AI: Kabila’s withdrawal from Dec poll not enough-work on human rights

10Aug 2018
LONDON
The Guardian
AI: Kabila’s withdrawal from Dec poll not enough-work on human rights

AMNESTY International has said the news that Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila will not be a candidate in the December 23 election will have meaning only if it is followed by concrete measures to improve human rights in the country.

Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila.

Jean-Mobert Senga, Amnesty International’s researcher for the DRC, gave the organisation’s stand in a statement to the media on Wednesday.

Said Senga: “Today’s announcement that President Kabila will not run for a third term will be welcome news to many Congolese, but more needs to be done.”

“His government must show real commitment to ensuring an environment where people can freely exercise their human rights throughout the election cycle, by formally lifting the ban on peaceful demonstrations.”

“It must also pledge not to suppress peaceful demonstrations and opposition and civil society meetings.”

AI was emphatic that the DRC authorities must also release all individuals still being detained solely for exercising their human rights.

“(This is) besides ensuring media freedom, putting an end to Internet shutdowns, and withdrawing draft laws designed to repress human rights defenders that are currently under debate in parliament”, the statement said.

“DRC authorities must also take concrete steps to hold to account suspected perpetrators of human rights violations, including senior officers in the military, the police and the intelligence agencies,” it added.

DRC information minister Lambert Mende was on Wednesday quoted as having announced that Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister, would be the ruling party’s candidate in the presidential election.

The poll should have taken place in November 2016 when the second and last term of incumbent president Kabila ended in line with the country’s constitution. The government’s failure to hold the elections as scheduled at that time led to countrywide protests that were met with heavy-handed repression from security forces.

The Catholic Church brokered a deal between the ruling coalition and the main opposition leaders – signed on 31 December 31, 2016 – that gave the government one year to put in place measures for a free and fair election.

The measures would include the reopening of media houses critical of the government, the release of individuals detained for politically motivated reasons, and the return of exiled opposition leaders.

Failure to put in place these measures and hold the election in December 2017 provoked the Catholic Lay Coordination Committee to mobilise and lead a series of peaceful protests on December 31, 2017; January 21, 2018; and February 25, 2018.

The protests were however ruthlessly dispersed by security forces, leaving at least 17 people dead, some 200 injured, and at least 405 in arbitrary detention.