DR Congo: Police suspected of killing top human rights activist

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Human rights groups have linked the death of Congo’s top human rights activist to the Congolese police. The Voice for the Voiceless rights group says its leader Floribert Chebeya Bahizire who was found dead in his car on Wednesday in a suburb of Congo’s capital, was strangled. The group says the police are preparing to stage a cover-up.

According to a faction of Congolese rights groups, the inspector general of the National Police, John Numbi, with whom Chebeya met, was behind the death and said they would build a complaint in court.

The rights group said Mr. Bahizire, was last heard from on Tuesday night, when he sent a text to a family member saying that he had just met with a senior Police official and was headed home. Passers-by later found his body.

“We are stunned and appalled by the suspicious death of such a prominent and respected human rights defender…. It seems he may have paid the ultimate price for his valuable work,” deputy director of the group’s Africa Program, Veronique Aubert told reporters.

Human Rights Watch revealed that family members and U.N. representatives were initially denied and then given only limited access to the body. A senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch said neither the inspector general of the National Police nor any of his aides immediately returned calls for comments on Thursday: “These irregularities indicate there may already be an attempt to cover up the truth,” Anneke Van Woudenberg said.

The rights groups and the U.N. have expressed concerns about the growing trend of harassment of human rights activists in Congo. Mr. Bahizire was reported to have faced systemic intimidation because of his work on human rights abuses across Congo, focusing on corruption in the military and foreign support for militias, UN top official revealed.

“For more than 20 years, Chebeya Bahizire had survived many death threats, arrests, and ill treatment due to his work as a human rights defender. He believed in the cause of human rights and was not afraid to pursue it against all odds,” the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillayd by reporters.

Amnesty International has called on the government to launch an investigation into Mr. Bahizire’s death. U.N secretary-general Mr. Ban Ki-Moon stressed that the investigation to Mr. Bahizire’s death “should be thorough, transparent and independent, with full respect for due process and rule of law.”

In 2005, a human rights activist was killed in his home in the country’s east. Since then, at least three journalists have been killed, and Human Rights Watch said none of the investigations into the deaths has been satisfactory.

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