Kabila not running for another term, but human rights concerns persist

Kabila not running for a third term in office

On 8th August 2018, which was the deadline for presidential hopefuls to submit their candidacy for December elections, Minister of Media and Communication and government spokesperson Lambert Mende announced that Joseph Kabila would not be seeking a third term in office, thus respecting the constitutional two-term limit. Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary will instead run for the ruling party's political coalition, Front commun pour le Congo (FCC - Common Front for Congo). Shadary has himself been placed under European Union sanctions since May 2017 for "obstruction of the electoral process and related human rights violations".  

On 19th September, the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) published a list of candidates for the general elections, following deliberations of the Constitutional Court. In total, twenty-one candidates will compete in the presidential elections, while 15,355 candidates will contest national legislative elections and 19,640 candidates for the provincial elections were validated. Some opposition leaders, notably Moïse Katumbi and Jean-Pierre Bemba, were barred from running for president. Moïse Katumbi, who has been in a self-imposed exile since 2016, was unable to submit his candidacy as authorities barred him from entering the country. On 3rd August 2018, authorities shut down the border post of Kasumbalesa-Kisanga to prevent Katumbi from entering the country from Zambia, while police officers used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse a crowd of Katumbi supporters welcoming him at the border (see below under Peaceful Assembly). Two weeks later on 16th August, Congolese authorities issued an international warrant for Katumbi's arrest. The candidacy of Jean-Pierre Bemba, of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) was invalidated on grounds of his recent conviction for witness tampering by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Bemba's 2016 conviction for war crimes was overturned by the ICC Appeal Chamber earlier in June 2018. 

Concerns on the credibility and the transparency of the electoral process

In the meantime, civil society and political opposition have raised concerns about the credibility and transparency of the electoral process. Concerns exist in particular on the use of voting machines, while authorities in the DRC have refused any assistance in the organisation of the elections from international actors, including logistical assistance from MONUSCO (United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC). 

Civil society election monitoring platform

An election monitoring platform was set up by CSOs and citizen movements LUCHA, Filimbi, Les Congolais Débout, Agir pour des élections transparentes et apaisées (AETA, Act for Transparent and Peaceful Elections) and Association congolais pour l'accès à la justice (ACAJ; Congolese Association for Access to Justice). The platform includes a barometer with ten conditions to be met in order for elections to be considered free, transparent and inclusive. 

Human rights violations in DRC on the rise, according to the UN

The number of human rights violations in the country increased in August 2018, according to a report of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO). Six-hundred-and-twenty human rights violations were registered during the month, compared with 515 violations in July 2018. Violations perpetrated by state agents and security officers almost doubled (66 percent of the violations) compared with July 2018. 

On 3rd July 2018, a team of international experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council issued a report on the situation in Kasaï, saying that the violations committed by DRC security forces, the Kamuina Nsapu militia and the Bana Mura militias since 2016 amounts to crimes against humanity, with deliberately killings of civilians and committing atrocities such as mutilations, sexual violence and torture. The experts also concluded that some of the abuses amount to persecution based on ethnicity.  UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, commented to Reuters that the Kasaï "today already bears the signature of Rwanda and Bosnia in the early 1990's" and: 

"Our experts have delivered the evidence and it is now up to the world leaders to get their act together and prevent the next genocide, the next exodus of millions to all corners of the world and the next unforgivable tragedy in human history."

In a joint letter to the UN Human Rights Council, several national, regional and international CSOs have called for a country-wide monitoring mechanism to prevent further human rights violations and abuses in the country and to "ensure adequate scrutiny and reporting of human rights violations and abuses in the electoral context". 

DRC is on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watchlist, a list of countries with serious and ongoing threats to civic space. 


Association

Judicial harassment of HRDs

Four of the five Filimbi activists who have been in detention since December 2017 for mobilising citizens ahead of the 31st December 2017 protests, which were reported previously on the Monitor, were sentenced to one year in prison on 25th September 2018. Carbonne Beni, Grâce Tshionza, Cédric Kalonji and Mino Momponices were found guilty of insulting the Head of State, undermining the internal security of the state and publishing and distributing subversive writings. Earlier, on 17th August 2018, the Public Prosecutor requested a three year prison sentence for the five activists. 

In a separate incident, human right defender Elias Bizimungu Rwaramba was charged with "disturbing the public order" during a hearing at the High Court of Rutshuru on 24th July 2018. The High Court acquitted him later, on 14th August 2018, on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Since his arrest, Bizimungu Rwaramba spent five days at a military camp and the rest of his detention in the central prison of Rutshuru, where he was allegedly subjected to beatings and physical and psychological ill-treatment. As reported previously on the Monitor, security forces arrested Bizimungu Rwaramba and fifteen other activists of Collectif d’Action de la Société Civile (Collective of Actions of Civil Society - CASC) during a protest in Rutshuru to denounce the increasing insecurity and kidnappings in the territory. According to Front Line Defenders, Bizimungu Rwaramba received threatening calls from the territorial administrator of the Rutshuru region prior to the protest. 

