1. The Congolese Government Is at War with Its People
  2. Congo’s Kabila Ignores Political Crisis Amid New Repression
  3. 15-Year-Old Peaceful Protester Beaten and Detained
  4. New DR Congo Electoral Calendar Faces Skepticism Amid More Protests, Repression
  5. Three-Year Mystery Behind DR Congo’s Beni Massacres Unravels
  6. Congolese Authorities Arrest, Later Release 49 Activists Holding Anti-Kabila Protests
  7. Heavy Fighting in Eastern DR Congo, Threats to Civilians Increase
  8. Congo Should Release All Political Prisoners
  9. Detained Opposition Leader Forcibly Removed from Hospital
  10. ‘Manifesto of the Congolese Citizen’ Calls for a Transition without Kabila
  11. Confusion Surrounds DR Congo Sect Protests Leaving at Least 27 Dead
  12. Crackdown on Students, Opposition as Government Blames Them for Kinshasa Attacks
  13. Scores of Arrests During Protests Across DR Congo
  14. The Family Fortune Behind DR Congo’s President
  15. Gabriel Tambwe, Detained 14 Months in DR Congo
  16. A ‘State of Emergency’ in DR Congo?
  17. Free Sephora Bidwaya and 11 Co-detainees
  18. Activist, Lawyer Arbitrarily Detained in Kinshasa
  19. Catholic Bishops Call on Congolese to ‘Stand Up’
  20. Hope for Justice in the Kasai Region
  21. Congolese Authorities Refuse to Renew Accreditation of French Journalist
  22. Repression, Violence Amid Pressure for Peaceful, Democratic Transition in DR Congo
  23. Sephora, Beaten, Jailed for Holding a Red Card
  24. Nationwide Poll Warns of a Gloomy Future for DR Congo
  25. Strong Action Needed to Salvage DR Congo Elections Deal
  26. Small Protests Falter in Face of Repression in DR Congo
  27. US Conflict Minerals Rule Should Be Refined, Not Revoked
  28. A Silent Protest Across DR Congo Over Failed Political Deal
  29. SADC Should Press to Resolve the DR Congo Crisis
  30. DR Congo: EU Should Impose Additional Targeted Sanctions
  31. Congo’s Amani Festival Should be a Safe Space for Peaceful Expression
  32. Congo Voter Registration Hampered by Insecurity, Logistical Challenges
  33. Congolese Mourn Death of Prominent Opposition Leader
  34. One Month On, Little Progress Implementing DR Congo Elections Deal
  35. UN Reports Dramatic Increase in DR Congo Rights Violations in 2016
  36. Doubts Surround Implementation of New Year’s Eve Deal
  37. Deal Sets Congo on Path toward First Democratic Transition, but Huge Challenges Ahead
  38. DR Congo Death Toll Rises, Mass Arrests After Protests
  39. Congo’s Security Forces Crack Down on Whistling Demonstrators
  40. Tensions High in Congo on Last Day of Kabila’s Mandate
  41. The Family Fortune, and Why Congo’s Kabila May Be Clinging to Power
  42. Congolese Activists Arrested Outside Church-Mediated Talks
  43. EU and US Slap Sanctions on Top DR Congo Officials
  44. Rights Groups Call for EU, US to Sanction Senior Congolese Officials
  45. UN Security Council Raises Alarm about Possible Violence in DR Congo
  46. Congo Mediation Efforts by Catholic Church Falter
  47. Congolese Youth Arrested Demanding Rights
  48. House of Congo Opposition Leader Attacked
  49. US Congress Hears Stark Warnings About Congo Crisis
  50. Congolese Youth Launch ‘Bye Bye Kabila’ Campaign
  51. Impose Targeted Sanctions on Congo Before it’s Too Late
  52. Arrests, Beatings, Opposition Leaders’ Homes Vandalized
  53. Wave of Arrests and Crackdown on Media Ahead of Protests
  54. Guidelines on Freedom of Expression and Assembly in DR Congo
  55. Congolese Authorities Should Release All Political Prisoners
  56. Congolese Government Cracks Down on Foreign Media
  57. Congolese Leaders, Activists Respond to Trump Victory
  58. UN Security Council Should Use Congo Visit to Avert Large-Scale Crisis
  59. Demonstrations Banned, Media Restricted in Congo
  60. Free Expression and Assembly in Congo Under Attack
  61. Mediation by Catholic Church Offers Glimpse of Hope Amid Ongoing Crackdown
  62. Peaceful Activists Rounded Up Yet Again
  63. Pollsters Targeted as Survey Shows Congolese Want Elections
  64. More Activists Arrested in Congo as African Leaders Meet to Discuss Crisis
  65. More Activists Arrested in Lead-up to Protests
  66. UN Reports on Excessive Use of Force During DR Congo Demonstrations
  67. Coalition Proposes Road Map to End Congolese Political Crisis
  68. Protests Across the DR Congo
  69. DR Congo’s National Dialogue Fails to Resolve Political Impasse
  70. ICC Delegation in DR Congo
  71. 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.
 

The Congolese Government Is at War with Its People

A girl stands in an Internally Displaced Camp in Bunia, Ituri province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, April 9, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

Published in openDemocracy

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is putting its own short-term interests over the well-being of the Congolese people. It is refusing to attend and encouraging others to stay home from today’s international conference in Geneva, a United Nations-led initiative to raise $1.7 billion for emergency assistance to over 13 million people in Congo affected by recent violence.

Government officials deny that there’s a humanitarian crisis. This appears related to a sinister attempt to attract foreign investment and further enrich those in power, while avoiding outside scrutiny.

Congolese security forces and armed groups have killed thousands of civilians in the past two years, adding to at least six million Congolese who have died from conflict-related causes over the past two decades – making the conflict in Congo the world’s deadliest since World War II. Today, some 4.5 million Congolese are displaced from their homes – more than in any other country in Africa. Tens of thousands have fled into Uganda, Angola, Tanzania, and Zambia in recent months – raising the specter of increased regional instability.

Congo is Africa’s biggest copper producer and the world’s largest source of cobalt–which has tripled in value in the past 18 months because of the demand for electric cars. Hundreds of millions of dollars of mining revenue have gone missing in recent years, as Kabila and his family and close associates have amassed fortunes. While Congo’s immense mineral wealth could help address the emergency and other basic needs of an impoverished population, income from any new investments are more likely to end up in the pockets of those in power.

Much of the recent violence is linked to the country’s worsening political crisis. President Joseph Kabila has delayed elections and used violence, repression, and corruption to entrench his hold on power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, 2016.

Kabila has presided over a system of entrenched impunity in which those most responsible for abuses are routinely rewarded with positions, wealth, and power. Congolese security forces have carried out or orchestrated much of the violence, in some cases by creating or backing local armed groups. Well-placed security and intelligence sources have told us that efforts to sow violence and instability are an apparently deliberate “strategy of chaos” to justify further election delays.

Congolese security forces shot dead nearly 300 people during political protests over the past three years. Since December, security forces have hit a new low by firing into Catholic church grounds to disrupt peaceful services and protest marches following Sunday mass. 

Meanwhile, attacks on civilians have intensified in eastern Congo’s Ituri province over the past three months. We have documented terrifying accounts of massacres, rapes, and decapitation. More than 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

While government officials have insisted that the recent violence is the consequence of inter-ethnic tensions, baffled residents say that isn’t so. Many referred to an “invisible hand” – seemingly professional killers came into their villages and hacked people to death in what appeared to be well-planned assaults. Some alleged that government officials may be involved.

But Congo’s deputy minister for international cooperation said last week that “there is no humanitarian crisis.” Congo’s foreign minister said the UN’s description of the humanitarian situation in Congo is “counterproductive for the public image and attractiveness of our country and could scare away potential investors.”

Congolese government officials sent threatening letters to the Netherlands and Sweden, who are supporting the conference, saying Congo would be “forced to impose consequences” if they continue with their preparations, and they successfully convinced the United Arab Emirates to pull out.

Donors should not be intimidated. They should instead work to ensure that adequate funds are raised to meet the life-threatening humanitarian and protection needs of the Congolese people. And just as important, they should work to address the underlying causes of the violence to prevent the crisis from spiraling out of control even further.

That means working closely with regional leaders to ensure Kabila steps down in accordance with the constitution and allows for the organization of free, fair, and credible elections. Congolese need an opportunity to elect a new president who is accountable to the people and who will work to bring an end to Congo’s violence, impunity, and suffering. The Congolese people deserve no less.

Congo’s Kabila Ignores Political Crisis Amid New Repression

A rare press conference by President Joseph Kabila on Friday signaled that the Democratic Republic of Congo’s political crisis was far from resolved and that further repression and restrictions on free expression and assembly may be in store.

Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila addresses a news conference at the State House in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, January 26, 2018.

© 2018 Kenny Katombe/Reuters

As concern has grown over the deadly consequences of Kabila’s efforts to remain in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ended in December 2016, there have been increasing calls domestically and internationally for Kabila to state explicitly he will not be a candidate in proposed December 2018 elections, and not seek to amend the constitution, and that he will step down by the end of 2018. Among those weighing in was a bipartisan group of United States senators in a letter sent to Kabila last week.  

In the press conference – his first in five years - Kabila made none of those commitments. While claiming the electoral process was “resolutely under way,” he said only the national electoral commission (CENI) is empowered to decide when exactly the poll will be held. When a journalist asked Kabila whether he would run again, he didn’t say no but asked that a copy of the constitution be given to her.

Despite the rights of Congolese to demonstrate peacefully under the constitution and international law, Kabila said a new law is needed to “reframe” the legality around such demonstrations, noting that “democracy isn’t a fairground.” He claimed to have “burst out in laughter” when he sees those who “pretend to defend the constitution.” Unfortunately, what Kabila considers to be a laughing matter has been the security forces shooting dead, wounding, and jailing hundreds of people peacefully calling for the constitution to be respected.  

Kabila also questioned the price tag on the electoral process, which he said could come at the cost of the country’s development: “Should we be cited as the most democratic country in the world, or is development what matters?” he said. “When the time comes,” he added, “courageous decisions” will need to be made. Was this a veiled reference to an upcoming referendum or change to the electoral process that would allow Kabila to stay in power?

Kabila’s remarks came two days after the United Nations human rights office in Congo reported that some 1,176 people were extrajudicially executed by Congolese “state agents” in 2017, representing a threefold increase over two years.

On January 21, thousands of Catholic worshipers and other Congolese protested in several cities and towns, calling for Kabila to step down and allow for the organization of elections. Security forces responded with unnecessary or excessive force, firing teargas and live ammunition to disperse crowds. At least seven people were killed, according to Human Rights Watch’s research, including a 24-year-old woman studying to be a nun, shot dead right outside her church. The January 21 crackdown followed similar protests called by Congo’s Catholic Church lay leaders after Sunday Mass on December 31, when security forces killed at least eight people and injured or arrested scores of others, including many Catholic priests. 

Over the past three years, Kabila and those around him have used one delaying tactic after another to postpone elections and entrench their hold on power through brutal repression, largescale violence and human rights abuses, backed by systemic corruption. A Catholic Church-mediated power sharing agreement signed on New Year’s Eve 2016 provided Kabila another year in power – beyond the end of his constitutional term limit – to implement a series of confidence building measures and organize elections by the end of 2017. But instead, these commitments were largely flouted. Despite CENI’s publication of the electoral calendar on November 5 – which set December 23, 2018 as the new date for elections, with the caveat that numerous “constraints” could push the date back even further – Kabila has not demonstrated that he is preparing to step down, or create a climate conducive to the organization of free, fair, and credible elections.

While some of Congo’s international partners have increased pressure on Kabila’s government, more needs to be done to show that there will be real consequences for further attempts to delay elections and entrench his presidency through repression. Belgium recently announced it is suspending all direct bilateral support to the Congolese government and redirecting its aid to humanitarian and civil society organizations. Other donors should follow suit. In December the US sanctioned Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler, one of Kabila’s close friends and financial associates who “amassed his fortune through hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals” in Congo, as well as a number of individuals and companies associated with Gertler. Yet the impact of these actions would be much greater if the UN Security Council, the European Union, and the US work together to expand targeted sanctions against those most responsible for serious human rights abuses in Congo and those providing financial or political support to the repressive tactics.

Ultimately, Congo’s partners are going to need to decide whether their interests lie with supporting an abusive, dictatorial government, or with respecting and advancing the rights of the Congolese people – and what that means in terms of concrete action. 

15-Year-Old Peaceful Protester Beaten and Detained

Police arrested 15-year-old Binja Happy Yalala during a peaceful protest in Idjwi, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on November 15, 2017. 

© 2017 Private
On Wednesday, Binja Happy Yalala, a 15-year-old secondary school student on Idjwi Island in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was beaten by police who accused her of being a sorcerer and detained her for over 10 hours. Her actual “crime” was that she had participated in a peaceful march organized by the citizens’ movement “C’en Est Trop” (“This is Too Much”).

The marchers were responding to a call from other citizens movements and civil society groups, and backed by political opposition leaders, for Congolese to mobilize on November 15 and demand that President Joseph Kabila leave office by the end of 2017 in accordance with the constitution and the New Year’s Eve agreement signed late last year.

The Idjwi protesters arrived at their local administrative office, singing the national anthem, to deliver a memo when the police commander gave the order to arrest them. 

“The police immediately followed the order with brutality and violence,” said Binja’s father, who had joined the march with his daughter. “Some of us started to run, but others were taken immediately, including myself. They beat us with their fists and batons and kicked us. They said to us: ‘You all are rebels. We’re the ones who control the law. You will see how we’ll make you suffer.’”

When Binja saw her father and the others being arrested, she said she couldn’t just stand by and watch.

“I was scared, but it also made my heart ache because I didn’t understand what my father and the others had done wrong,” Binja told Human Rights Watch. “So I went up and asked the police to let them go. When they didn’t listen to me, I told them that I wasn’t going to leave without my father, so if they don’t release him they should arrest me too. Then without hesitating, one of them grabbed me roughly by the arm, beat my back with his gun, and tied my hands tightly behind my back. It hurt a lot, and I cried out. They then put me in the cell with my father and the others.” 

Binja, her father, and the 11 others detained were soon taken to Idjwi territory’s main prison.

“They asked us a lot of questions about what had happened,” Binja said. “They beat my father because they said he had taught me things. He tried in vain to explain that I wasn’t a member of the movement. They then accused me of being a sorcerer, and they beat me again with their batons.”

Binja said that when they were all finally released about 10 p.m., she hurt all over and could barely walk.

In total, Congolese security forces detained at least 52 people on November 15 while they were participating in or planning small marches and demonstrations in Goma, Kasindi, Kindu, Kisangani, Kinshasa, and Idjwi. Most were later released, but eight remain in detention, including six in Goma and two in Kinshasa.

Two activists who police arrested in Goma on Monday while encouraging people to join the planned protests were still in detention. 

On November 14, the day before the protests, the provincial police commander in Goma had instructed his forces to “mercilessly repress” the planned demonstrations, in a filmed message that was widely shared on social media.

The next morning, many people across Congo – including in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Mbandaka, Matadi, Mbuji-Mayi, Kananga, Goma, Idjwi, Beni, Kasindi, Butembo and Kisangani – woke up to the sight of a heavy deployment of security forces on their cities’ main roads. In several cities, streets were less crowded than usual, shops and markets remained closed, and many students stayed home from school. People stayed home as a sign of protest or to stay safe from any violent crackdown, or both. The few protesters who dared go out on the streets were often quickly arrested by security forces or dispersed by teargas.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUSCO) had urged Congolese authorities on November 14 to respect “the freedom to demonstrate in a peaceful and restrained manner” and to “allow all voices to express themselves calmly and peacefully.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reinforced this appeal, calling on Congolese authorities to “halt the inflammatory rhetoric against protestors” and to ensure security personnel “receive clear instructions that they will be held accountable for their conduct during law and order operations in the context of demonstrations, regardless of their ranks or affiliation.”

In a joint statement published yesterday, the European Union, American, Swiss, and Canadian missions in Congo called on Congolese security forces to refrain from the excessive use of force and warned that those responsible could be held to account, including in an individual manner.  

Many political prisoners and activists, arrested during previous political demonstrations or for their participation in other peaceful political activities, remain in detention. For a list and summary of a selection of these cases, please see here.

Congolese authorities should immediately release all those held for the peaceful expression of their political views, and should start working to create a climate conducive to the organization of free, fair elections.

New DR Congo Electoral Calendar Faces Skepticism Amid More Protests, Repression

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s national electoral commission (CENI) has set December 23, 2018 as the date for presidential, legislative, and provincial elections – more than two years after the end of President Joseph Kabila’s constitutionally mandated two term-limit.

Security forces killed 11-year-old Jotham Kasigwa Murume during demonstrations in Goma on October 30, 2017.

© 2017 Private

According to the calendar released yesterday by the CENI, the new president would be sworn in on January 12, 2019, and the whole electoral cycle, including local elections, would continue until February 16, 2020. As with past electoral calendars that CENI and government officials have blatantly disregarded, the new calendar includes a list of 15 legal, financial, and logistical “constraints” that could impact the timeline.

The CENI’s announcement comes about a week after the United States ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley visited Congo, where she announced before meeting with Kabila that Congo’s long-delayed elections must be held by the end of 2018 or they would not receive international support.

While some diplomats might see the new calendar as a sign of progress, many Congolese are rightly skeptical. Over the past several years, Kabila and his coterie have blocked the organization of elections as the deadline for when he needs to step down keeps getting extended. Senior US officials and other diplomats delivered similar messages to Kabila in the lead-up to December 19, 2016, the end of Kabila’s two-term limit. When that deadline passed with no progress toward elections, the UN Security Council and others pressed Kabila to organize elections by the end of 2017, in accordance with a Catholic Church-mediated power sharing arrangement signed on December 31, 2016, known as the New Year’s Eve agreement.

Kabila and his ruling coalition then disregarded the main terms of the agreement, as Kabila entrenched his hold on power through corruption, large-scale violence, and brutal repression against the opposition, activists, journalists, and peaceful protesters. Security force officers went so far as to implement an apparently deliberate “strategy of chaos” and orchestrated violence, especially in the southern Kasai region, where up to 5,000 people have been killed since August 2016. Government and CENI officials have announced since July that elections could not be held in 2017 as called for in the New Year’s Eve agreement, ostensibly due to the violence in the Kasais.

Meanwhile, there has been no independent oversight or audit of the ongoing voter registration process. Civil society organizations and political opposition leaders have raised concerns about possible large-scale fraud. Some fear a deeply flawed electoral list could be used to push through a constitutional referendum process that could remove term limits and allow Kabila to run for a third term. Kabila himself has repeatedly refused to say publicly and explicitly that he will not be a candidate in future elections. The extra year the new calendar gives Kabila allows him more time to attempt constitutional or extra-constitutional means to stay in power.

The Struggle for Change (LUCHA) citizens’ movement strongly denounced the calendar presented by the CENI yesterday as “fantasy” and called on the Congolese people to mobilize to defend themselves peacefully against the “shameful maneuver by Kabila and his regime to gain more time to accomplish their goal of staying in power indefinitely.” LUCHA stated that the movement no longer recognizes Kabila and his government as the legitimate representatives of the Congolese people and urged Congo’s international partners to do the same.

Other citizens’ movements, human rights activists, and opposition leaders made similar calls, denouncing the new CENI calendar, urging the Congolese people to mobilize, and calling for a “citizens’ transition” without Kabila to allow for the organization of credible elections.

Meanwhile, the repression against opposition leaders and supporters, human rights and pro-democracy activists, peaceful protesters, and journalists has continued unabated. Security forces arrested around 100 opposition party supporters and pro-democracy activists during protests in Lubumbashi, Goma, Mbandaka, and Beni over the past two weeks. Many of them were later released. During the protest in Goma on October 30, security forces shot dead five civilians, including an 11-year-old boy, and wounded 15 others.

Security forces killed 19-year-old Jean Louis Kandiki during demonstrations in Goma on October 30, 2017.

© 2017 Private

More protests are planned across the country in the coming days to reject the CENI’s newly announced calendar. Congolese government officials and security forces should not use unnecessary or excessive force against protesters, tolerate peaceful protests and political meetings, and allow activists, opposition party leaders, and journalists to move around freely and conduct their work independently, without interference.

Congo’s international partners, including the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, should work to protect peaceful protesters and individuals at risk and show their support for the Congolese people’s quest for a more democratic and rights-respecting future.

Three-Year Mystery Behind DR Congo’s Beni Massacres Unravels

New research has cast light onto one of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s most gruesome mysteries – the slaughter of more than 800 people in Beni territory that began three years ago this week.

Coffins of three people killed on December 1, 2014 in Eringeti, around 60 kilometers north of Beni town. A total of six people were killed that day. The most recent attack documented by Human Rights Watch in Eringeti was on May 3, 2016, killing 19.

© 2014 Private

The more than 120 massacres in eastern Congo, in which assailants methodically hacked people to death with axes and machetes or fatally shot them, continued through August this year and have baffled analysts. But a new investigative report by the New York University-based Congo Research Group offers a breakthrough in understanding the dynamics and gives hope that perpetrators will one day face justice.

Based on two years of painstaking research, the report identifies distinct killing phases and an array of diverse armed actors responsible for the massacres: the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist Ugandan rebel group based in eastern Congo; former officers from the Congolese Patriotic Army (APC); the armed branch of the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement (RCD-ML), the Ugandan-backed rebellion during Congo’s second war from 1998 to 2003; and various other local militia groups; as well as elements of the Congolese army. Instead of the killings being committed by a cohesive group with a singular political agenda, these actors constantly shifted alliances fighting alongside and against each other.

During the Rwandan-backed M23 rebellion in eastern Congo in 2012 and 2013, remnants of the APC in Beni territory mobilized and established an informal alliance with the M23 fighters, according to the report. After the M23 was defeated in November 2013, the Congolese army turned its focus to Beni, officially to defeat the ADF rebels, who had been present on Congolese territory for many years. According to the report, former APC officers in Beni perceived these operations as an attempt to dismantle the lucrative political and economic networks they had established in Beni, including through collaboration with the ADF and other local militia groups. In response, they orchestrated the first of a series of small-scale killings in Beni in 2013. These initial attacks were reportedly meant to show the Congolese government’s failure to protect the population, and thereby delegitimize its authority and pave the way for a new rebellion.

Once the killings began, some Congolese army officers under the command of Gen. Akili Mundos decided to co-opt the network of former APC officers, ADF combatants, and other local militia fighters, the report found. Instead of ending the violence, the army began working together with members of the same network responsible for the initial killings, allowing the killings to continue on a much larger scale starting in October 2014.

With Pandora’s Box opened, the web of foes and friends changed constantly with various local militia groups taking a more prominent role as the massacres continued. All the while, the Congolese government blamed all the violence on so-called “radical ADF terrorists,” in an apparent attempt to mislead the Congolese population, foreign diplomats, journalists, and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, which continued to provide uncritical support to the army.

While there are still many unanswered questions, the new Congo Research Group report sheds important light on those responsible for the Beni massacres.   It should serve as a basis for credible judicial investigations as well as targeted sanctions by the UN Security Council and others.

International attention on Congo has shifted from the Beni crisis to Congo’s southern Kasai region, where new massacres have killed more than 5,000 people and displaced some 1.4 million from their homes since August 2016, according to the UN. To finally break these devastating cycles of violence and impunity, the Beni massacres cannot be forgotten. Strong action is needed to show that there are consequences for those responsible – no matter their rank or position. 

Congolese Authorities Arrest, Later Release 49 Activists Holding Anti-Kabila Protests

Sixteen activists were arrested in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo, on September 30, 2017, and released later that day.

© 2017 Private

On September 30, Democratic Republic of Congo security forces arbitrarily arrested 49 activists from several citizens’ movements protesting the failure to hold presidential elections before the end of the year.

Activists from Struggle for Change (LUCHA), Countdown (Compte à Rebours), and Bell of the People (Kengele ya Raia) were arrested in Congo’s eastern cities of Goma and Kisangani. Small protests were also held in Bukavu and Bandundu.

The activists were peacefully protesting the electoral commission’s failure to call the presidential elections in time for them to be held before December 31, 2017, as called for in the Catholic Church-mediated agreement signed on December 31, 2016. Under Congo’s constitution, national elections need to be announced at least three months before the voting date, which means the deadline to hold elections during 2017 has now passed.  

In Goma, activists tried to deliver a letter to the electoral commission’s office, but they were prevented by riot police. “They cornered us with two police trucks and tried to take our banners from us,” one LUCHA activist told Human Rights Watch. “Some of us managed to get away but the rest of us were forced onto the police trucks.”

