Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis

 

The Democratic Republic of Congo is at a critical juncture: With the deadline fast approaching for when President Joseph Kabila is due to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, the authorities have deliberately stalled plans for the organization of elections, President Kabila has repeatedly refused to declare publicly whether he will step down, and those loyal to him have systematically sought to silence, repress, and intimidate the growing coalition of voices calling for the constitution to be respected.

Human Rights Watch’s Congo team will be using this blog to provide real-time updates, reports from the field, and other analysis and commentary to help inform the public about the ongoing crisis and to urge policymakers to act now to help prevent an escalation of violence and abuse in Congo – with potentially volatile repercussions across the region.

UN Security Council Raises Alarm about Possible Violence in DR Congo

The UN Security Council holds consultations in New York about the escalating political crisis in Congo, on December 5, 2016.

Following a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo last month, the UN Security Council held consultations on Monday in New York about the escalating political crisis in the country.

All 15 members of the Council, plus the chief of Congo’s UN peacekeeping mission  (MONUSCO) Maman Sidikou, and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, shared a strong sense of foreboding. It is now less than two weeks before the end of President Joseph Kabila’s second term on December 19.

In a strongly-worded statement, the President of the Council emphasized concerns “about the risk for destabilization of the country and the region as a whole … in the absence of a swift and consensual resolution to the current political crisis.” In the words of the ambassador of New Zealand, “there has been no shortcoming of warnings to the Security Council regarding the risk of conflict in the DRC.”

Angola evoked the threat to “regional peace and security,” calling on all sides to avoid violence “at all costs.” Ukraine’s ambassador warned that “if the situation descends into violence, there will be no winners but only losers,” reminding Council members that the “deaths of protesters [during demonstrations in September] are fresh in our memory.” He called for “maximum restraint.”

Sharing the sense of urgency, France warned that “if there is a spiral of violence, nobody can say where it will stop and when it will stop.” More subdued but still concerned, the Ambassador of China cautioned that the “political process is at a critical juncture” and the security situation “still fragile.”

The ambassador of the United Kingdom cautioned that “we all know what comes next if he [President Kabila] makes the wrong decision. We saw it in the bloodied streets of Kinshasa in September. We cannot allow a repeat of such barbarity in a fortnight’s time.” He called on the Council to send an unequivocal message to Kabila to make a commitment that he will not stand for a third term as president. “The two term limit cannot be changed,” he said, “and certainly not just to suit one man’s political agenda.” The ambassador said that there must be “consequences” for Kabila if he were to decide otherwise. The ambassador also called on the Security Council to take guidance from the European Union, which threatened to impose sanctions on members of the Congolese security forces responsible for serious abuses.  

“Kabila needs to make a clear and public statement that he will not seek a third term,” the US ambassador said. She stressed that “elections could take place in 2017,” because it is not a “technical problem” but a “problem of political will.”

Nearly all ambassadors called on political stakeholders in Congo to resume dialogue and find meaningful compromise. In this regard, the US ambassador cited the Catholic Church’s efforts, which “present the best hope” in her opinion, while Japan called for “direct dialogue” between President Kabila and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi.

Regarding MONUSCO’s role, the UK ambassador insisted that “the biggest peacekeeping mission in the world with a clear mandate to protect civilians robustly cannot stand by if civilians are threatened.” MONUSCO chief Sidikou elaborated on the measures the mission has taken to refine its contingency plans in order to diffuse potential violence and protect civilians. He stressed, however, that these efforts “may not be fully sufficient to mitigate or respond adequately to any major outbreak of politically-related violence,” and he warned that the UN’s military and police forces in Kinshasa “are stretched thin.”

Perhaps giving in to the pressure, Kabila met on Monday with the Catholic Church’s Conference of Episcopal Bishops in Congo (CENCO), and the presidency later issued a statement saying the president had urged the bishops to continue their mediation efforts – a seeming reversal from the statement released by his ruling coalition on Friday, calling the Catholic Church’s mediation efforts a failure.  

President Kabila should now take the next step and take action before December 19, including – most importantly – a public commitment that he will step down and not seek to change the constitution or run for a third term.

MONUSCO should also heed the calls from Security Council members and ensure that the mission is prepared to do all it can to protect the population during potential political violence on or around December 19. And UN member states, including police and military troop contributors to MONUSCO, should ensure the mission has the resources and will to effectively carry out its mandate.

Congo Mediation Efforts by Catholic Church Falter

After a month of diplomacy by the Catholic Church to overcome the Democratic Republic of Congo’s political impasse, President Joseph Kabila’s ruling coalition today dismissed the effort as a “failure.” This could block any chance of an inclusive agreement before the December 19 deadline, when Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit will be up.

Archbishops of the Catholic Church’s Conference of Episcopal Bishops in Congo (CENCO) during a press conference in Kinshasa on December 2, 2016.

During a press conference today in Kinshasa attended by Human Rights Watch, archbishops of the Catholic Church’s Conference of Episcopal Bishops in Congo (CENCO) noted that many of the most contentious issues remain unresolved. The archbishops also called for direct talks between the main parties. The disagreements, they said, are regarding the constitution and how it should be respected; the sequencing, timing, and financing of elections; the independence of the electoral commission; how institutions will function during the transition period; and measures that will be taken to ease political tensions.

If all parties “take initiative and show good will,” the archbishops said, a political compromise is still within reach. Warning that “the hour is grave” and that “without an agreement, anything can happen,” CENCO called on all sides to act responsibly to “prevent our country from plunging into an uncontrollable situation.”

Hours after the press conference, the ruling coalition published a statement calling CENCO’s efforts a “failure.” The coalition blamed the opposition for “flagrant contradictions” and “demands harmful to the spirit and text of the constitution,” and regretting the “time unnecessarily lost.” They then called on the president to implement the “national dialogue” agreement, which would allow Kabila to stay in power at least until April 2018, and which most main opposition parties did not sign.

The Rassemblement opposition coalition “noted with satisfaction” the continued commitment of the archbishops to search for an “appropriate solution” to the crisis “which could end in chaos.” It reiterated its commitment and willingness to participate in a “truly inclusive dialogue” and supported the call for direct talks between the parties to find a peaceful solution to the crisis before the end of Kabila’s second term.

At the request of President Kabila, Catholic bishops had begun consultations in early November with opposition and civil society groups, seeking, as one of the bishops told us, a consensus that would prevent the country from collapsing into violence after December 19.

In other news, Rodrigue Bintene Mimbo, a researcher with the Congolese polling institute Bureau d’Etude de Recherche et de Consulting International was released from detention yesterday. Intelligence agents arrested him on June 26, 2016, after he had spent two weeks conducting research in Congo’s central Sankuru province for a nationwide opinion survey, which found that three-quarters of those polled wanted President Kabila to step down on December 19. Mimbo was never charged with a crime.

Congolese Youth Arrested Demanding Rights

Security forces in the eastern city of Bunia arrested five members of the pro-democracy youth movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA) on Thursday as a United Nations official warned of the danger of “silencing critical voices” in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Sign from the Bye Bye Kabila campaign launch in Bunia. 

The arrests came as the activists were trying to hold a press conference to urge President Joseph Kabila to leave office at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19. A journalist was also arrested. They remain in detention at time of writing.

On Saturday, LUCHA together with the youth movement Filimbi, and youth wings of the Rassemblement opposition coalition and the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) opposition party, had launched the “Bye Bye Kabila” campaign in the capital, Kinshasa. Authorities banned the planned meeting and briefly detained an activist and journalist. Two days earlier, on November 24, Filimbi activist Jeef Mabika was arrested by Congolese security forces. He was provisionally released on Thursday after putting up bail. Totoro Mukenge, president of the Union of Congolese Youth for Change (UJCC), was also released on Friday, after being held incommunicado by the intelligence agency, without charge or access to his family or lawyers, since September 16. 

