1. Nationwide Poll Warns of a Gloomy Future for DR Congo
  2. Strong Action Needed to Salvage DR Congo Elections Deal
  3. Small Protests Falter in Face of Repression in DR Congo
  4. US Conflict Minerals Rule Should Be Refined, Not Revoked
  5. A Silent Protest Across DR Congo Over Failed Political Deal
  6. SADC Should Press to Resolve the DR Congo Crisis
  7. DR Congo: EU Should Impose Additional Targeted Sanctions
  8. Congo’s Amani Festival Should be a Safe Space for Peaceful Expression
  9. Congo Voter Registration Hampered by Insecurity, Logistical Challenges
  10. Congolese Mourn Death of Prominent Opposition Leader
  11. One Month On, Little Progress Implementing DR Congo Elections Deal
  12. UN Reports Dramatic Increase in DR Congo Rights Violations in 2016
  13. Doubts Surround Implementation of New Year’s Eve Deal
  14. Deal Sets Congo on Path toward First Democratic Transition, but Huge Challenges Ahead
  15. DR Congo Death Toll Rises, Mass Arrests After Protests
  16. Congo’s Security Forces Crack Down on Whistling Demonstrators
  17. Tensions High in Congo on Last Day of Kabila’s Mandate
  18. The Family Fortune, and Why Congo’s Kabila May Be Clinging to Power
  19. Congolese Activists Arrested Outside Church-Mediated Talks
  20. EU and US Slap Sanctions on Top DR Congo Officials
  21. Rights Groups Call for EU, US to Sanction Senior Congolese Officials
  22. UN Security Council Raises Alarm about Possible Violence in DR Congo
  23. Congo Mediation Efforts by Catholic Church Falter
  24. Congolese Youth Arrested Demanding Rights
  25. House of Congo Opposition Leader Attacked
  26. US Congress Hears Stark Warnings About Congo Crisis
  27. Congolese Youth Launch ‘Bye Bye Kabila’ Campaign
  28. Impose Targeted Sanctions on Congo Before it’s Too Late
  29. Arrests, Beatings, Opposition Leaders’ Homes Vandalized
  30. Wave of Arrests and Crackdown on Media Ahead of Protests
  31. Guidelines on Freedom of Expression and Assembly in DR Congo
  32. Congolese Authorities Should Release All Political Prisoners
  33. Congolese Government Cracks Down on Foreign Media
  34. Congolese Leaders, Activists Respond to Trump Victory
  35. UN Security Council Should Use Congo Visit to Avert Large-Scale Crisis
  36. Demonstrations Banned, Media Restricted in Congo
  37. Free Expression and Assembly in Congo Under Attack
  38. Mediation by Catholic Church Offers Glimpse of Hope Amid Ongoing Crackdown
  39. Peaceful Activists Rounded Up Yet Again
  40. Pollsters Targeted as Survey Shows Congolese Want Elections
  41. More Activists Arrested in Congo as African Leaders Meet to Discuss Crisis
  42. More Activists Arrested in Lead-up to Protests
  43. UN Reports on Excessive Use of Force During DR Congo Demonstrations
  44. Coalition Proposes Road Map to End Congolese Political Crisis
  45. Protests Across the DR Congo
  46. DR Congo’s National Dialogue Fails to Resolve Political Impasse
  47. ICC Delegation in DR Congo
  48. EU Preparing Targeted Sanctions against Senior DR Congo Officials

Democratic Republic of Congo in Crisis

 

The year 2017 will be critical for the Democratic Republic of Congo. After much bloodshed and two years of brutal political repression leading up to and following the December 19, 2016, deadline that marked the end of President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit, participants at talks mediated by the Catholic Church signed an agreement on New Year’s Eve 2016. It includes a clear commitment that presidential elections will be held before the end of 2017, that President Joseph Kabila will not seek a third term, and that there will be no referendum nor changes to the constitution. While the deal could prove to be a big step toward Congo’s first democratic transition since independence, there’s still a long road ahead.

Human Rights Watch’s Congo team will continue here 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 remain engaged to prevent an escalation of violence and abuse in Congo – with potentially volatile repercussions across the region.

 

Nationwide Poll Warns of a Gloomy Future for DR Congo

The vast majority of Congolese people questioned in a new poll believe their country is going in the wrong direction and are expecting more strife in the coming months.

The poll by the New York University-based Congo Research Group and a Congolese polling agency, the Bureau d’Études, de Recherches, et Consulting International (BERCI), found that 77 percent of the 2,301 people surveyed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in February and April 2017 shared that gloomy outlook.

Other results included:

  • 69 percent said President Joseph Kabila should have resigned at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, 2016;
  • 83 percent support the political agreement struck on December 31 to overcome the country’s political impasse;
  • The Catholic Church, which mediated the deal, enjoys an 84 percent approval rating;
  • In February, 72 percent of respondents blamed the political impasse on Kabila’s ruling coalition, while 27 percent blamed the Rassemblement opposition coalition.

The New Year’s Eve agreement includes a commitment that presidential elections will be held by the end of 2017, and no attempts would be made to hold a referendum or change the constitution to allow the president to run for a third term.

Since the agreement was signed, members of the ruling coalition have repeatedly invoked the possibility of holding a referendum. Soon after the deal was signed, senior officials from Kabila’s ruling coalition said they had signed the agreement “with reservations,” and some asserted the agreement wasn’t constitutional because it explicitly prevents a referendum to change the constitution. In late January, an anonymous source close to Kabila told Jeune Afrique that the “hypothesis [of a referendum] has to be seriously discussed.” On April 16, the North Kivu provincial president of the moderate opposition party Union of Nationalists (UNANA) called for the holding of a referendum instead of elections by the end of the year, in light of budgetary constraints.

Most recently, on May 13, 2017, the ruling coalition’s spokesperson André Alain Atundu called on the country’s political class not to take away the “right [of the Congolese people] to express themselves through a referendum,” following a meeting of the coalition in Kinshasa. In recent weeks, Télé 50, a pro-government television station, has been showing advertisements with images of violence in several African countries, including Congo, juxtaposed by images of seemingly peaceful referenda in neighboring Republic of Congo and Rwanda. The narrator states that people in these countries “privileged their homelands.”

The poll also found that the youth movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA) enjoys a 65 percent approval rating, as government repression against the group continues. On May 15, four LUCHA members were arrested in front of the office of the electoral commission (CENI) in Mbuji-Mayi, Kasai Oriental province, during a peaceful protest calling for publication of the electoral calendar. They were released on May 21. Fourteen members of another youth movement, Collectif 2016, were arrested on May 17, while protesting bad road conditions in their neighborhood in Kinshasa. Thirteen were released two days later, while one of the activists, Rossy Mukendi, is still being held at a military intelligence detention center in Kinshasa, without access to his family or lawyer.

A large majority – 72 percent – of all survey respondents said they approved of the targeted sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union against senior government and security force officials last year. The EU and US are discussing new sanctions, which might be announced in the coming days or weeks.

The CRG/BERCI poll provides a rare and insightful glimpse into Congolese public opinion. The poll suggests that there would be strong public support for salvaging the New Year’s Eve deal and ensuring the organization of credible presidential elections by year’s end, while there might be considerable opposition to a referendum process to change the constitution. 

Strong Action Needed to Salvage DR Congo Elections Deal

The prospect of democratic elections by year’s end in the Democratic Republic of Congo seems to be moving further and further away, as the terms of a deal laying the groundwork for a vote are largely ignored.

Congo’s ruling coalition is not only defying key tenets of the New Year’s Eve agreement, but government forces are meting out unchecked political repression and large-scale human rights abuses. The lack of implementation of the deal is starting to seem like yet another delaying tactic to keep President Joseph Kabila in power. Strong actions, including new targeted sanctions, are urgently needed to renew the pressure and try to get the deal back on track.

President Joseph Kabila addresses the nation at the Palais du Peuple, in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital, Kinshasa, April 5, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

This type of pressure has worked in Congo before. The country’s international partners – including the United States, the European Union, and regional leaders – pressured Kabila and his government in the months leading to the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, 2016. This led to significant concessions and Kabila’s endorsement of the Catholic Church-mediated deal, which states that he will not attempt to change the constitution or run for another term and that elections will be held before the end of December 2017.

But Congo’s conference of Catholic bishops, CENCO, withdrew from their mediation role in late March, due to the impasse over the implementation of the deal. Shortly thereafter, Kabila refused to allow the Rassemblement opposition coalition to choose the interim prime minister in apparent violation of the New Year’s Eve agreement. Instead, on April 7, he nominated Bruno Tshibala, a former opposition leader who had been dismissed from the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS).

The EUBelgium, and France all raised concerns about his appointment and called for full implementation of the December deal. On April 21, Congo’s Catholic bishops called his appointment an “infringement” of the agreement they had mediated.

The so-called “arrangement particulier”, an annex to the New Year’s Eve deal setting out how it will be implemented, was finally signed on April 27 – but only by the ruling coalition and some moderate opposition. The Rassemblement coalition refused to sign, denouncing what they called a “masquerade.” Many embassies and the Catholic Church did not attend the signing ceremony.

The “confidence building measures” (mesures de décrispation) referred to in the agreement have hardly been addressed. Dozens of political prisoners remain in detention, at least five media outlets close to the opposition remain barred, and the signal for Radio France Internationale (RFI) has been blocked in Kinshasa for the past six months.

A confidential CENCO report on two of the “emblematic cases” addressed by the dialogue’s commission on confidence-building measures, which was leaked to the press last week and seen by Human Rights Watch, found that the trials against opposition leaders Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Claude Muyambo were politically motivated, plagued by irregularities, and “nothing but farces.” The report, which was shared confidentially with Kabila on March 29, calls for the immediate release of Muyambo, who was arrested during nationwide demonstrations in January 2015, and sentenced on April 12, 2017 to five years in prison. It also calls for the withdrawal of the arrest warrant and dismissal of proceedings against Katumbi, who has been living in exile since May 2016, and the release of Katumbi’s associates who were arrested.

