The European Union will soon have to decide whether to renew targeted sanctions against 14 senior officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo responsible for violent repression and other serious human rights abuses. The EU should do so.
The EU sanctions – imposed in 2016 and 2017 – together with sanctions from the United States and the United Nations helped pressure Joseph Kabila to commit to stepping down as president and allow elections to take place after a delay of two years and much bloodshed. However, political repression continued in the run-up to the vote and in its aftermath.
Despite concerns about the fairness of the 2018 election, in which Felix Tshisekedi was declared president, the new administration has taken some steps that signaled it could have a more constructive approach to human rights issues. But these early steps have fallen far short of changes needed to end Congo’s cycles of violence and impunity.
Many of the individuals whom the EU sanctioned no longer hold the same positions as when the sanctions were first applied. Some have been promoted to more senior positions, while others were moved into different, similarly powerful positions. Some may continue to play a role in abuses, but in a less official capacity.
None of the 14 sanctioned individuals have been investigated or held legally responsible for their alleged rights violations, and there is no indication that they will act differently under a new administration.
Lifting sanctions now would be a slap in the face to Congo’s victims of human rights abuses. It would send the message that impunity can continue, and it could embolden other senior officials to commit grave abuses in the future. Renewing the sanctions would show that the EU stands up for justice and acts to respect the rights of all of Congo’s people.