(New York) – The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo should urgently open a credible and transparent investigation with United Nations assistance into the death of the prominent human rights defender, Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, Human Rights Watch said today.
Chebeya’s body was found on June 1, 2010, soon after he had visited police headquarters in Kinshasa. On June 2, the Kinshasa police chief, Jean de Dieu Oleko, announced that Chebeya’s death resulted from a criminal act and that the police were investigating. Chebeya’s driver, Fidèle Bazana Edadi, is still missing.
"Floribert Chebeya’s shocking death is a serious blow for human rights in the Congo," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The announced police investigation needs UN help if it is to be credible and transparent and bring all those responsible to justice."
Chebeya was the executive director of one of Congo’s largest and most respected human rights organizations, the Voix des Sans Voix (Voice of the Voiceless), based in Kinshasa, the capital. He was among Congo’s most vocal human rights defenders, regularly exposing abuses by the country’s security services and the government over many years.
Over the years, Chebeya had been threatened and intimidated repeatedly by Congolese authorities as a result of his work. In recent weeks, he had reported that he believed he again was under surveillance by the security services.
On June 1, Chebeya received a telephone call requesting his presence at the office of the inspector general of the national police, Gen. John Numbi, his colleagues told UN officials. He left his office at 5 p.m. to attend the meeting. A few hours later he contacted his family and said he was still waiting at the police inspectorate, but after 9 p.m. all communication stopped.
On June 2, the police said that Chebeya had been found dead in his car in the Mont Ngafula area of Kinshasa. By midday on June 2, a police account implying that Chebeya’s body had been found in the back seat of his car with used condoms and a sexual stimulant was circulated to journalists and others in Kinshasa, though no investigation had begun.
The authorities initially refused requests by Chebeya’s family and UN human rights officials for access to the body. Today a family member, a colleague, and UN representatives were allowed to visit the morgue on the condition that they could not touch the body. They identified Chebeya and noticed a medium-size bandage on his forehead, apparently covering a wound. The rest of his body was covered with a sheet, which was not removed during the visit.