During political protests across the country in December, security forces killed more than 60 people and jailed hundreds of opposition leaders and supporters, pro-democracy activists, and peaceful protesters. Senior intelligence and security force officers responsible for the repression in December, and over the past two-and-a-half years, still hold senior positions, and no efforts have been made to hold them to account.

More recently, security forces fired teargas and arrested more than 80 people to break up or prevent small demonstrations across Congo on April 10. Thirty-three activists from the citizens’ movement LUCHA (Struggle for Change) and two bystanders were arrested on April 12 during a peaceful sit-in outside the Central Bank in Goma. They were protesting how thousands of people who had placed their savings with micro-credit lenders that the Central Bank oversees were later unable to pay their clients, and to denounce the Central Bank’s “incompetence” and “complacency” in this process. They were released later that day. Police also roughed-up several journalists covering the sit-in. On April 19, security forces again arrested 17 LUCHA activists, including three young women, during a similar protest in Goma. They were released on April 22, without charge.

In Kinshasa, 24 activists from the LUCHA and Il est temps (It is time) movements were arrested on April 27, while protesting the lack of an effective waste disposal system in the capital. Police officers ripped the activists’ T-shirts and other symbols of their movements off them, leaving two women half-naked. They were detained in a police camp and later released after Kinshasa’s governor intervened. Thirteen activists from LUCHA and Il est temps were arrested on May 5 in front of the main government building in Kinshasa, where they had gone to deliver a memo requesting employment for youth. They were released later that evening.

In Lubumbashi on May 6, security forces dispersed people who had gathered in the center of town for a Rassemblement opposition coalition meeting, arresting several Rassemblement supporters.

Congolese authorities have a long way to go to “ensure an environment conducive to the conduct of this electoral process,” as called for by the United Nations Security Council. In a statement on May 4, the council emphasized the need for “free and constructive political debate, freedom of opinion and expression, including for the press, freedom of assembly, equitable access to media including State media, the security of all political actors, freedom of movement for all candidates, as well as for elections observers and witnesses, journalists, human rights defenders and actors from civil society including women.”

Meanwhile, there is still no electoral calendar, and voter registration has been hampered by insecurity and logistical challenges. On May 1, the electoral commission announced that registration in Kasai and Kasai Central provinces had been delayed indefinitely. This region of central Congo – an opposition stronghold – has been plagued by violence between government forces and local militias and targeted attacks on civilians in recent months, with more than 400 people killed and 1.27 million people displaced from their homes, including more than 100,000 displaced just in the past week. More than 40 mass graves have been documented, and two UN experts were murdered in March.

There are grave concerns about increased government repression across the country. The UDPS has announced that the body of Étienne Tshisekedi, Congo’s long-time opposition leader who passed away in Belgium on February 1, will be repatriated to Congo on May 12. While the date might be postponed again, the return of Tshisekedi’s body could be a flashpoint for violence between mobilized opposition supporters and government security forces.

The US, EU, and the Security Council should impose new targeted sanctions against Congo’s top officials most responsible for serious human rights abuses and for attempts to delay or derail the elections. A new round of targeted sanctions from the US would send a clear message that pressure on the Kabila government will continue with the new Trump administration. Foreign ministers of the EU instructed High Representative Federica Mogherini to start the process for new targeted sanctions on March 6, and they should now move forward with adopting these sanctions during the upcoming Foreign Affairs Council on May 15.

These measures should be accompanied by strong public and private messaging from Congo’s international and regional partners, indicating that there will be grave consequences in their relations with Congo if credible elections are not organized by the end of the year.

International partners and Congolese political and religious leaders should more forcefully call on the authorities to release political prisoners, drop politically motivated charges against activists and political leaders living in exile, reopen barred media outlets, lift bans on peaceful political demonstrations, and allow youth activists and all Congolese to freely express their views without fear of arrest or mistreatment. They should also work to ensure that the Conseil national de suivi de l'accord (CNSA), designed to monitor the implementation of the New Year’s Eve deal and the organization of elections, is established quickly. It should be able to act independently and with a strong mandate to support the organization of credible, transparent, and peaceful elections before the end of the year.

Strong action and high-level engagement are needed now, while there is still hope of setting Congo back on the path towards credible, transparent elections before the country descends into greater violence and rights abuses. 

Small Protests Falter in Face of Repression in DR Congo

Security forces fired teargas and arrested over 80 people to break up or prevent small demonstrations across the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday. Opposition parties had called for protests against the failed implementation of the New Year’s Eve agreement, a power-sharing deal mediated by the Catholic Church last year after President Joseph Kabila refused to step down from power at the end of his two-term limit.

Empty streets in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, April 10, 2017.

© 2017 Private

Yesterday in the capital, Kinshasa, daily life came to a near stand-still in the morning with many shops closed and roads largely empty. Small groups of people attempted to protest in Kalamu, Kimbanseke, Lemba, Limete, Masina, Matete, Ndjili, and Ngaliema neighborhoods, but they were quickly dispersed by security forces, who in some cases fired teargas on groups of protesters. Some protesters in turn threw rocks at the police. At least 40 people were arrested across Kinshasa, around a dozen of whom were released by the end of the day.

Security forces arrested at least 12 people in Bukavu; 10 in Kindu; 10 in Lubumbashi; seven in Kongolo; five in Mbuji-Mayi, and four in Kamina. Forces also beat protesters in Kamina, wounding at least six people. Small protests in Bunia and Mbandaka were dispersed without any arrests reported. In Beni and Kananga, opposition parties decided against a protest and instead called for a ville morte – literally a “dead city.” Numerous shops remained closed, and many people stayed home. Local activists reported unusually high numbers of security forces deployed in other cities, including in Kananga, Kisangani, Bandundu, and Kikwit.

The national police spokesperson, Col. Pierrot Mwanamputu, said on Sunday that “the police will prevent all non-authorized and politically motivated demonstrations across the territory.” Congolese authorities have repeatedly declared unjustified bans on political protests led by the opposition, further shrinking the country’s democratic space.

The relatively low turnout during yesterday’s protests seems to have been due in part to the fear of government repression, as well as the fatigue of protesting with little tangible results. Scores of people were killed during political protests last September and December. Pro-democracy youth activists and others say yesterday’s protests could have been bigger if it were about telling Kabila he needs to step down, but people aren’t willing to risk their lives about a fight over posts in a transitional government.

On Friday, Kabila nominated Bruno Tshibala, a former opposition leader, to be the new prime minister. Tshibala had been dismissed from the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), in early March. Many viewed his appointment as a violation of the New Year’s Eve agreement, which calls for the prime minister during the transition to be chosen by the Rassemblement opposition coalition. The European Union, Belgium, and France all raised concerns about his appointment and called for full implementation of the December deal. The EU also warned that they stand ready to impose additional targeted sanctions against those responsible for serious human rights abuses. 

US Conflict Minerals Rule Should Be Refined, Not Revoked

The United States may no longer require companies to disclose sources for gold and other potential “conflict minerals” – a move with potentially dire consequences for mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo.

Michael Piwowar, the acting chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), took expansive action on Friday to suspend enforcement of the auditing requirements linked to Dodd-Frank Section 1502. While it is unclear whether Piwowar could unilaterally make this move, it could effectively suspend enforcement of an important rule requiring companies to disclose sources for minerals they use, a critical step taken to combat the trade in conflict minerals that enrich abusive armed groups. In February, the Trump administration had threatened to suspend or revoke the rule entirely.

Arvind Ganesan, Business & Human Rights director at Human Rights Watch, testifies in front of the US Senate on April 5, 2017. 

© Human Rights Watch

As my colleague Arvind Ganesan testified at a US Senate hearing last week, this action would send exactly the wrong message to actors in Congo. The country is mired in a deep political and human rights crisis due to the failure to organize elections before the end of President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit in December 2016. After significant pressure from the international community – including targeted US sanctions against top officials and other strong measures backed by the US Congress – President Kabila made some important concessions in an end-of-the year deal mediated by the Catholic Church. Yet implementation of the deal has stalled, as violence between militia groups and the Congolese security forces have escalated in many parts of the country, along with an alarming increase in human rights violations.

Suspending enforcement of the SEC rule sends a strong signal that the US is downgrading respect for human rights as a priority in US policy towards Congo. This could make it easier for abusive armed groups, factions of the security forces, and other opaque mafia-like networks allegedly linked to government officials to return to the lucrative mines in eastern Congo to finance their activities. This could spark new security problems throughout the volatile region.

Prominent US companies such as Intel, Apple, Tiffany, and Warren Buffett’s Richline Jewelers support Dodd-Frank 1502. They have invested a lot of time and money over the past five years to comply, and want to act responsibly. Eliminating 1502 would put them at a competitive disadvantage against less responsible companies.

This is a unique situation where major American companies, human rights groups, and many Congolese civil society organizations all want 1502 to stay. But the Trump administration doesn’t. The administration should consider those views and stop trying to get rid of 1502 when it should be supporting responsible companies and looking at holistic approaches to keeping conflict mineral revenues out of the hands of abusive armed groups.

A Silent Protest Across DR Congo Over Failed Political Deal

In Kinshasa and cities across the Democratic Republic of Congo yesterday, many people stayed home from work and classes. Shops and markets were closed or opened late, and streets were largely quiet.

The shutdown came following the opposition’s call for “villes mortes” – literally “dead cities” – to protest the failed implementation of the New Year’s Eve agreement, the Catholic Church-mediated power-sharing deal that helped defuse an explosive situation late last year. The deal allows President Joseph Kabila to stay in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit that ended on December 19, 2016, until elections are held before the end of 2017.

The Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) holds a press conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, March 28, 2017.

© 2017 Private

Congo’s conference of Catholic bishops, CENCO, announced on March 27, 2017, that they were withdrawing from their mediation role due to the impasse over the implementation of the deal. The ruling majority coalition has refused to accept the opposition’s choice of Felix Tshisekedi for prime minister, insisting the Rassemblement opposition coalition submit at least three names, one of whom Kabila will nominate as prime minister. The majority has also rejected the Rassemblement’s designation of Pierre Lumbi to replace the late Etienne Tshisekedi as president of the Rassemblement’s Conseil des Sages, which should in turn make him the president of the national follow-up council for implementation of the deal and the organization of elections (CNSA).

In announcing they were stepping aside, the Catholic bishops called for Kabila to take responsibility and engage personally to ensure swift implementation of the deal. They also called on the international community to provide greater support, and on the Congolese people to remain “vigilant.”

The next day, March 28, tensions were high in Kinshasa and several other cities, as groups of people went to the streets, burning tires or chanting songs against the Kabila government, to protest the failure of the deal and call on Kabila to leave office.

At day’s end, Jean Marc Kabund, the secretary general of the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), told a large crowd in Kinshasa that the country was “at an impasse” and called for “acts of peaceful resistance,” including a nationwide march on April 10 to protest the failure to implement the deal. After supporters cried out for more immediate action, police arrived and fired teargas to disperse the crowd.

On March 29, the Rassemblement opposition coalition, which includes the UDPS, published a declaration calling the agreement “broken.” They urged all Congolese to respect yesterday’s ville morte, support a “general strike” on April 5, and participate in the April 10 march, as well as subsequent demonstrations to demand the New Year’s Eve deal be implemented.

Kabila reportedly told the bishops in a meeting on March 28 that he would get involved personally to find a solution to the political standoff. The presidency announced that Kabila would be meeting with concerned parties this week, but the Rassemblement already said it would not take part. Kabila is expected to address parliament in the coming days.

This political maneuvering has taken place in the context of increasing public outrage over the violence in the Kasai region in central Congo, where the death toll continues to rise. The still-unexplained deaths of United Nations experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán, whose bodies were found last week, the continued disappearance of their four Congolese colleagues, and new reports of soldiers summarily executing youth while conducting door-to-door operations in Kananga city, highlight the need for an international, independent investigation into the violence in the region.

Congo’s international partners should take strong action – including further targeted sanctions from the UN, European Union, and United States – and increase the pressure on Kabila and his government. Many Congolese are losing all hope that the New Year’s Eve deal can be salvaged and a peaceful, democratic transition achieved.

SADC Should Press to Resolve the DR Congo Crisis

This Saturday, Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state and government will meet in Swaziland. The subregional organization, which includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, should use this meeting to help resolve the political and human rights crisis in Congo.

On February 24, SADC foreign ministers called for the urgent nomination of a new prime minister in Congo and for a rapid application of the New Year’s Eve deal. With the appointment of the new government and implementation of the deal still largely stalled, regional heads of state and government should reiterate this call strongly and clearly.

Congolese Catholic Church (CENCO) Bishops Fidele Nsielele (left), Marcel Utembi (center), and Fridolin Ambongo (right) arrive to mediate talks between the opposition and the government of President Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, December 21, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

They should also call on the Congolese authorities to quickly and fully implement the confidence-building measures agreed upon in the deal. Those include releasing and dropping charges against political leaders and activists targeted because of their peaceful political views or activities and opening barred media outlets.

On February 22, Congo’s Roman Catholic bishops warned that the political deadlock coupled with the escalation of conflict in parts of Congo could “plunge [the] country into an uncontrollable chaos.” Violence has intensified across the country in recent months, leaving several hundred people dead, including in the Kasai provinces, TanganyikaNorth Kivu, and Kongo Central, as well as in the capital, Kinshasa.  “Is it only by accident that this [intensified violence] occurs in this pre-electoral period?” the bishops said, adding that they feared “a design with the aim of delaying or preventing” elections.

On February 25, the United Nations Security Council called on all stakeholders in Congo “to redouble, in good faith, their efforts towards a speedy conclusion of the ongoing talks on the ‘arrangements particuliers’ of the agreement.”

The United States, which played a major role in pressing for elections and defending human rights during the Obama administration, has been rather silent on Congo under President Donald Trump. The US could, and should, be doing more, including a new round of targeted sanctions against abusive officials. As the Washington Post recently put it, “another explosion of bloodshed in Central Africa” is “something that even an ‘America First’ president should want to stop.”

The European Union, meanwhile, made a strong call for urgent implementation of the New Year’s Eve deal in its March 6 foreign affairs council conclusions on Congo. Foreign ministers also instructed High Representative Federica Mogherini to start the process for new targeted sanctions, looking at “those responsible for serious human rights violations or for incitement to violence and those who would obstruct a consensual and peaceful solution to the crisis.”

It is time for regional leaders to take a stand. Their engagement last year played a role in pressing President Joseph Kabila and others to accept the Catholic Church-mediated agreement. But continued, high-level engagement is needed to ensure that the agreement holds and that credible elections are organized, and to prevent an already explosive situation in Congo from deteriorating even further. 

DR Congo: EU Should Impose Additional Targeted Sanctions

The European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council is due to discuss the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 6. Given the continuing political repression, lack of accountability for past abuses, and large-scale violence that has broken out in many parts of the country, the EU should use this meeting to impose additional targeted sanctions – including travel bans and asset freezes – against those found to be most responsible for serious human rights violations.

European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 28, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

On December 12, EU foreign ministers announced targeted sanctions against seven senior security officials who played a key role in the repression over the past two years. The EU said then that “additional restrictive measures may be considered in the event of further violence or the political process being impeded” in the country.

These measures – announced the same day as the United States imposed targeted sanctions against senior Congolese officials – seem to have made a real impact, rattling the country’s political and security elite and pressing President Joseph Kabila’s ruling coalition to make real concessions and endorse a Catholic Church-mediated deal on New Year’s Eve. The agreement calls for presidential elections to be held by the end of 2017 and says there will be no referendum nor changes to the constitution to allow Kabila to run for a third term.

Yet more than two months later, progress on implementing the deal has been at a near standstill – the so-called “arrangements particuliers” setting out how the deal will be implemented have yet to be agreed upon, the new government has yet to be appointed, and there is still no electoral calendar. Commitments made in the deal on releasing political prisoners and opening arbitrarily closed media outlets have not been implemented.

Since the last round of EU sanctions, security forces killed more than 50 people during protests across the country on and around December 19, the last day of Kabila’s constitutionally mandated, two-term limit. Scores of opposition leaders and supporters, pro-democracy youth activists, and peaceful protesters were jailed.

Violence has intensified across the country in recent months, leaving several hundred dead, including in Tanganyika, North-Kivu, and the Kasai provinces, as well as in the capital, Kinshasa. Some of these situations are linked to the broader political crisis and Kabila’s attempts to remain in power.

The EU played an important role in increasing the pressure on Kabila in late 2016 and in working to curb political repression and seeking to hold those responsible for serious abuses to account.

Announcing a new round of targeted sanctions now – and going further up the chain of command – would send a strong message that the EU is still committed to protecting human rights; ensuring the organization of credible, timely elections; and working to prevent a further deterioration of an already explosive situation in Congo. 

Congo’s Amani Festival Should be a Safe Space for Peaceful Expression

Last weekend, tens of thousands of people came together and reveled in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s eastern city of Goma for the Amani Festival, a three-day outdoor concert. Now in its fourth year, the music festival tapped into the city’s rich cultural life. It featured a line-up of national and international stars who performed amidst exhibits and workshops set up by local businesses, human rights groups, humanitarian agencies, and embassies. In a region plagued by conflict for the past 20 years, the festival offers a rare reprieve.

Stage at the Amani Festival in Goma.

© 2017 Radio Okapi/Alain Wandimoyi

Yet the festival’s main slogans – “playing for change” and “singing for peace” – seemed to be undermined when police took signs away from members of the youth movement Struggle for Change (LUCHA), and when the festival’s organizers later told them to stop chanting. The young activists were calling for peace in Beni, Tanganyika, and Kasai Central – conflict-ridden areas in Congo where hundreds of people have been killed in recent months. They were also calling for the release of their colleague Fabrice Mutsiirwa, who was arrested during a peaceful protest in Goma on December 19, the last day of President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit. Over the past two years, dozens of other LUCHA activists have been arrested and detained for participating in similar peaceful activities.

After the police took their signs away on Sunday, the LUCHA activists held hands and danced together in a circle opposite a closed-off area for VIPs, including North Kivu Governor Julien Paluku. The activists chanted that Paluku and other political leaders were staying in power past the constitutional limits. While the message was strong, their dance was festive and non-confrontational.

Paluku was seated next to the provincial police chief Vital Awashango and Goma’s mayor, Dieudonné Malere. The three have been among the principal enforcers of widespread political repression in the city over the past two years.

After several minutes, in an incident filmed by Human Rights Watch, one of the Amani Festival organizers approached the activists and told them to stop chanting, saying that they risked ruining the festival. In what has now become the LUCHA activists’ typical response to repression, they initially refused to leave and crouched down on the dusty ground for a moment of silence. They dispersed moments later, without disrupting the festival. An Amani organizer later told us that LUCHA is a “political” movement that could cause “trouble.” He said the festival is meant to promote “reconciliation” and has “no space for a political movement.”

 

While seemingly insignificant in the context of the broader repression in the country, the Amani Festival incident reinforced the notion that these young activists are but troublemakers – false allegations that authorities have used repeatedly in their attempts to quash dissent.

If the Amani Festival is committed to bringing change and peace to eastern Congo, then it should also be a safe space for youth activists to express themselves freely and peacefully. With their commitment to civic engagement, human rights, and democratic principles, they could be the change-makers for the country’s future. Their voices should not be silenced.

Congo Voter Registration Hampered by Insecurity, Logistical Challenges

As negotiations continue in the Democratic Republic of Congo on implementing the political deal paving the way for elections before the end of the year, the national electoral commission (CENI) has forged ahead with its voter registration process.

Instead of just registering the youth who came of age since the last elections in 2011 and members of the diaspora now allowed to vote, CENI decided to start from scratch and redo the entire voter list – ostensibly to “clean up” the voter rolls, and address allegations of fraud. But some see this as a government tactic to delay elections once again.

Deployment of registration materials in Goma, on December 15, 2016.

© 2016 Radio Okapi/Alain Wandimoyi

CENI announced last week that about 13 million voters have already been registered. They are due to complete registration by July. In 2011, there were about 32 million registered voters.

The process has been marred by serious security and logistical challenges that highlight just how difficult organizing elections is in Congo.

One of the biggest challenges to the registration effort is the presence of armed groups in many parts of eastern Congo. In Lubero, North Kivu, the Mai Mai Guidon armed group is reportedly present in several villages where registration is ongoing. The territorial administrator Bokele Joys told Radio Okapi and activists in the area told Human Rights Watch that Guidon fighters have reportedly tried to prevent members and suspected sympathizers of their main enemy, the largely ethnic Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), from enrolling. On January 19, Guidon fighters abducted three CENI officials in Fatua village. They have since been released. According to local activists, the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) and Nyatura armed groups have also interfered with the registration process in Masisi territory.

Further north in Ituri province, the Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri (FRPI) armed group attacked a registration center in mid-January, kidnapping a CENI agent. Numerous armed groups, including the Raia Mutomboki and Nyatura, also attacked registration centers in South Kivu’s Kalehe territory, including in Chibinda, Lumbishi, Lwana, Mianda, Mukaba, Muuna, Maibana, Makutano, and Matutira villages.

Insecurity has also affected the registration process in Walendu Bindi in Ituri province; Beni, Bwito and Walikale in North Kivu province; Kabare and Shabunda in South Kivu province; and Nyunzu in Tanganyika province.

CENI officials face numerous logistical and resource challenges. In Milimba village in Fizi territory, officials do not have the equipment to laminate voter identification cards. In Kibombo in Maniema province and Sandoa in Lualaba province, there have been problems maintaining generators needed for electricity at the registration sites, while materials were reportedly stolen in Kabara and Kaniola villages in Walungu, South Kivu. In Fizi town, a registration center was shut down due to the lack of registration materials.

Many activists we have spoken to have expressed concerns about the limited number of registration centers to cover vast territories – often in remote, insecure areas with poor roads and transportation options. People living in Vurondo, Beni territory, for example, need to walk nearly 20 kilometers to reach the closest registration center in Butuhe village, exposing themselves to roadblocks and other protection risks along the way. In the Mpati area in Masisi territory, there is only one registration machine for thousands of people.

Further south in Haut Katanga province and in the western Equateur province, people have complained that CENI officials do not have the necessary training or skills to competently carry out the voter registration process. Logistical and administrative problems were also reported in Sub-Ubangi and Mongala provinces in western Congo. In parts of Kalehe territory, South Kivu, there have been reports that CENI only hired members of one ethnic community and discriminated against members of other ethnic groups.

Activists in many parts of the country say limited efforts have been made to inform the population about the registration process. In Bukavu, the provincial capital of South Kivu, observers worry about a lack of participation of women in particular. In Ituri province, many people have reportedly deliberately abstained from participating in what they believe is an illegitimate process.

In Misisi, Fizi, CENI agents have reportedly asked for 2,000 Congolese Francs (about US$2) per person to obtain a registration card; similar reports have come in from parts of Ituri and Haut-Katanga provinces. It is unlawful to charge people to register. In some places in Masisi, there have been reports of people bribing CENI agents to register several times. CENI officials have also complained that they are not being adequately paid in Beni territory, or that they are working in precarious conditions without sufficient protection in parts of Rutshuru, North Kivu.

Having a credible voter list and ensuring all eligible voters are given equal and fair opportunities to register will be critical to ensuring the legitimacy of any future elections. The Congolese government, along with international partners, should act now to improve the registration process, including by working to secure voter registration sites and providing adequate staffing and equipment to effectively register all eligible voters. Real political will to make this process a success is perhaps the most important ingredient. 

Congolese Mourn Death of Prominent Opposition Leader

Hundreds of Congolese gathered in Kinshasa’s Limete neighborhood after news broke last night that the Democratic Republic of Congo’s long-time opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi passed away on Wednesday in Brussels. He had left Congo last week for medical treatment.

Police deployed to control the crowds outside Tshisekedi’s home and the headquarters of his party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS). Things grew tense, with protesters throwing rocks and shouting slurs against President Joseph Kabila; police responded with rounds of teargas. But grief and sadness were also palpable. Many of those gathered were in tears, others wrote messages for Tshisekedi’s family in a book of condolences; some wondered aloud what Tshisekedi’s death meant for the ongoing Catholic Church-mediated dialogue and Tshisekedi’s struggle for democracy and the rule of law in Congo. Congolese leaders and citizens of all political stripes, as well as foreign dignitaries paid tribute to Tshisekedi.

Congolese opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi attends a political rally in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, July 31, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

Known as the “Sphinx of Limete,” Tshisekedi had become a symbol of peaceful resistance and fighter in the struggle for democracy in Congo. He was one of the rare Congolese politicians who had consistently been on the side of the opposition for the past three decades, leading peaceful resistance first against the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko before taking on President Laurent Kabila and then his son and the current president, Joseph Kabila. Following the 2011 presidential elections, marred by allegations of widespread fraud and brutal repression, many Congolese believed that Tshisekedi was the real winner even though the official results put him in second place with 32 per cent of the vote. Tshisekedi never officially recognized Kabila’s victory. 

Tshisekedi was also one of the few – if not the only – Congolese political leaders who could mobilize people to the streets. When he returned to Kinshasa last July, following two years abroad for medical treatment, hundreds of thousands gathered to catch a glimpse of him and hear him speak. Despite his age and deteriorating health, it’s largely thanks to Tshisekedi’s leadership and his willingness to ally with others that the opposition remained somewhat, and unusually, united in their 2016 struggle to resist attempts by Joseph Kabila to extend his presidency beyond the constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ended on December 19, 2016. 

The Catholic Church-mediated dialogue late last year gained its legitimacy in large part due to Tshisekedi’s blessing and the participation of his UDPS political party and the Rassemblement opposition coalition he presided over. This led to the signing of a deal on New Year’s Eve, which defused a potentially explosive situation and ostensibly set the country on the path toward elections in December 2017 and the country’s first democratic transition of power. But implementation of the deal has been painfully slow, raising doubts whether Kabila and those loyal to him are really committed to organizing elections.

Tshisekedi was due to lead a council to oversee implementation of the deal and the organization of elections. It’s now hard to imagine who will fill this void, and it remains to be seen whether the opposition will be able to maintain enough unity and legitimacy to see the deal through and maintain the pressure on Kabila.

Congo’s political leaders would perhaps pay the best homage to Etienne Tshisekedi by putting the interests of the country first and working together to fulfill his long-time dream of a truly peaceful and democratic political transition.

One Month On, Little Progress Implementing DR Congo Elections Deal

More than one month after an agreement was signed in the Democratic Republic of Congo to stave off the country’s political crisis, progress on implementing the deal has been painfully slow.

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.

© 2016 Reuters

The deal calls for elections in December, opening the way to the country’s first democratic transition of power. But despite the tireless efforts of Congo’s Catholic bishops, the January 28 deadline for an agreement on how the deal should be implemented passed with many issues unresolved.

President Joseph Kabila and the country’s political elite have a lot of work to do if they want to salvage the deal and convince the population they are committed to organizing elections. Serious engagement from Congo’s international and regional partners is also critical – including technical support during the negotiations and in planning elections, and continued pressure on Kabila to support implementation of the deal and reverse the climate of repression.

One of the main points of disagreement concerns how the new prime minister will be appointed. Many in the opposition contend that Kabila should nominate the individual chosen by the Rassemblement opposition coalition, citing language in the deal that says that the Rassemblement will choose the new prime minister. Those in Kabila’s majority coalition say that the president should be given a choice of several names from which to choose.

The composition of the new government also remains a point of contention. While delegates to the talks finally came to an agreement on the size of the new government – and how many ministerial and vice-ministerial positions each coalition would get – there is still no agreement on who gets which posts, especially the more important positions like the budget, defense, justice, and interior ministries. There’s now agreement on the structure of the national council charged with following-up on implementation of the agreement and the electoral process, but disagreements persist regarding who will hold which posts within the council.

 

Congolese Catholic Church (CENCO) Bishops Fidele Nsielele (left), Marcel Utembi (center), and Fridolin Ambongo (right) arrive to mediate talks between the opposition and the government of President Joseph Kabila in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, December 21, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

There’s also disagreement on the role the Catholic Church should play during the transition, with the opposition calling for bishops to continue to play a robust role until elections are held, and the majority saying the president needs to first clarify this point.

While the current prime minister, Samy Badibanga, has yet to sign the deal, most other holdouts have now come on board, and on January 28, the majority coalition officially backed the deal and removed their earlier “reservations.” Kabila himself has not signed the agreement, although he’s reportedly said in meetings that he supports the deal and gave the go-ahead for his representatives to sign.

And while delegates have been busy debating these other issues, no progress has been made on establishing a new electoral calendar.

Progress has also been slow regarding décrispation,or confidence-building measures. While some political prisoners and activists have been released, dozens are still in detention.

Moni Della from the opposition Conservateurs de la Nature et Démocrates (CONADE) political party – one of the seven “emblematic” cases discussed during the dialogue – was provisionally released on January 28, but charges against him have not been dropped. Della was arrested more than four months earlier and accused of inciting the population to pillage during demonstrations in Kinshasa on September 19. Roger Lumbala has returned to Kinshasa from exile, but the five other “emblematic cases” have not been released or officially cleared of charges, including Moïse Katumbi, Jean-Claude Muyambo, Eugène Diomi Ndongala, Floribert Anzuluni, and Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi.

Two LUCHA youth activists in Mbuji-Mayi, Jean-Paul Mualaba Biaya and Nicolas Mbiya Kabeya, were acquitted today. They remain in prison but are expected to be released in the coming days. Eight other pro-democracy activists are also still in detention, including the four LUCHA activists in Goma: Fabrice Mutsirwa, Jacques Muhindo, Fiston Dunia, and Glody Ntambwe; the LUCHA activist in Kinshasa: Musasa Tshibanda; and three activists from Compte à Rembours in Kinshasa: Chris Shematsi, John Ngandu, and Samuel Bosasele. They’ve all been held since before the deal was signed.

Another activist from Compte à Rembours, Bobo Mpolesha, was arrested in Kinshasa on January 7 and taken to a military intelligence prison where he was badly beaten. He was released on January 21 and is recovering from wounds inflicted on him during his detention.

One arbitrarily closed media outlet close to the opposition, Canal Congo Télévison (CCTV), was allowed back on the air. But at least six other outlets are still blocked: Radio Lisanga Télévision (RLTV), Radiotélévision Lubumbashi JUA (RTLJ), Nyota Télévision, Radiotélévision Mapendo, La Voix du Katanga, and Congo News. The signal for Radio France Internationale (RFI) has now been blocked for nearly three months in Kinshasa and neighboring Brazzaville, despite calls by the French government and others for Congo’s most important international news outlet to be allowed back on the air.

And there is still no justice for the scores of people killed last year by state security forces during protests against Kabila’s attempts to stay in power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19.

UN Reports Dramatic Increase in DR Congo Rights Violations in 2016

Human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo surged by 30 percent in 2016, spurred largely by a violent crackdown on protesters by state agents, according to a new United Nations report. 

In a report published this week, the UN joint human rights office documented a total of 5,190 human rights violations across Congo, an increase tied to election-related repression and increased activities of several armed groups. 

State agents – particularly the national police – were responsible for almost 64 percent of all human rights violations documented in 2016, while armed groups were responsible for the remaining 36 percent. The number of violations committed by state agents jumped by more than 62 percent compared to 2015.

The UN documented a total of 480 victims of extrajudicial killings by state agents, an increase of 63 percent compared to 2015. Many of these victims were shot dead by security forces during the violent crackdown on protests against efforts to extend President Joseph Kabila’s stay in power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, 2016.

The number of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms linked to the shrinking of democratic space in 2016 was more than four times higher than the total number of such violations documented in 2015, with the rights to public assembly, opinion, and expression at serious risk. Numerous media outlets and journalists were targeted and abused by government agents, while political opponents were prosecuted in politically motivated trials. The government also failed to mount credible investigations into documented violations, according to the report.

While the majority (66 percent) of all human rights violations documented occurred in the eastern part of the country, there was a notable increase in violations documented in the southern and western provinces, including due to the political repression across the country, the resurgence of inter-ethnic fighting between Twa and Luba in Tanganyika, and fighting between security forces and the Kamuina Nsapu militia in the Kasai provinces.

Doubts Surround Implementation of New Year’s Eve Deal

Nearly two weeks after a major political agreement was reached in the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are more questions than answers regarding how the deal will be implemented, whether there’s real political will on the part of President Joseph Kabila and other political leaders to implement the accord, and whether we’ll see a real reversal of the climate of repression. 

The citizens’ movement Filimbi holds a press conference in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, on January 9, 2017.

© 2016 Timo Mueller/Human Rights Watch

Soon after the deal was signed, senior officials from Kabila’s ruling coalition said they had signed the agreement “with reservations,” particularly regarding the need for greater inclusivity. Some also asserted the agreement wasn’t constitutional because it explicitly prevents a referendum to change the constitution. That has raised concerns about whether Kabila is really committed to leaving power, the core issue at the heart of the political crisis. And while Kabila reportedly told the Catholic bishops he is committed to implementation of the deal, he has yet to make a public declaration or sign the agreement himself.

The new prime minister, Samy Badibanga, and several other members of the new government appointed on December 18, as well as the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) opposition party, also haven’t signed on.

A new prime minister from the opposition Rassemblement coalition, as called for in the agreement, has yet to be appointed, and it seems there has been little progress toward reaching an agreement on the timetable for implementation of the deal and details on how the follow-up committee will function.

Meanwhile, there has been little progress towards ending government repression against critical voices. As the coordinator of the Filimbi citizens’ movement lamented, “the sharing of power seems to have taken precedence over confidence building measures.” 

Seven Congolese media outlets close to the opposition and Radio France Internationale (RFI) in Kinshasa remain blocked.

LUCHA activist Justin Mutabesha was released on Monday, after 32 days of detention in Goma. The Filimbi activist Carbone Beni was released on Wednesday, after 29 days of secret detention in Kinshasa, first at a military camp and later at an intelligence agency detention center. But at least nine other pro-democracy youth activists remain in detention, including LUCHA activists Jean-Paul Mualaba Biaya and Nicolas Mbiya Kabeya in Mbuji-Mayi, Fabrice Mutsirwa, Jacques Muhindo, Faustin Dunia, and Glody Ntambwe in Goma, and Compte à Rembours (“Countdown”) activists Chris Shematsi, John Ngandu and Samuel Bosasele in Kinshasa.

During a press conference Monday attended by Human Rights Watch, the citizens’ movement Filimbi accused government officials of trying to co-opt their movement by organizing a press conference in their name. LUCHA has also decried similar measures. Some of the activists held in detention were reportedly pressured, threatened, or offered money to work for the intelligence services or the ruling coalition as a condition for their release. 

A number of political leaders are also still in detention or have yet to be officially cleared of charges, including the seven so-called “emblematic” cases discussed during the dialogue.

On Monday, police intervened twice before and during a press conference in Kinshasa organized by lawyers of opposition leader Franck Diongo, sentenced to five years in prison on December 28, following a hasty trial. Several armed policemen arrested two party members, beat up several other Diongo supporters, and destroyed posters and pictures. The police spokesperson says one police officer was wounded in the incident.

On January 5, opposition leader Gabriel Kyungu was summoned to court to verify the authenticity of a video transcript of a meeting during which he allegedly insulted the president. Two days later, he was reportedly prevented from leaving Lubumbashi for a flight to Kinshasa. The provincial parliament of Haut-Katanga had voted on December 27 to lift his parliamentary immunity. Kyungu has been repeatedly harassed since leaving the presidential majority in September 2015.

Government officials and security forces should drop charges and release activists and others arrested because of their political views or peaceful activities, open banned media outlets, and end all harassment of pro-democracy activists and the political opposition. Justice for past repression is also critical. 

Kabila could help address remaining doubts and suspicions clouding the New Year’s Eve deal by signing the agreement himself and making a public commitment to abide by its provisions. 

Deal Sets Congo on Path toward First Democratic Transition, but Huge Challenges Ahead

Deal Sets Congo on Path toward First Democratic Transition, but Huge Challenges Ahead

 

After weeks of intense negotiations, and much bloodshed, participants at talks mediated by the Catholic Church concluded an agreement just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. The deal – signed by representatives from the ruling coalition, the political opposition, and civil society organizations – includes a clear commitment that presidential elections will be held before the end of 2017, that President Joseph Kabila will not seek a third term, and that there will be no referendum nor changes to the constitution.

This is a significant development, following months of speculation that Kabila would not step down and open calls by some Kabila loyalists for him to defy the constitution’s term limits and cling to power indefinitely.

But huge challenges remain.

Congolese Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba (right) is assisted by Abbot Donatien N'shole, CENCO secretary general, as he signs the accord between the opposition and the government of President Joseph Kabila at the Conference episcopale nationale du Congo (CENCO) headquarters in Gombe Municipality, in the Congolese capital Kinshasa, December 31, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

The agreement calls for a national follow-up committee to oversee implementation of the deal and the organization of presidential, legislative, and provincial elections in 2017. It also says that a new prime minister will be appointed, chosen by the Rassemblement opposition coalition, and that the national and provincial governments will be made up of members of the majority and opposition. But there’s no detailed calendar. It’s not yet clear how the follow-up committee will be structured or when the new prime minister and national and provincial governments will be appointed. Many also question whether the country can organize three elections in 2017 and say it would be more realistic to focus on presidential and legislative elections before organizing provincial elections.

Kabila has not yet signed the agreement, and while many say that it’s enough for his representatives to have signed on his behalf, the deal would likely have much more credibility in the eyes of the population if it included Kabila’s signature.

The opposition Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) and the coalition Front for Respect of the Constitution expressed reservations about the agreement regarding the point that Kabila can stay in power during the transition. Many Congolese youth activists say the best guarantee of credible elections would be for Kabila to step down immediately. 

Felix Tshisekedi, of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), signs the accord between the opposition and the government of President Joseph Kabila at the Conference episcopale nationale du Congo (CENCO) headquarters in Gombe Municipality, of the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, December 31, 2016. 

© 2016 Reuters

Perhaps most importantly, “confidence building measures” have yet to be implemented, and there are no clear guarantees that two years of repression will be reversed. Senior intelligence and security force officers responsible for much of the repression remain in office. The agreement says that four of the seven “emblematic” cases of political prisoners or activists in exile have been addressed, including Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi, Roger Lumbala, Moïse Moni Della, and Floribert Anzuluni. But they have yet to be released or cleared of charges at the time of writing. The agreement says the other three cases – Moïse Katumbi, Jean-Claude Muyambo, and Eugène Diomi Ndongala – and those of other political prisoners or those in exile, will be dealt with later by a committee of magistrates or through the CENCO bishops’ mediation.

Katumbi called on the opposition to sign, saying he didn’t want his case to block the agreement, adding that the bishops have committed to dealing with his case later.

Meanwhile, as the agreement was being finalized, repression against the political opposition, pro-democracy activists, the media, and peaceful protesters seems to have continued unabated.

There has been no attempt to seek justice for the killings of at least 40 people by security forces during protests in Kinshasa and other cities on December 20, 2016, the day after Kabila’s two-term limit ended.

Opposition leader Franck Diongo was arrested on December 19, and convicted and sentenced to five years in prison on December 28, following a hasty trial that he attended in a wheelchair and on a drip from the mistreatment he endured during arrest. And the provincial parliament of Haut Katanga voted on December 27 to lift the parliamentary immunity for opposition leader Gabriel Kyungu, accused of insulting Kabila.

At least 10 pro-democracy youth activists from LUCHA, Filimbi, and Compte à Rembours (“Countdown”) are still in detention, arrested in recent weeks over peaceful protests calling for Kabila to respect the constitution and step down. Some have been held in secret detention without access to their families or lawyers. The Kinshasa representative for Filimbi, Carbone Beni, for example, was arrested on December 13 alongside other activists outside the building in Kinshasa where the talks were being held. His family had no news about him until his wife received a handwritten note from Beni on December 26, informing her that he is being held at the Tshatshi military camp and asking her to remain strong, look after their children, and tell his mother he loves her. A month earlier unidentified assailants abducted Beni and beat him badly before releasing him.

Other activists who were released told us about the conditions of their detention. Gloria Sengha, a LUCHA activist, was arrested on December 16 while walking in Kinshasa. She was thrown into a car, blindfolded and beaten, and her belongings stolen. Held in incommunicado detention first at Camp Tshatshi and then at the 3Z detention center of the intelligence services, she was interrogated about LUCHA and its supporters. She received little food and water until her release on December 27.

A Congolese woman holds a placard written 'Women require stable peace' as they sit in protest during talks between the opposition and the government of President Joseph Kabila outside the Conference episcopale nationale du Congo (CENCO) headquarters in the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, December 31, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

Constant Mutamba, an activist from the Nouvelle Génération pour l'Émergence du Congo (NOGEC) citizens’ movement, was arrested in the Ngiri-Ngiri neighborhood of Kinshasa in the early hours of December 20 while monitoring as Congolese took to the streets, blowing whistles and banging on pots and pans to tell Kabila his time was up. Several armed men grabbed him, beat him, put a ski mask over his head and threw him into a car. He said he was held at an unknown location, tied to a chair and beaten with blunt objects. The assailants threatened that he would never see his wife and two children again and asked him to reveal the identity of his group’s supporters. He was left blindfolded until being dropped off on the street the next day.

The signal for Radio France Internationale (RFI), the most important international news outlet in Congo, has now been blocked in Kinshasa for nearly two months. At least six Congolese media outlets also remain blocked.

So while the New Year’s Eve deal could prove to be a big step toward a democratic transition, there’s still a long road ahead. The parties should now work to ensure strict implementation of the deal. Concrete measures are needed to end the climate of repression. Credible elections can't be organized when opposition leaders and activists are thrown in prison and beaten, and convicted on trumped-up charges, when independent media outlets are shut down or blocked, and when security forces fire live rounds on peaceful protesters.

Congo’s international and regional partners – whose pressure seems to have led Kabila to make important concessions – should remain engaged. They should support the organization of credible, timely elections and signal that they stand ready to impose additional targeted sanctions and other punitive measures should the repression continue, if those responsible for past abuses are not held to account, or if efforts are made to prevent or delay the organization of elections. 

DR Congo Death Toll Rises, Mass Arrests After Protests

The streets of Kinshasa and other cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo were quieter yesterday, following Tuesday’s deadly protests, as many families tried in vain to find their loved ones who were arrested or killed. Others stayed home, fearing the prospect of more violence and repression. Today, many went back to work and school, but the situation remains volatile.

Human Rights Watch has now confirmed that security forces killed at least 34 people during Tuesday’s protests, including 19 in Kinshasa, 5 in Lubumbashi, 6 in Boma, and 4 in Matadi. We’ve received a number of additional reports that we’re still working to verify.

Congolese policemen drive past a fire barricade during demonstrations in the streets of the Democratic Republic of Congo's capital Kinshasa, December 20, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

One family in Kinshasa told us about Jacob, a driver from Masina commune who went outside his house at about 1 a.m. on Tuesday to take a phone call – an hour after the end of President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit, and as many had already gone to the streets to tell Kabila his time was up, blowing whistles and banging pots and pans. Soldiers soon came by, accused Jacob of “talking to rebels who were planning an attack on Kinshasa,” and then took him into custody. Jacob’s family later went to the military base near their home to try to negotiate Jacob’s release. But the soldiers there told them they should return home and “mourn his death.” The neighbors soon found Jacob’s body in a hole on the side of the road, about 200 meters from their home.

The United Nations human rights office also reported that at least 19 people were killed in Kinshasa Tuesday, while the police spokesperson put the death toll at nine for Kinshasa – all killed by stray bullets, he said. Across the country, he said, 22 people had been killed during protests between December 18 and 21, including 3 in Matadi, 2 in Boma, and 8 in Lubumbashi. He also said that more than 270 people had been arrested.

In Goma yesterday morning, police arrested 19 pro-democracy youth activists from the LUCHA citizens’ movement as they tried to hold a peaceful sit-in outside the governor’s office. An international journalist observing the protest was detained for several hours. At least five international journalists have been detained – and later released – since Monday, in Kinshasa and Goma.

Seven LUCHA activists and a bystander were also arrested yesterday in Mbuji-Mayi while they were discussing their upcoming activities. Two of the activists were transferred to the prosecutor’s office today. The six others were released this afternoon. This morning, at least 14 activists from the youth movements LUCHA, Filimbi, and Réveil des Indignés were arrested during a sit-in in front of the provincial assembly in Bukavu. They were later released.

In Oicha, eastern Congo, several dozen people, mostly youth, were arrested on Monday night for making noise with whistles and pots to send a message to Kabila to leave office. Local civil society activists have reported that many were mistreated in detention. They were released on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, December 20, a court in Kinshasa rejected the appeal for provisional release of a political prisoner, Jean-Claude Muyambo, detained since political protests in the capital in January 2015. A court that day allowed Franck Diongo, an opposition leader arrested on Monday, to be transferred to a hospital. Diongo’s lawyers say he was severely mistreated during the arrest.

 

Some in Kinshasa’s Ngaba commune attempted to protest yesterday morning, but were quickly dispersed by the police. In Matete commune, there were reports of soldiers conducting door-to-door searches and numerous warrantless arrests. Arrests were also reported in many parts of Kinshasa last night and today.

Smaller protests and sporadic gunshots were reported yesterday in Lubumbashi. On Tuesday, protesters ransacked or burned a number of government buildings, including the health and environment buildings, a courthouse, police stations, and a local administration office. Gas stations, the “Joseph Kabila stadium,” and some private vehicles were also targeted. Last night, Human Rights Watch was alerted to scores of arrests of young people in the Gécamines and Katuba neighborhoods. The situation is calmer today but fear is palpable in the southern city, local activists told us.

Starting Tuesday, long-standing tensions broke out in several disparate parts of the country. It remains unclear if or how they might be related to the broader political crisis. Heavy fighting between local security forces and a religious group was reported in Lisala in the northwest. Initial reports by local activists speak of at least 17 people killed. In the provincial capital, Kananga, in central Congo, fighting continued through Thursday. Human Rights Watch has not yet received any casualty reports. Over the past several months, however, scores of people reportedly died there and in neighboring Tshikapa during clashes between a local militia and the Congolese army. Further southeast, in Manono, clashes between Batwa and Luba militia flared up again, wounding dozens and reportedly killing at least 11 people, a witness said. Others speak of much larger numbers of victims.

In eastern Congo, opposing Mai Mai militia groups clashed yesterday and this morning in Bwalanda, western Rutshuru territory. According to initial reports from local civil society groups, at least 17 civilians and a police officer have been killed. Human Rights Watch has documented how related inter-ethnic fighting between militia groups in the area has cost the lives of 170 civilians since November 2015.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church-mediated dialogue between the ruling coalition and the opposition resumed yesterday afternoon, with the bishops back in Kinshasa. They called for an independent investigation into Tuesday’s killings and the need to reach an agreement before Christmas. Some opposition leaders have said they’re giving the dialogue a chance before calling for another round of protests, but many on the street say it’s too late for dialogue – “Kabila’s time is up and he needs to go.” It remains to be seen, however, how much they’ll be able and willing to mobilize in the face of the government’s deadly and repressive tactics.

Several governments have issued strong statements in the past few days – including the United States, France, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the European Union – condemning the recent violence and supporting the Catholic Church’s efforts to reach an inclusive agreement. Some explicitly warned that they stand ready to impose additional targeted sanctions, and that their relationships and development cooperation with Congo will now change, given Kabila’s reduced legitimacy after December 19. 

Congo’s Security Forces Crack Down on Whistling Demonstrators

Update: As of Tuesday evening, Human Rights Watch confirmed at least 26 deaths during protests today in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and other cities.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has become a powder keg, with whistling demonstrators facing off against security forces, and armed groups mobilizing as President Joseph Kabila’s mandate expires. Human Rights Watch has confirmed that security forces killed at least three people on Tuesday morning in the capital, Kinshasa, and scores more have been arrested since Monday morning, the last day of President Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit.

From about 10 p.m. on Monday, the “sound of whistles” pierced many neighborhoods of Kinshasa. Groups had taken to the streets, whistling to send the message to Kabila that his time in office would be up at midnight. A “concert of whistles” was also heard in parts of the southern city of Lubumbashi.

