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DR Congo: Uphold Rights, Rule of Law After Failed Coup

Prosecute Participants Fairly; Investigate Possible Summary Killings

Congolese security forces secure the streets of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on May 19, 2024, after Congo's army said it had "foiled a coup" and arrested the alleged perpetrators. © 2024 AP Photo/Samy Ntumba Shambuyi

(Nairobi) – The Democratic Republic of Congo government should ensure that those who took part in an attempted coup are prosecuted in fair trials, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should also thoroughly and impartially investigate and appropriately prosecute security forces’ alleged extrajudicial killings of coup participants.

Details are still emerging about the attempted coup by a group of about 50 Congolese and foreigners in Kinshasa, the capital, on May 19, 2024. Media reports indicate the attempted coup led to the deaths of at least two security guards and one civilian and that the security forces killed several coup participants. At least two coup participants may have been killed while trying to escape custody.

“The government both has a responsibility to ensure the security of the country and to hold those responsible for the coup attempt accountable, based on international fair trial standards,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s response needs to be rights-respecting, which includes impartially investigating possible security force involvement in alleged summary executions.”

Christian Malanga, a US-based Congolese opponent of the government, the self-proclaimed “President of New Zaire,” and head of a government in exile, allegedly led the coup. Malanga, his son, and other coup participants breached the Palais de la Nation (Palace of the Nation) in Kinshasa, which serves as the president’s office. The coup participants allegedly attacked the residences of the prime minister, the defense minister, and another senior politician.

Congolese security forces killed Malanga in unclear circumstances hours after he seized the Palais de la Nation.

President Félix Tshisekedi was sworn in on January 20 for a second term, after December 2023 elections marred by logistical issues, irregularities, and violence. Tshisekedi has since been unable to form a government despite holding a majority in parliament.

Media reports indicate that at least three US nationals, including Malanga’s son Marcel, participated in the failed coup. US Ambassador Lucy Tamlyn, in a statement on X (formerly Twitter), said that the US will “cooperate with the DRC authorities to the fullest extent as they investigate these criminal acts and hold accountable any US citizen.” US authorities should also investigate and appropriately prosecute any coup participant who may have violated US law, Human Rights Watch said.

Malanga livestreamed the attack on the Palais de la Nation on his Facebook account. The original livestream is no longer available. However, Human Rights Watch verified a copy of the livestream shared elsewhere online and geolocated it to the palace. It shows Malanga and a small group of armed men walking around the grounds issuing proclamations.

Human Rights Watch also geolocated two videos taken by Congolese soldiers and shared widely on social media on May 21. Human Rights Watch determined that one showed an area on the banks of the Congo River approximately 185 meters from the dock leading to the Palais de la Nation. In it, seven men in civilian dress or without clothing, including one Caucasian man without clothing who is believed to be a foreigner participating in the coup, are in and around a boat, along with six men in Congolese military fatigues. A soldier shoots twice at one of the presumed coup participants, who then lies motionless. One of the men jumps into the river in an attempt to flee. The soldiers shoot at him several dozen times until a pool of blood appears in the water and he no longer comes up for air. A soldier shouts: “He is dead!” and the firing stops.

In the second video, filmed on a dock outside the Palais de la Nation, seven soldiers, six of whom are wearing red berets associated with the Republican Guard, the presidential security detail, lead a bloodied foreigner and Malanga's son toward the palace. The Caucasian man, who is wearing clothes, repeatedly says “no weapon” as the soldiers search him.

Congolese authorities should enforce the absolute prohibition on torture and ill-treatment of any detainee and investigate possible extrajudicial executions by security forces, Human Rights Watch said. The attempted coup came after a prolonged period during which the Congolese government had significantly repressed the rights to free expression, media freedom, and peaceful assembly. Since 2020, the authorities have increasingly cracked down on journalists, human rights and democracy activists, critics of the government, and opposition party members and officials. Security forces have repeatedly used unnecessary or excessive forceincluding lethal force, to block or disperse peaceful demonstrations.

The attempted coup occurred at a time when armed conflict in eastern Congo has intensified as Rwandan-backed M23 rebels continue to seize territory around Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

West and Central Africa have experienced a spate of coups over the last few years, posing concerns for democratic institutions and upending the peaceful transfer of power. The African Union and several African governments have condemned the attempted coup. The AU Constitutive Act and the Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance support sanctions against unconstitutional changes of government.

“Congo and the region have a legacy of coups and attempted coups,” Mudge said. “The Congolese government needs to treat this crisis as an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to human rights and the rule of law.”

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