In a press statement, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye said “the silencing of critical voices through arrests, censorship and other forms of government control poses risks for the stability of the country which is already in a seriously fragile state.” He added that “freedom of expression in the DRC has increasingly been threatened by the criminalization of critics and the opposition, including the use of harsh punishments.”

Also on Thursday, the European Parliament denounced the increasingly restricted political space, called for the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners, and urged the European Union to adopt targeted sanctions against senior Congolese government and security forces officials “responsible for the violent repression of demonstrations and the political impasse which is preventing a peaceful and constitutional transition of power,” notably Kalev Mutond, Maj. Gen. John Numbi, Gen. Ilunga Kampete, Maj. Gen. Gabriel Amisi Kumba, and Gen. Célestin Kanyama.

House of Congo Opposition Leader Attacked

Early this morning, unidentified assailants set fire to the house entrance gate of opposition leader Gabriel Kyungu in the southern city of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo. Since leaving the ruling party in September 2015 to join the opposition coalition G7, Kyungu, 78-years-old and the founder of the National Union of Federalists of Congo (UNAFEC), has faced repeated harassment from the authorities.

In the early hours of November 30, unidentified assailants set fire to the house entrance gate of opposition leader Gabriel Kyungu in the southern city of Lubumbashi. 

 

On November 25, a parliamentary commission was formed to determine whether to strip Kyungu of his political immunity in the face of allegations he insulted President Joseph Kabila in April.

On November 19, dozens of unidentified assailants vandalized the homes of Mwando Simba, one of the leaders of the G7 opposition coalition, and his son and member of parliament, Christian Mwando, also in Lubumbashi. On the same day, police surrounded Kyungu’s residence, a common intimidation tactic used against opposition leaders.

Also this week, authorities on Tuesday provisionally released Bruno Tshibala, deputy secretary-general of one of the leading opposition parties, Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UPDS) and spokesperson of the opposition coalition Rassemblement. Immigration officials had arrested him at Kinshasa’s international airport as he was attempting to board a plane for Brussels on October 9. He remains accused of plotting to commit a massacre and acts of pillage and destruction, charges that appear politically motivated.

US Congress Hears Stark Warnings About Congo Crisis

Speaker after speaker pointed to the same dark fear: If a solution can’t be found soon to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s political crisis, the country may slide into violence.

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the United States Congress held a hearing on November 29 about the deteriorating situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The speakers were Fred Bauma, Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, Ida Sawyer, Sasha Lezhnev, Tom Malinowski and Tom Perriello. Timo Mueller for Human Rights Watch. 

“If this is settled on the streets, it will be a disaster for the people of Congo,” said Tom Perriello, United States Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa. “Anything is possible.”

Perriello was one of the speakers at a hearing today in the US Congress on the status of human rights and democracy in Congo.

All speakers, two from the US government and four from nongovernmental organizations and academia, raised concerns about the potential for violence and further repression as the constitutionally mandated deadline approaches for President Joseph Kabila to step down on December 19.

In her testimony, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Ida Sawyer said she wants to “set out for Congress the severity of the situation and the important role the US government can play to help walk Congo back from the brink.”

Perriello pointed to the “deep reservoir of mistrust on both sides” of the political class. While “there is still time for a peaceful transition,” Perriello said he fears the violent crackdown on demonstrations in September “were a preview of tactics used, we could see the situation spin out of control very quickly.”

Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, also shared concerns about the potential for a lethal crackdown, saying, “the bad news is that what happened in Burundi could happen in DRC.” But “the door is still open” to help avert the crisis, he said. Congressman James P. McGovern, who chaired the hearing, agreed a crisis was “avoidable.”

Many of the speakers spoke out strongly in favor of targeted sanctions against high-level officials responsible for serious abuse in Congo. Perriello said that existing sanctions against three high-ranking security officials have been “extremely important and noticed.”

“I can assure you targeted sanctions had a notable deterrent effect and rattled those implicated in abuses,” said Sawyer, who has been barred from working in the country since August. Malinowski told Congress that the US government has been focused last month to “multilateralize” targeted sanctions, encouraging the European Union to impose its own set of targeted sanctions.

Perriello confirmed that the US government will “continue to consider additional targets” for sanctions, stressing that the “focus is on the individuals responsible [for abuses].”

Sawyer called on the US administration to heed this call and sanction the Congolese intelligence agency director, Kalev Mutond; Vice Prime Minister Evariste Boshab; and the Republican Guard commander, Gen. Ilunga Kampete.

Fred Bauma, a Congolese activist of the youth movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA) who, together with Yves Makwambala, served 17 months in prison on trumped-up charges, like many other political prisoners, called on the government to apply more financial sanctions to those involved in “malpractices and scandals.” Sasha Lezhnev, associate director of policy at the Enough Project, spelled out the technical details of financial sanctions.

Many speakers agreed that supporting mediation efforts by the Catholic Church remains one of the most promising avenues for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, professional lecturer at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, called on Congress to remember that the responsibility for the crisis rests primarily with the political leaders and that it is important to engage President Kabila, “the man who holds the key” to solving the crisis. Echoing his remarks, Sawyer said there is a “need to show Kabila that there is an honorable way out.” Earlier, Perriello had stressed that Kabila – who “surpassed expectations” as a leader – could leave as a “hero.”

With the ruling political class in Congo strongly believing that President-elect Donald Trump will be more lenient in its approach to mitigating the crisis, Dizolele and Lezhnev called on Congress to impress upon Trump the importance of appointing a new special envoy to Congo, which Congressman McGovern did not rule out as a possibility.

 

 

Congolese Youth Launch ‘Bye Bye Kabila’ Campaign

Congolese youth groups are stepping up calls on President Joseph Kabila to step down from office on December 19 when his second term ends, as the constitution mandates.

Filimbi activist Jeef Mabika was arrested by Congolese security forces on November 24, 2016. His whereabouts remain unknown. 

On Saturday, pro-democracy youth movements Struggle for Change (LUCHA) and Filimbi, together with the youth wings of the Rassemblement opposition coalition and the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) opposition party, launched a campaign called “Bye Bye Kabila” and started a countdown to the last day of Kabila’s second term.

Police sought to intimidate and arrest the organizers in advance of the planned event, the latest heavy-handed effort by police to tamp down public protests. Kinshasa Governor André Kimbuta called on the organizers to cancel their activities because the organizations are not legally registered, even though there is no legal requirement to be registered as an organization in order to hold a peaceful political meeting in Congo. Security forces arrested Filimbi activist Jeef Mabika on Thursday morning at his house. His whereabouts remain unknown.

On Saturday, Rassamblement youth member Bony Mputu Dikasa decided against participating in the awareness-raising campaign after he saw suspicious-looking men watching the activists. He left the area and was then followed by three armed men in civilian clothes. They stopped him, threatened him with a pistol, questioned him about his role in the campaign, and detained him for several hours. A police captain later told him that authorities are closely watching his group’s movements. A family member was forced to pay for his release. Another Filimbi activist was reportedly arrested on the same day but the details of his arrest and his current whereabouts remain unknown.

A Congolese cameraman who tried to take footage of the campaign was arrested and detained for two hours by men in civilian clothes.

Despite the arrests, about 20 youth activists managed to distribute leaflets in Kinshasa’s Kasavubu neighborhood on Saturday, announcing the start of the “Bye Bye Kabila” campaign.

