Borders between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda are among the busiest in the world in terms of informal cross-border trade. It is reported that about 50,000 people cross the Petite Barrière border post between Rubavu and Goma to trade foodstuff and basic services on a daily basis. Between November and December 2020, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) and Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe (PFTH) identified about 6,500 women who permanently rely on informal cross-border trade through Bukavu/Rusizi, Goma/Rubavu and Kamanyola/Bugarama border posts as their main source of income. All of these women have been involved in informal cross-border trade for 2 years at least with a capital of less than 50$. Every day, when they cross the border on both directions to buy or sell goods, these women face various challenges including payment of non-gazetted taxes, sexual and gender-based violence, harassment, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of their goods, etc.
This was the case of Marie-Rose Mukambakuriyemo and Adela Nyirasinayobye, two Rwandan women selected by their cooperative “Indashikirwa” to sell their members’ chickens in one of Bukavu’s markets. They crossed the Ruzizi-1 border on 18 December 2020 with 46 chickens worth about 460$. When they arrived at the market, Mr. Takis – a representative of a Bukavu-based association of poultry sellers – denied them from entering the market and confiscated all their chickens. He alleged that, as foreigners, Rwandan women are not allowed to do retail business in DRC. They are supposed to sell in gross to their Congolese counterparts who are allowed to retail in local markets.
Fortunately, Marie-Rose and Adela had just attended a workshop organized by Pro-Femmes for leaders of women informal cross-border traders’ cooperatives a couple of days before. During the workshop, Adela and other women were informed about the Legal Aid Clinics set up in the framework of ‘Empowering Women in Informal Cross-Border Trade in the Great Lakes Region’ (EWICBT) Project on both sides of the DRC/Rwanda border to provide free and quick support to women cross-border traders who are victims illegal and unfair treatments during their business. So, they immediately contacted Pro-Femmes to complain about what had happened. Without delay, Pro-Femmes referred them to iPeace’s legal aid team positioned a few meters from the Ruzizi-1 border post. After listening and ascertaining the soundness of the claim of Marie Rose and Adela, iPeace legal officer invited Mr. Takis to tell his version of the story. After long discussions and involvement of a Congolese border official, Mr. Takis was requested to return all the 46 chickens to Marie-Rose and Adela. He was also reminded that his status as the president of a local association does not give him power to deny access to the market to other people nor to confiscate their goods. In case of any claim or concern, he should refer to competent authorities.
“Almost every day when we cross to DRC, we expect to face some kind of harassment either from local authorities, police, border officials or our fellow traders. Since COVID-19 outbreak, the confiscation of goods by the heads various associations has become frequent. As foreigners, we don’t know where to take our claim, and some of us do not even speak Kiswahili. That is why we end up paying a lot of money to get through. I am happy that this time I was able to recover all my goods swiftly and without paying a single dollar”, said Marie Rose after she sold her returned chickens. “I would like to thank iPeace and Pro-Femmes for establishing their offices next to the border. The fact that some of their staff in DRC understand Kinyarwanda made it easier for me to clearly explain the issue. I have been crossing the border for many years, it is the first time I am able to talk to an official without being humiliated. Usually when you take the risk to complain to Congolese authorities, it takes long before your case is solved and you must pay a lot of money – sometimes above the value of the disputed goods – before your claim is settled. For that reason, most of us give up on our confiscated goods to return home. Now that I know there are people to help us quickly and for free, I feel like my confidence in pursuing my business has increased.”, added Adela. In the DRC, the multiplicity of services at border posts blurs the system and puts women cross-border traders at the mercy of shady people, including public servants.
Marie-Rose and Adela are among the 11,679 women in informal cross-border trade and their husbands who are direct beneficiaries of the EWICBT project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in order to improve safety, security and enabling environment for cross-border trade while increasing income and social economic welfare of women who do informal cross-border trade between DRC and Rwanda. The comparative advantage of this project consists in the simultaneous implementation of identical activities on both sides of the RDC/Rwanda borders, which allows women from each of the two countries to be equally protected when they cross the border to conduct their trade activities. This project’s activities are implemented by Pro-Femmes in Rwanda and iPeace in DRC through 30 June 2022.
