By Alexis Byicaza Sebatware
Dear Mr. President,
We, the Innovative Forces for Union and Congolese Democracy, an opposition political group, are profoundly concerned about the violence and loss of human life in the Democratic Republic of Congo region of Mulenge and in the South Kivu region in general.
On social media sites, hateful messages targeting the Banyamulenge tribe have proliferated in the last three weeks (October/2020). Several posts contain racist and dehumanizing language and photos, as well as calls to return them to Rwanda by majority tribes.
Nevertheless, we are worried that your government has so far failed to react adequately to the recent increase in hate speech and threats of violence aimed at the DRC tribe of Banyamulenge. In addition, comments by Mr. Bitakwira, the Minister of Rural Development, and Mr. Fayulu, the leader of the opposition, could increase tension and promote violence and discrimination against Tutsi in general and Banyamulenge in Minembwe.
In international human rights legislation, hate speech does not have a clear meaning, but it is a term used to describe any discourse perceived to be negative and affecting social harmony and peace. All modes of speech that incite bigotry, animosity and violence are included in the definition. Instigators prefer to claim hate speech as freedom of expression, but the right to disrespect and discriminate against others should not be provided to them.
Freedom of speech comes with great responsibility and respect for the fundamental right of people and every person has the right to be protected from intolerance and violence.
Therefore, it is not possible to count the use of abusive language and inciting discrimination and hostility as freedom of speech.
We are worried by the recent rise in hateful messages and incitement in DRC to kill and destroy Banyamulenge.
Online and offline hate speech has escalated social and racial tensions, inciting attacks around the country with deadly consequences.
Your government has the duty, by international human rights legislation and values, to take immediate steps to ensure equality and non-discrimination, racialized violence and xenophobia, racial or religious animosity that incites discrimination, aggression and violence.
We are gravely concerned that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, leaders, senior government officials, politicians and other influential figures spread terror, messages of incitement to violence, for their own political benefit, against one group of citizens or those perceived as others.
The demonization as threatening or inferior of the entire community of people is not new to human history; it has led to devastating tragedies in the past, leading to the genocide against Rwanda’s Tutsi in 1994, that began by prompting the majority from Hutu to target Tutsi in the same way.
In recent days, however, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we note that the public is trying to stroke ethnic conflict and violence by spreading hate speech on the topic of Commune Minembwe targeting Banyamulenge. Such rhetoric aims to dehumanize minority groups and politicians from the same tribe serving in your government.
It is important to fight the rhetoric of hate, as it has real-life implications.
Several studies have established a link between hate speech exposure and the amount of hate crimes committed.
We urge you to curb racial discrimination or attacks against one group of people in the DRC and avoid incitement to discrimination, racism; animosity and abuse.
We call on elected officials and politicians as well as the media to assume their mutual obligation to foster tolerant and inclusive communities.
They must refrain from promoting national racial hate, which is an incitement to bigotry, aggression and abuse, and immediately condemn those who incite hatred towards minorities and other marginalized groups in order to achieve this.
We encourage your government to increase its efforts to keep Mr. Bitakwira and Fayulu responsible for previous hate speech promoting or perpetrating violence against Banyamulenge on the topic of Minembwe municipality.
In order to ensure that they do not provide outlets for hate speech and incitement to hatred and abuse and conventional and social media companies should practice due diligence.
Your government should continually work for policies that guarantee the right of minorities to equality and non-discrimination and freedom of speech, as well as the right to live a life free of violence through the promotion of tolerance, plurality and pluralistic views, which are at the heart of pluralistic and democratic societies.
We hope that these efforts will help to make the nation safer and encourage inclusive and peaceful communities in which we both want and deserve to live.
The author is the President of Innovative Forces for Union and Congolese Democracy