Democratic Republic of the Congo
Political tension and the persistence of violent conflict in the east of the country continue to severely impair civic space in the DRC.read more
On 6th June, three UN experts expressed their concerns over the draft law, saying that some of the provisions are overly broad.
In a joint statement on 4th June 2018, 177 Congolese civil society organisations (CSOs) and social movements voiced opposition to the possible candidacy of President Kabila in the upcoming election as well as to a change in the constitution. The signatories called for credible, transparent, fair and inclusive elections, stating that:
"We invite the DRC’s partners – the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the African Union, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations – to stand by the Congolese people in demanding conditions conducive to truly credible, transparent, free, inclusive and high-quality elections".
CSOs and UN experts concerned about the draft Law on Associations
According to La Libre Afrique, the secretary-general of the umbrella organisation Conseil National des Organisations Non Gouvernementales de Développement (National Council of Development NGOs), Rigo Gene Woyie, addressed an open letter to Parliament and senators with concerns over the draft law that modifies the 2001 Law on Associations. Woyie asserted that the changes would contravene DRC's Constitution and violate the many international agreements that the DRC has signed. As reported previously on the Monitor, the draft law was introduced in October 2017 and contains restrictive provisions, including the power to dissolve associations on the grounds of undermining public order or national security.
On 6th June, three UN experts - the UN Special Rapporteurs on the freedom of peaceful assembly and association; on the promotion and protection of freedom of expression; and on the situation of human rights defenders have also expressed their concerns over the draft law, saying that some of the provisions are overly broad, and that some of the requirements:
"...threaten the ability of civil society to carry out their activities, and underline a desire to muzzle dissenting voices. If passed, the bill will likely create confusion and fear among civil society, and act as a deterrent to human rights defenders and other activists".
They further concluded that, if passed, the law could "further restrict civic space in the country".
#DRC: Today, #Filimbi pro-democracy activists Carbone Beni, Palmer Kabeya, Grâce Tshunza, Cédric Kalonji, and Mino Bompomi will be brought before a judge. They were arbitrarily detained by the national intelligence agency for 5 months. Release them now! @hrw pic.twitter.com/QuSOIObjCx— Jean-Sébastien Sépulchre (@JsSepulchre) 14 juni 2018
As reported previously on the Monitor, several Filimbi activists have been in detention since the end of December 2017 due to their protest activities on 31st December. According to their lawyer, the were held in detention in secret prisons of the National Intelligence Agency (ANR), with some being tortured and suffering from health issues. According to news reports, Carbone Béni and four of his Filimbi activists were transferred to the central prison of Makala on 9th June.
According to the Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ), quoted by VOA, about 100 people are currently being held in secret detentions, with 17 at the secret ANR prison in Kinshasa.
Activists and national and international CSOs have called for an impartial and credible investigation into the death of LUCHA activist Luc Nkulula, who died in a suspicious fire at his home in Goma on 9th June. The cause of the fire remains unclear.
Civil society organisations have denounced the increasing insecurity in several localities. On 31st May, security forces arbitrarily arrested 16 activists from Collectif d’Action de la Société Civile (Collective of Actions of Civil Society - CASC) in the territory of Ruthuru in North Kivu during a protest organised by CASC to denounce the increasing insecurity and kidnappings in the territory, and in particular in Kiwanja. ACAJ has demanded their unconditional release.
Civil society organisations in different regions have denounced the increasing insecurity in different parts of the country, namely, in Beni, after nine people were killed on 20th May, with some claiming the Ugandan rebel group ADF (Forces Démocratiques Alliées) to be the perpetrators; and in Butembo, where four people lost their lives within 72 hours, while several others were wounded and subject to extortion.
In June, the Virunga National Park, located in North Kivu and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, announced it would be closed due to insecurity after another guard was killed and two tourists and their driver were kidnapped on 11th May, amounting to a total of 12 park rangers being killed in the past ten months. Following revelations by Global Witness of the government's intention to reclassify parts of two national parks - Virunga and Salonga - to allow for oil exploitation, there was an outcry from Congolese civil society. In a statement on 24th May, about 100 CSOs denounced the illegal character of such exploitation and reminded authorities of the Paris Agreement that DRC had signed.
Shocked to see how brutally the Congolese police cracked down on peaceful mourners carrying a coffin with slain activist Rossy Mukendi last Saturday in Kinshasa. Even in death, they don’t let you rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/cU94hKb6Iy— Timo Mueller (@MuellerTimo) 21 mei 2018
Police officers used excessive force to disperse the funeral procession of human rights defender (HRD) Rossy Tshimanga Mukendi on 19th May. According the eye witnesses, police officers used tear gas and fired shots in the air. As reported previously, HRD Rossy Tshimanga Mukendi was killed by security forces during the 25th February protests.
On 10th May, police officers arrested 14 protesters in Kinsasha. According La Libre Afrique, student protests against an increase in public transport prices erupted that day at three universities (Institut Supérieur des Techniques Appliquées, Institut National des Bâtiments et des Travaux Publics and Université de Kinshasa) after the call to protest spread via social media. On 14th May, students at Institut Supérieur des Techniques Appliquées (ISTA) burned tires and barricaded roads before police officers intervened and the students were prevented from further protesting. On 16th May, police officers used teargas to disperse a student protest at Université pédagogique Nationale (UPN) in Kinsasha. The students were protesting against the additional fee of 50 USD in addition to the 150 USD required by the university administration for their diplomas, and the short time frame given for the payment of these fees.
