A U.N. official is calling for swift action to find and prosecute those responsible for recent death threats against Congolese human rights defender and Nobel Laureate Denis Mukwege.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is urging authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide 24-hour security for Mukwege, a gynecologist who survived an assassination attempt in October 2012 and is receiving death threats.
Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, said it is difficult to say who is behind the recent threats, but he does not believe it is connected to Mukwege's humanitarian work.
"The recent alarming surge of threats against Dr. Mukwege, which have been conveyed via social media and in direct phone calls to him and his family, followed his condemnation of the continued killing of civilians in eastern DRC and his renewed calls for accountability for human rights violations and abuses," Colville said.
Colville added that, prior to the recent threats, Mukwege had condemned attacks from three ethnic groups in South Kivu province. Armed men from those groups, who consider themselves "indigenous" Congolese, violently attacked the Banyamulenge, a cattle-herding group of Rwandan origin often derided as "outsiders."
Mukwege has won many honors and international recognition for helping thousands of female victims of sexual and gender-based violence. He also is a strong opponent of the use of rape as a weapon of war, and advocates for increased protection of women.
Colville said the high commissioner welcomes assurances of protection for Mukwege and his team by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi. At the same time, Colville added, the high commissioner is calling for an effective, prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the threats against Mukwege's life.
"It is essential those responsible are brought to justice and that the truth is known, both as a means to protect Dr. Mukwege's life, but also as a deterrent to others who attack, threaten or intimidate medical workers and human rights defenders who, like him, work for the benefit of the Congolese people, often in exceptionally difficult circumstances," Colville said.
More determined action must be taken to address the problem in the longer term, Bachelet said. She is urging the government to adopt a draft law that protects and regulates the activity of human rights defenders and is fully consistent with international standards.