Protection International welcomes the adoption of the Provincial Edict on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and journalists in North Kivu by members of the Provincial Assembly on 11 November 2019 in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This crucial step for the enactment of the Edict by the Provincial Governor is the result of a long process which began in 2016. Local civil society, as well as the defenders themselves, were consulted during several workshops organised by Protection International, including the role and importance of public policies promoting the protection of defenders. A steering committee was also set up in 2017 to reflect on an initial proposal from the Edict, which was then endorsed and supported by a group of members of provincial parliament (MPPs).
Arbitrary executions, torture, violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions, death threats, harassment and defamation, restrictions on freedom of movement, expression, association and assembly, criminalization, false accusations and false trials: the list of human rights violations against Congolese defenders is long. This is developing in a region where insecurity continues to rage, with the presence of several armed groups active in the area continuing to pose an almost constant threat to civilians.
The role of human rights defenders is fundamental, all over the world, but even more significantly in a country like the DRC where the civic space is shrinking by the day and serious violations against them are multiplying. They are an essential pillar in the construction of a true rule of law, where human rights are respected and those who defend them protected.
The DRC does not yet have effective national or local legal frameworks that can effectively protect human rights defenders. Violators go unpunished and there is no mechanism to compensate the harm HRDs suffer. In the last two Universal Periodic Reviews (in 2014 and 2019), several recommendations were made to the DRC in favour of the creation and establishment of a legal framework for the protection of HRDs, but so far nothing concrete has been achieved. With the adoption of this provincial edict, a fundamental step towards the effective recognition of the fundamental right to defend human rights in the DRC has been taken. The entry into force and effective implementation of this new legal instrument by the Congolese authorities will be the next crucial steps that, we hope, will further enhance recognition and support for the work of HRDs. We also hope for an effective and significant improvement in their protection on the ground.
Protection International expresses its gratitude to all civil society actors in North Kivu and the Ukingo Wetu Synergy (SUWE) who have mobilized strongly to achieve the adoption of this Edict, as well as all the deputies of the Provincial Assembly for their willingness to uphold human rights while protecting those who defend.