In both cities, military and police forces were heavily deployed and fired gunshots in some neighborhoods to disperse the whistling protesters. The actual number of victims is difficult to determine and reports are still being verified. Many witnesses told us about door-to-door searches by Republican Guard soldiers, with youth being arrested from their homes, and about unusual checkpoints where security forces stopped people on the roads, questioning them about potential ties to the political opposition, confiscating money and cellphones. The whistling protests – and the crackdown – were strongest in the Kinshasa neighborhoods of Selembao, Mont Ngafula, Kimbangu, Ngiri-Ngiri, Ndjili, Masina, Matete, and Lemba, and in the Lubumbashi neighborhood of Kenya.

Early on Tuesday morning, the long-time opposition leader and president of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) political party and Rassemblement coalition Etienne Tshisekedi delivered a video message posted on YouTube, with “a solemn appeal to the Congolese people to not recognize the...illegal and illegitimate authority of Joseph Kabila and to peacefully resist [his] coup d’état.”

Further protests have since erupted in many parts of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. Security forces have responded in many areas by firing live bullets and teargas. We’ve received reports of many people killed and wounded on Tuesday morning by the security forces, which we’re still working to confirm. And the reports of arrests continue.

In Kinshasa, protesters burned the headquarters of the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD). And there are reports that protesters beat police officers in Lubumbashi.

Monday’s ‘Villes Morte’
The protests that began Monday night followed what turned out to be largely a “ville morte” or general strike in Kinshasa and other cities on the last day of Kabila’s mandate. Military, police, and intelligence agents were heavily deployed in cities and towns across the country – including Kinshasa, Goma, Lubumbashi, Bunia, Beni, Walikale, Kindu, Uvira, Kalemie, Mbuji-Mayi, Mbandaka, and Lisala – in an apparent attempt to suppress protests. Many residents kept their children home from school and stayed indoors with shops and businesses closed.

Some people still attempted to protest. In the eastern town of Beni, security forces fired in the air to disperse demonstrators, though a protester was injured by a stray bullet. Human Rights Watch received credible reports of over 100 people arrested on Monday, including 41 in Goma, 28 in Kinshasa, 19 in Bunyakiri, around a dozen in Beni, five in Bukavu, and one in Kalemie. Most were arrested while protesting, planning to protest, while gathered outdoors in groups, or just for wearing red – which has become a symbol of Kabila’s “red card”.

Eleven members of the Rassemblement opposition party coalition were arrested as they were peacefully marching down the street in the center of Goma – including representatives of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development (ECIDE), Social Movement for Renewal (MSR), National Party for Development and Democracy (PND), and UDPS political parties. They were arrested in the presence of a team of United Nations human rights observers and transferred to the police intelligence prison. The human rights observers were later denied access to them.

LUCHA activist Fabrice Mutsiirwa was arrested in Goma at about 9 a.m. on Monday. Another LUCHA activist Adolf Miruho was arrested when visiting Fabrice in detention on Tuesday morning. A third LUCHA activist, Bienfait Katalanwa, was abducted on Sunday by four men in civilian clothes and released on Monday evening.

In Kinshasa, security forces in large numbers deployed outside the University of Kinshasa, blocking students from protesting during a standoff that lasted several hours on Monday morning. In the afternoon, authorities in Kinshasa arrested Franck Diongo, president of the opposition party Movement of Progressive Lumumbists (MLP) and a member of the Rassemblement, after he and his colleagues apprehended three men who, according to Diongo, were Republican Guard soldiers wearing civilian clothes. Diongo said he feared they had been sent to attack him.

Early on Monday morning in the eastern town of Butembo, militia fighters clashed with security forces, killing a reported 13 people, including a UN peacekeeper. In Manono in the former Katanga province, at least 40 people were wounded during an attack allegedly carried out by a Batwa militia on Monday night, according to the UN. Fighting has also been reported on Tuesday between a militia group and the Congolese army in the southern city of Kananga. While it is too early to know the exact circumstances of these attacks, the heightened armed group mobilization amid the country’s volatile political context is very evident.

As part of a broader crackdown on the media, authorities blocked the signals for the Congolese news outlets close to the opposition, Canal Congo TV (CCTV) and Radio Liberté Kinshasa, on Monday morning. The signal for Radio France Internationale (RFI), the most important international news outlet in Congo, has been blocked in Kinshasa since November 5. The RFI signal from neighboring Brazzaville has been jammed since November 18.

In the midst of it all, at 11:45 p.m. on Monday – as the whistle blowing, banging of pots and pans, and cries that Kabila should leave office were escalating – the news anchor on Congo’s government-run national television station announced that Kabila had signed a decree, appointing some 60 new ministers to the government to be led by Prime Minister Sami Badibanga. The new government only includes members of Kabila’s ruling coalition and the opposition parties that participated in the African Union-mediated national dialogue. Members of the Rassemblement coalition and other opposition parties that only took part in the ongoing Catholic Church-mediated dialogue have no posts.

The midnight announcement may have been made to distract from the growing calls for Kabila to step down, while also showing that the country is still being governed. Some have also viewed it as an affront toward, or dismissal of, the Rassemblement and the Catholic Church-mediated talks.

In another apparent attempt to maintain the façade that everything is under control, Kabila’s diplomatic advisor Kikaya Bin Karubi held a press conference in Kinshasa on Monday afternoon, where he stated that “President Kabila will still be in power tomorrow.” He said that “only the population could put pressure on President Kabila,” and “as far as [he] can tell, that isn’t happening.”

Also on Monday, three UN experts called on the authorities to lift “abusive” restrictions on protesters, including an unlawful ban and a crackdown on social media. “The targeted repression of dissenting voices of civil society and human rights defenders is contrary to democratic principles,” the experts noted. “If civil society is not allowed to exercise the rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, protesters will inevitably resort to violence, for which only the authorities are to be blamed.” The government of France also expressed its concern Monday about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

Tensions High in Congo on Last Day of Kabila’s Mandate

Today should have been Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila’s last day in office, when he would be handing over the reins to a newly elected president, marking the country’s first peaceful transition of power from one democratically elected leader to another.

Instead, he shows no signs of leaving.

The last-minute Catholic Church-mediated dialogue between opposition political parties and the ruling coalition failed to reach an agreement, and the bishops left the country on Saturday for their end-of-the-year gathering with the pope in The Vatican, promising that the dialogue will resume after their return on December 21. The main obstacle: Kabila’s refusal to commit to leaving office at the end of his second term in accordance with the constitution. Nor have the countless calls for him to do so by Congolese and international actors budged him.

A group of 79 women’s groups from Congo and around the world sent a public letter to Kabila on December 15, calling on him to do just that in order to “stop violence” and “lead the country down the path of peace.”

Human Rights Watch’s Executive Director Kenneth Roth echoed their sentiments, saying in a December 16 report that President Kabila is the “one person” who could prevent “widespread violence and chaos in the coming days…by making a clear, public commitment to step down and by ending the violent repression by those under his command.” The report detailed the government’s repression since September and issued recommendations for preventing large-scale violence in the coming days.

But government and security forces seem to be clamping down and preparing for heightened repression in the near future. Security forces were already heavily deployed this weekend in the capital, Kinshasa, as well as Goma and other cities. Additionally, the government instructed telecommunications companies to block social media sites – a measure that went into effect with most networks in Congo soon after midnight last night.

Two members of pro-government youth leagues in Kinshasa told Human Rights Watch they were called to a meeting yesterday with senior security, intelligence, and government officials who instructed them to infiltrate the planned protests in the coming days and provoke looting and violence, in order to push security forces to fire on the demonstrators. They said they were divided into groups to target four areas of Kinshasa: Limete, Tshangu, Rond-point Ngaba, and Kintambo magasin. They were promised 120,000 Congolese francs (around US$100) each. The recruits said that some soldiers were mixed in among the members of youth leagues, and that the person responsible for each of the four groups was given a revolver.

LUCHA activist Gloria Sengha has been missing in Kinshasa since Friday, December 16, 2016.

© 2016 Private

Members of the youth leagues were given similar instructions to infiltrate protests in September.

Meanwhile, more activists and opposition members have been arrested or gone missing: LUCHA activists Gloria Sengha and Musasa Tshibanda have been missing in Kinshasa since Friday. And on Saturday evening, two members of the Engagement for Citizenship and Development (ECIDE) opposition political party, Christian Badose and Andre Bismwa, were arrested by men in uniform in Goma and taken to an unknown location. Five Belgian journalists were expelled on Friday, and the authorities forced a Belgian government transport plane to leave Kinshasa.

A flurry of declarations were published over the past few days: The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called on the Congolese “government, and especially its security forces, to take all necessary measures to guarantee the rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly.” The pope called on people to pray for the success of the dialogue, and the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO) called for calm and for all sides to respect human rights. The European Union’s High Representative said that “now, more than ever,” the EU calls on Congolese authorities to ensure “the strict respect of fundamental freedoms, and to show maximum restraint and refrain from a disproportionate use of force in their reaction to demonstrations” and on civil society and opposition actors to ensure that their actions remain non-violent.

Despite the rising tensions, Congolese government officials have declared that December 19 and 20 will be normal days and “life with continue,” while the police say that any group of 10 people or more gathered together will be dispersed. Opposition leaders have called on the population to “assume their responsibilities” and on security forces to refrain from firing on the population.

The pro-democracy youth movement LUCHA called on all Congolese to “descend massively” on the streets and to “use all legitimate means” to “take sovereignty back from the hands of Kabila.” They urge the population to refrain from any acts of violence, and the security forces to show they are “on the side of the people.” They say the demonstrations will start on Monday “and continue until the effective departure of Kabila, no matter how long it will take.” LUCHA also made their “final call” to Kabila to announce his resignation before midnight Monday, and to leave the presidency “honorably.”

Kabila should abide by the constitution and heed this call, and all sides should respect the pleas for non-violence.  

The Family Fortune, and Why Congo’s Kabila May Be Clinging to Power

In a groundbreaking investigation published on Thursday by Bloomberg News, journalists for the first time map out the sprawling business network President Joseph Kabila and his family have amassed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and beyond.

