Thank you, Mr. President.

I am speaking here today to urge this Council to act now to help prevent a further escalation of the political crisis and deteriorating human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. If not checked quickly, the situation could have violent and destabilizing repercussions across the region.

Since January 2015, the Congolese government has imposed a brutal crackdown against those who have spoken out against or opposed attempts to extend President Kabila’s presidency beyond the constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ends on December 19th. As plans for the organization of elections have stalled, government officials and security forces arbitrarily arrested scores of opposition leaders and activists, banned opposition demonstrations, shut down media outlets, and fired on peaceful protesters.

Peaceful pro-democracy youth activists – like Fred Bauma of LUCHA who is here with us today – were accused of plotting terrorist acts, held incommunicado for months, and later put on trial on trumped up charges. In an apparent attempt to curtail human rights reporting, officials blocked me from continuing to work in Congo in early August, after having lived and worked in the country with Human Rights Watch for over 8 ½ years.

The crisis reached a new height last week, when Congolese across the country went to the streets again to protest election delays. In Kinshasa, security forces shot dead at least 50 people and detained scores of others. Some of the protesters also turned violent, beating or burning to death several police officers.

The risk of increased violence, instability, brutal repression, and a further shrinking of political space in the coming months is very real. While the window is closing, we believe there is still time to influence the course of events.

Strong action is needed now to show there are consequences for the repression and to help deter further violence. Timely investigations and public reporting on the human rights violations will be critical, and we urge the Council to support the OHCHR to deploy a team of existing experts on an ongoing basis, and with capacity for rapid response.

Following the High Commissioner’s trip to Congo in July, he raised concerns about how the political uncertainty there could lead to a serious crisis. What steps is the office taking, and what can the Human Rights Council and its member states do, to help prevent a further unravelling of the situation?

This statement was delivered to the Human Rights Council on September 27, 2016, by Ida Sawyer, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on the Democratic Republic of Congo.