HRDs being interviewed by journalists


From Kinshasa to Berlin and Brussels: PI’s Efforts to Support HRDs in the DRC

Amid a very concerning escalation of the violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) also remains alarming. The space for civil society to defend human rights is shrinking and local voices denounce that the Congolese authorities not only fail to protect defenders, but in some cases also contribute to stigmatising narratives and to an overall hostile environment that hinders their work. Among the main challenges faced by HRDs in the DRC are threats and attacks by state and non-state actors, restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, difficulties in accessing justice and the lack of legal protection.

Despite these serious challenges, there is some room for hope as we also find growing awareness about the HRD’s situation at national and international level, and efforts to strengthen the legal framework for their protection are also being developed.

Earlier this April, teams from Protection International (PI) based in Brussels and in Eastern DRC (Goma and Bukavu), convened in Kinshasa. The weeklong meeting aimed to strategize and update the joint action plan, bolster advocacy efforts and engage with key partners and relevant stakeholders. With no doubt, the encounter allowed for a reinforcement of the professional and personal relations, whose collaboration is essential for PI’s support to HRDs communities in the region.

PI’s work in DRC reaches a wide variety of thematic areas around preventive protection and security for HRDs. We mainly focus on, an enabling environment for the right to defend human rights, the creation and accompaniment of HRDs networks, collective and community protection, access to justice for HRDs, supporting peacebuilding processes and democratic elections, among others. Particularly, we prioritised our support for women HRDs due to their vulnerability in the Congolese society. Our actions reach several provinces in the country, including North-Kivu, South-Kivu, Ituri, and Haut-Katanga.

During the visit, meetings were held with project partners, including 11.11.11 and SOFEPADI, with whom we collaborate on a regular basis in the frame of our activities. Similarly, we met with the Coalition des Femmes Défenseures des Droits Humains in order to discuss latest advancements of our joint activities. We also engaged with key stakeholders, including the Embassies of Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany – who have supported and keep backing up our actions on the ground. By the end of the week, the colleagues from PI’s global team were deeply immerged in the daily work of the DRC team, as they also participated in the activities carried out in the framework of our ongoing projects.

Advocating in Europe for HRDs from the DRC

Remarkably, the advocacy tour did not finish in Kinshasa, but continued all the way to Berlin and Brussels. PI’s interim Country Representative in DRC, Balzac Ntazongwa, joined the Brussels team back to Europe to meet with the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our partner NGO Bread for the Word in the German capital. They exchanged about PI’s current projects and about the challenges colleagues and HRDs in DRC are currently facing, as well as about our future perspectives.

From Berlin, DRC Country Representative joined PI colleagues in Brussels. Besides meeting and exchanging with colleagues in person, Ntazongwa met with key stakeholders at the EU capital, as well as with civil society allies such as the Secretariat of the European Network for Central Africa (EurAc) – of which PI is a member – and with other EurAc members. During the meetings, Ntazongwa raised some concerns about the recently adopted Law on the protection and responsibility of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which contains numerous problematic provisions. The security situation in the east of the country.

Given the deteriorating human rights situation and the increasing barriers to the right to defend human rights in DRC, it is crucial to continue supporting human rights defenders and to keep calling on the Congolese authorities to protect their rights and promote an environment where they can work freely without fear of attacks or reprisals. Protection International’s commitment is to continue accompanying HRDs and their collectives on the ground and advocating for strong public policies and mechanisms for their protection.