Safety for Congolese Land and Environmental Defenders

Last week, ELAW and partners at the Centre Congolaise pour le Droit du Développement Durable (Congolese Center for Law and Sustainable Development, CODED) co-hosted a training to help more than 45 advocates across the Democratic Republic of Congo increase their security and minimize threats to themselves and their organizations – so they can focus on their important work!

Janvier Hakizimana launched the two-day workshop. His Kampala-based organization, DefendDefenders, strengthens the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) throughout the East and Horn of Africa through preventative and responsive protection to reduce their vulnerabilities and enhance their capacities to effectively defend human rights.
Kirk Herbertson of EarthRights International talked about threats to HRDs and tools for engaging the US Government to protect defenders. Kirk emphasized, “contingency planning for HRDs is key, as well as establishing links with those who can help in an emergency.”
Lori Maddox, ELAW Associate Director, kicked off Day Two. She and Kirk lead the law and advocacy working group of the Alliance for Land and Environmental Defenders (ALLIED). “Our primary aim is to learn from the experiences of local defenders and use what we learn to take coordinated decisive actions to protect the people who protect the planet,” she says.
Walda Keza Shaka of African Defenders spoke about the “Ubuntu Hub Cities” initiative which enables HRDs who have been subjected to threats and violence to receive emergency protection support, including temporary relocation. These safe havens provide the HRDs with a break from highly stressful and dangerous situations while enabling them to continue their work.
Kodjo Ndukuma from the National Pedagogical University in Kinshasa discussed digital security and law. 2019 ELAW Fellow Olivier Bahemuke Ndoole of Congolese Alert for the Environment and Human Rights, and Freddy Kasongo of the Private Security Governance Observatory (OEARSE) gave firsthand accounts of their experience with security and threats in their work as HRDs.
Erick Kassongo of CODED says: “This session allowed Congolese human rights defenders to understand the need for advance emergency planning for the management of security and safety to mitigate vulnerabilities and better counter threats. Risk assessment and building legal, diplomatic, and technical strategies are key. These can be undertaken through the mobilization of resources to ensure the relocation of threatened actors, networking, intensified awareness, and capacity building to save defenders.”
Many thanks to all the panelists and advocates who joined from across the DRC to share their experience and expertise. Together, we can learn how to collectively assess, mitigate, and respond to risk and threats to enhance security for environmental and human rights defenders across the region.
We look forward to building on this work together.

Bernard Ngalim
Africa Law Associate
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide