Security forces pursue peaceful protesters in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, on December 31, 2017. 

© 2017 John Bompengo
In December, violence broke out in Ituri province in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Militias launched deadly attacks on villages, killing scores of civilians, torching thousands of homes, and displacing more than 100,000 people, including nearly 60,000 refugees who fled to Uganda. 

Human Rights Watch has received terrifying accounts of massacres, rapes, and decapitation. In February, after an attack on Seseti village, a survivor described finding 15 bodies, including three children, the following morning. “They cut off the heads and arms of some… and even slit open their bellies,” he said. “We were too afraid to stay and bury them properly, so we just dug a small hole… and quickly left.”

This is just the latest outbreak of violence in which the response by the Congolese government and security forces has been grossly inadequate. Militia and in some cases army attacks on civilians have also continued in the central Kasai and in the eastern North and South Kivu and Tanganyika provinces, leaving 4.5 million people internally displaced – more than anywhere else in Africa – and 2 million children at risk of starvation.

Much of this violence is linked to the country’s broader political crisis, as President Joseph Kabila has stayed in power beyond the constitutionally mandated two-term limit by delaying elections and systematically quashing dissent. Security forces have killed over 300 people during largely peaceful protests since 2015. Hundreds of opposition supporters and democracy activists have been thrown in jail.

Security forces heightened their repression by firing teargas and live bullets within and around Catholic churches during peaceful marches following Mass on three Sundays since December, killing at least 18 people.

Government officials and the electoral commission president claim elections will be held on December 23, but have also cited numerous constraints that could cause further delays. Kabila himself has yet to declare that he will step down.

In light of the country’s dire human rights situation – which is likely to deteriorate in the absence of credible elections, and pose increasing risks to regional security – we urge this Council to consider further action to address the situation in Congo, including a Special Session if the situation worsens.