In our efforts to advocate for the end of discrimination and to call upon more commitment to criminalize all forms of discrimination regardless of where it comes from, we highly regret observe that while human rights organizations and human rights defenders are engaged in this struggle, themselves have kept discriminatory policies and have strongly defended the existence of such policies.
Here is the letter we addressed to the United Nations calling upon the abolition of all forms of discrimination against Refugee Human Rights Defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, open the link here ” Special Rapporteur on Migrants about Refugee HRDs in DRCongo
You can also read the letter bellow
NREF: 0112/08/2022 Date: 15/08/2022
The United Nations Special Rapporteur
On the Rights of Migrants
Re: Open letter: Urgently end discrimination against Refugee Human Rights Defenders in the Great Lakes Region in general and in the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, Geneva,
The European Union Mission in DRC,
The United Nation Human Rights Offices (BCNUDH) in DRC,
Frontline Human Rights Defenders,
Agir Ansemble pour les Droits Humains,
Digital Defenders Protection
Urgent Action Africa,
Human Rights Watch,
Dear Sir/ Madam,
The Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 states “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty”.
As you prepare your report to the United Nations Human Rights in October 2022, we human rights defenders engaged in the promotion of refugee rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, do get this opportunity to bring to your attention the unacceptable degrading situation of Human Rights Defenders engaged in the protection of refugee rights and refugee human rights defenders who defend the rights of fellow refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Great Lakes Region.
We highly recognize and greatly thankful to the United Nations for the broader definition of “a human rights defender, that includes also those who defend refugee rights among others”, we do also note the efforts of the United Nations which put in place a special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in the world and also your offices, which should effectively address our challenges.
We were delighted with information that your offices initiated gathering of information on the situation of those who stand for refugee rights in the world, despite the fact that unfortunately those we know in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Great Lakes Region did not participate in that noble work in order to enrich the document.
We therefore alert you that those involved in the promotion of refugee rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Great Lakes Region are very few in numbers and as a minority group they need a particular attention and a special protection. This group includes nationals and refugees who particularly are focused in the refugee rights, and as such are subjected to various human rights violations, intimidation, threats, torture, deportation and exile towards other countries because of their human rights work.
Many among them are not known, their presence is not recognized, their work is not visible in the media, do not access the current modern technology in order to share their various activities, and remain isolated in their remote villages where they are the sole alternative for the survival of refugees and other migrants.
While both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo government lost the protection of refugees since “1996 up to now”, the fate of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in DRC is in the hands of “refugee human rights defenders” who risk their lives in order to ensure that refugee rights are observed. In order to understand this particular work, let us share with you these statistics: According to UNHCR, the Democratic Republic of Congo hosts around 526,000 refugees from various countries, among these refugees around 200,000 refugees are based in North Kivu according to UNHCR, only 2,500 refugees in North Kivu have valid Refugee Identification Cards according to UNHCR, and among them only around 300 have access to humanitarian relief aid. According to UNHCR more than 100,000 refugees have been repatriated to their countries of origin mainly Rwanda which refugees describe as “forced repatriation”, in Goma at least ¾ Rwandan Refugees have been victims of such forced repatriation. Beyond those who are known by UNHCR we estimate that DRC may have more than 2million refugees among them 70% are in the great Kivu region who remain unidentified up to now. Their situation is so complex and risky, and it is only Refugee Human Rights Defenders and vocal refugees who stand for all those who are not in contact with UNHCR and the local authorities, and that work is done at the high risks of those involved. We join those who believe that “being a human rights defender is not a crime, we should not be subjected to all forms of discrimination because we opted to stand for the rights of those who are deliberately ignored by others”.
