Mr Joseph Kabila
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Palais de la Nation
Ave de Lemera, Kinshasa, Congo (DRC)
Dear President Kabila,
We, the undersigned representatives of African civil society organisations, write to express our serious concerns about the police’s continued use of brutal force to crush peaceful assemblies and to silence the legitimate demands of the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Over the last few years, we have observed with shock a series of sustained assaults on human rights defenders, civil society organisations, members of the political opposition and ordinary citizens who are calling for elections to be held in accordance with the constitution, and opposing your attempts to remain as Head of State after your mandate officially expires on 19 December 2016.
We are appalled at the latest spate of indiscriminate killings of peaceful protesters that took place in Kinshasa during demonstrations on Monday 19 September 2016. There is no justification for this atrocity, which was your government’s response to citizens’ exercise of their fundamental freedom of peaceful assembly. Citizens were peacefully calling attention to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (CENI) failure to meet the 19 September deadline to announce the date of much-anticipated elections.
In the aftermath of the violence unleashed against peaceful protesters, your government announced that 17 people, including three police officers, were killed. However, this is likely to be an underestimation: members of the political opposition maintain that a total of 50 people were killed, while civil society organisations estimate that at least 25 people, including three police officers, died as a result of the violence. In addition, 14 protesters suffered from gun-shot wounds and on Tuesday 20 September the offices of three opposition parties were set ablaze.
Mr President, we were also horrified when similar incidences occurred in January 2015, when police used excessive force against unarmed protestors. At that time, protesters denounced proposed amendments to the Electoral Law that in their view were aimed at extending your stay in office beyond the constitutionally-mandated two terms. In January 2015 more than 36 people were killed in Kinshasa and Goma, of whom an estimated 21 were shot dead by the police.
Perpetrators of these violent and lethal acts within the police services were neither held accountable for the violence nor brought to justice. Instead, protesters were arrested and a blackout imposed on internet communications and mobile phone text services.
Despite domestic and international condemnation of these earlier atrocities, the events off 19 September show that the perpetration of violence is continuing. As a result, the undersigned civil society organisations are deeply concerned that more citizens could become victims of police violence if the issues of the scheduling of elections and your continuation in office beyond a second term are not properly and immediately addressed in accordance with the constitution.
The national dialogue set up to look into the issue of the elections has not delivered the anticipated results, as most political party representatives have refused to participate. In addition, many people, including the political opposition, disagree with a Constitutional Court ruling in May 2016 that enables you remain in office until a successor is in place.
Mr. President, given this desperate situation, the time has come for you to take responsibility for the violence occurring in your country and to put an end to it by listening to the voices of your people.
We take this opportunity to remind you of DRC’s international human rights commitments, and also that the constitution of the DRC guarantees the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. In addition, we would like to direct your attention to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which provide that security forces shall as far as possible use non-violent means before resorting to the use of force. We further note that the African Union has declared 2016 a Year of Human Rights.
These constitutional and international human rights commitments are sadly being ignored, and must immediately be respected.
As African civil society organisations, we call on your government to:
- Immediately carry out independent and transparent investigations into the violence that caused the deaths of protesters on 19 September. Those found responsible should be held accountable and brought to justice.
- Take the necessary steps to prevent a further escalation of violence amid rising tensions and guarantee in all circumstances the rights of the Congolese people to enjoy freely their right to express their views and assemble peacefully in public.
- Ensure that the constitution is respected, presidential term limits adhered to and the will of the people is honoured in deciding on their next leader through elections.
Chairperson of the African Union Commission