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UPR 33: A pressing need for recommendations on digital rights for the DRC

By Arsene Tungali, Executive Director, Rudi International

It is time for countries planning to make recommendations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to take a strong stance on digital rights issues.

Read this story by Arsene Tungali : Getting to Geneva for my first UPR experience

395 recommendations were made to the DRC during the first (2009) and second (2014) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) cycles. The Congolese government supported more than 80% of the recommendations made. But none of these recommendations touched on human rights online.

In 2009 and 2014, human rights online may not have been priority issues in the DRC. But it’s now 2019, and so many human rights violations have happened online, hence the need for more attention on the state of digital rights in the Congo.

Arsene Tungali at the UN in Geneva

I am in Geneva this week and attended the UPR-info pre-session on the DRC on Tuesday April 2. There were six speakers on the stage, but none of them spoke about human rights in the online environment. Some of the issues that were touched on included the fight against gender-based violence, the rights of minority groups including pygmies and the LGBTI community,  and the protection of journalists and human rights defenders. Of course, these are very important human rights issues that still require global attention too. Indeed, without free and open access to the internet, many of the human rights issues raised by the six speakers become even more imperiled.

At Rudi International, we believe that everyone should be entitled to the full enjoyment of their human rights everywhere, including online. And the situation of human rights online has been terrible in the Congo since the last UPR review nearly five years ago. The DRC has tallied up a good number of internet freedom violations with communication disruptions (that include Internet and SMS shutdowns) topping the list. The most recent full shutdown of Internet and SMS in the DRC happened, on December 31, 2018, right after the recent general elections and lasted 20 days!

You might be interested in this as well: Access Now and Rudi : Joint Submission to the UNHRC for the 33rd Session of the UPR 2018 Cycle

During my meeting on Wednesday morning with the Congolese Ambassador and head of the DRC Permanent Mission at the UN in Geneva, Mr. Zenon MUKONGO NGAY, I had the opportunity to mention many of these issues and encouraged him to champion this cause and use every opportunity he has to encourage the Congolese government to adopt internet freedom-friendly actions. A copy of DRC Factsheet that we developed, as part of the UPROAR project was given to him with the four top recommendations and he promised to consider them as he gets his own report ready for the review that will be held on May 7th this year.

Arsene and the DRC Ambassador at the UN in Geneva

Other violations that Congolese citizens are facing include the surveillance and interception of communications and the censorship of some online media outlets. These violations are preventing them from fully enjoying their digital life. For a country with nearly 15% of its population being online, there is much the DRC can do to encourage more people to go online.

Throughout the week, I have had the opportunity to meet with a dozen diplomats from different countries who have made recommendations to the DRC in earlier UPR reviews and they have mentioned their willingness to make more this year.

Many of them said they plan on evaluating how many of their past recommendations have been implemented (after being supported by the DRC government) and/or will make new ones covering new emerging issues. Our request was that they make sure they include the online aspect when redrafting past recommendations and add new ones that touch on these important digital rights issues.

We are aware that recommending countries are limited in the time they have on the floor at the UPR to make recommendations, and that the Congo has many issues going on that need to be addressed.  But we are hopeful that the countries I met, as well as those I didn’t get to meet here in Geneva, will consider championing and joining our fight for digital rights in the DRC.

We have until the DRC is reviewed in May to evaluate the results of our lobbying in Geneva this week! Stay tuned.

Christmas Is Not Just An Event For Us … It Is Much More!

Why we do what we do

It has been 7 years in a row that we have celebrated Christmas with the community we serve in Eastern DRC. This goes all the way back to the beginning of our Rudi Education program, which currently supports up to 95 students, giving the students access to education, a lifetime opportunity.

Have you ever wondered, “What if you never had access to education? How would your life look like? What if you were not able to send your own kids to school?”

You may also want to read: From 2012 To Know: The Lord has been Faithful

The founders of Rudi International, born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were blessed enough to have access to higher education and they do not take it for granted. That’s why they have decided to find ways they can give back to the community to the glory God; that’s the reason why you have eventually come to partner with them on this Education Program. And we would like to take this opportunity to thank you for such a gift that you are for the children we serve but most importantly to God’s Kingdom that we are helping build togetherby His grace.

As we enter a new year (sending you all our best wishes for 2019), we really want you to know that you are truly making a huge difference. You may have never met any of our beneficiaries (nor any of our volunteers) but please understand that they love you, that we love you and we would love to discuss ways we can come meet you or you come meet us!

Alright, Back to the Christmas 2018 Celebration!

It is December 23rd. A phone call from Rudi’s Executive Director to the Rudi Education Program Coordinator asking him to do his best to get in touch with our students (understand, our sponsored kids), their families and the entire community, telling them that we will FINALLY be able to meet AGAIN, for our biggest and annual celebration.

