A leading Congolese human rights activist killed this week had suffered a pattern of intimidation because of his work, a senior UN official said, as a rights group questioned whether police were already staging a cover-up.
The body of Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, head of Voix des Sans Voix, or Voice of the Voiceless, was found in his car on Wednesday in a suburb of Congo’s capital. The rights group, one of the largest in Congo, said he appeared to have been strangled.
“For more than 20 years, Chebeya Bahizire had survived many death threats, arrests and ill treatment due to his work as a human rights defender. He believed in the cause of human rights and was not afraid to pursue it against all odds,” Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said on Thursday.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed shock at Chebeya’s death, saying “his reputation as a champion of human rights earned him the respect and admiration of his compatriots and of the international community,” UN deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.
The secretary-general said that Congo’s interior minister on Thursday ordered the state security services to investigate Chebeya’s death and added that the investigation “should be thorough, transparent and independent, with full respect for due process and rule of law,” Okabe said at UN headquarters in New York.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo is prepared to assist such an investigation, if requested, she said.
Amnesty International had called on the government to launch an investigation into Chebeya’s death.
“We are stunned and appalled by the suspicious death of such a prominent and respected human rights defender ... It seems he may have paid the ultimate price for his valuable work,” said Veronique Aubert, deputy director of the group’s Africa Program.
The rights group said he was last heard from on Tuesday night, when he sent a text to a family member saying that he had just met with a senior police official and was headed home. Passers-by later found his body.