In June of 2014, the Advocates for Human Rights enlisted attorney volunteers Scott Aberson, Partner at Maslon LLP, and Matt Lewis, Assistant General Counsel at General Mills, to represent a client seeking asylum in the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
As a citizen of the DRC and Pentecostal Pastor since 1992, the client became aware of critical conditions impacting children in the region, who were being recruited at the age of 10 and up by militias in both Rwanda and DRC for purposes of hard labor and military conflict. Many of these children were tortured, raped, drugged, and forced to commit violent crimes. In 2000, the client founded an organization known as Laissez L'Afrique Vivre (LAV), which translates to "Let Africa Live," aiming to stop the recruitment of child soldiers, extract children who were already serving in the military, and help to heal those who had suffered as a result of such abuse by providing counseling and job training. The client served as LAV's Secretary General for more than 13 years and was both the leader and face of the organization.
LAV became an internationally recognized organization and has been commended by the United Nations for its work. By 2013, LAV had helped more than 2,000 children. It also attracted the attention of both the government military and rebel militias early on, and the client and anyone working with the organization were subject to death threats, intimidation tactics, and imprisonment. In 2013, the client was personally visited by a member of a violent rebel group who warned that if the organization continued to file reports of abuses to children, he would be killed.
In August of 2013, the client attended a leadership conference in Minnesota. While in Minnesota, he was informed that members of the rebel group had returned to the LAV office demanding to see him. In his absence, the interim manager approached the men to speak with them and was shot and killed. Fearing for his safety if he returned to DRC, the client filed for political asylum in the United States, leaving behind his wife and seven children.
Shortly after taking his case, Scott Aberson and Matt Lewis began working to help the client make his case for asylum. In September 2015, the client was informed he had been granted asylum. Aberson and Lewis then immediately began the process of trying to reunite the client with his wife and children. Aberson and Lewis were successful in obtaining derivative asylum status for the client's family members. And on June 23, 2016—after nearly three years apart—the client was reunited with his wife and six of his children. Aberson and Lewis continue their work to reunite the client with one remaining child, an adopted daughter.