Impose Targeted Sanctions on Congo Before it’s Too Late

Less than one month before the December 19 deadline marking the end of President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit, he still has not made any clear commitment on if and when he will step down. All while government repression against pro-democracy activists, the opposition, protesters, and the media has intensified at an alarming rate. The so-called “national dialogue” – which postponed the elections to at least April 2018 – and the appointment of Samy Badibanga from the opposition as prime minister have not succeeded in easing tensions. The Catholic Church is pursuing its mediation efforts to reach a more inclusive political deal – but time is running out.

From left to right: Gen. Céléstin Kanyama © 2013 Private; Gen. Gabriel Amisi © 2016 Private; Évariste Boshab © 2015 Radio Okapi/Ph. John Bompengo.

If President Kabila stays in power beyond December 19 without a clear public commitment on when he will step down and a broad consensus on organizing the transition period to elections, there is a risk that protests will erupt and security forces respond with excessive force. The country could descend into widespread violence and chaos.

Congo’s regional and international partners should be mobilizing at the highest levels to prevent this scenario. They should apply targeted sanctions against officials implicated in abuses to show there are real consequences for repression and to help deter further violence. 

The targeted sanctions imposed by the US on several officials at the forefront of violence against protesters had a notable deterrent effect and rattled those implicated. But the impact could be much greater if they targeted more senior government and intelligence officials – and if the European Union and United Nations Security Council also took action. 

In October, the EU announced it would “use all means at its disposal” against individuals responsible for serious human rights violations, who promote violence, or who “obstruct a consensual and peaceful solution to the crisis.” The EU should move now from threats to action and impose targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against senior Congolese officials responsible for the violent crackdown.

In a resolution passed on November 15 with strong bipartisan support, the US House of Representatives called on the Obama administration to impose additional sanctions on officials in Congo “who impede progress toward a peaceful democratic transition through credible elections that respect the will of the people.” In a letter on Monday, Human Rights Watch also called upon President Barack Obama to take this step before leaving office.

Our research has found that these people played critical roles in the repression, and should be targeted for sanctions: National Intelligence Agency (ANR) Director Kalev Mutond, Vice Prime Minister and Interior Minister Evariste Boshab, Republican Guard overall commander Gen. Ilunga Kampete, western region army commander Gen. Gabriel Amisi (known as “Tango Four”), and Kinshasa police commissioner Gen. Céléstin Kanyama.

The EU, the United States, and the UN should make clear to Kabila that violating the Congolese people’s rights comes at a high price – before there is more bloodshed and it is too late to change course.

Arrests, Beatings, Opposition Leaders’ Homes Vandalized

Congolese authorities failed to intervene as assailants vandalized the homes of two opposition leaders on Saturday. At least 24 people were detained in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Bunia after apparently politically motivated arrests.

Few demonstrators responded to calls for a nationwide protest on Saturday by the “Rassemblement” opposition coalition, in part due to the continued crackdown by authorities.

In the southern city of Lubumbashi, security forces surrounded the house of opposition leader Gabriel Kyungu. Dozens of unidentified assailants vandalized the homes of Mwando Nsimba, one of the leaders of the G7 opposition coalition, and his son and Member of Parliament, Christian Mwando.

Security forces arrested at least 16 people in Lubumbashi, apparently for wearing yellow shirts – symbolizing President Joseph Kabila’s final yellow card, or warning, before he is due to step down on December 19.

In the eastern city of Bunia, police arrested an activist from the youth movement Filimbi, Joseph Ubegiu, at midday as he was heading toward a demonstration. Later that day, authorities arrested two other protesters in Bunia for wearing yellow shirts and holding yellow cards. They remain in detention.

 

The Filimbi representative for Kinshasa, Carbone Beni, was abducted late at night on November 19 and badly beaten by unknown assailants. They let him go the next morning.

In Kinshasa, authorities arrested at least four members of the opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) on Saturday and prevented the opposition from holding a public meeting. Police surrounded the home of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi to prevent him from leaving, as they had done earlier in advance of a planned opposition rally on November 5. Authorities also organized soccer matches throughout the day at the site of the planned demonstration, apparently to block access to the areas where people were due to congregate for the meeting.

Unknown assailants abducted the Filimbi representative for Kinshasa, Carbone Beni, late Saturday night and badly beat him. They let him go the next morning.

Given the government’s unlawful ban on public meetings, opposition parties held private meetings in Beni and Uvira. In Bukavu, the opposition succeeded in holding the only public gathering with several dozen demonstrators, and no security incidents were reported.

On Thursday and Friday, Congolese authorities arrested more than a dozen opposition members for unknown reasons. They remain in detention without charge. Police beat another UDPS party member, Fabrice Bakalufu, but he was not arrested.

Meanwhile, the signal for Radio France Internationale remains blocked in Kinshasa, for the sixteenth day.

Wave of Arrests and Crackdown on Media Ahead of Protests

Congolese authorities continued their crackdown on political dissent, arresting more than a dozen opposition members ahead of tomorrow’s planned demonstrations.

The arrests Thursday night included four members of the “Rassemblement” opposition in Kinshasa and around a dozen others, including some members of the opposition party Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), in Lubumbashi. Two other UDPS members were arrested by soldiers this afternoon in the Limete neighborhood in Kinshasa.

Earlier on Thursday, police fired tear gas to disperse UDPS opposition party sympathizers as they were distributing leaflets to mobilize people for the protest.

The Rassemblement has called for demonstrations tomorrow to show President Joseph Kabila the “final yellow card,” a soccer reference to serve as a warning a month before the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit.

In Kinshasa, officials say the ban on all political demonstrations – announced after the September protests – is still in effect, and authorities in Lubumbashi have also announced that the demonstration there is not authorized.

Following the temporary jamming of the UN-supported radio station Radio Okapi and the complete takedown of Radio France International (RFI) in Kinshasa for now 13 days, the radio signals of RFI in neighboring Brazzaville (which many across the river in Kinshasa can listen to) and the Belgian Radio Television of the French Community (RTBF) have also been jammed since this morning.

These latest measures followed yesterday’s surprise appointment of Samy Badibanga, president of the UDPS and allies parliamentary group, made up of dissident UDPS party members, as prime minister of a new government that is expected to be announced in full in the coming days.

 

Guidelines on Freedom of Expression and Assembly in DR Congo

Police clear a road after protesters erected barricades on September 19, 2016 in Kinshasa.

The “Rassemblement” opposition coalition in the Democratic Republic of Congo has called for nationwide demonstrations Saturday to show President Joseph Kabila the “final yellow card,” a soccer reference to serve as a warning, exactly one month before the end of his constitutionally mandated two term limit.

Given the brutal repression and violence that has characterized past demonstrations – particularly in September, we thought it would be useful to provide an overview on the rights and responsibilities of protesters, political party leaders, government officials, and security forces, according to Congolese and international law:

  1. People in the Democratic Republic of Congo have the right to express their opinions in a peaceful manner without having to fear repression by the authorities. Security forces have an obligation to remain apolitical, and they must not encroach upon people’s fundamental right to peaceful assembly.

Congo ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1976. Article 19 of the covenant states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression.” Article 21 of the covenant specifies that “the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized,” while Article 22 says, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others.”

The freedoms of expression and assembly are also enshrined in articles 23 and 26 of the Congolese constitution. Article 23 stipulates that “All persons have the right to freedom of expression. This right implies the freedom to express their opinions or their convictions, notably by speech, print and pictures, under reserve of respect of the law, for public order and for morality.” Article 26 of the Constitution says that “the freedom of demonstration is guaranteed.”

Article 11 of the African Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights, ratified by the Congolese government in 1987, also specifies that “Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law, in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.”

  1. Protesters are required to inform the authorities in advance of a public meeting or demonstration. Prior authorization is not required. Registration as an association is not required.

