The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should not have been elected to the UN Human Rights Council today, as it fails to meet the basic membership criteria. See full UN Watch report on candidates here.

Demonstrators chant slogans against plans of Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila to stay in office past the end of his term, during a protest in central Brussels, Belgium, December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Human Rights Record

DRC commits serious human rights violations, including:

  • Unlawful killings
  • Torture
  • Cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment
  • Gender based violence
  • Disappearances
  • Life-threatening prison conditions
  • Systematic use of arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention
  • Restrictions of freedom of expression
  • Political corruption
  • Lack of independent judiciary
  • Lack of due process
  • Harassment of civil society and opposition leaders
  • Inability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections
  • Suppression of freedom of assembly and association
  • Abuse of internally displaced persons
  • Discrimination against minorities
  • Discrimination against women
  • Discrimination against people with disabilities
  • Child soldiers
  • Persecution of LGBT
  • Persecution of Albinos

Discussion:

DRC President Jospeh Kabila came to power in 2001 after his father—Laurent-Désiré Kabila—  was assassinated. Pursuant to the DRC constitution, Jospeh Kabila was supposed to step down as president at the end of his second term in office on December 19, 2016. Although the constitution prohibits him from serving another term, Kabila refused to organize presidential and legislative elections prior to the expiration of his term. The last elections (in which Kabila was elected to his second term), held in 2011, were criticized by international observers as “seriously flawed” due to voting irregularities and lack of transparency. [1]

While the law officially permits opposition parties, Kabila’s government has done its best to suppress them. In May 2016, when opposition leader Moise Katumbi announced his candidacy for president, the government commenced an investigation against him, later charging him with recruitment of mercenaries, and arrested 27 of his associates. Katumbi claims the charges are politically motivated and has remained out of the country for over a year to avoid imprisonment. [2]

On September 19-20, in response to protests turned violent over Kabila’s failure to organize elections, the State Security Forces (SSF) responded with excessive force, killing at least 48 protesters. [3] The SSF also viciously attacked the headquarters of the opposition party New Forces for Union and Solidarity and Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) with RPGs and grenades, killing at least 11 civilians and cruelly preventing the injured from seeking medical attention, according to eyewitnesses. More violent protests followed in December 2016 when Kabila refused to step down resulting in at least 20 deaths, some shot at close range by government troops. [4]

Kabila appears to be intent on hanging onto power at any cost. Despite a December 2016 agreement brokered by the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, by which Kabila agreed to hold elections at the end of this year, Kabila has taken no action to organize the elections. [5] Complaining about the government’s crackdown on the media and civil society, UN Human Rights Office field operations director, Georgette Gagnon, recently commented: “The space required for a credible electoral process is rapidly shrinking.” [6] According to Human Rights Watch, more than 100 activists and opposition leaders or supporters were arbitrarily arrested in 2016 and held for more than 48 hours. Some were held incommunicado for weeks or months and abused in custody. [7] In July 2017 alone, the government arrested more than 100 anti-Kabila protesters. [8]

In December 2016, the government closed CCTV and Radio Liberte Kinshasa, both owned by opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, claiming they owed back taxes and licensing fees. Twelve journalists were mistreated, arrested or harassed by government forces while covering the September 2016 protests in Kinshasa. At least three of the journalists were subjected to arbitrary detention and abuse while in custody. [9] The media and journalists were also targeted throughout the year. 

Against this background, civil war has raged in the Kasai region since August 2016 between government and opposition forces. [10] The violence began when the military assassinated a regional leader critical of President Jospeh Kabila. The Roman Catholic Church estimates that 3,300 people have been killed in the region since October 2016 and more than 1.4 million have fled from their homes. [11]

Mass graves in the town of Nganza, where witnesses say government forces went door to door massacring whole families in March 2017, are being guarded by government troops in order to prevent any investigation of the murders. A recent report by the UN Human Rights Office has accused “elements” of the government army of digging most of the 80 mass graves it identified and has implicated government forces in large scale ethnic killings. Two UN representatives charged with investigating massacres in the region were themselves killed in March 2017. Their murderers have not yet been identified. [12]

The eastern part of the country has also experienced large scale violence by all sides in recent years, with government troops being implicated in unlawful killings and other crimes, including the unlawful detention of more than 29 children. [13] In addition, the State Security Forces illegally detained, raped and tortured civilians; and the use of child soldiers by all sides, including the government, has continued. Human Rights Watch also reported that more than 175 civilians and aid workers were kidnapped for ransom in eastern Congo in 2015 and that this trend continued into 2016. [14]

U.N. Voting Record

Negative: At the General Assembly, DRC backed human rights abusers through a resolution denying the right to sanction such regimes, and by voting to delay the work of the Special Rapporteur on violence against LGBT. DRC abstained on resolutions that spoke out for human rights victims in Iran and Syria. At the Human Rights Council, DRC voted against resolutions to protect gays and people with disabilities. It also voted against a resolution to allow the High Commissioner to choose his own staff.

 

[1] “Democratic Republic of the Congo 2016 Human Rights Report,” U.S. Department of State, 2017, p. 24, available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=265242.

[2] Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, “When Will Kabila Go? Congolese Leader Long Overstays His Welcome,” The New York Times, July 23, 2017, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/23/world/africa/congo-joseph-kabila-elections.html?mcubz=1.

[3] “Democratic Republic of the Congo 2016 Human Rights Report,” U.S. Department of State, 2017, pp. 25-26, available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=265242.

[4] “DR Congo anti-Kabila protests ‘leave more than 20 dead,’” BBC, Dec. 20, 2016, available at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38377478.

[5] Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, “When Will Kabila Go? Congolese Leader Long Overstays His Welcome,” The New York Times, July 23, 2017, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/23/world/africa/congo-joseph-kabila-elections.html?mcubz=1.

[6] William Clowes, “Crackdown in Congo Limits Chances of Credible Elections, UN Says,” Bloomberg, Aug. 25, 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-25/crackdown-in-congo-limits-chances-of-credible-elections-un-says.

[7] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2017, Democratic Republic of Congo country chapter, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/democratic-republic-congo.

[8] Adam Whithnall, “Congo: 250 people killed in ethnic based massacres in the DRC, says UN,” Independent, Aug. 4, 2017, available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/congo-massacres-ethnic-conflict-250-people-killed-m-united-nations-crimes-humanity-civil-war-a7876266.html.

[9] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2017, Democratic Republic of Congo country chapter, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/democratic-republic-congo.

[10] Adam Whithnall, “Congo: 250 people killed in ethnic based massacres in the DRC, says UN,” Independent, Aug. 4, 2017, available at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/congo-massacres-ethnic-conflict-250-people-killed-m-united-nations-crimes-humanity-civil-war-a7876266.html.

[11] Kimiko de Freytas-Tamaura, “Who’s in Congo’s Mass Graves? And Why Are Soldiers Guarding Them?” New York Times, July 28, 2017, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/28/world/africa/congo-kasai-kabila-militia-graves.html?mcubz=1.

[12] Id.; “DR Congo: UN report indicates Government participation in ethnic massacres in Kasai,” UN News Centre, Aug. 4, 2017, available at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=57309#.WbopPLIjGUk.

[13] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2017, Democratic Republic of Congo country chapter, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/democratic-republic-congo.

[14] “Democratic Republic of the Congo 2016 Human Rights Report,” U.S. Department of State, 2017, pp. 12-13, available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=265242.

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