In a letter sent today to President Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch welcomed his decision to appoint a minister for human rights in the new cabinet announced in Kinshasa on June 1, 1998.

The letter urged the Congolese government to go beyond this symbolic gesture by ordering the immediate release of all Congolese imprisoned or detained for the nonviolent expression of their opinion and by guaranteeing the right of human rights groups to independently work for the defense and promotion of human rights in the country"The appointment of a human rights minister will be a futile and cosmetic gesture if it is not immediately followed by the release of all political prisoners and detainees," commented Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "The harassment of human rights activists and opposition politicians has also got to stop." Takirambudde said he hoped to see concrete steps toward the attainment of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the full accountability of security agents before the law."