(Kinshasa) – Congolese security forces have killed at least 24 people and arbitrarily detained dozens more since President Joseph Kabila was announced the winner of the disputed presidential elections on December 9, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should immediately halt attacks and arbitrary arrests against opposition supporters and local residents by security forces in an apparent effort to prevent any protest of disputed election results.
Those killed include opposition activists and supporters as well as people gathered on the street or even in their homes, Human Rights Watch found. Human Rights Watch has received dozens of reports of other killings and attacks by security forces which it is seeking to confirm and is continuing its investigations.
“Since Joseph Kabila was declared the winner of the presidential election, security forces have been firing on small crowds, apparently trying to prevent protests against the result,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These bloody tactics further undermine the electoral process and leave the impression that the government will do whatever it takes to stay in power.”
Kabila, the incumbent, was inaugurated in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, on December 20 following an election that international and national election observers strongly criticized as lacking credibility and transparency. The Kabila-appointed Supreme Court on December 16 rejected the opposition’s contention that the vote should be annulled because of fraud allegations.
The incidents of post-election abuse by security forces were documented by seven Human Rights Watch staff working with 17 Congolese human rights activists trained as election observers and deployed across the country. Human Rights Watch interviewed 86 victims, family members, and other witnesses, in addition to gathering information from other sources.
Human Rights Watch received numerous accounts of incidents in which members of the Republican Guard presidential security detail, the police, and other security forces fired on groups of people in the street who may have been protesting the election result, were preparing to protest, or were simply bystanders. In other incidents, suspected opposition supporters were targeted and killed.
At least 24 people were killed by security forces between December 9 and 14, including 20 in Kinshasa, two in North Kivu, and two in Kasai Occidental province. Human Rights Watch also documented an incident in which local youth in Kinshasa threw rocks at a priest who later died from his injuries.
Police and other security forces appear to be covering up the scale of the killings by quickly removing the bodies. Several sources informed Human Rights Watch that the government had instructed hospitals and morgues not to provide information about the number of dead or any details about individuals with bullet wounds to family members, human rights groups, or United Nations personnel, among others. Some family members have found the bodies of their loved ones in morgues far outside of Kinshasa, indicating that bodies are being taken to outlying areas.
The security forces have also forcibly blocked attempts by opposition groups to organize peaceful protests against election irregularities and arrested a number of the organizers on spurious charges of threatening state security, Human Rights Watch found. The Republican Guard, which is not empowered to arrest civilians, has apprehended opposition supporters and detained them in illegal places of detention at Camp Tshatshi, the guard’s Kinshasa base, and at the Palais de Marbre, a presidential palace. Some of the detainees were mistreated.
“The callous shooting of peaceful demonstrators and bystanders by the security forces starkly illustrates the depths the government will reach to suppress dissenting voices,” Van Woudenberg said. “The UN and Congo’s international partners should urgently demand that the government rein in its security forces.”
The Republican Guard is a force of some 12,000 soldiers whose primary task is to guard the president. Under Congolese law, the Republican Guard has no authority to arrest civilians, to detain them or to provide security for the elections. Congo’s police are responsible for providing security and ensuring public order during the elections. The national police chief, Gen. Charles Bisengimana, can call on the regular Congolese army, not the Republican Guard, to provide assistance if his force is unable to control public order.
Bisengimana told Human Rights Watch that he had not called on the army for any help with maintaining public order in Kinshasa and did not foresee any need to do so in the near future. He could not explain to Human Rights Watch why Republican Guard soldiers were so widely deployed across Kinshasa, including in places where there were no presidential installations for them to guard. He added that the Republican Guard was not under his authority or control.
“The Republican Guard has no authority to arrest Congolese civilians and hold them at illegal places of detention,” Van Woudenberg said. “The government should order the immediate release of all detainees in their custody, and undertake an impartial investigation into responsibility for these unlawful arrests and the mistreatment of detainees.”
Killings in Kinshasa
Politically motivated attacks by the security forces following the election have been most severe in Kinshasa, where the leading opposition candidate, Etienne Tshisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party, did very well at the polls.
Congolese security forces, including the Republican Guard and the police, were deployed in large numbers across the city ahead of the December 9 announcement of provisional election results by the independent electoral commission, the CENI. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that on that day and ensuing days, these forces fired randomly at small crowds of people who had gathered and others who attempted to leave their homes. Forces also fired on individuals suspected of looting. In some incidents, security forces specifically targeted and killed suspected opposition supporters. The attacks occurred in the communes of Ngaliema, Ngiri Ngiri, Kinsenso, Selembao, Lemba, Kalamu, Limete, and Kimbanseke in Kinshasa, killing at least 20 people, including 4 boys, 5 women, and 11 men, and wounding many others.
Soon after the election results were announced on December 9, a crowd of people gathered in the streets to protest in Barré neighborhood, Ngaliema commune. At around 5 pm, the police came and fired at the crowd to disperse the protesters. As people scattered, some took refuge outside the home of Fany Nsimba, a 21-year-old woman. When Nsimba and her 8-year-old niece came outside to see what was happening, they were both shot by the police. Nsimba died minutes later. Her niece is still hospitalized, recovering from a bullet wound in her thorax.
In Kimbanseke commune on the morning of December 10, local youth set up barricades on one of the main avenues following the announcement that Kabila had won the elections. When the police came to remove the roadblocks, some of the protesters threw rocks at them. The police responded by firing tear gas and live ammunition at the protesters and other passersby. A 15-year-old boy who had left his house to pick up his cell phone which was charging, and who some witnesses said had a rock in his hand, was shot dead. Another 30-year-old bus driver was also shot dead.
Angry at the heavy-handed response of the police, a group of youth broke into and burned a nearby police station, stealing weapons and furniture. Into the afternoon, the police continued to fire live ammunition at protesters in Kimbanseke and even down the smaller streets off the main avenue where the roadblocks had been set up. A 45-year-old mother of seven, who had poked her head outside the door to make sure none of her children were outside, was shot dead by a stray bullet.
In the days that followed, the police used the raid on the police station as a pretext for nightly raids in the neighborhood, going door-to-door and randomly arresting youth and stealing phones and money as they searched for the stolen weapons.
In Bandalungwa commune in the late afternoon of December 9, police fired into a crowd of people on Kimbondo Avenue who were protesting Kabila’s announced victory. At least two people suffered bullet wounds. The next morning, a 13-year-old boy, Bijou Luvuwala, was standing outside his house in the Kimbangu neighborhood, Kalamu commune, when the police drove by and fatally shot him.
The same day, on Pinzi Avenue, Bandalungwa commune, a 14-year-old boy stepped outside his house as a military truck drove by. The security forces in the truck shot and wounded the boy, a witness who was standing further down the road told Human Rights Watch.
On several occasions, state security forces have shot at or arbitrarily arrested people who happened to be standing outside the UDPS headquarters or in front of Tshisekedi’s nearby residence in Kinshasa’s Limete commune.
On December 10, the police drove by the UDPS headquarters in Kinshasa and fired into a crowd of people standing outside. A 23-year-old man told Human Rights Watch that he was shot in the leg, but that he and others who were wounded were scared to go the hospital, where they might be pursued by the authorities tracking down UDPS supporters.
Arbitrary Arrests in Kinshasa
Security forces, especially Republican Guard soldiers and the police, also conducted arbitrary arrests and house-to-house raids in the communes of Ngaliema, Lingwala, Kintambo, Limete, Kimbanseke, Selembao, and Kalamu in Kinshasa. During the attacks, they often looted homes and accused their victims of being against Kabila.
Republican Guard soldiers took those arrested to Camp Tshatshi, the Republican Guard military base in Kinshasa, and the Palais de Marbre, one of the official presidential residences in Kinshasa guarded by the Republican Guard. Neither is an official place of detention. At least 30 people have been detained in these two places since December 9, according to Human Rights Watch interviews with those who were released and other witnesses.
A Tshisekedi supporter who lives in Kinshasa’s Ngaliema commune told Human Rights Watch that around 5 p.m. on December 9, after the provisional election results were announced, Republican Guard soldiers raided his house. The soldiers beat him and his 19-year-old son and shouted at his family, saying “This time we will trample you like tomatoes!” They then left with his son, who was taken to Camp Tshatshi.
Former detainees from Camp Tshatshi interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that many were stripped naked, blasted with cold water and then repeatedly beaten by Republican Guard soldiers, including with wooden bats with nails. They said the soldiers accused them of being against Kabila.
One former detainee said the soldiers shouted at them: “You Kasaiens [referring to people from the Tshisekedi’s home region of Kasai], you will see. You want to make Kabila leave easily, but he came to power with blood. We will eliminate all of you.”[‘Vous les Kasaiens, vous allez voir. Vous voulez faire partir Kabila facilement. Mais lui, il est venu au pouvoir avec le sang. On va vous éliminer tous.’]
One witness said that three detainees at Camp Tshatshi were executed on the night of December 9. The witness said the three men did not have identity papers and were accused by the Republican Guard soldiers of being rebels. He said the victims were tied to a tree and shot in the back at close range, one after the other.
At the Palais de Marbre, a number of detainees were held and beaten next to the swimming pool. One detainee interviewed by Human Rights Watch after he escaped, described how he was arrested from his home in the middle of the night following publication of the election results on December 9and taken to the palace. He said he was thrown into the pool, still hand-cuffed, and forced to stay in the dirty water for several hours while the Republican Guard soldiers drank whiskey and urinated on him. He said the soldiers taunted him, telling him he would soon be killed because he had campaigned for Tshisekedi.
Republican Guard soldiers arrested another man while he was sitting in front of his small store in Ngaliema commune on the morning of December 10. He later told Human Rights Watch that the soldiers grabbed him, took him in their truck to Palais de Marbre, and told him they were tracking down all the youth responsible for causing disorder the day before. He was badly beaten in custody and finally released on December 12, after his family paid a bribe to the guards.
Police also arrested and detained dozens of people, contending they were responsible for public disorder, theft, arson, and incitation to civil disobedience. Many are still being arbitrarily held without charge in violation of Congolese and international law.
Early in the morning of December 8, two elderly men were arrested during raids by security forces on their homes in Mbamu neighborhood, in Kinshasa’s Limete commune. The security forces took them to the military detention center at Camp Kokolo, where they are still being held. Their families said those guarding the detainees told them that the men were being held because they are leaders of the UDPS party. The families said that one of the men is a member of the PALU political party, part of Kabila’s presidential alliance, and the other is a musician with no interest in politics.
Violence by the Opposition
The UDPS party has a long history of peaceful opposition, although UDPS supporters and others were implicated in sporadic acts of public disorder and violence following the announcement of the election results, including burning tires, throwing rocks at police, attacking police stations, looting shops, and setting up road blocks. Several police officers were injured.
On December 9, a group of suspected opposition supporters attacked a Kimbanguist church in Kinshasa’s Selembao commune. A pastor at the church, Mbunga Tusevo, was beaten and died the following day. The Kimbanguist church in Congo is perceived to have endorsed Kabila in the presidential elections. One of Kinshasa’s main Kimbanguist churches in Kasavubu commune was used as a holding area for people arrested on December 9 before they were taken to Camp Kokolo or Camp Tshatshi.
Crackdowns on the Opposition Elsewhere
Government abuses against opposition supporters and to stop protests also occurred in other parts of Congo. On the night of December 9, at Bunyangulavillage near Kiwanja, North Kivu province, Congolese army soldiers shot and killed Willy Wabo, a civil society activist who was a member of opposition leader Vital Kamerhe’s Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), in his home. A witness said that one of the attackers called Wabo by name from outside and then shot him at least twice through a window as he attempted hastily to call a friend. The witness said the soldiers shouted out that other UNC members and candidates would be tracked down in the same manner.
In the weeks before his death, Wabo had denounced election irregularities on local radio stations, specifically mentioning efforts by armed soldiers to block voters at a polling place in Katwiguru and the presence of soldiers at another polling place in Kiwanja. Human Rights Watch found that elsewhere in North Kivu, soldiers in uniform and in civilian clothing sought to intimidate voters to vote for Kabila.
In the city of Goma, North Kivu, local authorities used force to stop an attempt by UDPS and UNC opposition party leaders to organize a demonstration on December 13 to protest Kabila’s re-election and alleged vote rigging. Police used pepper spray and beatings to disperse a small group of peaceful protesters who had gathered at Signers traffic circle at around 10 a.m. A 28-year-old protester, Patient Chibike Birindwa, was assaulted by the police and collapsed and died the following day, December 14. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Birindwa had told them that he was pinned down on the ground by the police during the protest and repeatedly kicked in the chest, stomach and on his back. Later that day, he complained to friends about the injuries to his chest. Government officials in press interviews claimed Birindwa died of heart attack not associated with injuries he may have received at the protest. Another protester was also injured.
At the same demonstration, police arrested five of the UDPS and UNC organizers of the protest, even though they had given advance notice of the demonstration as required by Congolese law. In a statement the day before the protest, Goma’s mayor, Jean Maliaseme Busanya, denied the organizers the right to demonstrate, saying that anyone who wanted to contest the presidential election results was required to direct the complaints to the Supreme Court within 48 hours of the publication of the electoral results. The five organizers arrested were charged with threatening state security and publishing information with the aim of undermining public order. The mayor’s statement confused the requirements for a legal action against the voting results, which has time limits, with the right to express one’s opinion, which has no such limits.
Police and soldiers also quelled protests in Bukavu and Lubumbashi. In Bukavu on the morning of December 13, police dispersed opposition protesters by beating them with batons and arrested Eustache Nsimba, a lawyer who tried to convince the police not to stop the demonstration. He was later released. A demonstration to protest Kabila’s inauguration on December 20 was also quelled.
On December 14, in Lubumbashi, soldiers armed with military assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) forcibly stopped a group of about 30 UDPS members and supporters from demonstrating. Soldiers surrounded the demonstrators, threatened them with their guns, and beat and kicked one of the organizers, Fabien Mutomb, and others.
Police and other security forces also deployed in large numbers to patrol the streets of Mbuji-Mayi, Mwene-Ditu, Kananga, and Tshikapa, in Kasai Oriental and Kasai Occidental provinces, all towns that voted overwhelmingly in favor of Tshisekedi.
Mbuji-Mayi has been under a night-time curfew since December 2. Local residents and civil society activists interviewed by Human Rights Watch said the curfew has given cover to numerous incidents of intimidation, arbitrary arrests and looting by security forces. Dozens of civilians, many of them UDPS supporters, were detained between December 9 and 12. Some were later charged with initiating a rebellion, insulting state authorities and destroying property. Some detainees alleged that they were mistreated. In one case a police officer threw a tear gas canister into a closed container near the police headquarters where some 40 detainees were being held.
At least two men were killed by security forces in Kananga, Kasai Occidental province, on December 9 and 11. One of the victims was shot dead while demonstrating.