Friday, June 18, 2010

Supporting Vulnerable Human Rights Defenders in the Congo

Dr. Patrick Ball, Benetech's Chief Scientist and Vice President of our Human Rights Program, is spending much of this year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Patrick is working with a UN human rights project.

The importance of supporting human rights in the DRC was underscored this month when it was reported that Floribert Chebeya, executive director of one of the DRC’s largest human rights organizations, Voice of the Voiceless (VSV), was found dead on the outskirts of Kinshasa. Chebeya, who also directed a national network of DRC human rights groups, died of unknown causes after being summoned on June 1st to meet General John Numbi, the head of the national police force. According to news reports Chebeya was found dead in his car early the next morning.

Amnesty International notes that there has been increased oppression of human rights defenders in the DRC this past year including illegal arrest, prosecution, phone threats and repeated summoning to the offices of the intelligence services. Benetech staff member Vijaya Tripathi has trained human rights workers in the DRC to use our Martus data management tool to create searchable and encrypted databases - and back their data up remotely to publicly available servers. Martus helps protect sensitive information and shield the identity of victims or witnesses who provide testimony on human rights abuses.

Veronique Aubert, deputy director of Amnesty's Africa program, said in a statement that Chebeya had campaigned to uphold the rights of the constitution and democracy in the DRC parliament and had been harassed by authorities in the past. Aubert called for a full government investigation of Chebeya’s death as did Human Rights Watch.

Benetech provided Martus training in October to members of Chebeya’s VSV organization, which participated in a meeting sponsored by the International Center for Transitional Justice. We will continue to assist VSV if they request. As Aubert said in her statement, “Those who defend the rights of others must be allowed to continue their work free of harassment and persecution. Floribert’s death is a great loss for the human rights community.”

No comments: