(Geneva) – Large-scale human rights violations have escalated in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent months. Government security forces have committed brutal political repression against those who opposed President Joseph Kabila’s stay in power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, 2016. Meanwhile, violence between government forces and local militias intensified in many parts of the country, including in the Kasai region, Tanganyika, North Kivu, Kongo Central, and in the capital, Kinshasa. Some of these situations are linked to the broader political crisis. The authorities made little to no progress in holding those responsible for past abuses to account.
The worst violence has been in the Kasai region. Since August, over 400 people have been killed and 200,000 displaced from their homes, according to the UN. Security forces have used excessive force, unnecessarily firing on alleged militia members, including women and children. Two dozen mass graves have been reported. On March 12, American and Swedish members of the UN Group of Experts and the four Congolese accompanying them went missing in Kasai Central, while investigating recent human rights violations; efforts are still underway to find them.
During political protests across the country in December, security forces killed over 50 people. Hundreds of opposition leaders and supporters, pro-democracy activists, and peaceful protesters were jailed. At least six media outlets close to the opposition remain barred, and the signal for Radio France Internationale (RFI) has been blocked in Kinshasa for over four months.
A Catholic Church-mediated agreement signed at the end of 2016 includes a clear commitment that presidential elections will be held before the end of 2017 and that President Kabila will not seek a third term. Yet progress on implementing the deal has stalled, and serious questions persist about whether Kabila and other political leaders are committed to organizing elections.
Ensuring implementation of this deal is probably the best way to prevent an already explosive situation in Congo from deteriorating even further. High-level international engagement will be critical.
We urge the Human Rights Council and its member states to:
- Increase scrutiny of the human rights situation in Congo, and support the High Commissioner’s call for a Commission of Inquiry or similar independent, international investigation into the situation in the Kasai region;
- In view of the dire and deteriorating situation, consider holding a Special Session on Congo;
- Support the application of further targeted UN, EU, and US sanctions against individuals most responsible for serious human rights abuses.
The Council’s engagement now is critical to help protect civilians from further violence, press for accountability for serious abuses, and ensure that timely, credible elections are held to build a more democratic and rights-respecting country.