Democratic Republic of Congo: Preventing an Escalation of Violence and Abuse
Published: 6 Sep 2016
The political impasse in the Democratic Republic of Congo is at serious risk of spiraling into widespread violence over the coming months, with serious consequences for the people in Congo and broader ramifications across the region.
Since January 2015, the Congolese government has imposed a brutal crackdown against those who have spoken out against or opposed attempts to extend President Joseph Kabila’s stay in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ends on December 19, 2016. Government security forces have arbitrarily arrested scores of opposition leaders and activists, fired on peaceful protesters, banned opposition demonstrations, shut down media outlets, accused peaceful pro-democracy youth activists of plotting terrorist acts, and prevented opposition leaders from moving freely around the country.
Meanwhile, preparations for presidential elections have stalled, and there is currently no date for when elections will be held. Senior government officials have however said that elections will not be held before the end of the year, as originally scheduled and as called for in the constitution, officially citing technical, logistical, and financial constraints. The electoral commission has chosen the lengthiest plan to register voters, which has just begun and which they say will take at least 16 months.
A National Dialogue to discuss the way forward, called for President Kabila, officially began on September 1, but nearly all of the main opposition political parties have so far refused to participate, citing fears that the dialogue is merely a ploy for President Kabila to stay in power by creating a “transition period” during which he could seek to change the constitution to remove term limits.
With frustrations growing among many factions of the Congolese population – including opposition party supporters, civil society and human rights activists, and marginalized youth populations in cities across the country – many say they are ready to mobilize and go to the streets in protest starting on September 19, three months before the end of President Kabila’s mandate and when, according to the constitution, the electoral commission is due to convoke presidential elections.
The risk of increased violence, instability, brutal repression, and a further shrinking of political space in the coming months is very real. While the window of opportunity is closing, we believe there is still time to influence the course of events and help prevent a dangerous escalation of violence.
Below we offer recommendations on concrete steps that the European Union and its member states can take now to help prevent an escalation of violence and abuse in Congo. We encourage COAFR members to proactively work with your colleagues in capitals and at the External Action Service to leverage all tools at your disposal.