On 19th May, security officers prevented activities, including a protest of the platform Ensemble pour le Changement (Together for Change) in Bunia in Ituri province, by a massive deployment or police in strategic places in the city, such as at the hotel where the main activities would take place. The protest was not authorised, the police commander claimed, while the organisers said they had informed the relevant city authorities. The platform supports opposition leader Moïse Katumbi, who has been in exile since May 2016.
In Kisangani on 22nd May, police officers dispersed a protest of drivers of motorcycle taxis by firing warning shots. The protest erupted after rumours spread that a driver had died after an altercation with traffic police officers the previous day. The protesters burned tyres and obstructed the major routes into the city.
Our global community of nonviolent activists is deeply saddened by the death of #LucNkulula, leading @luchaRDC member & inspiration of strength.— #StandWithCongo (@STANDWITHCONGO) 12 juni 2018
Join us in supporting Luc’s family: https://t.co/VTiNqpbdYm#Lucha #DRC #Congo pic.twitter.com/dOWiZfCfFT
On the night of 12th to 13th May, unidentified men armed with machetes attacked the house of journalist Barick Buematelwa of Top Congo FM in Kinsasha. Eyewitnesses claimed that the journalist was being targeted as the attackers had asked where the journalist lived. Buematelwa was not at home at the time of the attack.
Unidentified men abducted Radio Okapi journalist Innocent Olenga in the municipality of Bandalungwa in Kinshasa on 25th May. According to an anonymous source who spoke with Jeune Afrique, Olenga was released a couple of hours later after being heard before the Prosecutor's Office of the Court of Gombe. Several days later on 19th May, a group of unidentified armed men abducted Christine Tshibuyi, a journalist for Actualité.cd, in the municipality of Lingwala in Kinsasha, according to Journalistes en Danger (JED). Tshibuyi was beaten by the group and was able to escape after a couple of hours, but due to threats at her house, she was forced to leave her home.
On World Press Freedom Day - 3rd May, Syndicat National des Professionnels de la Presse (National Union of Press Professionals - SNPP) called on Congolese institutions to create a new legal framework to guarantee a free press. According to the Union, Law 96/002 of 22nd June 1996 violates this freedom and is outdated, as new developments since its adoption - community and non-profit media and online media outlets - are not included in the law. Additionally, SNPP has condemned the National Assembly for not making any progress on the adoption of the draft law on access to information. The union said to Actualité.cd that:
"The draft law on access to information, adopted by the Senate in 2015, until today sits in the drawers of the National Assembly. Similarly, the same Assembly did not consider it appropriate to examine the draft law on the exercise of the freedom of the press, deposited since five years".
Six months before the planned elections in December 2018, Reporters Without Borders and JED have called on the authorities to reopen four opposition media outlets in the province of Katanga, as stated in the Catholic Church-brokered New Year's Eve agreement. Radio-Télévision Lubumbashi JUA (RTLJ), Nyota TV, Radio Télévision Mapendo and La Voix du Katanga were closed in 2014 and 2016. The organisations reminded Minister of Media and Communication Mende of a previous statement he had made in January 2017 promising to reopen the media outlets within two weeks.
Registering a civil society organisation in the DRC is an extremely bureaucratic process. Organisations must seek approval from both the relevant sectoral ministry and the Ministry of Justice.
Registering a civil society organisation in the DRC is an extremely bureaucratic process. Organisations must seek approval from both the relevant sectoral ministry and the Ministry of Justice. CSOs are then required to work according to the government’s various development policies. Although most civil society organisations in the DRC focus on local or public service delivery issues, those promoting human rights and democracy are subject to close monitoring and sometimes harassment. Foreign CSOs face even higher bureaucratic hurdles and are required to sign specific agreements with government ministries before starting work. Faced with such a strict regulatory environment for civil society, newly-formed social movements such as Lucha, Telema and Ingeta have emerged, taking a less formalised approach to organising and campaigning for social change in the DRC. The state has responded to the popularity of these new movements with force and through the arrest and imprisonment of some of their leaders.
The organisers of public demonstrations in the DRC are required to obtain approval from local government in advance, and protests that do not meet this requirement are regularly prevented from taking place.
The organisers of public demonstrations in the DRC are required to obtain approval from local government in advance, and protests that do not meet this requirement are regularly prevented from taking place. Spontaneous demonstrations, particularly those with a political focus, are rarely tolerated. In January 2015, protests erupted in Kinshasa and Goma against the head of state’s attempts to delay elections and extend his term in office beyond December 2016. Police responded violently, firing into crowds with live ammunition. Reports of casualties varied but most estimates say at least 42 people died. Protests continue across the country in 2016, as police used tear gas against demonstrators in Lubumbashi.
People in the DRC take serious risks when openly expressing opinions, particularly when those views conflict with the government’s official line. Violence, intimidation, threats, arbitrary arrests, and judicial proceedings on trumped up charges are common tools used to suppress dissent.
People in the DRC take serious risks when openly expressing opinions, particularly when those views conflict with the government’s official line. Violence, intimidation, threats, arbitrary arrests, and judicial proceedings on trumped up charges are common tools used to suppress dissent. Many journalists and human rights defenders from the DRC have been violently attacked and many others forced to flee and live in exile as a consequence of expressing their opinions in public. HRDs have reported receiving threats from unidentified sources because of the work they do. The state also limits free expression by exercising strict control over sources of information. For example, the information minister recently called for the closure of some community radio stations because they had aired views critical of the government. During citizen protests in 2015, the state closed down two TV stations, text messaging and Internet services. The state also restricts press freedom by using criminal defamation and libel laws to target journalists and media houses.