The 16 activists arrested in Kisangani were released later that day, while the 33 activists in Goma were released three days later without charge. These latest arrests show the government’s intent to quickly quash peaceful protests before they build momentum.

Last week, four LUCHA activists in Mbuji-Mayi – Nicolas Mbiya, Josué Cibuabua, Mamie Ndaya, and Josué Kabongo – were released from prison. They had been arbitrarily arrested in mid-July for investigating the voter registration process in Kasai Oriental province. Mbiya and Cibuabua had already been detained for nearly a week in May for demanding the publication of an electoral calendar. Earlier, from December 2016 to February, Mbiya was also detained with another LUCHA activist, Jean Paul Mualaba Biaya, for protesting President Joseph Kabila’s decision to stay in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit.

The September 30 protests came a week after President Kabila’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In his public remarks and in reports that have emerged about his private meetings with various foreign officials in New York, Kabila did nothing that would suggest that he is preparing to leave power, making no clear commitments about when elections would be held or that he would not be a candidate.

Earlier this week, a coalition of United States senators led by Cory Booker wrote to US President Donald Trump, urging the US government to “use the means at our disposal” if the Congolese government continues to refuse to implement the “spirit and letter” of the December 31, 2016 agreement, “including sanctions designations under Executive Order 13671 on DRC, anti-money-laundering regulations, and additional tools available under the Global Magnitsky Act – to affect the incentives of individuals who have strong influence over President Kabila to incentivize them to urge him to change course.”

The US – and Congo’s other international partners, including the European Union – would do well to act now, before it’s too late and more Congolese pay the price for Kabila’s unconstitutional intransigence. 

Heavy Fighting in Eastern DR Congo, Threats to Civilians Increase

The risk of increased violence and deteriorating security for civilians in South Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has spiked sharply, as a coalition of armed groups moved in on the province’s second largest city, Uvira, last week.

“Militia men attacked the eastern city of Uvira on September 28, 2017.”

© MONUSCO/Abel Kavanagh

The potentially destabilizing impact of a brewing rebellion in the midst of Congo’s ongoing political crisis does not bode well for civilians, already fatigued from two decades of conflict.

The stated goal of the so-called National People’s Coalition for the Sovereignty of Congo (Coalition nationale du peuple pour la souveraineté du Congo, CNPSC) is to topple the government of President Joseph Kabila, who they say is illegitimate following his refusal to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit last December. The coalition, which includes at least several hundred fighters from numerous armed groups, has also been referred to as the Alliance of Article 64, a reference to Article 64 of the constitution, which says the Congolese people have an obligation to thwart the efforts of those who seek to take power by force or in violation of the constitution.

Others suggest this is an effort by the Congolese government to stoke further chaos and justify election delays, just as the violence in the Kasais has been used as the main excuse for why elections won’t be held before the end of 2017, as called for in the Catholic Church mediated agreement of last December.

The coalition began fighting the Congolese army in late June in Maniema province and Fizi, the southernmost territory of South Kivu, and has moved steadily north, and taken control of several villages along Lake Tanganyika in the past week. The Congolese army and United Nations peacekeepers sent in reinforcements and have kept the rebels out of the city of Uvira, a strategic trading hub.

More than 100,000 people have been displaced since the fighting began in June, and the Congolese army reportedly arrested scores of local youth suspected of having links with the coalition.

The CNPSC is led by self-proclaimed “General” William Yakutumba, commander of one of the most powerful armed groups in South Kivu, which is largely made up of ethnic Bembe fighters. His “Mai Mai Yakutumba” group has committed many abuses over the past decade, including attacks on aid workers, large-scale theft of cattle, piracy on Lake Tanganyika, and illegal exploitation of gold and taxation of the population. The group claims to represent the interests of various local ethnic groups and to protect them against those they perceive as “foreigners,” especially members of the Banyamulenge, a minority ethnic group in the province.

The CNPSC’s move on Uvira came less than two weeks after Congolese security forces used excessive force to quash a protest at a Burundian refugee camp in Kamanyola, to the north of Uvira, killing around 40 Burundian refugees and wounding more than 100 others. A security force officer was also killed.

The show of force by the CNPSC and increased armed mobilization in South Kivu around the national political crisis is a bad omen for Congo. With Kabila bent on staying in power, violence and instability will likely only increase, with ordinary civilians bearing the brunt of it.