Skip to main content

On January 20, 2024, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi was sworn in for a second and final five-year term. Official results reported a landslide victory in a highly contested electoral process marred by logistical issues, irregularities, and violence. Opposition candidates rejected the results and called for new elections.

The country’s influential conference of Catholic bishops (CENCO) described the December elections as an “electoral catastrophe” blighted by “fraud, corruption, vandalism and incitement to violence.” The Carter Center's election observation mission reported that “at least 19 deaths, including two candidates, [were] attributed to election-related violence.”

Citing fraud, the national electoral commission (CENI) cancelled results in two constituencies, and disqualified 82 candidates from national and local elections, including some from the ruling coalition. And according to CENI figures, Tshisekedi’s political coalition secured an overwhelming majority in parliament.

President Tshisekedi faces significant challenges, including worsening violence in the east with the ongoing armed conflict with the Rwanda-backed M23 armed group as well as other fighting involving various non-state armed groups, continuing violence in and around the western province of Mai-Ndombe, rising tensions among communities in the southern Katanga region, rising hate speech, and one of the world’s biggest displacement crises.

After an electoral campaign largely centered around a nationalist rhetoric and warmongering declarations and a first term during which initial steps to advance human rights in Congo were soon overshadowed by intolerance for dissent and the progressive narrowing of civic space, Tshisekedi should place the promotion and protection of human rights at the center of his administration’s agenda and adopt systemic reforms to guarantee the rule of law.

As troops from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) deploy to support the Congolese army in North Kivu, and as the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) prepares to leave the country at the government’s request, Tshisekedi’s administration should make civilian protection and accountability for rights abuses a priority and take concrete steps to protect people’s fundamental rights, as follows:

1.      Respect and protect rights to free expression, media freedom, and peaceful assembly

In stark contrast with Tshisekedi’s first year in office, which was marked by a significant decline in political repression in the country, authorities have over the past four years increasingly cracked down – including online – on journalists, human rights and pro-democracy activists, critics of the government, and opposition party members and officials.

Despite Tshisekedi’s 2019 pledge to have the media become “a real fourth estate,” journalists continue to be targeted for their work, including Stanis Bujakera, Congo’s reporter with the largest social media following, who has been detained since September 8, 2023, while facing prosecution in a politically motivated case.

On February 3, 2024, National Intelligence Agency (ANR) agents arrested and detained five pro-democracy activists and two other people following a peaceful rally calling for an end to the M23 “occupation” in the eastern province of North Kivu, where the armed group has long been responsible for war crimes and other abuses. They were all questioned about post-election opposition meetings.

Article 26 of Congo’s Constitution allows citizens to protest without authorization, provided that they informed the authorities in advance. However, during Tshisekedi’s first term, security forces repeatedly used unnecessary or excessive force, including lethal force, to block or disperse peaceful demonstrations.


  • Direct security forces and agencies, in particular the National Intelligence Agency, to stop threatening, intimidating, arbitrarily arresting and detaining opposition members, journalists and activists who are critical of government officials or policies. Shut down all state security agency-run detention centers in line with Tshisekedi’s earlier commitments.
  • End the harassment, including judicial harassment such as prosecution of opposition members, critics, whistleblowers, and journalists, and drop unfounded charges against them.
  • Direct security forces to stop using excessive force during demonstrations and investigate credible allegations of violations by security forces and appropriately hold those responsible to account. Ensure the Republican Guard and the military are not deployed to places of protests, and ensure justice and full accountability for the killing of dozens of civilians by Republican Guards in Goma on August 30, 2023.
  • Ensure security forces adhere to international standards regarding peaceful assembly, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa.
  • Repeal criminal defamation laws in line with the 2010 call by the (ACHPR) in its resolution 169, which “underlin[ed] that criminal defamation constitute[s] a serious interference with freedom of expression and impedes on the role of the media as a watchdog,” and reform the Digital Code, which criminalizes the sharing of “false news.”

2.      Prioritize civilian protection in conflict areas

More than 100 armed groups are still active across Congo’s eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, and Tanganyika. Many of their commanders have been implicated in war crimes, including massacres, sexual violence, recruiting children, and pillaging.

The war against M23 rebels, a group supported by Rwanda, featured prominently in the last two years of Tshisekedi’s first term and continues to impact civilians, more than one million of whom have been displaced by the fighting and remain in a dire humanitarian situation, according to the United Nations and aid agencies. The M23 controls large swathes of territory in North Kivu.  Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on governments and regional organizations to press Rwanda to stop providing arms and other support to the M23, which is responsible for countless war crimes over many years. In light of the M23 offensive, a coalition of abusive militia dubbed “Wazalendo” (“patriots” in Swahili) as well as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group, some of whose leaders took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda – receive support from the government to fight alongside Congolese soldiers. Tshisekedi’s administration also contracted hundreds of private military personnel to train and instruct army units, and the Congolese army acquired new weaponry, including armed drones, raising concerns of a broader regional conflict.

In Ituri, militia fighters increased attacks on civilians over the last year, including at camps for displaced people. Ugandan troops continue to track down fighters from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan-led armed group with ties to the extremist armed group Islamic State (also known as ISIS), in both North Kivu and Ituri provinces as part of a bilateral agreement with Congo.  

As the East African Community (EAC) force left Congo at the end of 2023, SADC troops started to deploy in December in North Kivu in support of Congolese government troops. Meanwhile, Tshisekedi’s administration requested that the UN peacekeeping force, MONUSCO, leave the country by the end of 2024.

