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Surprisingly tough UN resolution: Security Council Presses Congo to Hold Timely Elections, Stop Restricting Political Space

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Surprisingly tough UN resolution: Security Council Presses Congo to Hold Timely Elections, Stop Restricting Political Space

Posted by Enough Team on April 6, 2016

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Enough Project intern Sophie Haggerty.

Last Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2277 (2016), renewing the mandate until March 31, 2017 to maintain current force levels of 19,815 military personnel in its stabilization mission in the DRC, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

Perhaps more noteworthy was the Security Council’s emphasis on the importance of a “transparent and credible process” in holding presidential and legislative elections in the DRC.

It is unusual that the UNSC would unanimously pass this resolution, especially given the typically staunch position of permanent members China and Russia on non-interference in internal affairs of other countries.

The resolution urged the Congolese government and the Congolese election commission (known by its French acronym, CENI) to ensure “an environment conducive to a free, fair, credible, inclusive, transparent, peaceful and timely electoral process” amid concerns of delayed electoral processes and and “increased restrictions of the political space in the DRC, in particular recent arrests and members of the political opposition and of civil society.”

Resolution 2277 called for CENI’s release of a “revised comprehensive electoral calendar” and enhanced investigation by the national, regional, and international actors into human rights abuses carried out in this election cycle, in addition to heightened measures of accountability in prosecuting instances of human rights violations and crimes against humanity during the 2011 elections. To aid in these efforts, the resolution recommended  increased UN support to the Congolese government “to fight impunity, including through the implementation of the Government’s “zero tolerance policy” with respect to discipline and human rights and international humanitarian law violations, committed by elements of the security sector.”

The resolution also recommended that the Congolese government to heighten their efforts against the use of “illegal exploitation and tracking of natural resources by armed groups,” the poor implementation of the arms embargo across the eastern border of the DRC, and the unclear structure managing “the extraction, transport, and trade of natural resources.”

Resolution 2277 (2016) marks only the latest instance of  mounting international pressure against the incumbent Congolese regime to carry out free and fair elections according to the constitutional mandate.

The resolution comes amidst growing pressure on President Kabila to hold elections on time and to step down as is Constitutionally mandated, including the threat of targeted sanctions if the Congolese government does not hold them. A resolution passed by the European Union Parliament on March 10 and a letter from student activists to Secretary of State John Kerry equally voiced their concerns of the undemocratic election process in DRC, urging the use of targeted sanctions against President Kabila and his inner circle to demand increased transparency. U.S. Senator Ed Markey sent a letter to Secretary Kerry on February 4, echoing echoing the use of targeted sanctions against the Kabila administration to bring about democratic electoral progress.

National, regional, and international outcry surrounding the recent government crackdown and arrest of 18 opposition activists from the Lucha (Lutte pour le changement/ struggle for change) group. The Lucha group was peacefully protesting against the detainment of some of its members one year ago. Lucha makes up part of the opposition that  instituted a day of “villes mortes” (dead cities) across DRC on February 16 to raise awareness of the democratic danger of election delays.

In response to the arrest of these 18 pro-democracy activists, the office of the U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa Tom Perriello tweeted on March 15: “Our concerns continue to escalate over escalating repression of Congolese voices and closure of political space.”

In response to the UN Security Council resolution, H.E. Ignace Gata Mavita wa Lufuta, Ambassador of the DRC to the UN, voiced concern that the resolution failed to address the extra time necessary for the Congolese government to safeguard free and fair elections while stressed by significant security issues in the east posed by armed groups in and the flow of Burundian refugees. He said that the failure to comply with urges by the Secretary General and the Congolese government to decrease troop levels for MONUSCO shows inflexibility on the part of the Security Council, especially as he understands MONUSCO as a flawed mission in need of a “rethink.”

Following extensive coverage in a New York Times feature last week, Moise Katumbi, an influential voice in the Congolese political opposition, released a statement on April 2 that championed the resolution and its power to “contribute to the preservation of human life and fragile democratic achievements of our country.”

For the official UN communique and the full text of the resolution, see link.