Kinshasa-blog 'Twinning' for cooperation and synergy
6 June 2015

Kinshasa-blog ‘Twinning’ for cooperation and synergy

Democratic Republic of Congo

Nienke van Renssen

In recent days, we all have had a chance to get to know our Congolese partners. One of the goals of this project is indeed the twinning, the ‘partnership’, where we can support the lawyers in Congo in their work for a fairer system in their own country on the basis of the one-to-one link. For a sustainable cooperation, the personal contact is also important; after all, a synergy has to be formed between the partners.

In order to inspire the participants, human rights defender Justin Bahirwe from Bukavu, eastern Congo, came to tell about the good contact he has with Ms Maria Martens (Member of the Dutch Senate) within the framework of Justice & Peace’s Connect2Protect program. The relatively ‘simple’ connecting and maintaining of regular contact (once every three weeks at least), Justin really experience as very meaningful.

Maître Bernadette (for us Bernadette Ficq), one of the initiators of this program, has taken up the task of disclosing who will comprise the couples. The tension is palpable; after all, a lot depends on it. Moreover, we are seven Dutch lawyers facing twenty-two Congolese lawyers. For Bernadette it feels as if she has to publish the results in a big television show.

An attempt was made to take the background and expertise of the lawyers into account as much as possible. For example, the dean from Kananga, in the province of Kasai, is coupled to our former dean Germ Kemper. Hanno Bos (here ‘Maitre Boss, Boss’) is coupled from Frank from Lubumbashi.

And then I hear who will be my partner: Maître Charlene. I am very happy with her and apparently she is also happy with me because she enthusiastically embraces me. As I wrote in a previous blog, she is a valiant criminal lawyer who assists victims of sexual violence. She also has a bright smile, answers all my questions and she is very involved in DdD. In addition to our partner, we are also linked to a second and third lawyer, whom we are able to get to know and for which we will try to find a partner in the Netherlands. Eric and Philibert are introduced to me.

In small groups we started. Maître Philibert has a mixed practice; he wants to know much about the criminal law, especially about preliminary detention. He assists clients that have been detained for weeks without charges or having been brought to a judge. He wonders how this is arranged in the Netherlands and what he could do here. There is plenty of work for us as Dutch lawyers. We can help lawyers like Charlene, Eric and Philibert in searching jurisprudence and there is a lack of good information and reference works across jurisdictions.

Several lawyers, including the partners of Irma van den Berg, need more information on the ‘Droit de l’environnement’. This concerns not only the environment, but also spatial planning. This field is still in its infancy in the DRC. The lawyers need training and background. The living environment here is not (yet) a priority. It is understandable that people here have other things to worry about, but there is more and more attention for the issue. This is typical for a country in development; people become more aware of the (economic) value of a good living environment and healthy environment, as all inhabitants of the land depend on it.

I specifically ask about the safety of the lawyes, because that is what ultimately matters most. All three lawyers are seeking protection when they pick up sensitive cases. Sometimes when they retrieve a file, the prosecutor tells them: ‘Not that file, maître, with that one I would not interfere if I were you.’ Philibert says that if they know that lawyers in the Netherlands are behind them, they might dare to take it further. Through regular contact, we will be well informed of what is happening and what sensitivities are at play and may seek the assistance of our network if it goes wrong.

We agree to maintain contact via e-mail and via Skype and Whatsapp. Even in Congo everyone has one (or two or three) smartphones, which they also like to use at any given time. At least we know that they are easily accessible when we get back to the Netherlands.

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