Kinshasa-blog Chat on the terrace
1 June 2015

Kinshasa-blog Chat on the terrace

Democratic Republic of Congo

Nienke van Renssen –

Our first session is over, today we have introduced ourselves with the lawyers of the Bar Association here in Kinshasa. The lawyers we will be assisting are organized in the group La Defense de la Defense (DdD). This committee was established in 2014 and aims to improve the position of lawyers in the DRC, especially in Kinshasa. The main aim is to protect lawyers who are threatened because of exercising their profession. DdD therefore pursues the same objective as Lawyers for Lawyers, with the important difference that DdD is locally organized and often also needs assistance itself in urgent situations.

We were received with great respect by our Congolese profession during the first meeting. The conference was opened by a representative of the Congolese Ministry of Justice and of course the press was present. The Dean of the Bar of Kinshasa la Gombe welcomed everyone and emphasized that lawyers around the world are as a family and that we therefore should be able to talk to each other as a family during this conference.

Maître Peter is one of the lawyers affiliated with DdD. He has a specialization in military criminal law. Because the army has significant influence in the DRC, it is difficult to bring military cases to court. Especially if these cases are displeasing to the military. This work also regularly leads to threats. When he assisted a military against the will of a higher ranking soldier, Ngomo was taken to a cemetery by strangers and he was accosted in the schoolyard when he brought his children to school. The threats were so serious that he eventually had to seek protection from the Belgian embassy and had to go into hiding.

One of the other lawyers, Maître Charlene, told me that she is regularly threatened. She said that the norm is that when you assist a party, the other party sees you as the enemy. When dealing with sensitive issues, she regularly receives threatening anonymous text messages. The sender cannot be traced and filing a complaint has little to no effect. Charlene often defends victims of sexual violence, often perpetrated by soldiers. Because of this kind of cases, she is threatened, to ensure that she stops doing these cases. As I mentioned already mentioned in an earlier blog, the problem is often the impunity of such facts, especially when it comes to sexual violence. Precisely in these cases, prosecution is so important to ensure that the abuse is not accepted and to prevent future victims.

Peter therefore stressed that he does not drop cases, because someone eventually has to do the job. Our peers’ perseverance is admirable, even if it has direct implications for their security and that of their family.

One of the lawyers noted today that the threats and danger are as fire, and that we should set up a joint structure to extinguish the fire before it continues to escalate. This afternoon we spoke about how this structure could be set up and how we can support the Congolese lawyers here permanently from the Netherlands in the future. One of the things we can do is lobbying for an early treatment of the revised Advocates in the National Assembly. According to the draft bill, the lawyers will have more guarantees and protection in the exercise of their profession. Tomorrow we’ll talk about it further.

By the way, there was enough time to get to know each other and exchange experiences. About the work as a lawyer about legal issues and about life in Congo. In fact, today is the anniversary of Bernadette, one of the initiators of the project, and to celebrate we go into town. You cannot let your birthday go by unnoticed, especially when you’re in Kinshasa.

Nienke van Renssen is a lawyer at CMS Derks Star Busmann in Amsterdam and member of the L4L focus group Africa.

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