In the process of doing this task, some among our colleagues Refugee Human Rights Defenders have lost their lives, some being assassinated, others being deported, others being forced to leave this country in order to seek asylum elsewhere, others being kidnapped and others face forced disappearance. “What remains unacceptable is that fact that Congolese Human Rights Defenders who face security threats are quickly known and supported but Refugee Human Rights Defenders in DRC remain unknown and highly ignored”. We may not exhaustively come up with a whole list of incidents, human rights abuses and various risks faced by Refugee Human Rights Defenders in DRC, but allow us to share with you the following:
In April 2021 as Filippo Grandi the UNHCR boss visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, the urban refugee representative in Goma faced various forms of intimidations from the refugee regime mainly UNHCR and the Congolese National Commission for Refugees known as “CNR” when they forced her on what to present in the meeting with the UNHCR boss, this forced her to leave Goma in order to hide somewhere as she feared about her life in December 2021 when threats amounted on her, in the same April 2021 our office which does host various refugee meetings in Goma was broken into by unidentified people and all equipment disappeared.
In May 2021 Habomuremye Angelo a Rwandan Refugee, who leads the “Rwandan Civil Society in Exile in DRC”, strongly engaged in the defense of refugee rights, disappeared in Goma. He left his home towards AIDES Offices (Implementing Partner of UNHCR Goma for urban Refugees), where he had an appointment with AIDES officers but since that morning he did not come back and no one had information about him, until recently when his family was informed that they saw him in Mutobo Military Camp in Ruhengeri, Rwanda where he is being detained. We believe that what spark his immediate arrest was his activity to monitor the situation of “refugees” who were repatriated to Rwanda in November 2020 but decided to come back to DRC in April 2021 and they were arrested at the border by the Congolese security services. Despite this situation his family mainly the children and the wife, have not been able to access humanitarian assistance here in Goma.
In December 2021 another Rwanda asylum seeker known as Pastor David Habimana was arrested from his house around Goma, and was detained at the Military Offices known in Goma as “SOKOLA II” and later on in December 30th, 2021 we were informed that David was deported to Rwanda, leaving behind his wife and his children who are still here in Goma and also do not access humanitarian relief aid. David was arrested just because he welcomed a Rwandan young girl asylum seeker who crossed in to Goma DRC and did not have where to stay, the security services accused David of facilitating people from Rwanda to come in DRC.
In January 2022 Uwitonze Furaha and her son were sick and they were rushed to the health center where refugees are supposed to get medical treatment, but Furaha and her son could not be treated because AIDES who pays the bill refused to support her on ground that she said so many things in the media which affected them and the entire refugee regime in Goma. AIDES wanted Furaha to apologize and withdraw her testimony from the media which she refused to do.
As she was at the Hospital, Dr. Patrick who manages “Tout est Grace Health Center” where refugees got treatment from opted to offer treatment to Furaha and her son in order to save their lives, in the process Dr. Patrick lost his contract with AIDES because of that act of charity towards Furaha which AIDES did not want, that FURAHA gets treatment.
In June 2022 Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos in-charge of Refugees and Foreigners in our organization was arrested from our offices and detained by the National Intelligence Agency in Goma known as “ANR” for two weeks and then later released. Pecos continues to face threats from the same ANR officers who arrested and detained him up to now, they are still looking for him. Pecos is being accused of being too vocal on refugee issues and that he should stop what he is doing for refugees. According to a letter issued to Pecos by UNHCR in November 2021 where UNHCR Goma threatened Pecos in what the letter described as “crossing the red line” Pecos has then been a target of all forms of threats and intimidations.
