The Observatory: Contribution to the 52nd ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights



52nd ordinary session

Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast

9 - 22 October 2012

Contribution of the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT)

and the

International Federationfor Human Rights (FIDH)

In the framework of their joint programme,

The Observatory for the Protection of HumanRights Defenders

Under agenda item 9:

Situation of human rights defenders”

Madame Chairperson,

The FIDH andthe OMCT, in the frameworkof the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, express theirrenewed concern about the situation of human rights defenders in Africa.

Since the last session of the Commission in May 2012, theObservatory has not recorded any improvement of their situation on thecontinent. Quite on the contrary, human rights violations against defendershave continued, in particular judicial harassment, threats, intimidations,arbitrary detentions and unjustified condemnations. The situation of humanrights defenders has even become alarming in situations of internal conflicts,such as for instance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Impunity and deficientjustice

In many countries where impunity prevails, justice continues to bedenied to human rights defenders who have been victims of human rightsviolations. For instance, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the trial ofthe murderers, in June 2010, of FloribertChebaya Bazire, Executive Director of the organisation “The Voice of theVoiceless” (La Voix des Sans Voix - VSV) and member of the OMCT GeneralAssembly, and of Fidèle Bazana Edadi, memberof VSV, is in a stalemate. In June 2012, the defense requested that the mainsuspect in these two crimes, general John Numbi Banza Tambo, appear as adefendant. However, the military tribunal decided to publicly announce itsdecision only on October 23, 2012, namely more than four months after thatrequest. The fact that the hearing has been scheduled a few days after theSummit of the Francophonie may not be a coincidence. Whatever the case may be,the absence of any progress in this emblematic trial clearly illustrates thejudicial authorities’ lack of will to shed light on those events and to punishthose responsible. We are far from the “rapid and impartial” investigationprovided for by article 5 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Inaddition, it is intolerable that the authorities have still not returned thebody of Fidèle Bazana Edadi to his family.

On the other hand, the Observatory welcomes the decision of acourt in Belgium, on October 3, to reject a complaint filed by General Numbi toban the use of his photo in the poster of the documentary “The Chebeya case: aState crime?” directed by Thierry Michel, and screened during the Forum inApril 2012.

However, delivering justice implies much more than simply holdinga trial and issuing a sentence, as illustrated by the trial of the murderers ofErnest Manirumva, Vice-President of the organisationAnti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (Observatoire de luttecontre la corruption et les malversations économiques - OLUCOME) in Burundi in 2009. Thefact that 14 defendants were sentenced to long prison sentences should notovershadow the prosecution’s systematic refusal to take into account relevantand highly credible elements of the investigations that pointed out theresponsibility of senior personalities. The judicial authorities have lost anexcellent opportunity to hold an exemplary trial: a botched trial is aninsidious form of denial of justice.

Judicial harassment

The Observatory has also noted the widespread harassment ofdefenders in many countries. In some countries, such as in Algeria, harassmentis targeting so many defenders that is can rightly be qualified as “systematic”.The simple participation of reputable Algerian NGOs such as the LADDH, theMJIC, the RDLD and the SNAPAP in a peaceful sit-in in April 2012 to condemn thejudicial harassment of Abdelkader Kherba,member of the CNDDC and of the LADDH, has led to their prosecution for“incitement to unarmed gathering” that is punishable by one year in prison. OnSeptember 25, 2012, the Bab el Oued Court considered itself incompetent to ruleon the case and has referred it to the prosecution.

Yacine Zaïd, a trade unionist,member of the LADDH and blogger, has been subjected for more than two year tonumerous acts of police and judicial harassment related to his activism. OnOctober 1, he was arrested again by the police, verbally assaulted, beaten anddetained until October 8, when the Ouargla Court pronounced a six-monthsuspended prison sentence and a 10,000 dinars fine against him for “contemptagainst a police officer while on duty”. On May 3, Abdelkader Kherba was alsosentenced to a one-year suspended term of imprisonment and to a 20,000 dinarsfine after he was arrested in April during a protest of clerks of the courtbefore a courthouse in Algiers. He is expected to be judged on appeal onNovember 4. In Algeria, issuing suspended prison sentences to human rightsdefenders has become a worrying practice to punish them.

Moreover, the presidential pardon that led to the release of thehuman rights defender Mohamed Smaïn shouldnot hide the fact that he had been sentenced for “defamation”, “insult” and“denunciation of imaginary crimes” in the first place, despite his tirelessfight on behalf of victims of the internal conflict in Algeria in the 90s.

