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Defending Human Rights

As Congo's vibrant human rights and civil society movement attempted to build a genuine grassroots movement for durable peace, it faced persistent persecution, both from the government and the rebels fighting to topple it. On January 16, security forces of the RCD-Goma arrested Immaculée Birhaheka, president of the women's group Promotion and Support of Women's Initiatives (PAIF), and her colleague Jeannine Mukanirwa, PAIF's vice president. The two, and other women held like them at the infamous "Bureau 2" detention center in Goma, were whipped with a piece of tire. The brief detention of the two activists was apparently linked to Mukanirwa's leading role in organizing a peace movement with a view to bringing together groups from government and rebel held areas. In late January, RCD-Goma authorities arrested three civil society leaders in Bukavu, in South Kivu and accused them of organizing for a planned general strike to protest the lack of payment of wages, taxation by the Rwandans, and the continuing presence in eastern Congo of Rwandan and Ugandan troops. Despite the arrests and threats by the RCD against several suspected protest leaders, the strike took place peacefully on January 31 in Bukavu. In late April, Rwandan security forces arrested Bruno Bahati, a leading member of the Coordination of Civil Society in South Kivu, on the Rwandan-Ugandan border after finding a Kinshasa newspaper in his possession. He was detained in Kigali for a while and was later transferred to Goma. Women's rights groups in north and south Kivu made of International Women's Day, March 8, an event to mark women's grieving for their husbands and relatives killed in the war. For their suspected role in organizing the event in Goma, RCD authorities summoned and threatened a women's activist, Zita Kavungirwa, and pressured the employer of another one, Marie-Jeanne Mbachu, into suspending her from her job.

RCD-Goma authorities often broadly accused dissenting church and civil society leaders of inciting ethnic hatred, but never prosecuted specific cases, preferring instead to use detention, repeated summons, and internal exile to silence opponents. In late August, the RCDauthorities banished four leading civil society activists from Bukavu for three weeks after accusing them of having passed information to the international press. In September, the rebels allowed Mgr. Emmanuel Kataliko, bishop of Bukavu, to return to the city after seven months of banishment to his hometown in north Kivu. They accused him of fomenting ethnic hatred after he criticized rebel authorities in his Christmas prayer. The bishop's sudden death of a heart attack in early October shocked the population and deepened its distrust of the RCD. In clamping down on the resulting unrest in Bukavu, RCD soldiers briefly detained thirteen human rights activists and publicly beat them.

In Kinshasa, the government similarly restricted the freedom of expression and movement of civil society groups. Alleging that they were in contact with the rebels, the government in late May detained for weeks Félicien Malanda Nsumbu and Georges Kazimbika, respectively the secretary and financial officer of the national umbrella group for developmental organizations. In early June, the government prevented representatives of civil society and the political opposition from leaving the capital to attend preparatory talks for the inter-Congolese dialogue in Cotonou, Benin.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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