Image of Rudi International students receiving their new Christmas t-shirts.
Rudi students receiving their new Christmas t-shirts.

You will wonder why only 2 days before Christmas? If you have been reading our recent communications, you will have noted that we had started a fundraiser to make our 2018 Christmas celebration possible. If you missed that communication, please drop us a line so we can add you to our mail distribution list. We could have not informed the community until we have reached or were closer to our fundraising goal; unfortunately, in those circumstances, not everyone is informed in time.

So, it took us less than two days to put everything together and rejoice with the community, for the 7th time! Yes, for the past seven years, we have been able to come together, at the same place but with new faces joining us every year. The whole Rudi team (in the US and back in the Congo) is 100% comprised of volunteers among whom some work with us for a while only and others have been with us from the beginning.

On December 24th, the entire DRC team was brought together to start strategizing and doing everything we could to make the event possible. Our sponsors were contacted early on and requested to write and email letters to their sponsored students. Many sponsors did just in time to allow us the time to download, translate (from English to French), to print and to arrange so everyone received their letter the next day. To those who sent in theirs a bit late: we promise that these will get to your sponsored students!

On December 25th at 9am, some of our team members were already in Lac Vert, at a large open area that we have been offered by the school to hold our public activities, to welcome the first comers and wait for those who will join us a bit later as the made their way back from church. Our 2 comedians were ready to lead the show and entertain the crowd which is grew bigger and bigger as time went on.

Rudi picture: Our two comedians, having fun with the first comers.
Our two comedians, having fun with the first comers.

For us and for the community we serve, Christmas is an important event and we take it seriously. It is an opportunity to speak to the community and remind them about Jesus Christ, who is God’s gift to the whole humanity, reminding everyone of His love. On your behalf, we walk in this love by sharing a meal with those who are not able to have one in their families. All our donors, sponsors and volunteers are having a share in this blessing. Thank you very much!

So, what really happened on the D-day?

We had an opportunity to meet with some of the parents that we were able to contact. We discussed about the Gospel and shared why we do what we do with them. We always take the opportunity to remind these parents that Rudi is simply a channel, a ministry that is formed of individuals who have been blessed in one way or another and who have decided to share that blessing with others, through the gift of education or counseling.

Rudi picture: Some of mothers of the Rudi children celebrating.
Some of mothers of the Rudi children celebrating.

We do remind them to take their children’s education seriously by doing whatever they can to help them be successful in school and remember them their prayers. At the end of the day, we also shared a meal together, in a moment of joy and our hearts full of thanksgiving to the Lord our God. The celebration is not only about children, it is for adults as well, right?!

Read what we did in the past : Our 2017 Christmas Celebration

At the same time, the remainder of the community was busy outside, dancing, singing and having fun before they come together again into the various classrooms to receive the meal that concluded the day.

This has always been the hardest part of the day, trying to bring everyone to the waiting lines as they enter the classrooms, be seated and then call one after one to be served and go back to their seats. Our sponsored students have always asked to not be mixed with the rest of their pairs not only because they want to spend time together as a group but it is also an opportunity for us to have all of them at one place for special communications.

Specific group meetings

Letters

Not all our students were able to join us, partly due to a late notice but those who were there gathered at the beginning of the day to receive their letters. A group of volunteers seating by the younger ones who are not able to read by themselves; the older ones, reading for themselves and everyone getting ready to write back.

With the support of our volunteers, everyone was able to receive a letter and write back (some received a direct letter from their sponsor, others a common letter sent through a form of Penpal system that we are designing). These letters will be mailed to our team in the US to be distributed to our various sponsors.

Some of these letters were also read to the parents who felt very touched: “I praise God who has given me another family so far form Congo. A family who thinks of us, prays for us, and truly loves us the way Christ loved the church,” a mother publicly shared. “Please tell them how thankful we are and that we are praying for God’s blessings upon each one of them.”

Older students

Two other groups were able to meet separately right before the meal was served. Our older girls (from Primary 6 to Secondary 4) met with some of older female volunteers for a conversation around “What it means to be a grown girls and what happens when one is growing.” The same topic was discussed with older boys, by a group of our older volunteers while the others were busy serving food to community members in various classrooms.

You may also want to read: Our High School Students are doing Great!

These group meetings will continue for the rest of the school year at the high demand of students who found them very useful. “There are things we cannot discuss when boys are there. We need some privacy, we need to feel safe to better speak and ask for advice”, said Nsii one of the older students.

It was a busy yet fun day.

We are thankful to God who helped us make it possible and to our friends and supporters for joining us with their hands in various ways. We look forward to the upcoming celebrations and hope to have more time to be a lot more creative with our activities on Christmas day.