According to article 26 of the Constitution, “All demonstrations on public roads or in open air require the organizers to inform the competent administrative authority in writing.” Article 29 of the current electoral law further clarifies that “written statements have to be submitted to competent local authorities at least 24 hours before [the demonstration].” This abrogates previous legislation from 1999, which required protesters to solicit permission prior to protests.

Nothing in Congolese law prohibits people from peacefully protesting without being registered as an association. In December 2015, the mayor of Goma wrongfully called on the youth movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA) to cease all activities for lack of legal administrative documents.

As per article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right [of peaceful assembly] other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

  1. The national police are primarily charged with ensuring public order and the orderly conduct of demonstrations, including the safety of protesters. The army can only intervene under exceptional circumstances. The Republican Guard has no role to play in ensuring public order during demonstrations.

Article 2 of the 2011 law on the organization and functioning of the police gives the national police force the primary responsibility for ensuring public order and the orderly conduct of demonstrations, including the safety of protesters.

The Congolese army (FARDC) can only intervene with the aim of protecting people and property under exceptional circumstances, such as reinforcing police overwhelmed by an unfolding security situation. The 2009 law on the functioning and administration of the FARDC clarifies that the army can only intervene during demonstrations following a written request by the police.    

As for the Republican Guard presidential security detail, their principle responsibility is to secure the president and his official property, as per article 153 of the 2011 army law. They are not allowed to ensure public order during demonstrations or elections.

4.     Restrictions on the use of force

The use of lethal or non-lethal force must be legal, necessary, and proportional to the threat, and all other precautions must have been exhausted. Security forces can only resort to lethal force if it is absolutely necessary to protect human life, as stipulated in articles 8 and 9 of the 2011 police law. For police to intervene with force, they need to receive orders from their superiors and must not act on their own initiative, according to article 75 of the 2011 police law. No security officer has the right to give orders to upset public order or shoot at peaceful protesters.

  1. Responsibilities of Protest Leaders

Leaders of political parties and activist organizations should take necessary steps to prevent or stop their members and supporters from engaging in or inciting violence during demonstrations and other activities. They should appropriately discipline those who engage in violence. 

Congolese Authorities Should Release All Political Prisoners

Over the past two years, authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have arbitrarily arrested scores of activists and political opposition leaders and supporters who have opposed attempts by President Joseph Kabila to extend his time in office beyond the constitutionally mandated two-term limit. Many were held for weeks or months by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) without charge or access to families or lawyers. Others were put on trial on trumped-up charges. 

Totoro Mukenge

Human Rights Watch has compiled a list of 29 prisoners who remain in detention in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, or Goma. They were arrested since 2015, after speaking out against attempts to extend Kabila’s term or participating in peaceful demonstrations or other political activities. Others were suspected of having links with political opposition figures.

One of the prisoners, Totoro Mukenge, president of the youth group Union of Congolese Youth for Change (UJCC), has been held incommunicado by the ANR since September 16, after having participated in an awareness-raising campaign in Kinshasa on non-violence, peace, and respect for the constitution.

Norbert Luyeye, president of the opposition political party Union of Republicans, has been held by the military intelligence services since August 7, along with six other party members and participants who attended a political meeting at Luyeye’s home on August 4. Another opposition party president, Jean-Claude Muyambo, has been in prison since January 2015, after he mobilized participation in nationwide protests against proposed changes to the country’s electoral law. 

Jean-Claude Muyambo

Others were arrested because of alleged links to Moise Katumbi, the former Katanga governor and opposition leader. The authorities initially investigated Katumbi for allegedly recruiting mercenaries. He was later tried and convicted in absentia for alleged forgery in connection with a real estate deal and sentenced to three years in prison and a US$1 million fine. One of the judges described in a public letter, and in an interview with Human Rights Watch, how she had been threatened by ANR director Kalev Mutond, and forced to hand down the conviction – a blatant example of the intelligence’s agency interference in the justice sector.

Congo’s government needs to get serious about easing political tensions. One of the first measures it should take is to release all political prisoners and drop politically motivated prosecutions against opposition leaders and political activists.

The list is available here: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/16/dr-congo-political-prisoners-detention 

(Many other people have been arrested arbitrarily in Congo over the years and remain in detention. This list includes only those cases documented by Human Rights Watch in the context of the political repression since 2015).

Congolese Government Cracks Down on Foreign Media

The Congolese government is threatening the continued operation of foreign-owned radio and TV stations, the latest attempt to undermine freedom of speech in the country. 

On Saturday, Communications Minister Lambert Mende issued a decree that requires foreign radio and TV stations to have Congolese majority shareholders or risk being shutdown within 30 days. Foreign radio outlets without a physical presence in country must broadcast through a Congolese partner approved by the minister. They will have 45 days to comply with the new measures or be prohibited from broadcasting news.

Nine days ago, authorities cut the signal for Radio France International (RFI) in Kinshasa ahead of planned protests. The station remains off the air, denying many Congolese a vital information source.

The new restrictive measures came during a rare visit by United Nations Security Council members to Congo. During meetings with President Joseph Kabila and other officials, Security Council members raised concerns about a ban on public political meetings in several cities across the country, the authorities’ decision to take RFI off the air, and the continued detention of political prisoners.

The meetings brought no clarity as to whether Kabila intended to stay in office beyond the two-term limit, which ends on December 19. When Kabila was asked by council members about his stepping down from the presidency, he merely noted that the constitution currently only allows for two terms but that it could be amended.

On Sunday, police continued their crackdown on freedom of association by dispersing members of the opposition party Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) who were meeting peacefully in a church in Kinshasa’s Mont-Amba district.

Meanwhile, authorities seem to be moving forward with the “national dialogue” agreement which was rejected by most main opposition leaders and civil society activists. Augustin Matata Ponyo announced his resignation as prime minister on Monday morning, paving the way for the appointment of a so-called “government of national unity.” Kabila is expected to address the matter in a speech to the parliament on Tuesday.

Congolese Leaders, Activists Respond to Trump Victory

The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States got a mixed response in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Some political leaders from both the ruling majority and opposition went to Twitter to congratulate the president-elect. President Joseph Kabila’s cabinet director wrote a letter to Trump, congratulating him for his “brilliant election” and “expressed his availability to strengthen with the elected President the friendly relations” between both countries.

Government spokesperson Lambert Mende was a bit more blunt, saying  he hopes the new administration will be “much saner and easy going” than the administration of Barack Obama, which he denounced for having “taunted” Congo’s sovereignty and their “unjustified sanctions.”  Mende was doubtlessly referring to the US government-imposed targeted sanctions against three security force officers in recent months, in response to ongoing repression. He expressed hopes that with Trump’s election, Congo was now “coming to the end of this.”

Some Congolese activists have expressed concerns that a Trump presidency would bring an end to US engagement in support of human rights and democracy in Congo. But while the concerns may have merit, there has been strong bi-partisan support in the US Congress for targeted sanctions and other tough responses to Kabila’s repressive policies and his efforts to stay in power beyond the end of his second term. 

As Congo prepares for its own elections, but with uncertainty about when the vote will be held and when President Kabila will leave office, political leaders from across the spectrum should pay attention to Hillary Clinton’s concession speech – in which she reminded Americans that “our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. We don't just respect that. We cherish it.” – and President Obama’s speech later in which he committed to ensuring a smooth transition to the next president, despite an outcome he had not hoped for, and cited the “peaceful transition of power” as “one of the hallmarks of our democracy."