According to information received by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), officers of the General Direction of Migration (DGM) briefly detained LUCHA member Rebecca Kabuo Syndy at Goma airport on 29th June 2018 when she was heading to the Philippines to attend an international conference. DGM officers informed Kabuo Syndy that her name was on a list of persons forbidden to travel due to her activities within LUCHA.  

Peaceful Assembly

Citizen movement protests against the electoral process and the use of voting machines

On 19th September 2018, police officers dispersed a protest of the Collectif d’actions de la société civile (CASC) in Kinshasa, injuring five protesters, according to CASC. The protest was organised to demand a "citizen transition in DRC" and to denounce the current electoral process. On 20th September 2018, tens of LUCHA activists held a peaceful protest in Beni and Kasindi, in North Kivu, to demand credible and peaceful elections. On 21st September 2018, International Day of Peace, activists of citizen movements held a protest in Goma, to demand peace and credible elections. The activists managed to read their memorandum before being dispersed by police officers.

On 12th September 2018, police arrested seven members of citizen movement Congolais Debout at the University of Kinshasa, when the activists were mobilising against the use of voting machines. According to the movement's lawyer, six activists were arrested outside of the university while the seventh activist and lawyer was arrested later when he inquired about the situation of those arrested. A police spokesperson claimed that the seven were arrested inside the university, where all activities need to be "apolitical". The activists are accused of "disturbing public order" and were taken to the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) later that day. 

On 3rd September 2018, citizen movement LUCHA protested in front of local offices of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) throughout the country, demanding that that the CENI changes its plans to use voting machines and conduct a review of the voter's roll. In Kinshasa, about 30 people gathered before being arrested, with most of them being released shorty after. In Goma, police officers used tear gas to disperse the protest, and at least seven activists were arrested, fifteen were injured and three journalists were assaulted by police officers. The seven were released on 5th September without being charged. In Bukavu, the planned protest was prevented by a massive deployment of security forces in front of the local offices of CENI. 

Violence against opposition protests and gatherings

In early August 2018, security forces used tear gas and live ammunition against opposition rallies, killing at least two people - including a child - and injuring several others, said Human Rights Watch. On 1st August 2018, at least two people were injured when security forces used excessive violence to disperse a crowd of tens of thousands of opposition supporters welcoming opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba in Kinshasa. On 3rd August 2018, security forces used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse a crowd of Moïse Katumbi supporters in Kasumbalesa, the Congolese side of the DRC-Zambia border, killing at least one person and injuring another, while a dozen supporters were arrested. The supporters gathered at the border to welcome opposition leader Moïse Katumbi, who tried to enter the country to register his candidacy for the presidential elections. That same day, police prevented a gathering of members of Katumbi's platform Ensemble pour le Changement from taking place in Goma, sparking days of protest in Kasumbalesa and Lubumbashi. On 6th August 2018, a ten-year old boy was killed by live ammunition, and four were wounded during protests in Lubumbashi. On 7th August 2018, security forces used tear gas to disperse supporters of opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi in Kinshasa when he filed his candidacy.

On 5th September 2018, the UN High Commission of Human Rights condemned the repression of the freedom of peaceful assembly in DRC. Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said during a press conference:

"We are deeply concerned by the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations of civil society organizations and political parties of the opposition in the run-up to the start of the electoral campaign in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, despite the public commitment of the Congolese authorities to lift the ban on protests in place since 2017." (translated from French)

Other protests

On 30th July 2018, police arrested 30 protesters in Kinshasa during a protest organised by Engagement citoyen pour le changement, (Eccha RDC), Lutte pour le changement( LUCHA), Biso peuple and SDH, according to Radio Okapi The protesters wanted to depose a memorandum at the representative responsible for the fight against sexual violence, demanding the release of minor girls and women who have been kidnapped since months by militia in the village of Kamonia in the Kasaï.

On 23rd July 2018, citizens in Sake, in the territory of Masisi, North Kivu, protested against the insecurity on the Sake-Kitshange road, as one person was killed, and six were injured by armed criminals in the previous two months. Concerns on insecurity also led local civil society in Ariwara, in the territory of Ituni, to hold a ville mort (dead city) protest action on 14th July 2018, suspending all economic activities.

Draft law on public assemblies still lingering in DRC's Parliament

A draft law on the measures for the application of freedom of demonstration is aimed at aligning the regulation on protests with article 26 of the 2006 Constitution, which merely requires a written notification to authorities in advance of protests taking place. In practice, a prior authorisation is required to organise protests through the application of decree-law 169 of 29 July 1999, a law that precedes the 2006 Constitution.

