The Congolese government’s Commission of Enquiry into the murder of a prominent human rights activist has failed to bring justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The mandate of the Commission ended on September 6 without a report on its findings nor proposed actions to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) set up the Commission of Enquiry following the assassination of Kabungulu Kibembi, executive secretary of Héritiers de la Justice (Heirs of Justice), a leading human rights organization in the eastern part of the country. Kabungulu was shot dead at his home in Bukavu, South Kivu province, by three armed men on July 31, 2005. A courageous human rights activist known for his work in exposing atrocities, Kabungulu’s death sent shock waves through the Congolese human rights community.
“The Commission of Enquiry was set up with a lot of fanfare but to date there have been no concrete results,” said Juliane Kippenberg, NGO Liaison for the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “The Congolese government has a duty to ensure that the perpetrators of this hideous crime are brought to justice. Unless urgent action is taken, the commission risks being little more than a P.R. exercise.”
Pascal Kabungulu Kibembi (c) 2002 Christian Aid
The Commission of Enquiry into the death of Kabungulu was established on August 6. Chaired by the military prosecutor of South Kivu – who also continues with his own judicial investigation – the commission is composed of military, security and civilian officials. Local observers have questioned the commission’s impartiality and criticized its lack of resources. The military prosecutor’s office has arrested and interrogated several suspects, though no one has been charged to date.
Human Rights Watch and several other international non-governmental organizations today appealed in five open letters to the Congolese government, the United Nations, the African Union and the British government to take urgent measures for the protection of human rights defenders in the DRC. They also called on the government to ensure that the commission operates in an “independent, impartial and competent” manner and that it and the judicial authorities receive the necessary resources to complete their investigations.
“The assassination of Pascal Kabungulu is just one of many attacks on human rights activists in the DRC,” said Kippenberg. “Unless the commission helps to bring justice for this terrible crime, human rights defenders will continue to live in fear.”