United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called on the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to exercise restraint amid reports of a violent crackdown by national security forces on demonstrations in the capital, Kinshasa, and a number of other cities.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Guterres expressed concern about reports of the violent dispersion of protests by national security forces, resulting in the death of at least five people, the wounding of several others and the arrest of over 120 persons.
“The Secretary-General calls on the Government and national security forces to exercise restraint and to uphold the rights of the Congolese people to the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly,” said the statement.
President Joseph Kabila has since strengthened his hold on power and delayed elections as planned protests are met with violence and repression.
Security forces killed at least 62 people and arrested hundreds more during country-wide protests between December 19 and 22, when Kabila refused to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit.
Human rights groups have since urged Congolese officials to end all unlawful use of force against protesters and allow peaceful political activities by activists and the political opposition.
The Secretary-General went on to urge all Congolese political actors to remain fully committed to the 31 December 2016 political agreement, “which remains the only viable path to the holding of elections, the peaceful transfer of power and the consolidation of stability in the DRC.”
That agreement – facilitated by Conférence Episcopale Nationale du Congo (CENCO) mediators, and reached in Kinshasa on 31 December 2016 – allowed President Joseph Kabila to stay in power beyond the end of his term and has stipulated that peaceful, credible and inclusive elections would be organized in DRC by the end of December 2017.
The Catholic Church-mediated power-sharing agreement with the main opposition coalition included a clear commitment that Kabila would not run for a third term or amend the constitution.
Yet Congo’s ruling coalition did not organize elections or carry out the agreement’s confidence-building measures.
On November 5, 2017, soon after the United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, visited Congo and called on Kabila to hold elections by the end of 2018, Congo’s electoral commission (CENI) published an electoral calendar that set December 23, 2018 as the date for presidential, legislative, and provincial elections – more than two years after the end of Kabila’s two-term limit.
The CENI also cited numerous financial, logistical, legal, political, and security “constraints” that could affect the timeline.
The political opposition and civil society groups denounced the calendar as merely another delaying tactic to unconstitutionally extend Kabila’s presidency.
They called on Kabila to step down by the end of 2017 and for a transition without Kabila to be organized.
It should be led by people who could not be candidates in future elections, they have said, and should have the primary aim of organizing credible elections, restoring constitutional order, and allowing for a new system of governance in which basic rights are respected.
Observers say Kabila’s refusal to step down as the constitution requires has plunged Congo into a political, economic, and human rights crisis that could have devastating consequences for the region.
Human Rights Watch said in a recent statement that to prevent an already explosive situation from worsening, Congo’s regional and international partners should press Kabila to step down and allow for credible, peaceful elections.