UN Security Council Should Use Congo Visit to Avert Large-Scale Crisis

In response to the worsening political crisis and human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations Security Council will be making a rare visit there later this week. The Council members are due to visit the capital, Kinshasa, and the eastern town of Beni.  They will also visit Luanda, capital of neighboring Angola, an important actor in efforts to address the political impasse in Congo. Less than six weeks before the December 19 deadline for when President Joseph Kabila is due to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, the visit offers a last-minute opportunity for the international community to help prevent further bloodshed and open political space to allow for a peaceful transition of power. 

Human Rights Watch sent the following letter to Security Council delegations in advance of their visit, with our main recommendations: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/09/hrw-letter-un-security-council-visit-dr-congo

Demonstrations Banned, Media Restricted in Congo

Congolese authorities are taking increasingly aggressive measures to stifle the political opposition, blocking radio signals and surrounding the home of the opposition leader ahead of planned protests this past weekend. 

Early Saturday morning, ahead of public meetings in cities throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo, authorities cut the signal for Radio France International (RFI) in Kinshasa and the southern city of Lubumbashi, and jammed the signal for the United Nations-supported Radio Okapi. RFI was allowed back on the air in Lubumbashi on Saturday, but it’s still blocked in Kinshasa, and Radio Okapi also remains jammed in parts of Kinshasa – for the fourth day in a row. 

By interfering with the signals of the two main radio stations in Congo, officials are blocking access for millions to credible, independent reporting. 

The government communications minister, Lambert Mende, justified the move by claiming RFI had “transformed itself into the press attaché of the opposition.” But the real goal seems to be to try prevent people from hearing about the opposition meeting and the government’s repressive moves to prevent the meeting from going ahead.  

Police in riot gear and armored vehicles surrounded the home of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, due to speak at Saturday’s meeting, as well as the area outside the Stade de Martyrs, where the meeting was due to be held. They blocked Tshisekedi from leaving his home and fired teargas to disperse supporters. Organized soccer matches – including police and soldiers playing in civilian clothes, according to witnesses – were held throughout the day outside the Stade de Martyrs, apparently to block access to the areas where people were due to congregate for the meeting. Security force officers recruited and paid members of youth leagues to infiltrate and cause disorder during the opposition meeting, if it went forward, according to one of the recruits. 

The night before the planned meeting, police arrested opposition UPDS member Héritier Bokopo Lifula for having allegedly organized the theft of weapons and ammunition from police stations during the demonstrations in Kinshasa on September 19 and 20. According to his lawyer, security forces looted Lifula’s home during the arrest, and he has not yet been allowed to see his client held at the police station.

Meanwhile, in the eastern city of Goma, police prevented members of the Rassemblement opposition coalition from holding a meeting at the Bungwe hotel. One of the police officers told Human Rights Watch later, “I could not authorize this meeting. If I did, I would be sanctioned by my superiors, and how would I then feed my children?” 

Further south, on Monday, intelligence agents arrested the director general of the radio and TV station “Manika” and a colleague in Kolwezi, Lualaba province, after he broadcast an interview with the opposition leader, presidential candidate, and former governor Moise Katumbi, whose soccer team Tout Puissant Mazembe won a match on Sunday. Katumbi was convicted earlier this year in absentia in a politically motivated trial and sentenced to three years in prison and a US$1 million fine. Both journalists were released earlier today.

These developments come less than six weeks before the December 19 deadline for when President Joseph Kabila is due to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit. 

Over the past two years, Congolese authorities have repeatedly cracked down on journalists and the media. Authorities have blocked the RFI signal several times during sensitive political moments, and the government has shut down a number of media outlets close to the opposition, at least seven of which remain blocked. According to Reporters Without Borders, authorities have assaulted or persecuted at least 63 journalists since January 2016. In an apparent attempt to block independent observers from documenting government repression during demonstrations in Kinshasa on September 19, security forces detained at least eight Congolese and international journalists – including RFI’s Sonia Rolley, an Agence France-Presse photographer, and two TV5 journalists. They were all released by the evening. In January 2015, authorities shut down all internet and text message communication in Kinshasa and elsewhere when political demonstrations erupted across the country in which at least 43 people were killed.

In statements issued over the past few days, the Congolese human rights organization Voix des Sans Voix (VSV) and the 33-organization Coalition for the Respect of the Constitution denounced the government’s abuse of power and called for the RFI and Radio Okapi signals to be restored immediately. The secretary-general of the International Organization of the Francophonie called the move “unacceptable,” while the French foreign minister called it an “incomprehensible decision in today’s world.” The United States embassy said it is “deeply troubled by the apparent jamming” of RFI and Radio Okapi signals.

Visiting Congo later this week, the UN Security Council should deliver strong public messages to Congolese authorities, denouncing these and other forms of political repression and calling for basic freedoms to be respected.

Free Expression and Assembly in Congo Under Attack

A team of United Nations human rights experts are calling on authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo to lift a ban on public political meetings in the capital, Kinshasa.

The “unjustified” ban is a sign that “democratic space is rapidly dissipating in the DRC, with human rights organizations and opposition parties bearing the brunt of the repression,” the experts said in statement today.

Since early 2015, Congolese authorities have systematically repressed the growing coalition calling for a peaceful transition of power. The Kinshasa ban was announced just after security forces responded to protests in Kinshasa with lethal force, killing at least 56 people during the week of September 19, the day presidential elections were meant to be announced. Since then, at least four planned protests have been canceled after authorities said they were prohibited. Similar bans have been announced in Kalemie and Lubumbashi as well, cities home to several leading opposition figures.

The experts said peaceful protest can only be restricted in “very specific and narrowly defined circumstances” – conditions that have not been met in Congo. “Given that the country is in a hotly disputed election period people should be given more space, not less, to express their democratic freedoms.”

The experts expressed concern over the recently concluded “national dialogue” agreement.

“The protest ban and the restrictive tone of the National Dialogue agreement are both disturbing signs that democratic space is rapidly dissipating in the DRC with human rights organizations and opposition parties bearing the brunt of the repression.”

The experts’ statement comes two days before the opposition coalition known as the “Rassemblement” is due to hold a public meeting in Kinshasa. “In view of forthcoming demonstrations, in particular those planned for 5 November we urge the Congolese authorities to revoke its decision to ban demonstrations,” the experts said.

Their call echoes statements made by a number of Congolese human rights organizations, including the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ASADHO), the Voice of the Voiceless (VSV), and a coalition of civil society organizations and political parties that have all denounced the ban on political meetings as an illegal measure in violation of the country’s own laws and constitution.

 

Mediation by Catholic Church Offers Glimpse of Hope Amid Ongoing Crackdown

Can Congo’s Roman Catholic bishops break the country’s dangerous political impasse?

At the request of President Joseph Kabila, Catholic bishops began consultations this week with opposition and civil society groups, seeking, as one of the bishops told us, a consensus that would prevent violence after December 19, the date President Kabila is constitutionally required to relinquish his office.

The talks have included groups that refused to participate in or rejected the recently concluded “national dialogue,” which would allow Kabila to stay in power at least until April 2018.

Previously, the Catholic Church’s Conference of Episcopal Bishops in Congo (CENCO) urged politicians to renegotiate the national dialogue’s conclusions and ensure that presidential elections are held in 2017. “It is imperative that it be clearly mentioned in the consensus...that the current president of the republic not stand for a third term,” the statement said.

Given its standing and popular support, the Catholic church’s shuttle diplomacy has the potential to help avert a large-scale crisis in the coming weeks. The fact that Kabila requested CENCO’S involvement is a positive sign, and is in line with last week’s call by leaders from the region for all sides to reinforce confidence-building measures.

But for any gesture of goodwill to be credible, it needs to be accompanied by steps to end the repression of activists and opposition supporters and allow for peaceful protest.

