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19 May 2016

Holly Dranginis, The Hill (USA)

Global Magnitsky's power to protect

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Like the endangered wildlife he helps protect, Congolese environmentalist Bantu Lukambo is being hunted. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, conservation is dangerous work because it threatens the interests of powerful groups. Several of Congo’s national parks – including Africa’s oldest, Virunga – are under siege. Armed groups and poachers have used these remote areas as sanctuaries and business headquarters, trafficking in ivory, minerals, and charcoal made from old-growth forest...Lukambo conducts investigations, seeking to defend Virunga from its range of assailants. He has been exiled three times for it. Lukambo and his colleagues are enemies of a corrupt, sophisticated state, and they deserve protection. As Congo’s president Joseph Kabila holds tight to power ahead of his potential third term, the government is sharpening its tools of repression, targeting anyone threatening its interests. The US Congress can help safeguard space for civic action and promote accountability by passing the Global Magnitsky Act. The Act would create a process for the US to sanction individuals targeting whistleblowers for exposing illegal state activity. This bi-partisan bill passed in the Senate last December and moved out of committee in the House this week. House leadership should quickly bring it to the floor for a vote. In its most recent report, the UN Group of Experts on Congo said army officers “remain involved in the exploitation and trade of natural resources” and in 2014, Global Witness reported that intelligence officers were involved in bribery related to oil drilling in Virunga.