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Top judges for DRC cop trial

2012-07-17 20:56

Geneva - The appeal trial in DR Congo of policemen accused of killing a human rights activist must be held with "high-ranking judges" because top officials may be implicated, the UN rights chief said on Tuesday.

In a statement issued in Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay described activist Floribert Chebeya as "a pioneer of the human rights movement" and called his murder a "devastating blow to human rights defenders across the country".

"Given the possible involvement of high-level authorities in these crimes, it would be advisable to appoint sufficiently high-ranking judges to preside over the trial," Pillay said.

Chebeya's body was found on the outskirts of the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa in June 2010, after he went to police headquarters saying he had been called to a meeting with Inspector-General of Police John Numbi.

Numbi, who denied any meeting had been scheduled, was subsequently suspended over the affair, but was never formally charged.

Five policemen were last year convicted of the crime, in which Chebeya's driver Fidele Bazana disappeared without trace and Chebeya, the leader of the "Voix des Sans Voix" (Voice of the Voiceless) rights movement, was found dead in his car.

"A number of due process issues have been raised about the original trial, including that key witnesses were not interviewed," Pillay's statement said.

"I call on the Congolese judicial authorities to take all necessary steps to ensure that the appeal is fully in line with international standards of due process."

A military court in June 2011 sentenced four policemen to death for the killing, including the deputy special services chief Colonel Daniel Mukalay, who was judged to be the "intellectual author" of the murder.

The three others sentenced to death were the actual killers, the court said. They were sentenced in absentia and are still on the run.

Another police officer was sent to jail for life and three others were acquitted.

The next hearing of the appeal, which opened on 19 June, was scheduled to take place on Tuesday.