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18.11.2009 Congo

UN report condemns trial in DR Congo military court over killing of journalist

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17 November - A United Nations report released today criticizes the judicial process in a Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) military court in connection with the trial of a murdered Congolese journalist, including the alleged bribery of the presiding judges.

The report concluded that the judicial process was “interspersed with several irregularities suggesting that the judiciary authorities lack the will to establish the truth” behind the June 2007 killing of Serge Maheshe, who was working for UN-sponsored Radio Okapi.

Mr. Maheshe was shot dead while entering a UN-marked vehicle in Bukavu, the capital of volatile eastern province of South Kivu. In August 2007 four civilians were initially sentenced to death on the basis of confessions, which were subsequently retracted.

Military magistrates were accused at the time of obtaining the confessions under duress, but no independent inquiry was carried out to investigate these allegations.

The report stressed that “certain violations noticed in the Maheshe case are frequently observed in other trials before military courts.”

The report on the trial – produced jointly by the UN mission in DRC (MONUC) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – noted that the guarantees for a just and fair trial were not respected by the South Kivu Military Court.

It spotlighted the court's refusal to investigate other credible leads and motives likely to shed more light on the murder among the persistent inadequacies in the criminal inquiry.

In addition, the report underscored the absence of an independent and impartial inquiry into subornation charges brought against two military magistrates and a climate of intimidation and threats against the defence lawyers among the barriers to a fair process.

Echoing the report, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Government “to guarantee the protection of lawyers and human rights defenders, including journalists, to allow them to perform freely their duty, without risk of interference, discrimination, threat or reprisal.”

Ms. Pillay also called on the international community to help strengthen technical and logistical support to the Congolese judicial institutions and reinforce resources for all the members of the judiciary, civilian and military.

“We all must pursue, with the Congolese political and judiciary authorities, the independence and integrity of justice, the strict compliance with the principle of the right to a fair trial,” said Ms. Pillay, highlighting the need to adopt “a law for the protection of human rights defenders, including journalists, that complies with relevant international norms.”

Development / Accra / Ghana / Africa /

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