Democratic Republic of the Congo : Call for a special session of the Human Rights Council

Open Letter to Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Your Excellencies,

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations, urge your delegation to actively support the holding of a special session of the Human Rights Council in order to address the rapid deterioration of the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and to prevent the perpetration of massive and serious human rights violations.

In the context of an increasingly severe government crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents and other independent or critical voices who have urged that the presidential election be held in accordance with the constitutional timetable that threatens to plunge the country into a cycle of violence and instability that would have grave regional consequences, the Human Rights Council should convene a special session and adopt a resolution:

- Strongly condemning violence and human rights violations committed in the DRC [1] and urging the Congolese authorities to conduct thorough, impartial and independent investigations into all alle­gations of human rights violations in order to bring their perpetrators to account so that they face conviction if they are found guilty in fair trials, including members of the defense and security forces, as well as of the state apparatus;


- Urging the Congolese Government to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and to put an end to all forms of intimidation, harassment (including by the judiciary), attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents and other independent or critical voices;


- Calling on the country’s authorities to ensure that in all circumstances members of the defense and security forces use force that is strictly necessary and proportionate to guarantee law and order and to prohibit the use of lethal weapons against peaceful protesters in accordance with the United Nations Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials;


- Urging the Congolese Government to immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained persons, including those who are detained for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights and freedoms;


- Requesting the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to regularly report to the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in order to keep the Council informed about developments; and


- Deciding the holding of an enhanced interactive dialogue during the Council’s 33rd regular session (September 2016) in order to consider follow-up measures the Human Rights Council could take, including the creation of a mechanism dedicated to the DRC.

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In March 2016, during the Human Rights Council’s 31st regular session, a cross-regional group of 39 states signed on a joint oral statement in which they expressed concerns about growing reports of harassment and intimidation of politicians, media professionals and members of civil society, including human rights defenders, as well as about cases of arbitrary detention and of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, which all contribute to a shrinking of the democratic space that is particularly regrettable in the context of the upcoming elections. These states also emphasized the need for the Congolese Government to strengthen its cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner and with mandate holders of the special procedures appointed by the Council.

Unfortunately, since then, the human rights situation in the DRC has further deteriorated. Two presidential candidates have faced harassment, including through legal proceedings initiated against Moïse Katumbi, on the day he announced his candidacy, for alleged “recruitment of mercenaries.” He was ultimately convicted to three years in prison, which triggered his ineligibility. Since late April, authorities have arrested dozens of his associates in Lubumbashi, the city where Katumbi is based, and on 24 April, police forces also sought to prevent the holding of an opposition demonstration there. On 26 May, members of the opposition organized nation-wide demonstrations to express their discontent at the Constitutional Court’s 11 May ruling allowing President Kabila to remain in office beyond the official end of his term until a newly-elected President has been sworn in, and to call for the elections to take place in accordance with the constitutional calendar.

According to the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, at least nine demonstrations have been prohibited, including in Lubumbashi, 59 persons have been arrested, one person and one police officer have been killed in Goma, and four persons were wounded. On 21 March 2016, the Congolese Minister of Justice and Human Rights announced that out of the 22,000 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that operate in the country, only 63 had satisfied the necessary regulations and enjoyed legal capacity. He indicated that those international and Congolese NGOs that would not regularize their situation would not be authorized to operate in the DRC [2]. March 2016 also marked one year of arbitrary detention of youth activists Fred Bahuma (Lutte pour le Changement) and Yves Makwambala (Filimbi). Both were arrested in March 2015 by the National Intelligence Agency (Agence nationale de renseignement, ANR) while attending the launch of the “Filimbi” civic platform that aims to encourage youth participation in the electoral and democratic processes. Human rights defender Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba also remains arbitrarily detained [3] after the Supreme Court denied his plea to be released on bail despite his poor health condition.

All of these elements, in addition to the disorganization of the administration overseeing the electoral process, lead us to believe that holding an election now would not fulfill some of the basic principles of a democratic election, such as sincerity and pluralism. Therefore, the international community, civil society organizations and voters cannot support the current process unless substantial changes are made to it.

On 13 June 2016, during the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council, a large, cross-regional group of 44 states expressed strong concern about the ongoing deterioration of the situation throughout the DRC through a joint oral statement delivered under the Council’s agenda item 2. They mentioned increasing numbers of acts of harassment and intimidation targeting political officials, human rights defenders, media professionals and members of Congolese civil society. They collectively expressed the international community’s serious concerns about the DRC and its wish to see human rights and the independence of the judiciary upheld, and an open political space guaranteed. In this regard, they called upon the Government and all other parties, in particular the Independent National Election Commission (Commission électorale nationale indépendante, CENI), to guarantee all Congolese citizens’ equal political participation and to urgently create the conditions conducive to free, transparent, inclusive and peaceful elections. These conditions seem to be more and more elusive.

* * *

All signals are red. The DRC stands at a critical juncture, and if elections are not held under free, transparent, inclusive and peaceful conditions before the end of President Kabila’s constitutionally-mandated term, on 19 December 2016, the country could face a tremendous political and human rights crisis, which would surpass the scale of violence witnessed in neighboring Burundi.

The Human Rights Council should fulfill its mandate to prevent human rights violations and to respond promptly to human rights emergencies by taking immediate action to prevent serious human rights violations and the DRC from plunging into a cycle of violence and instability that would have grave regional consequences. It should convene a special session on the situation in the DRC and decide the holding of an enhanced interactive dialogue during its 33rd regular session in order to consider the follow-up measures it could take, including the creation of a mechanism dedicated to the country.

We thank you for your attention to this pressing issue and are available to provide your delegation with further information as required.

Sincerely,

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