While human rights defenders in difficult situation do benefit solidarity from others through organizations that defend human rights defenders, we observe and highly regret that “refugee human rights defenders in DRC and in the Great Lakes Region” remain highly discriminated and cannot access emergency protection measures just because of their identity as “refugee human rights defenders”. Since last year 2021 we engaged with the following organizations and partners:
The European Union Mission in DRC, which referred us to the United Nations Human Rights Offices known as “BCNUDH”, we also engaged with Frontline Human Rights Defenders, Agir Ensemble pour les Droits Humains, Digital Defenders Partnership, Synergie Ukingo Wetu, Protect Defenders, and Urgent Action Africa among others but they all alleged about their criteria and internal policy called “ the organization mandate” which do not allow them to support “Refugee Human Rights Defenders”, some argued about not “wanting to be in conflict with a strategic partner like UNHCR” I they support those who are critical on refugee issues, while others simply discouraged them and insisted that “they should stop their activism on refugee rights” even in human rights fraternity services are based on who the person is but not what is the person doing and what is the problem of the person, thus discriminating us because of “our identity and social engagement”.
Not only that but also no single Refugee Human Rights Defenders we know who has benefited a training, no one has been invited for a Conference, for a meeting, and no refugee human rights defender has been offered any other opportunity for his or her development like scholarship in DRC.
On ground UNHCR has also been clear and distances herself from helping “critical and vocal refugees” on ground that it may affect the work for thousands of refugees in case of tension with the government or other armed groups here in DRC, but also UNHCR does not accommodate criticism and does support efforts towards monitoring refugee rights here in DRC. On contrary UNHCR has used her position to influence security services in order to threaten “Refugee Human Rights Defenders” who are perceived as vocal and who are critical towards UNHCR failure to stand for refugee rights in DRC. The UNHCR Sub-Regional Representative in Goma Madam Jackie Keagan together with her Protection Officer known as Nora have been active to arrange all possible threats and intimidations against us and against vocal refugees, unfortunately instead of being brought to courts of law Jackie was merely transferred from Goma to another place as Nora remains untouchable in the UNHCR offices in Goma, this seems deliberate in order cement the culture of impunity that enjoys UNHCR staffs. On the same way Felix Musanganya the Head of CNR Goma together with his Protection Officer known as Reginald are aggressively attacking us and vocal refugees and they continue to enjoy silence of the state and the international community.
With hope that your office will strongly condemn all forms of discrimination against us, and work towards the abolition of all these forms of discrimination and threats against those who are standing for refugee rights in DRC, we do submit the following recommendations in line with article 28 of the Universal Declaration of human Rights which states “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized”
We urge your office to strongly engage all organizations working on issues of the protection of human rights defenders in DRC to urgently make reforms and consider Refugee Human Rights Defenders in their operations, at the same time engage with donors and development partners to put aside specific funding opportunities to support refugee human rights defenders in DRC as one among top priority,
We urge your office to urgently deploy a mission for a field visit in DRC in order to enquire about the situation of Refugee Human Rights Defenders, but also encourage other organizations to get closer in order to understand better the needs of refugee human rights defenders in DRC,
We urge your office to engage both the UNHCR and the DRC Government to show strong commitment towards the protection and the recognition of Human Rights Defenders engaged in the protection of refugees, and hold accountable all those who violate their rights,
We urge your office to engage with the United Nations Mission in DRC to put a particular attention on the situation of Refugee Human Rights Defenders, and put in place a specific department which will focus of the protection of “Refugee Human Rights Defenders in DRC”
We urge your office to do all that it may take to ensure that justice and reparation to all those refugee human rights defenders in DRC who have faced all forms of injustice, and hold accountable all those who are responsible,
We urge your office to continuously make a follow up with various actors involved in the protection of human rights defenders in order to ensure that Refugee human Rights Defenders are not left out in the name of “ internal policy”,
We urge your office to engage all the donors who support human rights work to freeze funding opportunities to all human rights organizations which maintain the culture of discrimination in the name of “internal policy” in accordance with Article 30 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein”.
We therefore bring to your attention that if the situation continues to worsen and observe that despite our various alerts to all actors not much has changed, we shall directly engage refugees and other people of good will to get involved in non-violence and peaceful actions in order to claim for their rights.
Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
Human Rights Defender, Specialized in Refugee Rights in the Great Lakes Region,
In-charge of Refugees and Foreigners/ COJESKI/DRC- Coordination