With elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo now less than a month away, rising political tension is increasingly leading to violence between police and opposition forces. A recent joint statement signed by 41 human rights groups, including the Enough Project, warned of imminent destabilization caused by the polls and urged the U.N. mission in Congo to prepare to deploy its rapid reaction force to secure the violent areas.
The statement recommended that Congolese authorities protect citizens by training national police forces to refrain from using excessive force. The groups also urged leaders of political parties to abide by the Electoral Code of Conduct and ask their supporters to remain peaceful.
"We need reliable security forces to protect us during the electoral period, especially in Kinshasa where tensions are already very high," said Jerome Bonso, Coordinator of the Congolese coalition Agir pour des Elections Transparentes et Apaisées.
“This election in Congo is the ultimate test,” said Thierry Vircoulo of International Crisis Group. “Is Congo on course to consolidate its fledging democracy or return to a state of widespread instability, insecurity and violence?”
The statement made clear that with seven dead in the capital of Kinshasa since early September, the Congolese government is showing an alarming inability to control clashes between the police and opposition on top of already widespread insecurity. In addition, violence against humanitarian workers has recently increased, with five aid workers killed last month in the volatile east. Rights groups called the attack “the deadliest incident [of its kind] in Congolese history.”
Among the recommendations, the groups pressed international observers and embassy teams to coordinate their activities to monitor as much of the country as possible and urged the National Independent Electoral Commission to be more communicative about the preparation process, including by facilitating a dialogue between the opposition groups, authorities in power, and civil society about the election.
“The international community provides billions of dollars in assistance to DRC. It cannot afford for fraudulent or poorly conducted elections to spark violence and set back development," said Paul Nsapu, General Secretary of the International Federation for Human Rights.
He added, "After so many decades of war and plunder, the Congolese people deserve peace and stability – and really need support for that."
Photo: Campaigning from back of a pick-up in Goma (Enough/Fidel Bafilemba)