On 11-16 December 2017, the 5th edition of the Great Lakes Regional Training Programme in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights took place in Kigali. This time, 72 students and lecturers from 24 universities were empowered with knowledge and skills in relation with rules applicable in armed conflicts, and human rights. Among the participating universities, 10 were from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It is the first time since 2013 that English speaking countries have been accepted to join this regional Programme which started focusing on Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda.
Students’ research culminated with the production of two memorials, per team, containing arguments supported by relevant provisions of international instruments and case-law. Memorials addressed alternatively and separately the position of the prosecutor indicting the army general, operations commander, and that of the defense lawyer in accordance with the laws and procedures governing the International Criminal Court.The activities of this edition were organized around the theme “Maintaining the Rule of Law in Armed Conflict Period: What protection for Children in the Great Lakes Region?”.
As usual, before coming for a one-week intensive training programme in Kigali, participants spent 3 months researching on the legal qualification of facts involved in a fictitious case depicting various violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. This year’s case was built on a scenario of post-electoral crisis that degenerated to a rebellion led by an opposition leader, who not only lost the elections but also refused to recognize the polls’ results. This rebellion was bloodily repressed by the governmental army with disastrous humanitarian consequences on civilians, including women and children.
In Kigali, participants enriched their knowledge by attending workshops facilitated by renowned experts in the fields of international humanitarian law and human rights. Among these workshops, it is worth mentioning two because of both their technicity and their topicality. The first, facilitated by Dr. Raphael van Steenberghe, professor of international law at Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, aimed at helping participants know and understand recent developments regarding the complementarity between international humanitarian law and human rights. The second related to the identification of lex specialis and how it is articulated with other rules governing armed conflicts was facilitated by Dr. Aurélie Tardieu, lecturer at Université de Caen in France. Moreover, participants attended a conference on how international humanitarian law and human rights law complement each other in protecting children in armed conflict period.
To connect theory to practice, students participated in a moot court competition organized in two tracks. The Francophone track, competed by Congolese and Burundian universities, was won by Université de Kinshasa (from DR Congo) after facing in final another Congolese university, Universté de Goma. On the side of the English track, universities from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda faced each other. Moi University won the competition after a fierce pleading against Kampala International University from Uganda in the final.
The bench of Judges in preliminary rounds and in the grand final was composed of people with sound expertise in international law from iPeace partner universities and organizations based in Belgium, Cameroon, DR Congo, France, Netherlands, Rwanda, Switzerland, and Tchad.
Both finals took place in the main courtroom of the Supreme Court of Rwanda in the presence of the Chief Justice, prof. Sam Rugege, who also delivered closing remarks after he handed awards to best female pleaders on both sides. It was the first time that special prizes such as best overall pleader and best female pleader were introduced in the Great Lakes regional moot court competition. In his speech, Chief Justice acknowledged the pertinence of this programme not only in shaping the knowledge and skills or the region’s future lawyers and judges in international humanitarian law and human rights but also in promoting peaceful coexistence.
This edition was supported by the Swiss federal department of foreign affairs, German Cooperation, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Commune Plan-les Ouates, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Association québécoise de droit international. Since 2013, 251 the people have benefited from this programme and are now members of the active Great Lakes Network, which regroups academics and practitioners interested in international humanitarian law and human rights in the Great Lakes region. The next edition will take place in Kigali on 9-16 December 2018.
