(Kinshasa) – The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo should immediately rein in its security forces, especially the Republican Guard, and prevent the targeting of political opponents and their supporters in the aftermath of the November 28, 2011 presidential and legislative elections, Human Rights Watch said today. Electoral violence between November 26 and 28 left at least 18 civilians dead and 100 seriously wounded, Human Rights Watch has confirmed.
According to Human Rights Watch research, the majority of those killed were shot dead by Republican Guard soldiers in Kinshasa. Other civilians were killed and wounded during clashes between rival political parties, attacks by armed groups, and mob violence. The announcement of results on December 6 could prompt further unrest, Human Rights Watch said.
“Tensions are running high given the logistical complications of organizing the election,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces should be protecting people, not fueling the violence.”
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials state that security forces shall apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use lethal force only when it is strictly necessary to protect life. The Basic Principles state that, “Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law.”
The attacks were confirmed by seven international and national Human Rights Watch staff in Congo accredited as election observers, working with 17 Congolese human rights activists trained as election observers and deployed across the country.
Human Rights Watch also called on the government to take urgent steps to investigate and hold to account individuals, including members of the security services, who sought to intimidate voters, political party witnesses, and election officials engaged in compiling the results. The government should also hold to account those who attempted to commit election fraud.
Violence in Kinshasa
The worst incident occurred on November 26, the last day of the election campaign. Supporters of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party had gathered at Kinshasa’s N’djili airport to escort their leader, Etienne Tshisekedi, to an election rally. Just across from them were supporters of Joseph Kabila, the incumbent president, also awaiting their candidate’s arrival. Police tried to control tensions between the groups by firing teargas at the crowd of UDPS supporters. When the presidential convoy arrived with the Republican Guard to escort Kabila into town, some soldiers fired into the air while others fired directly at the crowd of opposition supporters.
At least 12 opposition supporters and bystanders were fatally shot and 41 others suffered gunshot wounds during violence at the airport and as the Republican Guard drove back into the city center – without Kabila, who had changed his plans and landed at another airport. The soldiers fired indiscriminately into crowds of opposition supporters along the road near Arret Kingasani, Arret Pascal, Marché de Liberté, Pont Matete, and in the Limeté neighborhood.
Some witnesses said the soldiers may have been provoked by UDPS supporters along the road who threw rocks at the Republican Guard accompanying the presidential convoy.
Ndelela Aminata, a 27-year-old mother of five, was shot in the head and killed by alleged Republican Guard soldiers near Petro-Congo in Masina commune while she was walking home from the shop where she worked. Bukasa Tshimpanga, 22, was killed when alleged soldiers shot him in the head while he was outside the manioc granary where he worked in Kimbaseke commune, near the airport.
Republican Guard soldiers also shot and wounded a 21-year-old pregnant woman while she walked home from the market near Arret Pascal in the afternoon. “They [the soldiers] began shooting at everyone in the crowds on the side of the road,” she told Human Rights Watch. “I tried to run, but the soldiers shot me in the foot.”
Dozens of other people were wounded on November 26 when supporters of opposing political parties clashed in the streets of Kinshasa, attacking each other with machetes, rocks, and wooden bats.
“Elections don’t give soldiers an excuse to randomly shoot at crowds,” Van Woudenberg said. “The authorities should immediately suspend those responsible for this unnecessary bloodshed and hold them to account.”
Also on November 26, four armed men who have not been identified attacked a parliamentary candidate, Dieudonné Lowa Opombo, at his home in Kinshasa in the early morning hours. He is running with the opposition coalition led by Vital Kamerhe’s Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC). The assailants attacked him with knives and hammers, injected him with an unknown substance, and then dragged him to a waiting jeep. According to Opombo and other witnesses, noise from a neighboring house may have frightened the assailants, who left Opombo unconscious in a sewer a short distance from his home. He was hospitalized with serious wounds to the head, chest, and arms.
Violence against UDPS supporters and others continued in Kinshasa on voting day, November 28. At around 10 p.m. security forces fired into a crowd of opposition supporters in Matete neighborhood. Leandre Minga Mikobi, 18, was fatally shot in the chest.
A 13-year-old boy was wounded in the shoulder. One of the assailants emerged from a police jeep, came up to the boy, pointed his gun at the boy’s head and told him he was lucky to still be alive. The assailant then got back into the police jeep and drove off. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the assailants were Republican Guard soldiers wearing police attire over their uniforms.
In total, at least 14 civilians were killed in Kinshasa during election-related violence on November 26 and 28.
Violence Related to Suspicions of Fraud
Across the country, suspicion of electoral fraud triggered anger that in a number of cases escalated into violence. People attacked polling places, election officials, or people they believed responsible for fraud. Confusion about voter registration lists, which had been distributed very late by electoral authorities and which did not reach many voting places or were incomplete, contributed to the suspicions. In many areas, voters and even electoral officials were uncertain whether people could vote if their name did not appear on the voting list. The late arrival of voting materials in many polling places also fed these suspicions.
Police stationed at polling places were either insufficient in number to deal with the violence or stood by and did nothing. In some instances they fired into the air, dispersing the crowd.
