June 25, 2021 – Dear colleagues, it’s almost a month since our colleague known as Angelo, a Rwandan Refugee Human Rights Defender disappeared from Goma, North Kivu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we believe he might have been kidnapped by Rwanda. His family indicated that he was going to AIDES which is Implementing partner to UNHCR Goma, which AIDES refused and this needs something else to be done in terms of serious investigations.
And the best option would have been to track his phone numbers in order to know who he was in contact with because his family indicated that Angelo was in phone contact with some officers from AIDES.
This is not yet done but also to trace all others who communicated with him before and during his disappearance, and trace which connection his phone used after his disappearance. This is not yet done.
We alerted you and advanced two assumptions: Angelo might have been picked by Rwandan Security Services which are believed to be operating in Eastern DRC as it has been to others over the years and recently in 2019 and 2020.
For us, Angelo is not an isolated case that should be handled but also many other cases should be focused on. Currently, we have other cases of refugees who have disappeared in almost the same way, the only difference is that most of these refugees are not known by you and no one alerted you about this, Angelo’s case has happened when we are around. Or he might have been picked by the current Military regime in North Kivu for two major reasons: To help the military to identify FDLR rebels or to suspect him to be in connection with FDLR rebels.
We have clearly shown you that Angelo has never been in any armed group, and he is just a Human Rights Defender engaged in the defense of refugee rights. And no one has argued that Angelo was a member of a certain armed group since he came to Congo in 1994 up to now.
On the ground, the Congolese National Commission for Refugees known as “CNR” seems to reject categorically the option of him being taken to Rwanda because this would affect the image of CNR and would open more details on other refugees who have been deported to Rwanda and where CNR has been accused by refugees of playing a role, but also this would lead to investigations on current forced repatriation of refugees which is the dear project of CNR Goma in association with UNHCR and MONUSCO.
CNR seems to divert our attention on other options such as being picked by the current military in place, and that we should give it time claiming that they are busy searching but they cannot disclose the mechanism being used.
We do not believe in this option much as we are opened to all available options which can lead to the final response. However, we cannot wait for CNR and we do not even believe that they are really doing the search for Angelo, we know they visited some places but we do not think they are still doing efforts.
If CNR was serious and committed enough they would have so far written officially to the current Military Regime in Goma, CNR would have done various announcements on media, CNR would have engaged the police to trace the movement of Angelo from his home on that fateful day.
UNHCR has promised to work with the United Nations Missions in Congo which has been done, but MONUSCO has so far visited only two places according to what we have been told mainly the Congolese Intelligence Services commonly known as ANR and the T2 which is a Military Intelligence Services, so in a whole month that what could have been done. And they are not clear on what they still want to do, they only want Angelo’s wife to give them where to start from, which she does not have.
UNHCR was fully aware of the risks faced by Angelo and so far not much was done in order to ensure that he could have been protected apart from renting for him a house here in Goma in an area that is highly at risk (Ndosho) which is known as a place where Rwandan Security Services have carried various operations, where his life was at risk.
At this particular moment, it is now a full month and UNHCR has not quickly responded to the needs of Angelo’s family including the urgent security risks management. Even up to now, the wife and the children are still exposed and we do not know what may happen to them any time.
What may have influenced such a choice of keeping Angelo in Goma, rather than taking him to Kinshasa or offering him a resettlement option? This needs to be investigated, but not limit ourselves to small things. MONUSCO officers we talked to, seem to advance the option that Angelo might have been picked by armed groups in the forest and rejects completely the option of Rwanda and that of Congolese Security Services.
However, it is not possible for armed people to come here to Goma to pick someone and go with them. What is common is armed groups come and kill the person they want. In case of a possible kidnap, which is also common, they might have asked for money now, which is not yet done. Above all these seem to be excuses aiming at diverting us from the responsibility of the state and of UNHCR to ensure the protection of refugees.
We have so far contacted and we have been contacted by some organizations and despite providing each single details about this case, we seem to observe an attitude that is nearer to the CNR and UNHCR position of “wait and we are still searching for him, tomorrow you may see him and you shall be ashamed”, what if the refugee regime here in Goma is partly involved in this?
Already there are serious allegations that the refugee regime in Goma has over the years played a role in facilitating the deportation of refugees to Rwanda, these allegations need to be investigated. On the ground, we have not yet been informed of scenarios where refugees disappear by themselves and then come back, as there are no reasons to do so because there are no interests connected to that option. To us, this may not stand.
On the other hand, every single day that passes, various actors are telling us how risky it is to get involved in this case, how we take the risk of being either killed or being also kidnapped mysteriously, and that the only option for us would have been to limit ourselves on informing other actors which we have so far done.
We are much aware of the risks ahead of us, and we fully understand the region in which we are operating, we know that we are in a red zone, we know that we are in a particular military regime in North Kivu, there is no need to remind us about this. This morning, someone told our team who went to see him in his office this “if you have a wife and children to think about, you should distance yourself from this case because you may lose also your life, this case is sensitive and know very well Goma”.
However, no one has so far proposed to us how to continue the struggle and at the same time minimize the risks and the threats, and no one has so far proposed to us support to reduce the risks in order to remain committed to this issue which is a whole life of refugees in Goma. This is a great divide and each one may be in the position to take his side as this MONUSCO person told us “I will rather be on the side of the government rather than being on the side of that person”.
What is certain is that we are so much determined to follow up this case until our last breath, and not only this one but also to ensure that we put to the end the common practice of kidnapping refugees in eastern DRC. No amount of threats and intimidation will stop us from this conviction and struggle.
At this point what we believe we can do much is to lobby and advocate to Congolese and Rwandan Authorities to tell us more about Angelo, buying time may not help us.
Concrete actions to put pressure on the Congolese Government to tell us more about Angelo.
The author is Jackson Baguma, the Regional Coordinator for Global Refugee Leaders Forum, and can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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