The Congolese government, engrossed in the post-elections crisis, has now to deal with a mediatic bomb: a documentary is offering evidence that the murder of Human Rights activist, Floribert Chebeya was a state crime. The 94 minute documentary comes from Belgian film maker Thierry Michel. Michel already worked on “Mobutu, King of Zaire” (1999), “Congo River” (2005) and “Katanga business” (2009). The documentary is about the death of Floribert Chebeya, the charismatic president of the Kinshasa-based human rights group Voice of the Voiceless (VSV), whose body was discovered on 2 June 2010 near Kinshasa. He was found in his car, surrounded by condoms, female hair and nail fragments, to give the impression he died during a sexual encounter.
Yet no one believed such crass fabrication as the video shots of a demonstration by young militants shouting “Kabila murderer!” in the streets of Kinshasa a few days after the assassination show. Quite soon indeed, people in Kinshasa started suspecting that Chebeya, undisputed leader of the human rights cause since the Mobutu era, was murdered on orders from high ranking state officials. Indeed, an appointment between Chebeya and the Congolese police chief of staff, General John Numbi – who is very close to President Joseph Kabila – had been fixed just before his death.
A remarkable coincidence was that at the end of May, Chebeya had given instructions to a Brussels-based lawyer to lodge a complaint against Numbi and other Congolese officials to the International Criminal Court on VSV behalf. Indeed, the VSV accused the Simba battalion of the Congolese police, created by Gen. Numbi, to have perpetrated massacres in Bas-Congo in March 2008, against members of the political religious sect Bundu dia Kongo. Thierry Michel’s documentary shows for the first time pictures of the victims of these killings.
But the death of Floribert Chebeya – who had international recognition – backfired. The State was caught in its own trap and was left with no choice but to arrest some police officers and suspend Gen. Numbi. The documentary shows sessions of the trial, which was not a masquerade of justice, testifies Michel. One has to make a distinction, he points out, between the police enquiry, which was marred with forgeries and dissimulations of evidences and was in fact “the investigation by murderers on themselves”, and the task performed by the Kinshasa military court. Obviously, the accused deny that Floribert Chebeya was in General Numbi’s office the day before his death, although his presence is sustained by an eye witness, by the destruction of evidence, such as the disappearance of the pages of the visitors’ registry for that day, and the coincidence of a suspicious breakdown of the brand new surveillance cameras.
Thierry Michel is convinced that the military court judges tried to find out the truth, to reconstruct events and listen to all parties, as the death sentence against Gen Numbi’s deputy, Colonel Daniel Mukalayi, shows. The sentence is unsatisfactory in that it does not tell the entire truth. The Chebeya family regards General Numbi the mastermind behind the murder. Yet he escapes from justice because he is a three star general who cannot be judged by a court whose members are only colonels. Beside this, the court acknowledged the disappearance of Chebeya’s driver, Fidèle Bazana, but not his assassination, ignoring his widow’s demand to get her husband’s body to be able to hold his funeral.
Thierry Michel does not answer directly to the question raised by the title of his documentary, “The Chebeya case, a state crime?” But the film includes the statement of Father José Mpundu who fully endorses this point, arguing that in a country where those who should protect are those who kill, a state crime has indeed been perpetrated. Michel reminds the audience that the military court has implicitly recognized the State’s responsibility by ordering compensation to Chebeya’s widow. Another paradox is that Michel claims to have been able to film freely, even if strong pressures were exerted against his assistants. “During the trial, there have been threats against Chebeya’s successor, Dolly Ibefo and also against the plaintiffs’ counsels”, says François Cantier from the Paris-based Avocats sans frontières (lawyers without borders) association. The documentary will be shown first in Belgian and French cinemas. It might have an impact on the Congolese diaspora which is still under the shock of the recent presidential and parliament elections which were marred by fraud and violence.