protection International welcomes the efforts of the provincial authorities, including members of the Provincial Assembly and the Governor of South Kivu, for their consistent involvement throughout the process. This initiative by provincial authorities sends a strong message at a time when human rights defenders and journalists are subject to threats, violence and arbitrary arrest and when the space to carry out their work is becoming increasingly restricted.
One of the legislation’s intentions is to establish “…a legal framework for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists in order to create a safe climate to allow them to act without hindrance and in complete security”. Protection International urges all state actors in South Kivu, including security services, to respect their obligations and contribute to the implementation of the edict.
The new text references the precarious context in which human rights defenders work: “…journalists and human rights defenders are often the object of numerous violations and restrictions of their rights because of the exercise of their activities: arrest and arbitrary detentions, kidnappings and disappearances, being placed under surveillance, torture or physical aggression, judicial harassment, death threats, murder, intimidation, illegal bans, forced exile and other forms of hindrances and frustrations. Others have been assassinated in conditions which have not yet been made clear”. The text highlights the role of human rights defenders and journalists, and their right to freedom of assembly and expression, including being able to hold meetings, the free communication of information on human rights and the capacity to denounce politicians or the authorities if they have committed human rights violations. The text also stipulates that a defender can have recourse to the relevant judicial institutions in case his or her rights are violated.
Civil society organizations in South Kivu, Protection International and the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office consider that the promulgation of the edict is a victory obtained as a result of joint efforts, following eight years of long and difficult work.
Protection International calls on all actors in the area of human rights defender protection to now push at national level for the adoption of the draft bill on the promotion and protection of human rights defenders. Protection International also urges the authorities to publish this edict in the official journal as soon as possible.
In 2007, civil society in South Kivu introduced a proposal for an edict on the protection of human rights defenders and journalists, with the support of Protection International and the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office.
Civil society in South Kivu has been deeply affected by attacks on human rights defenders. On 31 July 2005, Pascal Kabungulu Kibembi, the Executive Secretary of the organization Héritiers de la Justice (Heirs of Justice), was shot at his home in front of his family. Between 2007 and 2009, journalists Didace Namujimbo, Serge Maheshe, and Bruno Koko Chirambiza were also killed. These murders strengthened the determination of civil society to demand improved protection from the State for human rights defenders.
The first version of the edict was written in 2007 with the technical support of a team of experts from Protection International, but the endorsed text did not receive the support of the Provincial Assembly. Other attempts to adopt the text failed because members of the Provincial Assembly considered that human rights defenders were seeking to grant themselves immunities through the edict.
In its plenary session on 28 December 2015, the provincial assembly of South Kivu adopted the report of the Political, Administrative and Judicial Commission on the text of the edict. The report was adopted by the majority of parliamentarians.
On 30 December 2015, the Provincial Assembly voted on the edict article by article. The text was adopted unanimously.