New efforts to ensure justice for Chebeya in Senegal

Published: 25 Aug 2015

Five years after the death of Congolese human rights activist, Floribert Chebeya and the disappearance of his colleague Fidèle Bazana shook the Congolese human rights community, the fight for justice continues. Although eight people have been found in connection with the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), activists argue that the truth is still not known and the fact that the alleged architect of the crime, General John Numbi, the then chief of police, has not been charged. Now, there is new hope that the full story will come to light.

Lawyers for the families of Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana, supported by the international human rights organization the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) lodged a complaint before the Senegalese justice against Paul Mwilambwe, one of those found guilty in absentia in the Chebeya case in the DRC.

Chebeya, executive director of the NGO la Voix des Sans Voix (VSV), was found dead in his car on 2 June 2010 and Fidèle Bazana, his close collaborator remains missing. The day before, the two human rights defenders were called to the Directorate of National Police to meet Inspector General John Numbi. The case sparked intense international pressure and the Congolese government was obliged to open an investigation which led to the dismissal of Numbi.

Responding to the complaint filed by the families of the victims, Senegal declared itself competent to hear the case against Mwilambwe on the basis of universal jurisdiction. To date the judge has heard both the complainants and Mwilambwe.

For his part, Mwilambwe protests his innocence, but says that he has suffered at the hands of the Congolese authorities, who perceive him as a threat because of the information that he has. In 2012, in an interview with the Belgian producer Thierry Michel, then France 24 and RFI, he said that he was a witness to the attacks on the two men. He accused senior members of the Congolese police, including Numbi, of involvement in the murder of Chebeya and forced disappearance of his colleague.

After the Mwilambwe appeared in the media, his wife, who lived at the time in Lubumbashi, reported that she had escaped a kidnapping attempt when she was coming from the market. She claimed to have received many telephone threats, including from Numbi, ordering her to ask her husband to stop his media statements.

Following the FIDH complaint, Mwilambwe was indicted by the Senegalese judiciary in January 2015. According to one of the lawyers of the victims’ families, since “the Democratic Republic of Congo did not provide for equitable judicial proceedings, we initiated the proceedings in Senegal to ensure that an impartial and independent investigation would be carried out and that full information would be obtained on the murder and the enforced disappearance of the victims, Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana. We wanted an independent judge to hear Paul Mwilambwe, an actor in this tragedy, and this has happened today”. As the attempts to clarify the fate of the two human rights defenders in the DRC have been blocked, the hope now turns to Senegal.

Are the Congolese authorities trying to protect Numbi, who was cited by Mwilambwe in the murder of human rights activists? Many people wonder why Numbi has still not been summoned to the appeal hearing, although he had been heard as a witness at the trial. According to Mwilambwe, Floribert Chebeya and Fidèle Bazana were executed by suffocation on Numbi’s orders. Colonel Mukalay, sentenced to death in this case, also citesNumbi as the person who gave order. Unfortunately, the Congolese High Court refuses the appearance to the former Inspector General of Police.

A Congolese human rights defender with the organisation Action for the Respect of Human Rights stated that the new developments in the Chebeya case in Senegal will help to clarify the grey areas that exist in this case, as the Congolese justice system has failed to pursue the real authors of this crime. The charges against these police officers are very serious, cases of torture leading to the death of one person and the forced disappearance of another one. These practices shocked the conscience of the international community and are prohibited by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the DRC is a signatory. Thus the DRC has an obligation to prosecute all the persons suspected of having committed such acts, including Numbi.

Regarding the Senegalese judicial system, we hope that it will set up a commission that will travel to the DRC to interview all persons who could corroborate the testimony of Mwilambwe. We hope that the Congolese authorities will fully cooperate and facilitate the work of the commission, for justice to be done in this case, which has already taken more than five years. Senegal must pursue this case vigorously.

In addition, the African and international community and human rights organisations should mobilise to put pressure on the Congolese authorities to ensure that justice is done. They should support the Senegalese justice to hold the trial and ensure that the perpetrators of this murder do not enjoy impunity.

Programmes: Resolving Displacement, Justice and Accountability
Regions: Great Lakes Region, Democratic Republic of Congo, Western Africa, Senegal
Type: IRRI Blog