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U.N. officials deplore Congolese human rights leader's slaying

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Floribert Chebeya Bahizire found dead after being summoned to police headquarters
  • Chebeya had reputation as human rights champion who spoke out under several regimes
  • U.N. chief urges "thorough, transparent, independent" probe

(CNN) -- A noted human rights activist in the Democratic Republic of Congo has died, a killing said to reflect a "growing trend" in the "intimidation and harassment" of rights defenders in the African nation.

The body of Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, president of La Voix des Sans Voix, or the Voice of the Voiceless, was found Wednesday, a day after human rights organizations in Kinshasa reported that he had disappeared after being summoned to police headquarters, the United Nations said. His driver was also found dead.

"His reputation as a champion of human rights earned him the respect and admiration of his compatriots and of the international community. His work will be remembered as a tribute to Congolese perseverance," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement Thursday

Ban, noting a Congolese government probe of the deaths, said the investigation should be "thorough, transparent and independent, with full respect for due process and rule of law."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay; Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Alan Doss, the head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all issued statements of condemnation.

Pillay said she believes the killing is part of a "growing trend of intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents, victims and witnesses." Chebeya focused on human rights abuses, such as military corruption and ties between militias and foreign political forces.

"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," Pillay said.

She noted Chebeya spoke out under "the repressive rule of the former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and then again during the rule of the former President Laurent-Desire Kabila and the current national government."

Doss, also Ban's special representative in Congo, said authorities must begin an inquiry swiftly, and Alston said the circumstances "strongly suggest official responsibility" and called for an independent probe.