The Democratic Republic of the Congo finds itself at an important crossroads: President Joseph Kabila’s second term is coming to an end on 19 December 2016, and the country’s Constitution prevents him from taking on a third term. The Government should be preparing the ground for credible and democratic elections – but instead, it has deliberately stalled the organisation of these elections, and Kabila has not yet pronounced his intention to step down. Those loyal to the President have been seeking to silence and repress those calling for timely elections and a peaceful transition of power. At least 17 people people (the opposition claims it is closer to 50) were killed on September 19 and 20, 2016, in two days of street clashes between security forces and protesters against a delayed presidential election. Several opposition party buildings were also burned.
Along with EurAc, Human Rights Watch, FIDH, Amnesty International, Caritas Internationalis, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, and many other civil society NGOs, Franciscans International co-hosted a debate that featured various perspectives from both the field and the international community. Ida Sawyer, Senior Researcher for Human Rights Watch, and Ambassador Carl Hallergard, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to the UN and other international organisations in Geneva, detailed the situation, mentioning the atmosphere of repression and the silencing of dissident voices. Msgr. Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, vice-president of the National Episcopal Conference and Bishop of the Bokungu-Ikela Diosece; Micheline Mwendike and Fred Bauma from la LUCHA, a grassroots movement of young people striving for non-violent change, shared the stories of their work in such a difficult context, of creative ways forward, and of their hope that peaceful and credible elections are still possible. Fred Bauma also shared his experience of prison, where he was detained for 17 months for having spoken against the government’s violent actions, and taken part in peaceful protests.
The panellists warned of the danger of impending dictatorship and increasing violence and human rights abuses, calling on the UN Human Rights Council and the international community to apply strong and concrete sanctions against specific officials and security forces responsible for violations and violence against dissidents in this pre-electoral context.
On September 30th, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution, calling the government to create “without delay the necessary conditions for the holding of free, transparent, inclusive and peaceful elections.” The Human Rights Council will continue to monitor the situation, with special attention to violations against liberty, free speech, and basic citizen rights.
The event was broadcast live – you can watch it on our facebook page here.