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Front Line mission to DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya
A Front Line mission visited Rwanda, Burundi, the East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Kenya between 8 and 16 of April 2007. Front Line Director Mary Lawlor and Protection Coordinator Natacha O’Brien met with human rights defenders at risk and national authorities to discuss the protection and security of human rights defenders in the region
Human rights defenders in the region are victims of regular harassment, threats, physical attacks, gender based violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment and are killed.
In the DRC, the delegates visited Goma and Uvira, and met with human rights defenders at risk representing a cross-section of human rights defenders, including human rights defenders working on the issue of gender based violence, environmental issues, civil and political rights, combating impunity, journalists and lawyers.
Front Line is particularly concerned about the insecure situation for women human rights defenders especially those women working in rural communities on the issue of sexual violence and women human rights defenders working as peace mediators. Women human rights defenders working assisting victims of sexual violence are often themselves victim of reprisal attacks and sexual violence perpetuated by same members of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo and members of armed factions who have committed the crimes against women and children.
Front Line documented a trend in terms of cases whereby the same perpetrator of the FARDC - Forces Armées de la Républic Démocratique du Congo, (members of the armed Congolese army) have raped, threatened and physically attacked women human rights defenders who took up the case of a woman and children raped by that very same perpetrator. This seems to occur particularly in rural areas. Women human rights defenders working on monitoring, reporting, assisting victims of gender based violence committed by members of armed faction groups such as the Mai-Mai or the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) are also targeted by the same members of these armed groups. These attacks are a punishment for the human rights activities that the WHRDS are carrying out non-violently on behalf of other women.
Human rights defenders are regarded by many as being the enemy, if they are reporting on violations committed by the FARDC they are targeted by elements of the FARDC and if they report on abuses committed by the armed faction groups they are under attack by the same armed groups, one leading activist commented “we are between a hammer and a nail.” Front Line is concerned for the safety of independent journalists who report on human rights abuses and violations in Uvira. Human rights defenders have reported that they are constantly harassed at police road blocks and prevented from carrying out their human rights activities.
Human rights defenders are not protected by the national authorities and a national plan for the protection and security of human rights defenders does not exist, particularly in the east of DRC. The legitimization of the role of hrds in DRC is crucial for the protection and security of human rights defenders. Front Line recommends that the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders are implemented in the entire country. EU missions should place particular emphasis on the security and protection of human rights defenders in the east of DRC by paying regular visits to HRDs and national authorities in this region.
Front Line also met with human rights defenders in Rwanda, Burundi and journalists in Kenya. On a positive note human rights defenders in the region of the Great Lakes have set up networks for human rights defenders and women human rights defenders, these networks are important for the security and protection of human rights defenders. In Burundi, though the situation for human rights is improving, a number of journalists were arrested and a significant number of HRDs were threatened and harassed including union members. Human rights defenders are currently looking at securing the protection of human rights defenders within national legislation, there is a draft proposal for a non-governmental law being drawn up.
In Kenya, Front Line continues to be extremely concerned for the safety of independent journalists working for the newspaper the Standard. Three directors and a senior editor of the Standard were arrested by CID investigators subsequent to the Standard’s reports on an alleged plot by a senior member of the government to kidnap and possibly assassinate, among others, the member of parliament and son of former President Moi. Anti-corruption HRDs and journalists in Kenya are often targeted by the government, where they are being arbitrarily arrested, and threatened.