28 June 2010

Congo Human Rights Advocate Killed

NY Times: Lifetime of Tracking Killings in Congo Ends in Activist’s Own

Early on the morning of June 2, Mr. Chebeya, Congo’s best-known human rights activist, was found dead in his car in the Mont Ngafula area of this capital city, his hands tied behind his back. The Congo police inspector general had summoned him for questioning the afternoon before.

“I’m in front of the office,” Mr. Chebeya said in a text message to his wife at 5:20. “Keep track of me,” said his message sent two minutes later. That was the last she heard from him.

Human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents are routinely harassed or even killed in this strategic, mineral-rich country in the heart of Africa, but Mr. Chebeya was not an ordinary victim. He was the short, bespectacled, intense man who kept going, kept investigating, and kept speaking out, on the radio, in news conferences and at the head of demonstrations, year after year, in the face of constant threats and occasional beatings.

This time, did the police kill Mr. Chebeya? Was someone high up behind his killing? Why has the body of his driver not been found? Was it just a coincidence that the killing was shortly before a major celebration planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of independence on June 30, which Congo is using to try to prove that it has put civil war and instability behind it? (Indeed, the top hotel here is buzzing with Western businessmen pursuing mining deals with government officials.)

Against the government’s narrative of normality Mr. Chebeya offered the opposite view.

“He was showing that the elections of 2006 did not lead to the rule of law,” said Jean-Claude Katende, president of the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights.

Mr. Chebeya’s death was a clear message from the authorities, Mr. Katende said: “Everybody should shut up.”

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