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (IPHR) continues to strengthen its presence in the Great Lakes region in order to enhance the culture of peace through human rights and good governance education. It is in this framework that legal personality has been conferred to IPHR-Burundi and IPHR-DRC by respectively the Ordinance of the Ministry of Interior No.530/333 of 3 March 2014 and the Decree of the Minister of Justice and human rights No.160/CAB/MIN/J&DH/2014. During the long months that the procedure for granting legal personality took, IPHR never abandoned to pursue its mission in these two countries. IPHR’s activities were then conducted on the basis of provisional authorizations issued by the competent authorities. It goes without saying that these two ministerial acts are of paramount importance since they recognize IPHR to hold rights and obligations, as an organization, in each of these countries. It follows that IPHR-IPDH expects greater involvement of local, regional and international partners in the implementation of its actions in relation with building the capacity of individuals, communities and local authorities (through training), researching, and advocating for human rights and good governance in the Great Lakes region, not to mention facilitating access to justice for the poor.
In the coming years, IPHR intends to focus more on the promotion and protection of economic and social rights for the well-being of individuals and communities living in the Great Lakes region.
Moreover, IPHR is aware that the Great Lakes does not live cut off from the world. Therefore, even though the peace and stability of this region are the primary responsibility of its daughters and son, the Great Lakes region also remains dependent on the contribution of the international community as a whole. It is in this context that the creation of Stichting Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (SIPHR) was legalized in the city of Utrecht in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on 28 April 2014 with the primary purpose of raising funds to finance activities of local NGOs based in the African Great lakes in their work of education on human rights and good governance. More specifically, the funds raised by SIPHR are intended to finance projects aiming at (1) the promotion and protection of human rights including, among others, free access to justice for vulnerable individuals and groups such as women, children, people living with disability, LGBT, people living with HIV/AIDS, etc., (2) the enhancement of peace-building and reconciliation, (3) the strengthening of good governance and the rule of law, and (4) the promotion of networking among organizations pursuing the objectives mentioned above .
It is strongly believed within IPHR family that the synergy between the national organizations of Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda and SIPHR in Netherlands will impact in a sustainable way on the lives of men, women, children, youth and old in this region long scarred by cyclic armed conflicts, dramatically weak institutions and recurring human rights violations.
Elvis Mbembe Binda, IPHR's president and co-founder, has just appeared on the 2013 "99 Under 33" list published this afternoon by the US Magazine Diplomatic Courier as one of the World's Top 99 most Influential Leaders in Foreign Policy Under the age of 33. “99 Under 33” is an international list jointly launched by Diplomatic Courier and Young Professional in Foreign Policy in 2011 to capture the extraordinary impact on international affairs of 99 diverse Millennials under the age of 33. Several hundred people were nominated this year by last year’s 99 Under 33 honorees, ambassadors, business leaders, and scholars. Only 99 were selected after a rigorous three-step process by the Selection Committee.
The list and individuals profiles of the Top 99 Under 33 offer insight into creativity, determination, and passion of the young people like Elvis Mbembe who are already tackling and solving the world’s critical global challenges. This year only four Africans appeared on the list of which most of the nominees are americans. Other African nominees are from Ghana, Kenya and Liberia. By design, this list is broad and diverse, encompassing entrepreneurs, technologists, journalists, bankers, activists, and scientists—as well as diplomats and other government officials. This reflects the belief that foreign policy in the 21st Century is made by leaders from all sectors. The "99 Under 33" recognizes the distinctive impact each of the honorees has on his or her community today and their promise of potential as leader in the future.
Everyone on the list is quite different, but every single person was chosen for specific reasons. Each of the honorees has been mapped to one of the seven leadership archetypes that define the "99 Under 33", even though many of them exhibit most of these qualities in some facet of their work:
- A Catalyst is from a field not typically associated with foreign policy who has had an impact on international affairs.
- A Convener brings people together in creative ways to address a pressing international issue or enhance the foreign policy community.
- An Influencer mobilizes people in the foreign policy community with bold new ideas.
- An Innovator designs a new solution to a critical global challenge.
- A Practitioner changes foreign policy from the inside through extraordinary professionalism and skill.
- A Risk-taker takes a chance and sees it pay off.
- A Shaper changes the public discourse on an aspect of foreign policy or raises awareness on a critical issue.
