Stop persecution of DRC Bar Association head

International Commission of Jurists calls for action

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

September 19th, 2012

The rule of law has long been under threat in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and recently it has suffered another serious blow as the National Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has become embroiled in a campaign to oust the President of the National Bar Association, Mbuyi Mbiye Tanayi – even going so far as to instruct senior members of the Bar to dismiss their leader.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is extremely concerned about the DPP’s actions and the implications for the rule of law - a view echoed by the Southern Africa Development Community Lawyers Association (SADCLA).

In a hard-hitting statement, the ICJ said that the DPP’s interference with the running of the affairs of the Bar Association and the persecution of Mbuyi  Mbiye – who has regularly denounced attacks on the judiciary by the executive – constitute a ‘blatant violation of the independence of individual lawyers as well as of the legal profession as a whole’.

The ICJ also stressed that the instruction given to senior bar members seriously undermines the independence of the judiciary, which is guaranteed by the DRC Constitution as well as by Article 26 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which DR Congo is a State party.

“Interference of the state’s prosecutorial authority in the affairs of the legal profession can only weaken the rule of law and human rights, and erode public confidence in the justice system,” said Arnold Tsunga, Director of the ICJ Africa Regional Programme. “In any constitutional democracy, senior bar members cannot be instructed even to hold a meeting, let alone to dismiss their leader.”

Along with his criticism of executive interference in the judiciary, Mbuyi Mbiye has also upset some of the powers-that-be in Kinshasa by exhorting lawyers in the long-running Floribert Chebeya murder case to discharge their duties without any fear or favour.

And these public pronouncements have seen him harassed and intimidated on a number of occasions. Most significantly, in mid-July intelligence service officers searched his home and legal chambers without search warrants and illegally confiscated his computers – due to totally spurious allegations that he is linked with the M23 rebel movement in eastern DRC.

The ICJ is alarmed by the persecution since the independence of lawyers is essential for the protection and promotion of the rule of law and human rights in a constitutional democracy. This independence requires that lawyers be subject to self-regulation, which is free from improper and undue interference, and observes the principles of professional ethics.

For members of the public to access justice, they need the assurance that when requiring legal representation in any matter, including against the state, that they will be represented by lawyers who serve the interests of justice without fear or favour.

In conclusion, the ICJ strongly urges the DPP to desist from interfering with the affairs of the Bar Association and to put an end to the persecution of Mbuyi Mbiye. The ICJ also exhorts senior Bar Association members to reject the DPP’s instructions and resist any unwarranted manipulation of the Bar Association.

Further, the ICJ calls upon competent Congolese authorities to ensure at all times that the Bar Association, its leaders and members of the legal fraternity are able to discharge their duties without fear or threat of reprisals.

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