DR Congo Must Protect Human Rights Defenders Working Amid Conflict in North Kivu

Press Release
August 8, 2012

DR Congo Must Protect Human Rights Defenders Working Amid Conflict in North Kivu

 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) -- Following an increase in documented cases of intimidation over the past three weeks, Amnesty International called today on Congolese authorities and the armed group M23 fighting in the north Kivu province to end threats against human rights defenders and journalists.

M23 is an armed group composed mostly of soldiers who defected from the Congolese army in April of this year amid pressure on the government to arrest General Bosco Ntaganda.

The organization also called on the Congolese government to abide by its commitment- made at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March- to provide security to protect human rights defenders working amid the conflict.

"Amid increasing violence in eastern DRC, human rights defenders and journalists play a vital role in documenting abuses committed by both sides and informing the international community of the fighting’s impact on the civilian population," said Paule Rigaud, deputy Africa program director at Amnesty International.

"The ongoing threats and intimidation must stop. Both sides must respect the work carried out by human rights defenders and journalists," Rigaud said.

Amnesty International has documented several cases since last month where human rights activists from North Kivu have been directly threatened by members of the M23 after criticizing the group or raising human rights violations, which include forced recruitment and summary executions. Several activists received repeated death threats in July by text messages, anonymous phone calls and visits at night by armed men reportedly linked to the M23. M23 is an armed group composed mostly of soldiers who defected from the Congolese army in April of this year amid pressure on the government to arrest General Bosco Ntaganda.

Journalists have also been the target of threats and intimidation over the last three months by either the M23 or the Congolese authorities. On August 4, in Butembo territory (North Kivu province), a local radio was closed down by the Mayor of Butembo after broadcasting an interview of a M23 spokesperson.

These threats follow an intensification in the conflict. The M23 armed group has recently driven back the Congolese government army in a determined offensive over the last few days and is reportedly controlling an area that reaches up to approx.19 mi north of Goma.

Fearing the launch of an attack by the M23 on Goma, the capital of North Kivu, the Congolese army has increased its presence in the city and along main roads with the support of the U.N. peacekeeping force.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.