Tshisekedi starts his second term also facing violence in the western province of Mai-Ndombe as Mobondo militia groups attack civilians and government forces in the vicinity of Kinshasa, the nation’s capital.


  • Immediately end support for and collaboration with abusive armed groups forming the Wazalendo coalition as well as with the FDLR in the fight against the M23 armed group. Civilian officials or military personnel credibly implicated in supporting such groups should be suspended from their positions, investigated, and appropriately prosecuted.
  • Act on the arrest warrants against members of armed groups, including militia leader Guidon Shimiray Mwissa, who is part of the Wazalendo coalition despite being wanted by Congolese authorities for abuses and crimes against humanity.
  • Improve and start the Demobilization, Disarmament, Community Recovery and Stabilization Program (PDDRCS) with long-term, holistic support to deter former fighters from returning to the bush.
  • Address hate speech and incitement, and hate-motivated acts of violence or intimidation. Ensure accountability for all those responsible for ethnic violence, including the involvement of officials, and work with minority communities to develop effective measures to provide better protection and identify and address problems before they result in criminal offenses.

3.      Reform the justice system and address corruption

In an interview broadcast on state television last year, Tshisekedi admitted that lack of progress in the justice system was “a downside to [his] record,” adding that “unfortunately, in our case, justice is destroying our nation… and so I think the justice system needs reform.”

The justice system in Congo remains highly dysfunctional, plagued by corruption and the interference of political and military actors. Financial and material shortfalls also seriously hinder judicial processes, many of which simply stall as a result. Many alleged human rights violators have not yet been brought to justice while arbitrary arrests and detentions, including of human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition figures, continue.

Widespread corruption significantly impacts the capacity of the state to deliver on its obligations to provide quality education, health care, social security, and other economic, social, and cultural rights, and undermines the trust in public authorities and the social contract in the country.


  • Introduce the necessary systemic reforms to rebuild the judicial system for efficient, accessible, fair, and independent justice.
  • End political interference and corruption in the judiciary at all levels (including within the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court). This should include ensuring adequate accountability for those alleged to have engaged in attempts to obstruct or interfere with judicial processes, regardless of their official position.
  • Facilitate victims’ access to justice and ensure respect for fair trial rights, including by guaranteeing legal aid for accused who are indigent.
  • Release detainees who have not been convicted of any crime or are awaiting trial in preventive detention without charge beyond time limits prescribed by law.
  • Take concrete steps to address corruption, including by ensuring clear procedures to detect, prevent, and investigate incidents of corruption, bribery, and embezzlement of public funds and to bring those responsible for corruption-related offenses to justice.
  • Ensure legal protections for whistleblowers and support the passage of a freedom of information act.
  • Revise the law on the protection of human rights defenders to remove provisions that criminalize their work.

4.      Prioritize accountability for serious crimes

During Tshisekedi’s first term in office, national consultations were held on a potential transitional justice process to address past and present serious crimes under international law. However, the president has not committed to concrete measures to address the recurring cycles of violence and impunity that continues in Congo.

Congolese courts, mostly military, have taken on an increasing number of cases involving war crimes and crimes against humanity. Still, most atrocities committed in Congo remain unpunished and domestic proceedings continue to reveal flaws in the national judicial system.

Any future transitional justice process should include and prioritize measures to advance criminal accountability for serious crimes.


  • Establish an internationalized justice mechanism to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes committed in Congo by both Congolese and foreign actors, including those documented in the UN Mapping Report (covering crimes committed between 1993 and 2003) and more recently.
  • Establish a formal vetting mechanism to identify and provisionally remove from their posts members of the security forces and other executive branch officers who may have been implicated in serious human rights violations, regardless of rank, while their cases are in progress. Such individuals should be fairly investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted in trials that meet international standards. This should be part of a broader Security Sector Reform.
  • Establish a comprehensive reparations program for victims of serious international crimes and their families, in line with international law, to help them rebuild their lives.

5.      Reform institutions to strengthen democracy

Key institutions, particularly the Constitutional Court and the electoral commission (CENI), are perceived to be politicized and favoring the authorities.  

Several election observation missions noted the lack of confidence in the December 2023 electoral process. “The impartiality of the Constitutional Court is often called into question,” said the African Union Electoral Observation Mission. It urged the government to “guarantee the independence and impartiality of the institutions involved in the electoral process.” The Carter Center's election observation mission stated that “the elections took place in the context of a deep lack of confidence on the part of many citizens that the elections would be carried out fairly” stemming in part from “the conduct of previous elections, the composition of the [electoral commission], and from gaps in transparency, especially regarding the voter registration process.”

The Congolese people’s mistrust in their institutions is reflected in the voter turnout that gradually fell in the four general elections the country organized since its independence, reaching a historical low of 43 percent in December. Even though the main opposition candidates rejected the election results, they refused to file a formal appeal with the Constitutional Court, contending that it would not fairly examine it.

Reforms of the electoral body during Tshisekedi’s first term did not go as far as creating the conditions for an impartial and credible process, in part because the change in its structure and composition did not address its “politicization” issue.

Tshisekedi’s administration should take concrete steps to restore the Congolese people’s trust in democratic institutions.  


  • Set up an independent commission of inquiry to impartially investigate and fairly sanction electoral mismanagement, fraud, and corruption that may have undermined the December 2023 general elections. The electoral commission should not be policing its own work.
  • Reform the electoral commission (CENI) to ensure its independence and credibility, including by guaranteeing that its appointed members are free from any political agenda, and ensuring robust checks and balances.
  • Guarantee the independence and impartiality of the Constitutional Court, including by ensuring that the appointment of justices is not controlled by the ruling political force.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.