Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: despite the violence, transparency and calm must prevail

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Alexis Huguet / AFP

Two weeks ahead of the presidential election of 20 December 2023 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the country continues to suffer acutely from violent armed groups, intercommunity tensions and threats to the rule of law. These elections are nonetheless crucial for the Congolese people for whom a political solution supported by a democratic process is imperative in the face of this national emergency.

Kinshasa, Kisangani, Paris, 6 December 2023. After the first political changeover in 2018, the Congolese people are once again being called to the ballot box to elect their government. Presidential, legislative and local elections are due to be held on 20 December in DRC. A second round of elections to elect the provincial governors will be held in 2024.

As polling day approaches and against a background of ongoing violence, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in DRC – the Lotus Group, the African Association for the Defence of Human Rights (Asadho) and the League of Electors – wish to emphasise the importance of the smooth running of these elections. They represent a key moment for strengthening democratic governance and increasing the effective political participation of all the country’s citizens.

FIDH and its member organisations are particularly concerned that fundamental rights and freedoms have been attacked and infringed in the run-up to the elections. Several cases of the national authorities, including the intelligence services, infringing the freedom of speech and violating the human rights of journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents have been reported. As has also been noted, demonstrations have been repressed and freedom of movement curtailed since the beginning of the year.

Democracy under threat in a country torn apart by conflict

In the east of the country, notably in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, the security and human rights situation remains extremely worrying, with recurrent attacks on civilian populations by armed groups, including the March 23 Movement (M23) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). FIDH and its member organisations are very concerned at the multiple armed militias and actors emerging in the east.

In addition, intercommunity conflicts in the provinces of Mai-Ndombe and Tshopo have caused numerous deaths since 2022. Hate speech, which prevails across the country, including in the context of the conflict with M23 in the east, poses the serious risk of inciting violence in the run-up to the elections and threatens social cohesion and peaceful coexistence in the country.

This tense situation is reminiscent of that which preceded the 2018 elections, when intercommunity violence caused hundreds of deaths in Yumbi, Mai-Ndombe province, as well as in the Kasai Region and the east, where the Congolese people were prevented from voting because of so-called security issues. Elector registration in the provinces of North Kivu, Ituri and Mai-Ndombe still has not been carried out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), which poses a significant risk of further voter exclusion in these areas.

The security of the populations is paramount and must be re-established in these areas, where distrust of the electoral process and of the State has been getting worse since the time of the previous two electoral cycles.

In this context, our organisations welcome President Tshisekedi’s decision in October 2023 to gradual lift the state of siege in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. This state of emergency, in place since May 2021, was restricting the democratic space, while the attacks on civilians have continued unabated. In the run-up to the December 2023 elections, our organisations hope that this measure will enable all citizens to participate in the process effectively and safely.

FIDH and its member organisations in DRC would remind all relevant stakeholders in the electoral process that it is important to establish an environment that is favourable for the holding of credible and peaceful elections. In particular, this pertains to opening up the democratic space, putting an end to hate speech, ensuring a transparent electoral process (publication of electoral rolls and accessible mapping of polling stations), and encouraging women to participate in the electoral process in total safety.

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