That’s not happening. About 15 members of the UDPS opposition party were arrested on Tuesday – the latest in a slew of arbitrary arrests – soon after several thousand people gathered for a burial ceremony of six UDPS party members. They had been killed during protests in Kinshasa on September 19-21, when security forces responded with excessive force, killing at least 56 people. The UDPS members were arrested while riding a public bus home from the funeral service and detained overnight before being released earlier today. Authorities claimed they been arrested because they didn’t pay the bus fare.  

Meanwhile, the six members of the Filimbi pro-democracy youth movement who had been arrested were released today after paying significant fines. The five arrested on Saturday have been charged with rebellion and participating in an insurrectional movement – all for organizing a peaceful sit-in with about 30 people. A colleague arrested Monday after bringing food to his friends and taking photos as they were being transferred to the prosecutor’s office has been charged with incitement to civil disobedience.   

In Goma, the three activists from the youth movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA), arrested on October 24, remain in the central prison. They were arrested after trying to mobilize students to participate in a peaceful demonstration in support of a roadmap to overcome the country’s political crisis, which calls on Kabila to leave office by December 19.

The opposition coalition known as the “Rassemblement” announced it will organize a public meeting this Saturday, despite a ban announced by Kinshasa’s provincial government on holding any political public meetings. Human rights organizations, including the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ASADHO) and the Voice of the Voiceless (VSV), have denounced the ban as an illegal measure in violation of the country’s own laws and constitution. 

Peaceful Activists Rounded Up Yet Again

Congolese authorities rounded up yet another group of pro-democracy youth activists this weekend, in what looks like a continuing effort by the government to silence dissent.

Police detain members of the youth movement Filimbi after a peaceful sit-in outside the African Union (AU) office in Kinshasa on October 29, 2016.

Police arrested eight members of the youth movement Filimbi after a peaceful sit-in outside the African Union (AU) office in Kinshasa on Saturday. Three were released later that day, but the others remain in detention, accused of “public disorder” and “incitement to revolt.” Another activist was arrested today, after he brought food to the detainees and took a photo of his colleagues being transferred from a police jail to the prosecutor’s office. 

The activists were protesting the AU’s support of the recently concluded “national dialogue” agreement, which was rejected by most of the opposition and would allow President Joseph Kabila to stay in power past his constitutionally mandated two-term limit at least until April 2018, if not longer.

During the sit-in, observed by United Nations peacekeepers, police threatened the activists and said they would fire tear gas if they didn’t leave. The activists agreed to leave, and a group of 34 got into a public bus. “Two police officers on motorbikes blocked the road in front of us while a police jeep parked behind us,” one of the activists told us. “They asked us to stay in the bus. Some of us managed to get out through the backdoor, but eight of us stayed behind. One of the police officers told us: ‘Don’t move or I’ll shoot at you.’” The eight were then taken to a police jail. 

Three activists from the youth movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA) who were arrested in Goma last week were released on Saturday, while three others were transferred to the central prison in Goma. During a press conference on Sunday, a police spokesperson said they had caused “public disorder and incited revolt.” 

In total, 26 activists from the Filimbi and LUCHA youth movements have been arrested in Goma and Kinshasa in the past week, with nine remaining in detention. 

Meanwhile, in the southern city of Lubumbashi, security forces used tear gas to disperse a meeting of the “Rassemblement” opposition coalition, held at the residence of opposition leader Kyungu wa Kumwanza on Saturday. Some opposition members were reportedly wounded and arrested. Also on Saturday, the opposition party Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) created a new political platform called Front for the Respect of the Constitution, and called on Kabila to step down by December 19. The MLC was one of the many parties that refused to participate in the “national dialogue.”

Pollsters Targeted as Survey Shows Congolese Want Elections

A rare nationwide opinion survey released this week found that three-quarters of those polled wanted President Joseph Kabila to step down at the end of his mandate on December 19.

Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila arrives for a southern and central African leaders' meeting to discuss the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Luanda, Angola, October 26, 2016.

Since the findings were published, officials at the Congolese polling firm that helped conduct the study say their office has been visited and staked out by suspected intelligence agents, forcing them to temporarily close their office for security reasons.

The study was led by the New York University-based Congo Research Group and a Congolese polling institute, Bureau d’Etude de Recherche et de Consulting International (BERCI). Between May and September, their researchers conducted 7,545 face-to-face interviews in randomly selected areas across the country.

Intelligence agents arrested one of BERCI’s researchers, Rodrigue Bintene Mimbo, on June 26, after two weeks conducting research in Congo’s central Sankuru province. He was held at a national intelligence agency (ANR) detention center in Lodja, capital of Sankuru, until July 9, then transferred to an ANR detention center in Kinshasa. Mimbo remains in detention, without charge and without access to his family or lawyer. The authorities should immediately release Mimbo and end any harassment of those involved in the study.

Here are some of the poll’s noteworthy findings:
•    81.4% of respondents rejected changing the constitution to allow President Joseph Kabila to run for a third term. 
•    74.3% said that Kabila should leave office when his constitutional two-term limit ends on December 19, 2016. 
•    Most want elections to happen within the coming year. If elections have to be delayed, 41% said they should be held in 2017 while 13.7% said 2018 or later.
•    7.6% said they had participated in a protest march, strike, or demonstration over the past five years. 48.5% said they would participate in a demonstration if elections are either rigged or delayed or both. 
•    57% said that members of youth groups who’ve been arrested in Kinshasa and Goma for participating in or planning protests, demonstrations, or “villes mortes” against the government were “expressing their rights of freedom of expression and assembly.” 16% said this kind of activity should cease.
•    19.9% of respondents thought that Congo’s justice system is independent, and 27.2% of respondents said that they or a member of their family had been victims of an arbitrary arrest.
•    76.4% were in favor of the creation of a Congolese tribunal to judge war crimes. Of those, 71.4% approved of foreign judges sitting on the tribunal

More Activists Arrested in Congo as African Leaders Meet to Discuss Crisis

Democratic Republic of Congo activists urged leaders from the region gathered in Angola yesterday to press President Joseph Kabila to step down at the end of his mandate in December or shoulder some of the blame if the country descends into chaos. 

Activists protest outside the MONUSCO office in Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo.

Meanwhile, eight more activists were arrested in Congo, part of the authorities’ efforts to stem protests over the ongoing political impasse. 

In Goma, eight LUCHA activists were arrested as they were mobilizing to stage a sit-in in front of MONUSCO’s provincial headquarters, bringing to 17 the number of LUCHA activists arrested in Goma this week. Those arrested Tuesday and Wednesday have been released, but six arrested on Monday remain in detention. 

In Kinshasa, Bunia, Butembo, Goma, Bukavu, Mbuji-Mayi, and Kananga, delegations of activists from the citizens’ movements Filimbi and LUCHA visited offices of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, to deliver copies of a civil society roadmap for overcoming the crisis peacefully and in accordance with the constitution.

The activists cancelled a planned protest in Kinshasa after the authorities said it was not authorized, citing a September decree indefinitely banning all political demonstrations in the capital. Instead, the activists delivered their memo to MONUSCO and held a press conference where they urged the regional leaders and special envoys gathered in Luanda, Angola’s capital, to call on President Kabila to step down at the end of his mandate on December 19. The activists also rejected last week’s “national dialogue” conclusions, which would allow Kabila to remain in office until at least April 2018, and possibly longer.

In a declaration published at the end of the Luanda summit, regional leaders called on all parties in Congo to “uphold the principles, ideals, and aspirations of the Congolese people, as enshrined in the [Congolese] Constitution.” They also congratulated Kabila and those who participated in the national dialogue, while urging all sides to reinforce confidence building measures. 