In Zimbabwe, members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) have beenarrested and iniquitous lawsuits have been filed against them as reprisals fortheir participation in demonstrations, in particular in Bulawayo.

The rights to freedom of expression and assembly are safeguardedin the constitutions of those countries and in the International Covenant onCivil and Political Rights, ratified by Algeria and Zimbabwe. Restricting thoserights is thus unacceptable.

Indictments andsentences

Many defenders are not only judicially harassed but are alsosentenced. In Chad, for instance, FrançoisDjondang, Michel Barka and YounousMahadjir, members of the Federation of Trade Unions in Chad (Union desSyndicats du Tchad - UST), have received a 18-month suspended prison sentenceand a 1,5 million francs CFA fine for “incitement to ethnic hatred”. Theirso-called “crime” only relates to the dissemination of an UST petition inSeptember 2012 that condemned the “high cost of living” and the “pauperizationof the population”, which the defenders attributed to corruption and faultymanagement by the authorities

Torture and illtreatments

In their attempts to intimidate and silence human rightsdefenders, the authorities often resort to torture and ill treatments, therebyflagrantly violating non only the right to physical and psychological integrityof every human being, but also the specific responsibility of States to protectdefenders, as explicitly required by Article 12 of the Declaration on HumanRights Defenders.

Torture and ill-treatment very often go hand in hand with threats,including death threats, to force defenders to stop documenting and condemninghuman rights violations. The case of GrégoireMulamba, Director of the “Centre for Human and Humanitarian Rights (Centredes droits de l’Homme et du droit humanitaire - CDH) in the DRC, isappalling. Mr. Mulamba was kidnapped on August 14, 2012 for several hours andsavagely beaten on the head after he tried to ensure that the police wasconducting its work effectively when a corpse was unexpectedly found in a lakenear Lubumbashi. The kidnappers turned out to be policemen. This type ofill-treatment demonstrates the authorities’ lack of political will to respecttheir most basic human rights obligations since

In Sudan, dozens of defenders have been arrested in June and July2012 following popular demonstrations that protested price increases and calledfor democratic reforms. They were finally released at the end of August.Several defenders were detained incommunicado for several weeks and werevictims of inhumane and degrading treatments.

Human rights defenders victims of armedconflicts

Finally, theObservatory expresses its deep concerns regarding the situation of human rightsdefenders in North Kivu, a region that is torn by a violent internal conflict.Armes clashes between governmental forces and the rebels have not only impactedthe local population but have also jeopardized the security of many humanrights defenders who had to flee the area or are still trying to do so at thisvery moment in order to save their life.

For instance,Mr. René Kahukula, General Coordinator of the NGO “Action for thedevelopment of poor peasants” (Actions pour le Développement des PaysansDéshérités - ADEPAD), located in Bukavu, was kidnapped on June 3, 2012, bya commando in Bujumbura, Burundi, then transferred back overland to Bukavu inDRC. The commando, composed of Congolese security agents, reportedly acted withthe complicity of the Burundian authorities. As of today, Mr. René Kahukulacontinues to be detained in the premises of the National Intelligence Agency (AgenceNationale de Renseignements - ANR) in Kinshasa.


To conclude this worrying brief survey, the Observatoryreminds states parties to the African Charter of their obligation to respectall its provisions, in particular those relating to the protection of humanrights defenders. More specifically, those States have to:

· Acknowledgethe legitimacy and fundamental role played by defenders in the establishmentand strengthening of a society based on justice and respect for human rights.

· Implement allprovisions of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders, in particular byproviding absolute safeguards for their physical and psychological integrity.

· Release alldefenders who are detained solely for having exercised their right tofundamental freedoms, in particular freedom of expression, association andpeaceful assembly.

· Put en end tothe judicial harassment of defenders;

· Prosecutethose responsible for violating the rights of defenders, in judicialproceedings that upholds the requirements for efficiency and speed;

· Establishnational protection mechanisms for defenders, in cooperation with defendersthemselves and the ACHPR’s Special Rapporteur

· Extend anopen invitation to the UN and ACHPR special rapporteurs on defenders andfacilitate their visit to the country.


Yamoussoukro, October 2012

To contactthe Observatory :

· Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

· Tel and fax FIDH: + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

· Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 34