The post-election environment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is “calm but tense” as the country waits for the results of the presidential poll, the UN Human Rights office (OHCHR) has said.
The situation has been compounded by DRC Roman Catholic Church’s pronouncement that one of the candidates clearly won the election.
The result of the delayed poll held on 30 December – which featured 21 candidates – is due to be announced on Sunday, although the DRC’s electoral commission announced that this may be pushed back.
However, CENI recently told the aspirants the election results would delay given the slow transmission of reports from across the vast country.
But the Catholic Church warned that “We must do everything to avoid a parody of an election whose results would not be accepted and which would, moreover, plunge our country into violence.”
The influential Catholic Church has previously organized anti-regime protests and mobilized the masses to reject President Joseph Kabila’s plans to seek another term in office.
Amid reports that journalists and opposition political candidates have been intimidated and access to selected media broadcasters remains blocked, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani warned that efforts to silence dissent could “backfire”.
“What my colleagues have told me and they have observed is that the situation remains calm but tense ahead of the announcement of the results,” Ms Shamdasani said. “There are preliminary reports of some pockets of violence and people being injured.”
Voting across several cities in eastern DRC that have been hit by the on-going Ebola outbreak and inter-communal violence, was postponed until March by the election commission (CENI).
Last Sunday’s vote will decide the successor to President Joseph Kabila, who came to office in 2001 after the previous incumbent, his father Laurent, was assassinated in the aftermath of a civil war involving numerous armed militias. Ms Shamdasani also noted reports that freedom of expression is under threat in DRC.
“Intimidation and harassment against journalists, opposition candidates and human rights defenders continues to take place,” she said. “This being a very sensitive, a very tense period, we are concerned that these efforts to silence dissent could backfire considerably when the results are announced. We are watching carefully, and we are calling on all sides to refrain from the use of violence.”
As the DRC waits for the results of the poll, Ms Shamdasani also highlighted evidence of other civil rights violations:
“The internet is cut off, the signal of Radio France Internationale (RFI) has been tampered with, as well as Canal Congo Television, which apparently belongs to the leader of the MLC, Jean-Pierre Bemba”, she said, referring to his party, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo.
Renewed clashes force 16,000 into Congo-Brazzaville
In a major humanitarian developement on Friday, some 16,000 people from DRC have arrived in neighbouring Republic of the Congo – also known as Congo-Brazzaville – after fleeing deadly intercommunal clashes.
According to UNHCR, this is the largest influx of refugees in over a decade, since 130,000 people were forced to seek shelter amid ethnic clashes in DRC’s former Equator Province in 2009.
Refugees, mostly women and children of the Banunu tribe, continue to arrive in Makotipoko and Bouemba districts in the Republic of Congo.