“As a Catalyst, Elvis works tirelessly to uphold respect of human rights, good governance and rule of law in the Great Lakes of Africa. Elvis emphasizes the power of human rights and good governance education for sustainable peace in the region and he shares this approach with university students.” highlights Ana C. Rold, Editor-in-Chief, Diplomatic Courier.
This nomination is a recognition of modest efforts that IPHR is doing to contribute in peace building in the Great Lakes region. For instance, in May this year IPHR organized a regional moot court competition in partnership with a Switzerland-based NGO (Comite pour le Concours Grands Lacs) on international humanitarian law and human rights that brought to Kigali law students and teachers from fourteen (14) universities of Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda. Two students (from the University of Kinshasa in DRC) who won the competition were automatically admitted to pursue a Master’s programme (LL.M) in Advanced Studies of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights at the Geneva Academy in Switzerland with full scholarship.
Like other honorees, Elvis has been invited to the official reception that will be held in Washington, DC at the National Press Club on October 9th, 2013.
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights legally admitted to operate in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (IPHR) has just been given a go-ahead from the department of Justice of the South Kivu Province to operate countrywide in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This authorization has been long overdue. IPHR Headquarters are located in Bukavu. Before this authorization, IPHR was active in the Eastern DRC carrying out activities especially in North Kivu province with its partners such as Ligue Congolaise pour la Promotion des droits des Personnes Vulnerables et/ou Marginalisees (LiCoProMa). This authorization is a milestone in the achievement of IPHR's vision to cover in medium-term three countries of the Great Lakes region that are Rwanda, DR Congo and Burundi. More details about our action plan for the DR Congo will follow soon.
For questions or information, please address an email to Mr Ezechiel Amani Cirimwami, the Vice-President of IPHR-DR Congo at email@example.com.
The winning team of the competition
On 28-30 May 2013 in Kigali (at ULK Gisozi) was held a moot court competition in international humanitarian law and human rights. Twenty-eight (28) students from University of Burundi, Université Lumière de Bujumbura (Mutanga Burundi), Université Lumière de Bujumbura (Kinindo - Burundi), Université du Lac Tanganyika (Burundi), Université de Kinshasa (DRC), Université de Kisangani (DRC), Université de Goma (DRC), Université Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs (DRC), Université Officielle de Bukavu (DRC), Université Catholique de Bukavu (DRC), Université Nationale du Rwanda (Rwanda), Université Libre de Kigali (Kigali - Rwanda), Université Libre de Kigali (Gisenyi - Rwanda) and Institut d’Enseignement Supérieur de Ruhengeri (Rwanda) measured their knowledge of national, regional and international instruments on international humanitarian law and human rights in dealing with a fictional case incorporating various violations that the Great Lakes region suffers from since the 90s.
The final opposed the University of Kinshasa to the Official University of Bukavu. The University of Kinshasa won the first prize. The competition was held in French.
LiCoProMa promoting the rights of Albinos, LGBTIs, and Disabled people in Goma and Kisangani (DR Congo)
Dr Matthieu Bokota with Albinos' community in Kisangani after LiCoProMa provided exercise books and pens to young albinos to go backto school.
Life these past few weeks looks very different than it did a month ago. Instead of attending human rights trainings and falling asleep under mosquito nets, I am spending my hours in class and, well…sleeping less.
However, fortunately, some things stay the same. I am delighted and honored to be able to continue working with both Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (IPHR) and LiCoProMa throughout this next year!
Over the past few months, I’ve mentioned a great deal about the organization and work of IPHR, but I have not done this for LiCoProMa.
Below is a brief overview of LiCoProMa, the challenges it faces, and one of the driving members of the organization– Francis Mbembe.
LiCoProMa stands for Ligue Congolaise pour la Promotion des Droits des Personnes Vulnerables et/ou Marginalisées (in English: Congolese League for the Promotion of Rights of Vulnerable and Marginalized Persons) and is a non-profit organization that runs solely on volunteer donations. Founded in 1998, during the Second Congo War, LiCoProMa was originally created to provide relief to the massive human rights violations occurring in Kisangani (northeastern DRC) at that time.
