June 8, 2010 / 5:53 PM / 9 years ago

Congo rules out international role in death probe

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo will not allow international bodies to participate in an investigation into the death of a leading human rights activist, the country’s top legal adviser said.

Floribert Chebeya, head of Voice of the Voiceless, a local NGO, was found dead on the outskirts of Kinshasa on June 2, prompting the United Nations to offer assistance and the United States, Canada, Britain, and France to express concern.

“We will not conduct a joint investigation — this is a sovereign investigation,” Attorney General Flory Kabange Numbi told Reuters in an interview.

A group of 55 NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said over the weekend that an independent probe into Chebeya’s death was crucial to ensuring the investigation’s result is credible.

Congo authorities have arrested several police officers since Chebeya’s death, and the country’s police chief was suspended to help the investigation “take place smoothly”, according to Interior Minister Adolphe Lumanu.

“Suspending the police chief is a step in the right direction, but what is urgently needed is for the DRC government to establish an independent commission of inquiry on what happened and ensure that justice is done,” said Anneke Van Woudenbourg of Human Rights Watch.

Kabange Numbi said in the interview that he wanted an autopsy on Chebeya’s body he ordered last week to go ahead despite a request from the family for an independent autopsy.

“If there are any objections after the results of the autopsy, the family can ask for a second or third autopsy afterwards,” he said.

The Dutch embassy in Congo had offered to send a team of four experts to help with the autopsy. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had also offered the services of the U.N. mission MONUC in a joint probe.

The incident comes as Congo, still suffering from the effects of a 1998-2003 war that killed millions, prepares to celebrate 50 years of independence from Belgian colonial rule. Campaigners have long criticised the country’s record on human rights, saying activists are under increasing threat and several fear for their lives.

Police Inspector General John Numbi, with whom Chebeya is believed to have had a meeting on the evening before he was found dead, was suspended during the weekend.

Several other officers, including Colonel Daniel Mukalay of the police special services who was named in a 2008 Human Rights Watch Report for having tortured political prisoners, have also been arrested.

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