Democratic Republic of the Congo

Status: adopted national and sub-national law or policy

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), edicts are enacted in the provinces of North and South Kivu to protect human rights defenders (HRDs). In June 15, 2023, the Law 23/027 on the protection and responsibility of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo was promulgated by the government of the DRC.

In May 2017, a bill on responsibilities and protection of human rights defenders was proposed by the Senate to the National Assembly. In September 2017, the National Assembly responded with a counter-proposal: the bill on the protection and regime of the activity of human rights defenders. The counter-proposal was very different, however, and in reality limited the protection of HRDs rather than strengthening it. More specifically, the latter proposal imposed very strict criteria on who qualifies as a human right defender, and requires that they have a diploma from the state, as well as possess a “good moral character” (see Article 8 of the bill). This drastically restricts the scope of the legislation. In October 2017, a number of civil society organisations (CSOs) addressed this issue in a letter to the National Assembly. In 2018, the National Commission of Human Rights created a proposal reuniting the two texts of the National Assembly and the Senate. However, this version was also not agreed upon. Due to this disagreement, the project of a protection bill was stalled.

In March 2022, a working group was organised in Kinshasa to discuss the new draft bill that was going to be presented to the General Assembly later in 2022 (a recording of the session can be found here). Although the new draft bill was based on the first proposition presented to the Senate in 2017, the session made an important emphasis on the lessons learned from the previous attempt in 2017.

In June 15, 2023, the Law 23/027 on the protection and responsibility of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo was promulgated by the government of the DRC. The text is the result of an harmonization by a bicameral parliamentary committee, following the bill’s approval by the National Assembly on December 12, 2022, and subsequently by the Senate on June 14, 2023.

This law is a legislative piece that, in its initial conception, was intended to ensure the necessary space and conditions for human rights defenders to effectively exercise their right to defend human rights. However, we have some concerns about certain articles in the new legislation that do not align with the principles found in both the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and Resolution 69 of July 4, 2004, which addresses the protection of human rights defenders by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

As a result, we believe that the Law, as promulgated, does not create the enabling spaces that one would expect from legislation of this nature.

At the provincial level, two edicts have been adopted. On 10 February 2016, the Governor of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo adopted Edict No. 001/2016 on the protection of human rights defenders and journalists in the South Kivu province. In November 2019, North Kivu followed suit with Edict No. 001/2019. In November 2022, Maniema adopted a similar edict. These edicts only contain a limited selection of rights and freedoms, however, and they are only applicable the specific provinces, and implemented conform to national laws. Discussions on local edicts are ongoing in Sud-Ubangi and Ituri.

The situation of human rights defenders is equally monitored by international mechanisms such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders (who paid their last country visit to the DR Congo in 2010) and the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. In 2019, the Universal Periodic Review working group’s report led to the adoption of several recommendations that urged the DR Congo national authorities to review and adopt legislation for the protection of human rights defenders.

Despite these developments, the DR Congo has been rated as “repressed” by the Civicus Monitor  in 2022, and is declared “not free” by the 2021 Freedom House Democracy Index. This is mainly due to the increase of human rights violations linked to civic space in 2020, such as arbitrary arrests, freedom of press restrictions and death threats aimed at human rights defenders criticising the government, such as the death threat received by HRD Dieudonné Tshimpidimbua in January 2022.

Protection International has been participating in the process by lending financial and content-related support by providing input for the draft proposal, assisting in the developments of priorities and strategies aiming at influencing public policies for the protection of human rights defenders, or by participating in meetings and workshops concerning the development of local and national protection policies for HRDs.

Updated on 26/10/23

Protection International
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2017
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2016
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