CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and Nouvelle Société Civile Congolaise (NSCC), condemn the senseless killing of at least 34 protesters in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in recent days. The killings have come as citizens have called for President Joseph Kabila to step down, following the formal end of his mandate on 19 December.
CIVICUS urges the Congolese government to fulfil its obligations under international law and ensure protesters are able to exercise their fundamental rights to assemble peacefully and express their opinions. In particular, the authorities must put an immediate end to the violence against protesters.
On 20 December 2016, demonstrators took to the streets of several cities to call on President Kabila to leave office, after his second term in office expired on 19 December. Security forces responded by firing live ammunition into protesting crowds. As a result, civil society groups have reported that at least 34 people, including one police officer, were killed during protests in the capital, Kinshasa, and in Boma, Lubumbashi and Matadi.
In addition, over 200 people have been arrested and detained. Security forces have stormed houses in areas perceived to be strongholds of opposition support and arrested those suspected of involvement in the protests. The Congolese authorities have thus far only confirmed that nine people have lost their lives due to violence.
“The use of violence against peaceful protesters simply for expressing their views on matters affecting them is an affront to the Congolese constitution that President Kabila claims to uphold. Security forces have used live ammunition to respond to largely peaceful protests and those responsible for ordering and executing these acts must be held accountable,” says David Kode, Senior Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS.
Since the beginning of December, authorities have increased restrictions on civic space and fundamental freedoms in a calculated attempt to repress the many voices that oppose President Kabila continuing to rule beyond his mandate. On 1 December the government announced that all organisations that were not formally registered are illegal. This move specifically targeted citizen movements, including the youth movements Lutte pour Changement (Struggle for Change, LUCHA) and Filimbi, which are leading calls for democratic reform in the DRC.
On 21 December, pro-democracy activist Luc Nkulula and 19 other LUCHA members were arrested during a peaceful sit-in in Goma, North Kivu province. The activists are currently detained in police station P2 in Goma. Ahead of this, on 19 December, planned protests were pre-emptively suppressed by a heavy police presence in Kinshasa, and restrictions were placed on online platforms and social media. According to recent reports, internet access remains heavily restricted and roads have been blocked by security forces.
Because of such measures, the conditions for civil society in the DRC are rated as ‘repressed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that assesses the conditions for civil society in countries around the world.
Tensions have been mounting in the DRC for several months over the question of elections. Those perceived to be members of the opposition, representatives of civil society and human rights defenders have been targeted since the electoral commission missed the September deadline to announce the date of elections. Elections were initially scheduled for November and are now overdue. The recent spate of killings is sadly not the first: in protests on 19 September, 50 people, included several police officers, were killed, 14 protesters suffered gun-shot wounds and hundreds more were detained. The offices of three opposition parties were also set ablaze. Despite efforts by the Catholic Church to mediate talks between the ruling party and members of the political opposition, concerns remain that if a solution is not found urgently, violence may spread further across the country.
CIVICUS and NSCC call on the authorities in the DRC to respect the fundamental rights of citizens to assemble peacefully and express opinions without risking violence and detention. We call on governments in the region with influence over the DRC, and regional bodies including the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to exert pressure on the Congolese authorities to uphold the fundamental rights of citizens to make their views known on this urgent question of governance.
Senior Policy and Research Officer, CIVICUS
Tel: + 073 775 8649