The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid bin Ra’ad, strongly condemned the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) government on Thursday for its brutal suppression of anti-government protests that broke out this week.
Thousands of protesters stormed the streets of Kinshasa on Monday to protest the government’s call to delay November’s presidential election, allegedly due to technical issues with the voter registration process. President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the central African country for 15 years, is constitutionally prohibited from seeking yet another term, but his administration’s call to delay elections and suppression of opposition figures indicate that the leader has no intention to step down this year.
As anti-Kabila protests intensified, police officers opened fire upon demonstrators, killing at least 32 persons on Monday and Tuesday alone, according to the police. Opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, however, contended that at least 100 were killed in the clash, while Mr. Ra’ad stated that the death toll was at least 50.
“Some civilians were killed by gunshots to the head or chest and I strongly condemn the clearly excessive use of force by defense and security forces against demonstrators in the capital,” Mr. Ra’ad said. “The writing is on the wall and the authorities need to pull back from their extremely confrontational position and build bridges with the opposition.”
French President Francois Hollande similarly condemned the state-sanctioned violence while speaking at a sideline event at the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, calling it “intolerable and unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, the DRC has vowed to punish those responsible for the violence.
“We are no longer in a warning stage…we will punish the infractions committed,” said Congolese attorney-general Flory Kabange Numbi. “The Congolese national police are actively seeking out the authors of these grave acts of plunder.”
This week’s protests come after months of heightening political tensions in the DRC between Mr. Kabila and his opponents. According to a report by Amnesty International, the Kabila government has been engaging in repressive tactics to ensure his rule is not challenged.
In three different parts of the country, for example, local authorities outright banned demonstrations, and in other instances broke up peaceful indoor political meetings, the report states.
“This campaign of harassment and intimidation against dissident voices flies in the face of the DRC’s own constitution, as well as its international commitments to respect, protect and fulfill the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Sarah Jackson, deputy director of the Amnesty International East Africa, Horn of Africa, and Great Lakes program.
“The government is violating the rights of opposition politicians and pro-democracy activists to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly while expelling foreign researchers and threatening human rights organizations that are working to monitor these violations with closure,” Ms. Jackson explained.
Dialogue between the Kabila government and the opposition parties commenced earlier this month but was suspended due to the outbreak of violence. The talks are slated to resume on Friday, but it remains to be seen whether unrest will further stall the dialogue.