Note: This blog was co-authored by Rachel Finn and Sasha Lezhnev.
On Friday, a group of bipartisan Members of Congress sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. In the letter, Representatives Pittenger (R-NC), McGovern (D-MA), Cicilline (D-RI), Donovan (R-NY), Moore (D-WI), and Rooney (R-FL) urge him to expand sanctions and impose additional penalties, including anti-money laundering initiatives, against key officials in Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s regime responsible for undermining peace and democracy.
According to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s constitution, President Kabila is supposed to hold national elections on November 19th, 2016, and then step down and hand over power to his successor on December 19th. Congolese people and civil society activists are demanding to see this process happen so that Congo can experience the first ever democratic transition of power in its history.
Despite recent events that initially appeared to be steps toward democratization, unfortunately there is no real indication that the Congolese government is moving to hold elections anytime soon, thereby undermining democracy. Instead of organizing elections, Kabila has attempted to amend an unamendable provision in the Constitution, grossly under-funded the electoral commission, issued an arrest warrant for his main opponent, violently disrupted peaceful protesters, and given no indication that elections will occur anytime soon.
Furthermore, his regime has continued to repress independent civil society. After jailing several civil society activists, Kabila's regime kicked out Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, and the Congo Research Group. And while some Congolese civil society groups were released this week, the charges against several of them were not dropped, meaning the activists could be re-arrested at any time on the same trumped-up charges. This includes the leading Lucha and Filimbi activists Fred Bauma and Yves Makwambala. Moreover, the vast majority of the opposition and civil society will not be participating in the Kabila-organized Dialogue, and UNC Secretary General Jean-Bertrand Ewanga who was head of his party's delegation to the Dialogue today announced his resignation from both his party and from the dialogue. He denounced that the dialogue would be a forum to validate the extension of Kabila's term.
In the letter, the Representatives affirm that the U.S. must “use its substantial financial leverage to address human rights and compel foreign governments to correct abuses.” They make reference to the authorities that already exist under U.S. law via Executive Order 13413 on Congo to utilize targeted sanctions as a means of pressure on those who commit human rights abuses or suppress democracy.
Last week, Enough joined with other NGOs to send a similar note to U.S. Government officials.
U.S. Congress has been a strong supporter of timely, free, and fair elections in Congo for many months now. Both chambers introduced resolutions, which passed out their respective committees before the August recess, urging respect for the constitution.