The Fight Against Gender-based Violence Online in Africa is not a Fight Between Men and Women: Lessons on Human Rights From #FIFAfrica18

By Blaise Ndola

My participation in each edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) has always been a learning curve in understanding certain issues and topics related to Internet Freedoms in Africa. For the 2018 forum, which was held in Accra, Ghana on September 26-28, I was more interested in participating in discussions and debate on equality and non-discrimination, with a focus on gender-based violence (GBV)

On the issue of the existence of GBV online in Africa, I was delighted to see almost all participants and panelists agree on the prevalence of this phenomenon on the African web. 

Victims response to GBV online

I was surprised to learn that in Africa, like in other parts of the world, the reactions of women victims of online GBV were the same. The most common being to ignore or block the perpetrators – a response that encourages impunity and more abuse. Some justify this reaction to religion, cultural norms or by the desire “not to embarrass loved ones”.

The absence of adequate laws and policies to combat this phenomenon

The gap in denouncing of abuses is a reflection of the absence of legal provisions criminalizing gender-based violence online in Africa. In my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, there is no law or policy against stalking, revenge pornography or harassment online. This situation also discourages victims from reporting abuses knowing that no satisfactory action will be taken by law enforcement authorities. It is therefore necessary to continue advocacy work for the implementation of laws to protect vulnerable users such as women and children in Africa, while also undertaking sensitization efforts on safe and secure use of the internet and avenues for support for victims of GBV online.

Is GBV online a case of women vs. men?

It is this point that has effectively transformed my approach to GBV online and I hope this has been the case for other participants. With the current trend towards aligning GBV into a fight between men and women, it was important to highlight the issue of proportionality. There are indeed some men who experience online harassment that can be likened to GBV, but the number is insignificant compared to that of women and girl’s victims. The rise of this trend is causing some men to become reticent or hostile in the fight against GBV online leaving women to fight alone.

Going forward, we will work to integrate more men into Rudi International’s advocacy work for women and girl’s empowerment through ICT.

I would like to thank CIPESA and its partners for facilitating my participation at FIFAfric18. The notions learned, the elements of reflection acquired as well as the contacts made at all Forums participated in continue to serve us well in our work.

Renew Hope: The Women Are Getting Ready for Their Final Exams And Graduation

We started the current sewing class in February 2018, which is the third group of women that were trained as part of our Sewing Project. We are thankful to God for this progress and for the partnership of our sister organization, Linked Through Love Foundation, which has been with us since the beginning.

From our first group, Fifi is now Assistant Trainer (after her training, she spent a year as intern) and is supporting the main trainer, Passy, in providing guidance and teaching the class that is ending their training program today. From the second class, Philo, Gloire (who recently got married), and Chantal are now interning, having the opportunity to better their skills. These are some of our success stories in this program.

The ladies are getting ready for their jury that will happen this week where they will have the opportunity to test their skills by randomly choosing among up to 10 lessons (10 items) they went studied for the past 10 months, an item they will have to sew and present as final test.

The random selection of items

The choice happened today, they will have at least one day to check their notes and understand how to sew that item they randomly selected, which they will sew on Thursday and present it in the afternoon.

The dress I am putting today is something I sew by myself during one of our classes”, proudly said Goretti. “As you can see, it looks beautiful on me and whenever I put it, I feel proud of myself for having been able to sew a wonderful dress for myself”, she concluded.

Goretti in her dress

Other examples include Gloire who did not purchase any dress from the market for her wedding. She bought fabrics, sewing materials and used the sewing machines in the classroom to make her own clothes that she brought with her in her marriage.

When asked about how much they would have cost if she paid a sewing business for the service, she responded: “Let me count and think,” her colleagues making fun of her as she is counting. “I was able to sew about 4 nice dresses that would have cost me up to 100 USD,” she finally replied. “This is a lot of money that I could not afford as I was getting ready for the marriage,” Gloire concluded, a smile on her face.

Andrine is yet another example. She was able to make a dress that she proudly put on. Passy, also called Pascaline, the trainer, called on her: “You should speak about the many times you have come here putting on that dress of yours,” since Andrine was shy when the question was asked to the group. She could only laugh while her colleagues testified that it is a nice dress that she was able to make for herself.

The current class started with 8 fresh students in February this year, some had to drop due to family and health issues. As of today, only 6 made it to the end of the training, which is a record compared to previous classes. To that number, 3 interns from the previous class were added and two trainers including one who was a student from the first class.

The biggest problem they reported was the long distance from Lac Vert, where most of them live, to the training center and not being able to receive a meal at the Center. They were tired and weakened by the long walk, but, thanks to God through our partner, we were able to start providing a meal every day of class (3 days a week), something they welcomed and have been thankful for.

