Factors restricting environmental human rights advocates’ safety and ability to work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Human rights are applicable to all individuals, and no one should be excluded. Securing the rights of environmental activists and human rights defenders in the DRC is essential, as it involves upholding human rights, preserving cultural diversity, promoting sustainable practices to combat climate change, protecting biodiversity, and fostering a fair and just global society.

Government policies, limited civic space, declining rights protection, political instability, climate change effects, economic decline, and wars are impacting the capacity of human rights defenders and environmental activists to preserve rights in the DRC. Significant headway is being achieved in resolving the issues raised by environmental activists in the DRC, although the pace of improvement is insufficient. Environmental activists nonetheless experience ongoing marginalization and disadvantages compared to the general population.

Defend Defenders has reported a rise in threats and violence against environmental defenders in Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in its latest report on the condition of Environmental Human Rights Defenders. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, conflicts have arisen between local populations, particularly forest-dwelling indigenous communities, and foreign investors supported by the government, over the management of forest resources and large-scale land acquisitions, notably in Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks. This conflict has led to the relocation and infringement of the human rights of indigenous groups like the Batwa and Bambuti. Recent investigations have uncovered instances of organized violence against indigenous populations, including reports of rape and murder of the Batwa people by park rangers in Virunga and Kahuzi. Environmental defenders protecting communities’ land rights face frequent violence and intimidation, reflecting a heavily militarized strategy by the government of DRC and a culture of impunity that disregards the value of life and the legal system.

The DRC has lately implemented legislation that restricts activists from safely and efficiently carrying out their jobs. These laws include public order and national security regulations that restrict freedom of speech, assembly, and association. Burdensome registration procedures for non-governmental groups. Restrictive legislation is expanding to undercut the protection of environmental activists and other human rights advocates, hindering their capacity to operate securely and effectively. Governments have used legal tools like counterterrorism, national security laws, and laws that restrict civil society’s activities and penalize freedom of assembly and speech to criminalize activists.

Freedom House reports that the democratic system in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been hindered in recent years due to the manipulation of the election process by political elites. Citizens lack the freedom to exercise fundamental civic rights, and corruption is widespread. Physical security is fragile because of violence and human rights violations carried out by government troops, as well as armed opposition groups and militias operating in various regions of the nation. The consequences of increasing poor governance in the DRC are evident in significant decreases in freedom rights and a rise in both the quantity and intensity of authoritarian actions to regulate public discourse and viewpoints. Several individual trends contribute to the regression of democratic space, such as restrictions on freedom of expression, administrative barriers to association, limitations on foreign funding, security measures, misinformation acts, constraints on assembly, heightened use of legal cases to intimidate critical actors from civic engagement, and escalating polarization and distrust between citizens and the state. These situations impact the rights of environmental activists and human rights advocates.

The Internet has become an essential component of our society, creating new opportunities for public participation and political discourse, but also introducing new platforms for democratic oversight and limitations. Digital technology has significantly altered democratic discussion and civic space, causing the distinction between online and offline to become less clear. The changes in power dynamics among organizations, communities, and individuals have widespread effects beyond our digital gadgets. Digital technology has emerged as a key battleground for democracy, offering new possibilities and obstacles. Digital technology has great promise for enhancing democracy and facilitating democratic discussions. It has been a crucial instrument for facilitating offline civic activity and organizing via digital mobilization, enhancing civic interconnection, and creating chances for national and global solidarity and movement development. This involves new possibilities for reaching out, promoting, participating in civic activities, and engaging, as well as methods for diaspora or political refugees to stay linked to national action or networks. It has created new internet platforms that avoid possible censorship in conventional media, enabled online protests, and eliminated the immediate risks of consequences linked to physical demonstrations under authoritarian governments.

It is important to encourage environmental activists and human rights defenders in DR Congo to use safety measures to safeguard themselves throughout their involvement in human rights and environmental action. Despite the presence of several international organizations focusing on the safety of human rights defenders and environmental activists in DR Congo, many activists requiring assistance and support for security training and capacity development have not been reached owing to the vast geographical regions. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is vast, and initiatives aimed at safeguarding civil society, human rights defenders, and environmental campaigners tend to be concentrated in certain places repeatedly. The provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu have been a focal point for foreign donors’ financed projects aimed at aiding human rights defenders and environmental activists in the area. Limited financial resources and the capacity of donors or implementing organizations may hinder the expansion of projects to other regions. The international human rights systems, which frequently concentrate on one particular region, leave some activists in various regions of the DR Congo feeling unheard.

Regions like Ituri, Thsopo, Hautuele, Ubangi, and Matadi are frequently overlooked in the design of international NGOs’ activity portfolios. However, human rights defenders and environmental activists in these regions of DR Congo require significant support and protection. The absence of competent civil society organizations, intermediaries, and local organizations capable of implementing activities is one of the main reasons why many regions in the DR Congo have been overlooked in the protection of human rights defenders. This is because many organizations in the DRC are considered to be briefcase organizations with limited capacity to carry out international development programs. However, this should not be a reason to overlook these types of defenders. Solutions should be sought to give support and initiatives to activists and their constituents.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), along with other African countries, receives insufficient attention from international organizations that track violence and evaluate the dangers to human rights and environmental activists. Global Witness has recognized in their annual reports for the past four years that verifying cases of activists being killed in Africa remains challenging due to the absence of competent human rights organizations, media groups, or civil society to document or monitor such incidents. Global Witnesses also recognize that threats in Africa often occur in isolated and rural regions where journalists and activists have little communication with international and national human rights organizations. This hinders their ability to document and report on instances in Africa, resulting in Africa being underrepresented or not included in international human rights defender security reports. It is important to acknowledge that more people may be dying and facing threats in Africa than in other regions that get significant attention from international reporting organizations.

The organization Frontline Defenders has consistently expressed these concerns in its yearly publication, “Global Analysis,” which monitors and documents threats to human rights defenders and environmental activists worldwide. Compared to other reports, there is limited coverage of the African continent, except for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which tends to receive more publicity. This is because the DRC is one of the countries where rangers and forest guards are specifically targeted, and many of them are killed each year. As a result, reports of these killings are disseminated in the media more quickly than those involving other activists working on human rights and environmental justice at the local and community levels.

To enhance the conditions of human rights defenders and environmental activists in DR Congo, it is crucial for development partners, especially international donors, to reassess the implementation of their operations. Donors should focus on supporting initiatives headed by local organizations and enhancing the capabilities of their recipients to effectively implement and oversee projects aimed at addressing the challenges encountered by civil society communities. Bringing in trainers and experts from Europe or America to conduct capacity-building workshops for local organizations may not be the answer, but might rather hinder the development of local organizations. Many international donors require organizations to have received a substantial amount of donations in the past to qualify for funding. This practice can make it difficult for activist groups and local organizations to access resources if they lack a history of previous donations. This situation will persistently impact the circumstances of defenders and activists in the DRC, hindering any enhancement in the ability of groups and organizations to record and protect human rights.

Readers of this post should be aware of the challenging circumstances in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the marginalization of activists who need crucial help.

We can collaborate to reform systems and enhance conditions on the ground due to the heightened attention on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s biodiversity, mineral deposits, armed groups, and international mining companies, which pose threats to the security and operations of human rights defenders and activists.



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