The final declaration did not include detailed recommendations on next steps, leaving the door open for alternative approaches to resolving the political impasse – but time is short with the December 19 deadline fast approaching. 

The Congolese government needs to respond to the call from African leaders with concrete action, starting with the release of activists and other political prisoners and clear measures to ensure that the fundamental rights to free expression and assembly are respected.

More Activists Arrested in Lead-up to Protests

Congolese authorities are cracking down again on pro-democracy activists in an apparent attempt to stop protests planned for this week while spreading fear and intimidation. 

LUCHA protest, October 18, 2016. 

Police arrested six activists from the youth movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA) yesterday as they were mobilizing students at a university in Goma to take part in demonstrations and villes mortes – general strikes – planned for Wednesday and Thursday. Another three LUCHA activists were arrested in Goma this morning. 

On Sunday, LUCHA activist Victor Tesongo was arrested at his home in Kinshasa. Intelligence agents detained him for several hours and threatened him before freeing him without charge. Tesongo was previously jailed on trumped up charges from February 16 to August 31.

Another activist, Jean Claude Ekosa from the citizens’ movement Quatrième Voix, was abducted on Sunday in Kinshasa following a meeting with colleagues. After he got into a shared taxi, a passenger took out a gun, pointed it at Ekosa, and told him not to scream. “If you cry out,” he said, “we’re going to kill you like a dog and your family is never going to find you again.” Ekosa was blindfolded and taken to an unknown destination. He was put in a cell with five other people, and interrogated that evening and the next day about his connections to the opposition and accused of being “among those disrupting public order.” Eventually Ekosa overheard the kidnappers say he “wasn’t the target they were looking for.” Early this morning, they put Ekosa back in the car and dumped him on the side of the road near Kinkole, on the outskirts of Kinshasa, still blindfolded and with his hands tied together.  
 
The demonstrations scheduled for the next two days were called for by a coalition of 173 citizens’ movements and human rights groups from across Congo, who published a roadmap last week on how to overcome the country’s political crisis. They also called on President Joseph Kabila to leave office at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19. 

The planned demonstrations coincide with a summit of regional leaders and special envoys for the Great Lakes region in Luanda, Angola, to discuss Congo’s political crisis.

UN Reports on Excessive Use of Force During DR Congo Demonstrations

A new United Nations report paints an ugly picture of the September violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo: more than 50 killings, disappeared bodies, and arbitrary arrests and detention.

Congolese demonstrators chant slogans during a march to press President Joseph Kabila to step down in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, September 19, 2016.

The preliminary report of the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) documented human rights violations committed in the capital, Kinshasa, between September 19 and 21, during protests against election delays. The office found that these violations were “a result of a disproportionate and excessive use of force, including lethal force, by the Congolese authorities.”  

Here are some of their main findings:

•    More than 422 victims of human rights violations in Kinshasa by state agents. 
•    At least 53 people killed, including seven women, two children, and four police agents – of whom 48 were killed by state actors; the perpetrators in the other cases were not identified. Among those killed by state actors, 38 were killed by gunfire, 7 were burned to death by Republican Guard soldiers (including during an attack against the opposition UDPS party headquarters), a woman was killed by machete by Republican Guard soldiers, and police beat a man to death and fatally stabbed another.
•    Bodies of victims, as well as several of the wounded, were reportedly taken away by the authorities, often rapidly and sometimes by force and against the will of the victims’ families.
•    143 people were injured, including 13 women and 11 children. UNJHRO received reports that some gunshot victims were thrown into the Ndjili River by the security forces.
•    At least 299 people were arbitrarily arrested and detained. 
•    Eight journalists covering the events were harassed, robbed, beaten, and detained by the authorities for several hours before being released.
•    UNJHRO teams were denied access to detention facilities upon instructions from senior Ministry of Defense officials, and had difficulty accessing morgues. Security forces prevented two UN vehicles from reaching the location of demonstrations. A police agent shot tear gas at one UN vehicle, and a sniper on top of an anti-riot police truck shot twice at a UN vehicle but missed its target.
•    Authorities distributed machetes and money to approximately 100 young men, with a view to disrupting the demonstrations.
•    Five opposition party headquarters were attacked and set on fire. The attacks were either perpetrated by state agents directly, or state agents were present at the scene and did not intervene.
•    The National Operations Center overseeing the response by the security forces to the demonstrations reportedly authorized the use of force including firearms against demonstrators. Witnesses reported hearing the following order, given in the Lingala language via VHF radio: “They are determined, shoot!”
•    There were also many cases reported of violence by demonstrators, including the killings of four police agents. Demonstrators erected barricades, and threw stones during clashes with security forces. Demonstrators also destroyed and looted the headquarters of three political parties linked to the presidential majority, as well as public buildings and other facilities.

Human Rights Watch’s initial findings on the violence during the week of September 19 in Kinshasa are similar to those of the UN. A summary can be found here here: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/13/eu-impose-targeted-sanctions-against-senior-officials-democratic-republic-congo. 

A more detailed report from Human Rights Watch on these events is forthcoming.

Coalition Proposes Road Map to End Congolese Political Crisis

A coalition of 173 citizens’ movements and human rights groups from across the Democratic Republic of Congo today presented their road map to overcome the country’s political crisis and called on President Joseph Kabila to leave office at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19.

This path forward, they said, was most in line with the Congolese Constitution and the most likely to prevent further violence and instability in the coming weeks and months.

A civil society coalition from the Democratic Republic of Congo presents their road map to overcome the country’s political crisis at a press conference in the capital, Kinshasa, on October 21, 2016.

The civil society members said that security and other guarantees should then be granted to Kabila and those close to him, in accordance with international treaties, the constitution, and national laws. The president of the senate would then act as interim president, in accordance with articles 75 and 76 of the Congolese Constitution.

The groups, which include the pro-democracy youth movements Filimbi and LUCHA, the human rights organization Association Congolaise pour l’Accès à la Justice (ACAJ), and the coalition led by Dr. Denis Mukwege known as Chemin de la Paix, also called for the creation of an inclusive forum that would seek a consensus regarding a new electoral calendar, with presidential and legislative elections to be held before the end of 2017. Elections were originally scheduled for this November. The forum would also determine the re-organization of the national electoral commission and how the period preceding presidential and legislative elections would be managed.

The coalition called on Congolese political actors and religious leaders, the United Nations Security Council, and regional and sub-regional leaders in Africa to support this path forward to prevent Congo from “moving dangerously towards anarchy and chaos” and “to save the [Congolese] constitution.”

The road map is a response to the “national dialogue” agreement concluded on Tuesday, which called for Kabila to stay in office beyond his term limit and which was rejected by most major Congolese opposition parties and many others.

Just hours before today’s conference, security forces arrested a dozen activists from the pro-democracy youth movement LUCHA as they were protesting Tuesday’s agreement in front of the African Union office in Kinshasa. They were released this evening.

In a statement released earlier today, the Catholic Church’s National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) also urged politicians to renegotiate the national dialogue’s conclusions and ensure a presidential election is held in 2017. “It is imperative that it be clearly mentioned in the consensus...that the current president of the republic not stand for a third term,” the statement said. The bishops also rejected the ruling by the Constitutional Court earlier this week to allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) to delay the call for elections, which went forward despite an apparent breach of the court’s own quorum rules.

Regional leaders and special envoys for the Great Lakes region will be meeting next week in Luanda, Angola to discuss the crisis in Congo. Let’s hope their discussions will help pave the way for a solution that prevents more violence, repression, and instability in the coming weeks and months.

Protests Across the DR Congo

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets and workers stayed home yesterday to protest the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, exactly two months before President Joseph Kabila is due to leave office as mandated by the Congolese constitution.

