By Celeste Little
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo– Floribert Chebeya, a prominent Congolese human rights activist, was found dead in his car, in the Mont Ngafula area of Kinshasa, on Tuesday. He was forty seven. Chebeya sent a text message to his wife stating that he was at police headquarters for a meeting he had scheduled with the national police chief, John Numbi, but they had “not been able to meet.” His driver, Fidele Bazana, is still missing.
Chebeya had written to the police chief regarding the improvement of detention conditions in prisons and had received a letter acknowledging his concerns. On June 1st, the police called Chebeya to invite him to meet with Numbi. Chebeya left his office at 5 p.m. to attend the meeting, called his wife to let her know he was on his way and sent the text message to say they hadn’t been able to meet at 8 p.m. After 9 p.m. all communication from Chebeya ceased. The scheduled meeting never occurred, according to the police and members of Chebeya’s organization, the Voice of Voicelessness.
Chebeya founded the Voice of the Voiceless in 1983. The organization was based in Kinshasa and was one of the most renowned human rights organizations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Chebeya fought against illegal arrest, unjustified detention and corruption. He had been subject to threats, surveillance, and police abuse for over twenty years because of the radical opinion he held. The DRC has been preparing to celebrate 50 years of independence from Belgium and though Cheyeba received an invitation to festivities that were being held by Belgian king, Albert II, he refused to attend. He denounced the celebration, saying that “this was not a time for parades but an opportunity to discuss the social ills still facing the country,” according to Thomas Fessy for BBC News.
A senior UN investigator who spoke to BBC believes that the circumstances surrounding Chebeya’s death, “strongly suggest official responsibility.” On Thursday, members of Chebeya’s family were allowed access to his body at the main morgue in Kinshasa. They were only allowed to see his face because the rest of his body was covered by a sheet that they were not allowed to remove, said Fessy. Dolly Ibefo, one of Chebeya’s collegues from the Voice of Voicelessness, said that when he viewed the body, he noticed blood in Chebeya’s ears, nose and mouth. Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, claims that. “the Chebeya family’s very limited access to his body and conflicting statements about the cause of death raise serious concerns about what really happened. These irregularities indicate there may already be an attempt to cover up the truth.”
Her concerns regarding this case are not unfounded because this isn’t the first time a human rights activist or journalist has been murdered for his opinion. In November of 2005, journalist Franck Ngyke and his wife, Helene Mpaka, were murdered outside their home in Kinshasa. On July 31, 2005, human rights activist Pascal Kabungulu Kimembi, was shot and killed in his home in Bukavu, in eastern Congo. In June 2007 and November 2008, respectively, two radio journalists from Radio Okapi, Serge Maheshe and Didace Namujimbo were also killed in Bukavu.
Organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have been joined by the United Nations, the European Union and France in investigating Chebeya’s death to insure that the investigation and trial of his murder is not handled in the same way as it was in each of these killings. The government of the DRC has not officially responded to Chebeya’s death, but has called for an inquiry into it.
For more information, please see:
AFP-Driver of murdered DRC rights activist missing–4 June 2010
BBC News- UN calls for DR Congo probe into activist’s death– 4 June 2010
Human Rights Watch- DR Congo: Prominent Human Rights Defender Killed– 3 June 2010