The draft law was already approved by both chambers of the Parliament - the National Assembly and the Senate - in 2015 but was not promulgated by president Kabila. Instead, the Head of State sent the draft law back to the Parliament in March 2018 for reconsideration, on grounds that the definition of public space lacks clarity. The draft law did not appear in the agenda of the Senate's ordinary session of September 2018. Senator Jacques Djoli commented to Radio Okapi:

"Today, there is a worrying situation regarding freedom of demonstration. Our Constitution is clear: we are in a regime of information. But the model or the practice is authorisation, and these authorisations are besides never granted. And there has been a draft law that has been debated for almost two years now and has been adopted in identical terms by both Houses, but we don't see this law. And it does not show in the calendar." (translated from French)

Expression

According to CSO Journaliste en Danger (JED), police officers ransacked Kinshasa-based installations of the current affairs TV magazine "Kin Lartus" on 25th July 2018. Witnesses said that police officers arrested ten journalists present at the facilities. The attack occurred after a complaint of another TV magazine accusing "Kin Lartus" of using their name and logo, "Kilartus". Six of the journalists were released shortly after being detained, while four others remained in custody during the night. 

Arbitrary dismissal of public television journalists 

The public broadcaster, Radio Télévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC), ended contracts with three journalists for "video footage that called for rebellion was submitted for inclusion in the 8 pm TV news programme on 22 August, eluding the entire TV channel’s vigilance." Cameraman Syande Emaka, reporter Marie Lelo and editor Benjamin Okakesema covered, on 22nd August 2018, a political demonstration of Élie Kapend Kanyimbu, president of the opposition party Front de libération nationale du Congo (FNLC; National Libertation Front of Congo). Kapend allegedly made an ultimatum to president Kabila, requesting him to step down within 5 days, announcing he would lead a political transition. Deputy secretary-general of RTNC said to AFP that "they left to cover the press conference of Eddie Kapend who threatened the institutions. But our editorial line is very clear: to defend the institutions and Congo."  

Threats and intimidation of human rights documentary makers

Four people involved in the making of the human rights documentary Mbobero, la raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure (Mbobero: Might Is Always Right) - journalists Gaël Mpoyo and Franck Zongwe, president of human rights CSO Nouvelle dynamique de la société civile en RD Congo Jean-Chrysostome Kijana, and Fidèle Mutchungu have gone into hiding after receiving threats following the film's release on 6th July 2018. Threats include intimidating anonymous text messages and telephone calls and a visit to their homes by unidentified persons.  

The film documents human rights violations in Mbobero, a village outside of Bukavu. The violations related to the purchase of land by the president's family. Human rights abuses include the eviction of more than 2,000 people and the destruction of about 230 houses, with the assistance of security forces including the Republican Guard, according to CSO Nouvelle dynamique de la société civile en RD Congo, the organisation that originally documented the forced evictions, and were involved in the making of the documentary. . 

New ministerial decree on online media

On 14th June 2018, Minister of Communication and Media Lambert Mende issued a decree 011/CABMIN-CM/LMO/2018, regulating online media, mandating new online news sites to register with authorities and giving existing online outlets a period of 30 days to conform to the new regulations. Concerns from freedom of expression advocates include the definition of online media as "any online service (...) consisting of the production of content that has been the subject of a (...) journalistic treatment" which is considered too broad, and "could be used to hunt down blogging or active journalists on social networks" according to Israël Mutala of the Association des médias d'information en ligne. 

After a meeting, JED, Union Nationale de la Presse du Congo (National Union of the Press of Congo) and other media professionals and experts, asked the Government for a moratorium on the implementation of the decree, allowing them to draft an memorandum with proposed changes to the new regulation. 

Tshivis Tshivuadi, secretary general of JED said

“If implemented as it stands, in letter and spirit, this decree would have the effect of stifling online media and further reducing the space for freedom of expression in the run-up to major political events signalled by the announcement of elections."

Kidnapping of a journalist

On 11th September 2018, radio journalist for local radio station Radio Svein Hassan Murhabazi went missing in Bukavu for three days after receiving an anonymous call following his last political debate program, which had Kabila's chosen successor Emmanuel Shadari as its theme. He was found three days later "in a weakened state" by passers-by in Bukavu. The presenter of the programme Mkate, known for its critical coverage of general news in the country, confirmed he was kidnapped, said Radio Svein. 

Vilification of journalists

The National Union of the Press of Congo (UNPC) initiated a six-month boycott of covering Minister of Justice Alexis Thambwe Mwamba following his remarks during an official meeting on 16th July 2018, describing journalists as "pathetic, miserable people who write anything for money". Tens of journalists descended to the streets on 27th July 2018 to denounce the statement of the Minister of Justice, while the UNPC also planned to file a complaint against the Minister. 

The president of UNPC declared to RFI to have received threats since the boycott, saying: 

"I received multiple threats on the phone. This is the risk of the charge that I was given. I can not be afraid of threats." (translated from French)

According to Reporters without Borders, in 2018 there were 22 attacks against journalists and a total of 35 arrests of journalists between January and August 2018.