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DRC Rights Activist Found Dead


Congolese head of the Voix des Sans-Voix (Voice of the Voiceless) (VSV) party Floribert Chebeya (2005 file photo)

Congolese head of the Voix des Sans-Voix (Voice of the Voiceless) (VSV) party Floribert Chebeya (2005 file photo)

A leading human rights activist in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been found dead on the outskirts of the capital. Kinshasa police say they have opened an investigation.

Amnesty International says it is stunned and appalled by the death of Floribert Chebeya, who was summoned Tuesday to see police Inspector General John Numbi.

Chebeya's family says he sent a text message later that evening saying he was leaving the police inspectorate and stopping briefly at the university on his way home. He was found dead early Wednesday near his home.

Inspector General Numbi has not spoken to reporters about what happened Tuesday.

Jean Eloko Botuna, Kinshasa's provincial inspector general of police, says police found a body in an abandoned vehicle on the outskirts of Kinshasa, and that body was later identified as Chebeya's. At this stage of their investigation, he added, police are unable to determine the circumstances of his death.

Botuna says police are going forward with their inquiry. And once that investigation uncovers the circumstance of Chebeya's death, he says police will arrest those responsible.

Amnesty International says Chebeya had been arrested and harassed by authorities in the past. The deputy director of Amnesty's Africa Program, Veronique Aubert, says Chebeya felt he was being followed by security services.

"We have spoken regularly with Floribert, and we knew that he was very worried about his security, worried that something could happen to him. He said in October he was sleeping on the floor. And the fact that he disappeared and then was found dead after having been summoned by police in Kinshasa is very suspicious," said Aubert.

Chebeya led one of Congo's most prominent human rights organizations, the Voice of the Voiceless.

"Floribert was extremely courageous," said Aubert. "He was outspoken and was trying to help the human rights situation on the ground. His death is a great loss not only for his family, but also for human-rights organizations in Congo and all over the world."

Provincial police Inspector General Botuna says he and Chebeya spoke regularly about human rights in Congo.

Botuna says he is happy to talk about Chebeya because if the human rights leader had problems in Congo, it was not with the police. In the last two years, Botuna says Chebeya was never summoned by the police. But he did come on his own to speak about different cases.

Botuna says human rights workers in Congo are a barometer of police conduct. And those responsible for the police need that criticism, especially as the country approaches this month's 50th anniversary of independence.

Botuna says everyone goes about their business in Kinshasa. Women leave home in the morning to sell bread and return at midnight. In a city of 10 million people, he says there are only one or two crimes a month. He is not saying that is good, but compared to other cities, Botuna says, Kinshasa is safe.

Amnesty International says police oppression of human rights defenders in Congo has been on the rise during the past year and has included threats and illegal arrests. The human rights group says President Joseph Kabila's government must immediately launch a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into Chebeya's death.

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