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DRC Oral statement at Human Rights Committee

20 Oct 17 

Lawyers for Lawyers delivered an oral statement to the United Nations Human Rights Committee about the situation of lawyers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This week, the Committee reviewed the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by the DRC. Earlier, Lawyers for Lawyers already submitted a report for this review.

The statement reads as follows:

Lawyers for Lawyers[i] would like to draw the Committee’s attention to the failure of the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure the right of access to justice and effective legal representation[ii].

As an organisation from The Netherlands, we are an NGO that solely consists of lawyers. With a group of 7 lawyers, we have visited Kinshasa in 2015 to work together with our colleagues on the improvement of the position of lawyers in the DRC.

Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms requires effective access to legal services provided by an independent legal profession. Fundamental to improving human rights for the people in the DRC is a justice system that provides due process, equality of arms and allows lawyers to work independently without fear of harassment or intimidation.

According to our information, the Congolese authorities do not always uphold the necessary guarantees for the proper functioning of the legal profession in practice. The position of lawyers in the DRC has deteriorated over the last number of years.

Lawyers for Lawyers has been informed that lawyers in the DRC are subjected to threats, intimidation and interference by members of police agencies, the military and even the judiciary, in connection to their legitimate activities. Our report provides concrete examples thereof.

Lawyers are sometimes even arbitrarily detained and subjected to criminal proceedings because of the exercise of their professional activities. In particular, lawyers who are involved in politically sensitive cases endure difficulties in carrying out their professional activities without undue intervention.

In addition, lawyers in the DRC face interference with their work by means of disciplinary proceedings. We have been informed that several lawyers in the DRC have been disbarred, or are facing disbarment on improper grounds. Again we refer to our report for examples.

Bar associations have a vital role to play in upholding ethics, professional standards and protecting their members from persecution and infringements.[iii] However, according to the information received, the several Congolese Bar associations throughout the country are not always in a position to provide adequate protection. While by law the Congolese Bar associations are independent bodies with an independent legal personality,[iv] in practice this independent status is questionable.

In addition, we remark that a Draft bill for the Protection of Human rights defenders, has been prepared and was adopted by the Senate of DRC on 10 May 2017. [v]  We call on the Committee to urge the DRC to enact, implemented and put in to practice this legislative proposal.

Lawyers for Lawyers calls on the Committee: to strengthen its previous recommendations for the DRC to respect and protect the activities of lawyers; to call on the DRC to refrain from any form of harassment and persecution of lawyers and interfere with their defence of clients; and to respect and promote the independence of the DRC bar associations and strengthen their capacity.

[i] For more information about Lawyers for Lawyers, please visit: www.lawyersforlawyers.org

[ii] As enshrined in Article 14 of the ICCPR. Adherence to the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers is considered a fundamental precondition to fulfilling the requirement that all persons have effective access to legal services provided by an independent legal profession. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana (1990), UN Doc. A/CONF.144/28/Rev.1 at 118 , available at: http://www.advocatenvooradvocaten.nl/basic-principles/

[iii] Basic Principles, Preamble, paragraph 10.

[iv] Law No. 79 of 28 September 1979, articles 2-4. (Ordonnance Loi du 28 September 1979).

[v]   Proposition de loi relative à la protection et à la responsabilité du défenseurs des droits humains

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