In Kananga, Kasai Occidental province, a Congolese election observer was badly beaten by a mob that accused her of carrying fraudulent ballots and had to be hospitalized. Three men were attacked and later hospitalized following similar incidents in other voting centers in Kananga. Also in Kananga, at least 15 polling places were burned with election materials inside because voters suspected the ballot boxes had been stuffed with ballots for Kabila.
In Matadi, Bas-Congo province, voters became suspicious and attacked a polling place and election officials after a political party candidate forced UDPS political party witnesses to leave. Angry voters beat the polling place director, who had to be hospitalized.
Also in Bas-Congo, in Lukula, residents stopped an election official carrying ballots on the back of a motorcycle. Suspicious that the official was attempting to commit fraud, the residents beat him severely. The police intervened and took him to the hospital.
At a polling station in Bamanya, Equateur province, armed assailants attacked voters and electoral staff in an apparent effort to subvert the results.
In some cases when election officials or others tried to stop apparent fraud, they were threatened or attacked by those committing the fraud, some of them members of the security forces.
Human Rights Watch also received credible reports about other election related violence in Kasai Occidental and Kasai Oriental provinces, including in Mbuji-Mayi, although further verification is required to determine the exact circumstances of the events.
“Suspicions of fraud, whether true or not, illustrate the growing concern among many voters about the credibility of the electoral process,” Van Woudenberg said. “As the vote counting continues, it is crucial for police to take added measures to protect election officials and stop fraud. Mob justice is no way to deal with election irregularities.”
Intimidation of Voters and Political Party Witnesses
In some areas there were attempts to intimidate voters to select a particular candidate. In Mpati and in neighboring villages in Masisi territory, North Kivu province, observers reported that a local strongman, Erasto Ntibaturama, compelled voters to vote for Kabila and for the strongman’s son, Bahati Ibatunganya, a parliamentary candidate from the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a former rebel group now registered as a political party.
Local observers said that Ntibaturama blocked the delivery of election materials at Busumba destined for voting offices in Mpati, Nyange and Kivuye, saying he would release them only on the condition that people agreed to vote as he had instructed. On November 30, the materials for Mpati and Kivuye remained in Busumba. The materials for Nyange were released on November 29, after Ntibaturama received assurances that voters would do as he had instructed.
In Bweru village, near Mpati, Ntibaturama also sought to intimidate voters. He addressed a crowd on November 29 when the vote was still under way via a telephone attached to a loudspeaker instructing them to vote for Kabila and Ntibaturama’s son. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that a local government official accompanied by soldiers under the command of another of Ntibaturama’s sons, Lt. Col. Justin Gacheri, a former CNDP rebel, directed voters to follow Ntibaturama’s instructions.
In other parts of Masisi territory, North Kivu, former CNDP rebels who are now Congolese soldiers were at polling places in civilian clothes, acting as political party witnesses or even providing security, numerous witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Some voters told Human Rights Watch that they felt intimidated by their presence.
Political party witnesses, especially from opposition parties, accredited to monitor the electoral process, were also intimidated in a number of areas. Observers in Masisi territory said some partisan electoral officials and police barred opposition UNC witnesses from entering polling places on election day. Local observers and party witnesses also reported to Human Rights Watch that soldiers, some in uniform and others in civilian clothing, tried to intimidate or directly threatened opposition party witnesses.
Rebel Groups Impact Elections
Rebel armed groups also caused problems for voters on election day. Near Faradje, Orientale province, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan rebel group, attacked a small group of voters on their way to the polling place. Three men were killed, and ten women and three boys and young men were abducted. One of the women, who was six months’ pregnant, was raped and later released. She was taken to the hospital but lost her baby.
In Lubumbashi, Katanga province, armed assailants with reported links to a separatist movement attacked a polling place in the Belair neighborhood. One female voter was killed in the firefight between the assailants and the police and Republican Guard soldiers. Two policemen and seven of the assailants were also killed. Earlier that day, a group of assailants burned two vehicles with voting materials destined for polling places.
In the Waloayungu and Waloaluanda areas of Walikale territory, North Kivu province, thousands of people fled the threat of clashes in the days preceding the elections between the rebel armed groups Mai Mai Sheka and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a largely Rwandan Hutu militia group. It is not clear how many voters in the area were able to cast their ballots.
In Mutakato, also in Walikale territory, the reported arrival on election day of a senior militia commander of the Mai Mai Sheka, Commander Guidon, caused fear and panic. Hundreds of people fled the polling place to take refuge in the forest. Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, the leader of the Mai Mai Sheka, is running for the national parliament. Sheka is wanted on a Congolese arrest warrant for crimes against humanity for mass rape committed in August 2010. On November 29, the UN Security Council added Sheka to the UN sanctions list, freezing his assets and imposing a worldwide travel ban.
“The Congolese people who turned out in large numbers to exercise their democratic rights deserve to have their votes count,” Van Woudenberg said. “As the announcement of election results nears, it is crucial for all leaders to act responsibly and peacefully, win or lose.”