DRC: National Law on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Just a couple of days ago, Protection International received a copy of Law 23/027 on the protection and responsibility of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, promulgated on June 15, 2023, by the government of the DRC.

The text is the result of reconciliation/harmonization by a bicameral parliamentary committee, after the bill was approved by the National Assembly on December 12, 2022, followed by the Senate on June 14, 2023. This law is a legislative piece that, in its initial conception, should ensure the space and conditions necessary for human rights defenders to adequately exercise their right to defend human rights.

Indeed, the law includes positive elements for the promotion and defense of human rights, as well as the protection of human rights defenders, with specific mention of women defenders and other particularly vulnerable defender groups, which is remarkable.

However, we observe with some concern how certain articles of the new legislative piece do not reflect the spirit contained in both the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and Resolution 69 of July 4, 2004, on the protection of human rights defenders by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. We specifically refer to certain parts addressing the obligations of human rights defenders, where we believe that conditions described are excessive according to the aforementioned Declaration and Resolution.

As examples, we can point out the obligation of human rights defenders to register with the National Human Rights Commission to obtain an identification number that allows them to exercise the right to defend (Section 2, Article 7), or to submit an annual report of their activities to the National Human Rights Commission and the Ministry of Justice (Section 2, Article 11), among others.

Since civil society was not invited to participate in the final stages of the debate, it was not until the promulgation of the Law that we could identify some detrimental considerations against human rights defenders contained in it. We believe that, as promulgated, this Law does not create the necessary enabling spaces that would be expected from a law of this nature.

Therefore, we make ourselves fully available to support both the vibrant civil society of the DRC and national authorities in the in-depth review of the new legislative piece and in identifying any gaps that may exist between this Law and the previously mentioned international regulations. Following the proven methodology used by PI for the analysis of public policies for the protection of human rights defenders, we would like to provide our guidance and direction to ensure that the new legislative piece, once modified, is finally in line with the guidelines set by both the UN Declaration and the African Commission Resolution.