This post originally appeared on Change.org's Human Rights blog.
Floribert Chebeya knew what he was up against. Since the late 1980s he had endured numerous detentions and physical harassment from Congolese security services; he had canceled planned demonstrations out of fear for the safety of those who followed his lead, and defied threats against his own life when the stakes of failing to advocate seemed too high. For years, Amnesty International followed Chebeya’s unfazed approach to promoting human rights in Congo, and when he was found dead on Wednesday, the organization lamented the “great loss for the human rights community.”
Chebeya was the president of one of Congo’s leading human rights organizations, Voice for the Voiceless (known by its French acronym VSV), and the executive secretary for a national network of human rights groups known as RENADHOC. He founded VSV in 1988 and within a few years rose to prominence, which, given his line of work, meant that he became a target for the Congolese government; a search through Amnesty’s archive of “urgent actions” turns up a slew of appeals on behalf of Chebeya dating back to the mid-1990s.
Chebeya was a strident advocate for people unlawfully detained, harassed, and intimidated by Congo’s notoriously abusive and opportunistic security forces. He documented abuses and filed complaints on behalf of marginalized populations in conflict-ridden parts of the country. He frequently spoke out about the unsolved mystery surrounding the 2001 assassination of Congo’s previous president, Laurent Kabila. Dozens of Kabila affiliates remain in prison after being found guilty in what was deemed an attempted coup, and they were sentenced to death in a sham trial.
The security service known as the Military Detection of Unpatriotic Activities kept close tabs on Chebeya’s activities, often summoning him for interrogations following the release of a VSV report or after a request for information about detainees or other vulnerable people.
More recently, Chebeya’s organization had taken on the issue of sexual violence and advocated for the protection for the survivors and against impunity for perpetrators. In a press release (pdf) dated March 4, 2010, VSV commemorated International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women by calling attention to the prevalence of sexual violence in Congo, and noting that state officials — specifically with agencies such as the national police, army, immigration police, and the national intelligence — often commit abuses against the very people they are charged with protecting. VSV didn’t hesitate to name names, on this occasion calling for the prosecution of a prominent political party figure and professor accused of raping two teenage girls.
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