A First Step for Justice in DR Congo
On May 11, the High Military Court in Democratic Republic of Congo upheld the guilty verdicts of two senior Congolese police officers for the assassination of leading human rights defender Floribert Chebeya and his driver, Fidèle Bazana, in 2010. Former colonel Christian Ngoy Kenga Kenga was sentenced to death – commuted to life imprisonment – and former lieutenant Jacques Mugabo was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The court acquitted former major Paul Mwilambwe. The three men had been sentenced to death in absentia in June 2011, but their appeal trial only opened in late September last year. It confirmed allegations the murders were ordered by then police chief, Gen. John Numbi. However, Numbi – who appeared in court in the 2010 trial as a witness – has not been investigated. He fled the country in March 2021 after Congolese authorities issued a warrant for his arrest. Chebeya was the director of one of Congo's most respected human rights organizations, Voix des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless). On June 1, 2010, he received a phone call asking him to attend a meeting at General Numbi's office.
The next day, police said Chebeya was found dead in his car. “This is a step, but this isn’t finished,” Chebeya’s widow, Annie, told Human Rights Watch. “All those who were cited, who knew about the orders or participated in this odious assassination, all of them should be arrested and prosecuted.” Bazana’s body is still missing, but the appeal court heard several witness accounts confirming he was buried at a house belonging to Col. Zelwa Katanga, the Kinshasa military police commander at that time. Katanga remains in detention. After years of advocacy by rights groups for investigations, two Congolese police officers in exile gave radio interviews in which they provided a detailed account of the crime and admitted to having participated in the killings. Another police officer in exile, who also admitted to participating in the murders, was deported in January from Turkey and presented to the court as an informant. This appeal trial began to piece together the story of a double murder the previous Congolese administration tried to cover up. But it is only a partial step towards real justice. Almost 12 years on, those most responsible for the horrendous targeting of human rights defenders should finally be held to account.
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