Getting ready to eat

“You cannot imagine how we feel strong after our lunch which is given at the end of each day. The distance we walk is very long and the hours we spend practicing in the class can be tiring and exhausting”, said Rebecca, one of the newer students.

Would you like to partner with us in supporting the next class? Please get in touch, we will direct you to the right place to make your secure online donation.

Our High School Students Are Doing Great

It was so great meeting our high school students this morning”, said Arsene Tungali, our Executive Director after a visit at the school in Lac Vert. He had the opportunity to speak with some of our high school students. “They have grown big and are now taking their studies seriously”, he added.

It is since 2012 (school year, 2012-2013) that we started our Education program and we are thankful to our Lord Jesus who is taking good care of our beneficiaries and our volunteers leading our Rudi Education program.

Our senior students are in their 4th high school class and Marcelin, one of them, told Arsene the following: “I only have two years left to graduate from high school and cannot wait to be able to go to University afterwards, Lord willing”. He is right by giving it all into God’s hands because he knows that his parents might not be able to support his schooling because they were not able to for the entire time he has been into our program. He believes in God who will provide.

                                                   Marcelin (left) and Kazadi (right)

At the school where most of them are going, we have students who are in their 3rd year and who are doing “Construction” as their chosen section of studies as they look forward to being able to build houses, etc. Jibiwa, a young female student in her 3rd school year said, during the conversation: “In our neighborhood, everyone is amazed at how I ended up choosing that section, which is, according to them, meant for men”.

Surprisingly, Jibiwa was the first in her class for the first period and was able to have close to 70% in a class full of men. “I don’t know how I can be first and leave all my male colleagues behind me”, she said. “All I did was making sure I focus on my studies and make them my priorities over anything else”, she concluded.For us at Rudi International, we are thankful to God and to all our supporters who have partnered with us since day 1 and we hope you too are celebrating alongside us what the Lord has been up to.

Please stay in touch and let us know if there is any better way we can keep you updated on anything going on the ground with our students.

First Ever Digital Rights Conference held in the DR Congo

For Immediate Release

Goma, November 6, 2018

Rudi International and its partners organized the first ever “Conference on Human Rights in the Digital Age in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”, the Haki Conference, held on Monday and Tuesday in the town of Goma, Eastern Congo.

Covered online with the hashtag #HakiConf2018, this gathering brought together nearly two hundred participants from DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

There was no better time to organize such a conference in DRC, a country where most people know little to nothing about their digital rights”, said Arsene Tungali, Executive Director of Rudi International.

Digital rights are violated here very often and there is no platform where citizens can discuss the issue and organize to find a solution. That’s where the Haki Conference comes inhe added.

The wide variety of participant’s background ranging from journalism to activism, business, technology, etc. was a catalyst for meaningful interactions and heated debates.

Our wish would have been to accommodate all the nearly 400 people who applied but we were restrained by the budget and could take only half of that. This is a clear indication that the interest in digital rights is there, hence, the need for more similar events”, explained Arsene, who announced that the event will be an annual rendez-vous in the DRC.

As a pre-event of this inaugural edition, Rudi International’s longtime partner CIPESA organized a workshop on ICT Policy and Advocacy in East and Southern Africa. This was an opportunity for nearly thirty participants to learn about the basics of digital rights and be introduced to the Internet freedom landscape in Africa, etc.

“East and Central Africa is facing numerous challenges that undermine internet freedom yet insufficient work is being done to address these challenges. A shortage of resources, hostile environments for civic actors who promote free expression and good governance as well as repressive laws contribute to these challenges”, said Wairagala Wakabi (Phd), who is the Executive Director of CIPESA.

Accordingly, CIPESA is working to grow the network of individuals and groups that work on advancing internet freedom and building their capacity to engage in digital rights advocacy. This training and the conference in Goma assembled a rich mix of stakeholders – lawyers, journalists, women’s rights activists, private sector actors and state officials – all of whom need to work collaboratively to realize an affordable, inclusive and open internet in Burundi, DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda”, he concluded.  

Participants signed “The Goma Declaration on Human Rights in the Digital Age” with call to actions and commitments that would make DRC a digital rights friendly country.

Download the full Declaration (in French): #HakiConf2018 – Declaration de Goma.

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To schedule interviews on #HakiConf2018, please, get in touch with Blaise Ndola, ICT Program Manager. Mobile phone and WhatsApp : +243 990961665 (Français et Anglais)

Email: info@rudiinternational.org (Francais et Anglais)

Few photos of the conference can be downloaded from Rudi’s Facebook Page (before they can be shared to a public link) and are to be used only with written permission of Rudi International.