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.

© 2016 Reuters

Over the past year, journalists Michael Kavanagh, Thomas Wilson, and Franz Wild, with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Congo Research Group, analyzed thousands of company documents and court filings and interviewed dozens of stakeholders. They found that the Kabila family – including the president, his wife, two children, and eight of his siblings – is involved in at least 70 companies that have brought hundreds of millions of dollars to the family. Two of the family businesses own diamond permits running along 450 miles of the country’s southwestern border with Angola.

“Together the Kabilas have built a network of businesses that reaches into every corner of Congo’s economy,” the report said. “The sprawling network may help explain why the president is ignoring pleas by the U.S., the European Union and a majority of the Congolese people to hand over power next week, though his advisers dispute this.” Kabila’s term of office ends December 19, as mandated by Congo’s constitution. 

According to Francis Kalombo, one of Kabila’s close allies until he joined the opposition last year, Kabila says in private that he’s staying put. “He’s not going to do all that he’s doing, make all this effort, for one more year,” Kalombo told the journalists. “For him, it’s for life.”

The study also found how the family has relied on the Republican Guard – an elite force of some 12,000 soldiers whose primary responsibility is to protect the president – to secure their business interests and landholdings, often through intimidation and fear. In one of the diamond concessions owned by the family, the Bloomberg journalists described how they saw diamond diggers hand over “buckets of potentially gem-filled gravel as an informal tax” when the Republican Guard soldiers came by. In a cobalt deposit known as Wisky, where diggers say they “worked for the presidential family under the supervision of Republican Guard soldiers,” more than 100 diggers died in cave-ins during a six-week period in late 2015, according to a report by the Belgian magazine Moustique. A digger interviewed by Bloomberg said the total number killed was significantly higher. 

The Bloomberg report also documented how Republican Guard soldiers accompanied the president’s wife, Olive Lembe, after she bought a cattle farm in Kilolirwe, North Kivu and demanded that farmers “remove their makeshift homes or watch soldiers destroy them.” 

Human Rights Watch has also documented how the first lady relied on the Republican Guard to force families out of their homes after she acquired the land they were living on. More than 20 witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Republican Guard soldiers burned several dozen homes in Kilolirwe in July 2014, telling inhabitants “to leave, go away.” The previous month the village chief had told the population to leave: “Olive Lembe asked me to tell you that she has already bought the land.” The first lady appeared at a later public gathering, ordering the population to leave or face expulsion. 

The Bloomberg report ends with a reflection from the former head of credit at a bank in Congo dominated by the president’s family: Those who are “really keeping Kabila in power,” he says, are “the network of people running the private businesses of the family. …If you want Kabila to pay attention, you have to target the financiers."

Congolese Activists Arrested Outside Church-Mediated Talks

Congolese security forces arrested about a dozen youth activists on Tuesday outside the hall in Kinshasa where Catholic bishops are mediating talks between the ruling coalition and the opposition aimed at resolving the political impasse in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At least six remain in detention. President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit ends December 19. 

Pro-democracy youth activists held a sit-in outside the Catholic Church-mediated talks in Kinshasa, calling on all participants to ensure strict respect of the Constitution, December 13, 2016.

© 2016 Private

Filimbi and other youth movements had staged a peaceful sit-in calling on all dialogue participants to respect the constitution - including for Kabila to step down when his term ends on Monday. 

Carbone Beni, Filimbi’s Kinshasa representative, was among those arrested. On November 19, unknown assailants had abducted him and beat him badly before releasing him the next morning.

On December 11, police broke up a planned concert organized by Filimbi in Kinshasa’s Masina neighborhood, taking down the podium, seizing musical instruments, and arresting at least six musicians, who remain in detention. The concert was organized to raise awareness about the “Bye Bye Kabila” campaign, launched by youth movements on November 26. 

In eastern Congo, nine members of the youth movement LUCHA arrested in Goma and Bunia since late October remain in detention.

EU and US Slap Sanctions on Top DR Congo Officials

One week before the end of President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, the United States and European Union have announced targeted sanctions against top officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The sanctions – which include travel bans and assets freezes – send an unequivocal message that those responsible for planning, ordering, or executing violent repression will face consequences – no matter their rank or position. 

Kalev Mutond (second from left), Director of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, appears with First Lady Marie Olive Lembe and President Joseph Kabila during the country’s independence anniversary celebration in Kindu, capital of Maniema province, June 30, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

In a move many across Congo had been waiting for, the US went higher up the chain of command than the sanctions announced in June and September, targeting Kalev Mutondo, director of the country’s National Intelligence Agency, and Evariste Boshab, vice prime minister and interior minister. Mutondo and Boshab have been the architects of much of the repression of pro-democracy activists, the political opposition, peaceful protesters, and the media over the past two years, as Kabila sought to hold on to power beyond his term limit.

The US Treasury Department said in a statement that the Congolese government “continues to suppress political opposition and delay political progress in the country, often through violent means,” and that Mutondo and Boshab were named for “engaging in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions” in Congo. 

Earlier today, the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council announced targeted sanctions against seven senior security officials. According to the EU, the following four individuals “contributed to acts constituting serious violations of human rights in the DRC, by planning, directing or carrying out those acts”: Ilunga Kampete, commander of the Republican Guard; Gabriel Amisi Kumba, commander for the western region of the Congolese army; Ferdinand Ilunga Luyolo, commander of the anti-riot body Légion Nationale d'Intervention of the Congolese National Police; and Celestin Kanyama, Kinshasa police commissioner.

The EU imposed sanctions on three other senior figures for “trying to obstruct a consensual and peaceful solution to the crisis as regards the holding of elections in the DRC, in particular through acts of violence, repression or incitement to violence, or actions that undermine the rule of law”: John Numbi, former inspector-general of the Congolese National Police; Roger Kibelisa, interior director of the National Intelligence Agency; and Delphin Kahimbi, director of military intelligence. 

The strong action by the US and EU signals grave concern about the direction Congo is heading, and the real risk the country could descend into large-scale violence in the coming weeks. 

On December 1, the European Parliament urged the EU to adopt targeted sanctions against senior government and security forces after the EU had announced in October 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.” On December 9, 72 Congolese and 15 international human rights organizations issued a statement, calling on the US and the EU to expand targeted sanctions. 

Kabila and other senior officials should now take steps to end repressive measures, including allowing peaceful protests and ordering security forces not to use excessive force, by releasing political prisoners and dropping unjust charges against political leaders and pro-democracy activists, and by opening barred media outlets.

Most critical is that Kabila make a public commitment to respect the constitution and announce he will step down from office.

Rights Groups Call for EU, US to Sanction Senior Congolese Officials

In an effort to stem violence in the coming weeks, 72 Congolese and 15 international human rights organizations issued a statement on Friday calling on the United States and the European Union to expand targeted sanctions against senior Democratic Republic of Congo officials implicated in serious rights abuses. The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council is due to discuss Congo on Monday.

Meanwhile, an opening ceremony was held on Thursday to mark the start of Catholic Church mediated talks between opposition political groups and members of the ruling coalition, providing a glimmer of hope that a negotiated solution could be found before the December 19 deadline, when President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two-term limit ends. The talks were suspended until Tuesday, as discussions on participant lists continued today.

A key part of any agreement should include concrete steps to end the government-orchestrated crackdown on free expression and peaceful assembly. Government repression continued this week, as police in the eastern city of Bunia prevented a dozen members of the youth movement Filimbi from staging a sit-in on Wednesday morning. The activists wanted to deliver a letter calling on provincial deputies and other administrators to step down December 19.

Bunia’s mayor said he had prohibited the demonstration to comply with instructions given in a November 3 letter to all governors from Interior Minister Evariste Boshab, saying that Filimbi and the youth movement LUCHA are not legally registered groups so aren’t authorized to hold any activity. That runs counter to Congolese law, which does not require citizens to register their organization to hold a peaceful assembly.

Radio and television journalist Adel Uvon was released on Monday after she had been arrested with five LUCHA activists last week in Bunia. She was not charged. The LUCHA activists – Franck Bahati, Deogratias Kiza, Lombo Bahati, Celestin Tambwe, and Luc Malembe – were transferred to the central prison in Bunia on Wednesday after being charged with “incitement to disobedience,” a charge that appears politically motivated.

In Goma, military intelligence agents arrested LUCHA activist Justin Mutabesha on Thursday, soon after immigration officials confiscated a box of LUCHA T-shirts and detained the young man who had gone to Uganda to print and deliver them. According to the LUCHA activists, the T-shirts said “LUCHA – Lutte pour le Changement” (“Struggle for Change”) on the front and “#FreeLUCHA” on the back. Mutabesha remains in detention at the T2 military intelligence prison, without access to his lawyer, while the whereabouts of the young man who delivered the T-shirts are unknown.

Three other LUCHA activists arrested in Goma on October 24, after denouncing the “national dialogue” agreement remain in detention at the central prison: Jacques Muhindo, Fiston Dunia, and Glody Ntambwe.

In Bukavu, the crackdown on free assembly and the authorities’ apparent unease about all youth mobilization spread to student protests that began last Friday against a 25 percent hike in annual tuition fees at the Higher Pedagogical Institute that began last Friday. Security forces on Wednesday fired teargas to disperse scores of protesters, injuring at least two students and possibly others.

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.

© 2016 Timo Mueller/Human Rights Watch

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.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

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. 

© 2016 Private

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. 

© 2016 Private
 

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. 

© 2016 Timo Mueller/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. 

© 2016 Private

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.

© 2016 Private

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.

© 2016 Radio Okapi/Ph. John Bompengo

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

© Private

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

© Private

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. 

© 2008 Anthony de Bibo/Human Rights Watch

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.

© Private

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.

© 2016 Reuters

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.

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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. 

© Private

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.

© 2016 Reuters

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.

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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.

© 2016 Private

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

© 2015 Reuters

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.