Since 1998, LiCoProMa has moved and evolved. Today, LiCoProMa is based out of Goma, DRC, and works to serve the following communities in the following ways*:
Francis Mbembe with Mwenyemali. Thanks to LiCoProMa’s help with hospital bills and the purchase of the vehicle displayed, Mwenyemali now runs his own transportation business and is able to support his family.
Carine (in green) was chased and beaten from her restaurant for hosting white people (e.g. – me) and LGBTI members
LiCoProMa’s #1 need – money. This is probably no surprise to anyone in the NGO world who knows how valuable and difficult money is to come by. LiCoProMa needs money to supplement the travel costs of health care workers and lawyers, to complete a guarded compound where LGBTI members can safely seek shelter, to supplement the volunteer time of lead staff members, and to pay for the healthcare supplies necessary for offering routine health checks.
However, while acknowledging this predominant need, LiCoProMa also realizes the importance of self-sufficiency and innovation. Thus, the members of LiCoProMa continue to seek alternative solutions to their financial shortcomings. For example, LiCoProMa has recently collaborated with a lawyer and a doctor in Goma who are willing to offer their services for free on a very restricted schedule. While these services are limited, they are nevertheless a great contribution towards realizing LiCoProMa’s mission: “Pour que cesse la discrimination” (in English: “To end discrimination”).
In addition to financial challenges, LiCoProMa also faces community challenges – most of which stem from the community’s hostility toward LiCoProMa’s work with LGBTI members.
A few months ago, LiCoProMa’s office was burned down because of their association with the LGBTI community. Furthermore, LiCoProMa recently conducted an anonymous, randomized survey on how members of the Goma community respond to LGBTI members. The result: approximately 85% of the 1000 people surveyed expressed hostility towards the LGBTI community.
Clear examples of this hostility include LiCoProMa’s LGBTI members being frequently chased and/or attacked because of their identity. In fact, sadly, after my visit to Goma in July, Carine (pictured below) was attacked for hosting a discussion with LGBTI members and white people (e.g. – me) in her restaurant.
Francis talking with a member of the albino community. This woman spends all the day selling maize along the road in Kisangani despite her fragile skin under the sun.
While LiCoProMa realizes that the long term solution to this discrimination requires internal organization, self-agency, determination, and patience, they also believe an appropriate short term response is to provide a safe, guarded, compound for LGBTI members to retreat to, as needed.
One of the leading-, and founding-, members of LiCoProMa is Francis Mbembe.***
In addition to being the Principal Coordinator of LiCoProMa, Francis is also one of the most determined, jovial, humanitarian individuals I have ever met.
In 1998, at the cusp of the Second Congo War and the human tragedy that accompanied it, Francis enrolled in school to study Human Rights. During this time, Francis learned the following:
Francis and I stopping to pose for a photo (that’s Goma in the background)
Francis’ consistent concern and care for others are inspiring, as is his proclivity toward action. For example, just a few weeks ago, after visiting an IDP camp in Kanyaruchinya, Francis went back to that camp to pass out as much rice and pens as he was personally able to afford.
Francis believes that a slow, persistent, paced fight leads to eventual success…and Francis is fighting.
* This is a very brief overview. If you would like more information on any one of these communities and the services LiCoProMa is working to provide, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
**At present, many LGBTI members are discriminated against in all life capacities and see prostitution as the only possible career path to putting food on the table. However, prostitution has severe and negative consequences that require many who identify as L,G,B,T, or I to risk their lives daily in order to live one more day.
***LiCoProMa is organized into branches, with one person coordinating any given sector. For example, LiCoProMa’s Nadia Kanyankore is the Coordinator for the LGBTI sector, Dr. Matthieu Bokota is the Coordinator for the Albino sector, etc. Francis is the Principal Coordinator that oversees the work of all LiCoProMa sectors.
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