13 LUCHA defenders sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment for peaceful protest – a stain on the rule of law so highly praised by the authorities in the DR Congo.
01 April 2022
We, the signatory organisations, deplore the unfounded and unjust condemnation of the thirteen human rights defenders (HRDs) of the LUCHA by the Beni Garrison Military Court.
Today, 1 April 2022, 13 human rights defenders from the LUCHA movement were sentenced to 12 months in prison by the Beni Garrison Military Court. This sentence constitutes an obstacle to the rule of law as desired by the Congolese authorities.
As a reminder, the 13 HRDs were arrested and detained on Thursday 11 November 2021, while organising a peaceful demonstration to denounce the repeated killings and massacres of civilians that persist despite the proclamation of a state of siege in the province of North Kivu and in the province of Ituri.
The 13 LUCHA defenders were prosecuted before the Beni Garrison Military Court under RP 2136/TMG (1) for insurrection, incitement to revolt and disobedience to the law, acts provided for and punished by Law No. 024/2002 of 18 November 2002 of the military penal code in its articles 136 and 137.
During their detention of now 5 months, the health of three of the 13 LUCHA defenders, including one woman, has seriously deteriorated due to the poor conditions of detention.
The announcement of the verdict was made almost two months late, violating the right of the 13 defenders to a fair trial and due process, as proclaimed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
It should also be noted that these defenders have been criminalised in a province that has a novel provincial law for the protection of human rights defenders. Article 5 of this law states: “In the event of the prosecution, search, arrest or detention of a human rights defender solely on the basis of the opinions expressed, actions taken or publications issued by him/her in the course of his/her activities, the provincial and local authorities are obliged to assist him/her and to demand his/her release without any preconditions” (2). It is regrettable that the authorities have disregarded this legal protection for human rights defenders and have taken steps to actively ignore it.
Since the state of siege was declared in the two provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, over 21 LUCHA activists have been arrested. The right to defend oneself is limited and penalised in North Kivu and Ituri, and this verdict is proof of that. It is deplorable that DR Congo is a country where human rights defenders are criminalised for their work. Engagement in the name of peace should not be followed by prison.
Adding to the worrying trend of threats and attacks against human rights defenders in North Kivu and Ituri, on 24 January 2022, LUCHA accused Congolese security forces of killing Mumbere Ushindi, a member of LUCHA, during a peaceful demonstration in Beni against the state of siege and the imprisonment of 13 LUCHA defenders. Despite repeated calls by civil society actors for the Congolese justice system to open an investigation into this case, no proceedings have been initiated to identify and bring to justice the alleged perpetrator of Ushindi’s murder.
This verdict comes as a shock to the 13 defenders, their families and the entire LUCHA movement in the DRC; peaceful protest is a right enshrined and guaranteed by Article 26 of the DRC constitution, and the right to defend human rights is universal. These 13 defenders should never have been arrested.
We call on the Congolese authorities to:
- Release these 13 defenders immediately and unconditionally.
- Provide adequate medical care to defenders who have fallen ill due to the conditions of detention.
- Respect and strengthen the North Kivu provincial law for the protection of human rights defenders, and accelerate the civil society initiative to create a national law for the protection of human rights defenders.
- Urge the Congolese Minister of Justice, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and the Minister of Human Rights to set up a joint commission to investigate the murder of LUCHA defender Mumbere USHINDI.
We call on the international community to:
- Advocate for the immediate and unconditional release of the 13 human rights defenders from LUCHA.
- Support Congolese civil society initiatives to create a national law for the protection of human rights defenders.
- Protection International
- Protection International Africa
- Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders of North and South Kivu
(1) Reference of the file of the 13 LUCHA defenders to the military tribunal of the Beni Garrison Military Court
(2) Provincial decree for the protection of human rights defenders in North Kivu, 30 November 2019, article 5, page 4