Congo government, rebels murder rights campaigners: UN


A top United Nations official is accusing police, soldiers, intelligence agents and rebels in Democratic Republic of Congo of killing, attacking, and threatening local human rights campaigners.

Despite 2006 elections meant to usher in a new era of democracy and the rule of law, Margaret Sakeggya, the UN special reporter on the sitation of human rights defenders, yesterday said rights activists remain targets of abuse.

“The situation is still serious. They face the issue of a lack of security, both physical and mental, in their operations,” she said after a two-week visit to the country.

“They are intimidated. Some are killed. And the perception of defenders in the country is still not good.”

Reuters notes that much of Congo‘s eastern borderlands remain a volatile patchwork of rebel fiefdoms and militia strongholds after its 1998-2003 war. The resulting humanitarian catastrophe has killed an estimated 5.4 million people over the past decade.

Sakeggya gave the names of eight rights campaigners and journalists killed while attempting to expose abuses in the vast central African nation, adding that those responsible for attacks on activists go largely unpunished.

“Perpetrators of violations against defenders range from police, military and intelligence officers to members of armed groups,” she said in a separate statement.

Congo‘s minister of information rejected Sakeggya’s findings, adding that the specific cases she mentioned had been investigated by authorities and resulted in prosecutions.

“I’m surprised that she said that these cases were not taken care of. You must not give the impression that nothing has been done,” Lambert Mende told Reuters.

“To say this kind of thing is very serious. She has done nothing to prove that state authorities participated in these cases,” he said.

Sakeggya called upon Congo‘s central and provincial governments to pass laws creating a special status for human rights defenders and urged reforms of the army and judiciary.

She also demanded access for Congo‘s U.N. peacekeeping mission, MONUC, to detention facilities run by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR).

ANR agents have been accused by local activists and international rights groups of orchestrating a campaign of repression against opposition parties since the 2006 polls.

Congolese rights activists are often seen as enemies or opponents by the authorities, Sakeggya said, and are arrested and held incommunicado without any judicial oversight.