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République Démocratique du Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo : The election of lawyer Firmin Yangambi to the Bar of the Tshopo region arbitrarily cancelled

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Firmin Yangambi, a former political prisoner, is a 53-year-old Congolese lawyer and human rights activist. He is a lawyer at the International Criminal Court, and in March 2020 he received the title of honorary member of the Brussels Bar. He is also president of the NGO Paix sur terre, which campaigns for the support of victims of war.

In 2010, after an arbitrary detention, he was sentenced to death for “illegal possession of weapons of war and attempt to organise an insurrectional movement” and then to 20 years in prison on appeal for “forming an insurrectional movement”. Firmin Yangambi has always contested these charges. His detention continued even though he benefited from the 2014 amnesty law and despite his appeal to the Constitutional Court. During an external attack in 2017, he refused to escape from prison, unlike most other detainees, in order to continue his fight for justice.  He finally received a presidential pardon from Félix Tshisekedi in March 2019 after ten years in prison and resumed his human rights work.

Yet, the judicial harassment against him continues.

In December 2020, his election as President of the Tshopo Bar Association was annulled by the National Bar Council on the grounds of ineligibility following a criminal conviction. The request for annulment had been filed by the former President of the Bar, who was defeated in the election, and who could have filed this request since 2017. Furthermore, the National Council of the Bar had confirmed to Firmin Yangambi that he was regularly registered on the Roll of the Bar upon his release from prison, allowing him to continue to practice as a lawyer.  This attests that his conviction was amnestied.

On 25 January 2020, Firmin Yangambi had obtained a majority of 137 votes out of 204 lawyers voting in the regular election before the general assembly of lawyers in Tshopo. An appeal is pending, but this stigmatisation of the lawyer foreshadows his imminent disbarment. Indeed, the questioning of his amnesty could lead to a ban on his practice.

Today, Firmin Yangambi says he fears for his life because of the multiple pressures he is under.

The OIAD urges the Congolese authorities to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of the lawyer who rightly fears for his life.

The OIAD condemns the arbitrary annulment of the election of Firmin Yangambi to the Tshopo Bar Association.

The OIAD urges the Congolese authorities to guarantee the independent exercise of his profession to Firmin Yangambi, as well as to ensure him the exercise of his right to vote and to be elected within the representative bodies of the legal profession without being subject to unfounded legal proceedings in accordance with the Basic principles on the role of the Lawyers (1990) which state:

Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference (…)” (Principle 16);

Lawyers shall be entitled to form and join self-governing professional associations to represent their interests, promote their continuing education and training and protect their professional integrity. The executive body of the professional associations shall be elected by its members and shall exercise its functions without external interference.” (Principle 24).