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Targeted Sanctions and Beyond: Financial and Judicial Tools for the U.S. and Europe to Help Enable Timely Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Targeted Sanctions and Beyond: Financial and Judicial Tools for the U.S. and Europe to Help Enable Timely Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Posted by Enough Team on September 7, 2016


Political tensions are building in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where sitting President Joseph Kabila is attempting to subvert the country’s constitution, hold on to power, and reduce political space ahead of the scheduled end of his second presidential term. During the past 18 months, the situation has worsened, with multiple attempts to significantly delay elections; peaceful protesters arbitrarily arrested, beaten, or killed;[i] and the expulsion of several key international researchers or officials, including those from the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, and the Congo Research Group.[ii]

Unless clear signals come from the international community that there will be consequences for subverting the constitution and undermining democracy, human rights abuses and corruption will continue, and a full-scale humanitarian crisis could develop. To prevent this, such signals are possible. A number of policy tools are available to governments that can increase the potential for positive policy outcomes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Specifically, the United States, European Union, and individual European states can use financial and legal tools that are frequently employed to fight terrorism and nuclear proliferation to increase the potential for timely democratic elections, promote accountability for atrocity crimes and corruption, and discourage government repression against the civilian population.[iii] Other policy approaches related to the process of holding democratic elections, including support to civil society to provide meaningful monitoring and capacity building for the government to carry out an effective process, are of course also required. So too, more effective governance mechanisms are needed to bring meaningful change to Congo over the long term.  These other areas remain the focus of separate research by the Enough Project. 

This brief instead aims to explain a selection of the financial and legal tools and how they can help support security and respect for the constitution in Congo, and correct common misperceptions. For example, a commonly held view is that U.S. financial pressure has little utility against actors in the Congolese government because most of the Kabila regime’s financial dealings are with China, not the United States. It is also often said that sanctions are the only available financial pressure tool. Another common view asserts that sanctions only have symbolic value as “name and shame” political tools but wield no concrete coercive power. As we explain below, however, these misperceptions obfuscate critical opportunities for impact. For example, Congolese elites bank and conduct business in U.S. dollars and thereby transfer money through the U.S. frequently; there are crimes committed by Congolese actors over which the United States has jurisdiction; and there are several financial anti-money laundering tools, other types of sanctions, and ways to enforce sanctions that can have much more significant impact than simply naming and shaming. 


[i] See, “Human Rights Watch, “DR Congo: Officials Linked to Attack on Protesters,” October 6, 2015, available at; and Elsa Buchanan, “DRC: ‘Prevent bloody repression’ against protesters urge rights activists,” International Business Times, January 20, 2016, available at

[ii] See, Aaron Ross, “Congo expels top U.N. official after report on police abuses,” Reuters, October 16, 2014, available at; Human Rights Watch, “DR Congo: Human Rights Watch Researcher Barred,” August 9, 2016, available at; Global Witness, “Global Witness Employees Expelled from DRC Under False Allegations,” Press release, July, 14, 2016, available at ; and Congo Research Group, “Press Statement Regarding the Expulsion of Jason Stearns from the DR Congo,” Press release, April 9, 2016, available at

[iii] The United States and the United Nations each have sanctions regimes related to the DRC. For the U.S. sanctions, see, U.S. President (George W. Bush), Executive Order 13413, “Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” sec. 1(i,ii)(A-G) and sec. 2-9, October 31, 2006, available at ; and U.S. President (Barack Obama), Executive Order 13671, “Taking Additional Steps to Address the National Emergency With Respect to the Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” sec. (1-6), July 10, 2014, available at For the U.N. sanctions, see, U.N. Security Council Subsidiary Organs, “Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 1533 (2004) Concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo—Sanctions Measures,” available at (last accessed September 2016).