The actions came one day after a “national dialogue” concluded, but failed to resolve the country’s political impasse, and follow a Constitutional Court ruling earlier this week allowing the electoral commission to delay the call for elections, which went forward despite an apparent breach of the court’s own quorum rules.

The streets of the capital, Kinshasa, were much quieter than usual, as many people stayed home from work and school in response to the opposition’s call for a ville morte, or general strike. While police were deployed throughout the city, Human Rights Watch did not receive reports of any serious incidents – a significant contrast to demonstrations in Kinshasa the week of September 19, when security forces killed at least 56 protesters.

In the eastern city of Goma, several hundred protesters took to the streets, many of them carrying yellow cards like football referees as a sign of warning for President Kabila. “Kabila, your mandate will end in 60 days,” was written on many cards. During the peaceful march, some people chanted: “You need to leave! You need to leave!” Others whistled to amplify their message and anger.

The demonstrators marched from the city center to the office of the provincial governor, where the police then used teargas to disperse the crowd of about 150 to 200 people. Some protesters then created roadblocks nearby, placing large rocks and tree trunks across the road. The security forces were more restrained than in past demonstrations in Goma, including on May 26 and September 19, when security forces used unnecessary lethal force against protesters.

In the northeastern city of Butembo, protesters carried a yellow coffin to symbolize the end of Kabila’s presidency. Smaller protests or villes mortes were also observed in Beni, Kalemie, Kindu, Kananga, Bandundu, and Mbuji-Mayi.

While there seemed to be business as usual in some cities – including Bukavu and Lubumbashi – the acts of protest seen across much of the country signal the deep frustrations of many, and the potential for more unrest in the coming weeks. 

People fleeing teargas fired by the police on the road leading to the governor's office in Goma. © 2016 Human Rights Watch

 

After police fired teargas to disperse a crowd at the governor's office in Goma, protesters barricade the road. © 2016 Human Rights Watch

DR Congo’s National Dialogue Fails to Resolve Political Impasse

After six weeks of political maneuvering, the so-called “national dialogue” – aimed at resolving a political impasse ahead of presidential elections originally scheduled for November in the Democratic Republic of Congo – concluded yesterday with dim hopes of easing tensions in the country.

Two dozen members of the pro-democracy youth movement LUCHA led a march to the electoral commission’s office in the eastern city of Goma, and delivered a list of youth volunteers available and willing to help organize elections, on October 18, 2016.

Under the signed agreement, President Joseph Kabila will remain in office beyond December 19 – the end of the constitutionally mandated two-term limit – and until presidential elections are held. The pact lays out a process for holding elections no later than the end of April 2018 – but doesn’t provide a specific polling day and it describes a number of challenges that could further delay the vote. The agreement also provides for a new “government of national unity” to be appointed within 21 days – November 8 – and that the prime minister post will be given to someone from the opposition.

Most of Congo’s main opposition parties either refused to participate or merely observed the dialogue, fearing it was just a ploy for President Kabila to stay in power past his term and buy time to try to amend the constitution to allow a third term.

Many opposition figures have already rejected the agreement, calling instead for a transitional leader, who could not be a presidential candidate, to lead the country while elections are organized. They also called on Kabila to step down on December 19 to avoid further delays and potential instability. Some argue that the president of the Senate should lead during the transitional period, given the constitutional provision for the Senate president to temporarily take over the functions of the presidency in the case of a “vacancy.”

Jean-Marc Kabund, secretary general of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), rejected the agreement, demanding a “genuine dialogue.” The Research Institute for Human Rights (Institut de Recherche en Droits Humains, IRDH), a Congolese human rights group, also denounced the agreement and said it would only intensify the country’s political crisis. The Bukavu-based human rights organization Héritiers de la Justice called the agreement a “blatant violation” of the country’s constitution.

To protest the dialogue’s conclusions, two dozen members of the pro-democracy youth movement Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA) led a march to the electoral commission’s office in the eastern city of Goma, and delivered a list of youth volunteers available and willing to help organize elections.

Opposition leaders and others have called for protests and “ville mortes” (or general strikes) on October 19.

The European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council called on Monday for “a new phase of a more inclusive political process in the coming weeks,” with participation by all major political families and civil society. Contrary to yesterday’s agreement, the council urged Congolese stakeholders that the “dialogue must lead to the holding of presidential and legislative elections as soon as possible in 2017.”

The conclusion of the national dialogue failed to ease tensions and has left a political impasse. That keeps the door open for more protests, violence, and repression in the coming weeks.

ICC Delegation in DR Congo

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is “deeply concerned” about the growing political crisis and abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

In a statement on Monday, Fatou Bensouda said the violence in September “could constitute crimes within the jurisdiction” of the ICC. She has sent a delegation to Congo to call for restraint by all sides, asking “supporters, sympathizers and agents” to refrain from violence. 

Bensouda also said that her office is “closely monitoring the situation on the ground” in Congo, and “that any person who commits, orders, incites, encourages, or contributes in any other way to, the commission of crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court is liable to prosecution.” The ICC mission to Congo follows a strong statement of concern from Bensouda’s office on September 23, 2016.

Human Rights Watch research showed that security forces used excessive force against protesters in Kinshasa in September, killing at least 56 people. The bodies of many of the victims were taken away by security forces; some were dumped into the Congo River and later found washed up on its shores. Security forces burned three opposition party headquarters, detained at least eight journalists and two human rights activists, and arrested scores of other youth, many of whom appear to have been targeted at random.

Some of the protesters in Kinshasa also turned violent, beating or burning to death at least three police officers and one civilian. They also burned and looted places seen as being close to or representative of President Joseph Kabila and his government. Police officers and members of youth leagues mobilized by ruling party officials and security force officers were also involved in the looting and violence.

In addition to monitoring political violence, the ICC prosecutor’s office should collect information to determine whether an ICC investigation into alleged crimes in the Beni area in eastern Congo is warranted. Unidentified fighters have killed nearly 700 civilians in Beni in a series of massacres that began two years ago.

The ICC opened an investigation in Congo in June 2004, and has jurisdiction over serious international crimes committed there. The ICC can step in when national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute grave crimes in violation of international law.

EU Preparing Targeted Sanctions against Senior DR Congo Officials

EU Preparing Targeted Sanctions against Senior DR Congo Officials

Condemnation of the repression in the Democratic Republic of Congo is growing louder.

Today, the European Union’s 28 member countries announced strong measures to address the growing political crisis and human rights abuses in Congo.

The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council said it will “use all means at its disposal” against individuals responsible for serious human rights violations, who promote violence, or who “obstruct a consensual and peaceful solution to the crisis.” The Council called upon the EU’s High Representative to start the process.

Diplomats have told Human Rights Watch that these measures will likely include targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and assets freezes, against senior Congolese officials responsible for the violent crackdown in recent months against activists, opposition leaders, and others who have opposed attempts to extend President Joseph Kabila’s presidency beyond the end of the constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ends on December 19.

If implemented these measures may help deter further violence, rein in the most abusive units and commanders, and increase pressure on President Kabila to step down at the end of his mandate. The EU should move quickly.

The European Parliament has called repeatedly for the EU to implement targeted sanctions.

Human Rights Watch wrote to EU member countries and High Representative Federica Mogherini, urging the EU to support strong measures “before there are more bodies on the streets and it’s potentially too late to convince President Kabila to change course.”

Targeted sanctions are directed at individuals and are not meant to punish the Congolese population more broadly.

The United States government recently imposed targeted sanctions against three senior security force officers in Congo who have long been implicated in serious abuses.

For the sanctions to have the greatest impact, the UN Security Council should also urgently adopt similar measures.