Human Rights and Democracy Report 2014: Democratic Republic Of Congo (DRC) - in-year update July 2015

Published 15 July 2015


We remained deeply concerned by the human rights situation in the DRC throughout the first six months of 2015. Violations and abuses continued at a high level. Accusations persist that the army, police and security agencies were complicit in killings, rapes, and the ill treatment of detainees.

The authorities’ response to civil unrest in Kinshasa and the wider DRC in January was a particular cause of concern. A draft law setting out an electoral timetable and budget was considered by a special session of parliament in mid-January. Kinshasa and wider DRC were subject to disturbances as protestors voiced their discontent over the proposals. The government said five people were killed as a result of the violence, including two police officers. The UN, NGOs and civil society estimate between 20 and 42 were killed. During the unrest, officials at our Embassy in Kinshasa were in regular contact with the DRC authorities, and urged all parties to exercise calm and restraint. Officials also highlighted the importance of allowing those who wished to protest peacefully to do so. This was echoed in an FCO statement. On 25 January, parliament passed a revised electoral law, which sought to address some of the protestors’ concerns by removing the need for a full census ahead of the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections; the FCO welcomed the law.

Whilst pleased that calls for an end to violence were heeded, we remained concerned that the aftermath of the demonstrations saw a narrowing of political space with arbitrary arrests and detentions; threats against opposition politicians, journalists and human rights defenders; and the interruption of internet, mobile telephone and SMS systems. UN reports point to at least 300 people being detained in mass arrests during the protests. Of these, at least 11 were believed to be held without being allowed to communicate to the outside world, including prominent civil society representative Christopher Ngoyi Mutamba, coordinator of the “Civil Society of Congo” platform.

Ngoyi and political activists Cyrille Dowe, Jean-Claude Muyambo, Jean-Bertrand Ewanga, Ernest Kyaviro, and Vano Kiboko remained in detention, in some cases for over five months without charge, or access to families or lawyers. We highlighted to the Congolese authorities, including through an EU Heads of Mission statement issued on 11 February, that the right to peaceful demonstration and assembly must be upheld and those imprisoned for peacefully exercising their right to free speech should be released without delay.

On 15 March, youth leaders from Burkina Faso, Senegal and the DRC were arrested in Kinshasa after a press conference and workshop organised by a coalition of youth organisations called Filimbi. The main speakers at the press conference, along with around forty other individuals, were detained by the security services. The authorities portrayed the youth leaders as terrorists, with the Minister of Communications accusing them of “fomenting unrest and promoting violence”. The authorities released most of the detainees in the week after their arrest, but two remained in detention: Fred Bauma, member of the youth movement LUCHA, and Yves Makwambala, the designer of the Filimbi web site. Both were reportedly held without charge or access to legal assistance, and were brought before judicial authorities only after considerable delay. Officials from our embassy in Kinshasa joined other international observers in monitoring court hearings in the case and those of a number of other activists detained in recent months.

We welcomed the parliamentary commission of inquiry into the Filimbi arrests and were pleased that it led to an investigation of the case. We also welcomed its finding that there is no evidence that participants in the workshop were involved in activities of a terrorist nature, and its recommendation that a ”political solution” be found in order to enable the release of Bauma and Makwambala who remain in prison in Kinshasa. We encouraged the DRC government to act upon this recommendation as soon as possible. On 27 March, our Acting Head of Mission in Kinshasa joined a démarche with other EU Heads of Mission to voice our concern at the arrest and detention without charge of the activists. We also stressed to the authorities that civil society organisations must be allowed to hold workshops on the democratic process without fear of arrest or reprisal.

The security situation in the east of DRC continued to cause concern, and to impede creating an environment where human rights are respected. In March, at the UN Security Council, we supported renewal of the mandate of the UN Mission to the DRC (MONUSCO). It has a key role in facilitating a long-term solution to problems in eastern DRC, but its first priority remains the protection of civilians. Security in eastern DRC can only be achieved when the threat to civilians and to the stability of the region by armed groups, such as the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), is tackled comprehensively. Last year the international community presented the FDLR with a clear choice: disarm voluntarily or face military action. No credible surrender had taken place by the expiry of the deadline for this process of 2 January, and the FDLR continued to recruit new fighters and commit atrocities. On 30 January, the DRC government announced military action against the FDLR, yet joint operations planning between MONUSCO and the FARDC (DRC armed forces) remained largely suspended due to the government’s appointment of “UN red-listed” individuals.

The DRC government’s refusal to accept MONUSCO’s proposed mitigation measures, and the unwillingness of the FARDC to engage with MONUSCO formally on other operations, meant that action against the FDLR and other armed groups was not as effective as it might have been. We reiterated to the government international expectations that the FDLR will be tackled, and have encouraged the DRC authorities to work with MONUSCO to find a solution.

The deterioration in the security situation in the Beni region of eastern DRC in May served to highlight the importance of a speedy resumption of joint FARDC/MONUSCO action to confront the threat posed by armed groups. Attacks on villagers in isolated settlements near the town of Beni saw over 100 people killed in the two months since the beginning of May. This followed a spate of similar attacks in autumn 2014. MONUSCO and the DRC government attributed the attacks to the armed group, ADF (Allied Democratic Forces). The attacks may have been an act of retaliation: in April, the Tanzanian authorities arrested the group’s leader, Jamal Mukulu, in Dar es-Salaam. We raised our concerns over the deteriorating security situation in the Beni region with the DRC authorities and with MONUSCO, which dispatched further troops to the region.

In addition to the arrest of Mukulu, a notable recent success in the fight against armed groups and culture of impunity which prevails for human rights abusers in DRC was the capture in January of Dominic Ongwen. Mr Ongwen, allegedly a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, an armed group responsible for significant human rights abuses in north-eastern DRC, was transferred to the International Criminal Court to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In March, human rights defenders (HRDs) raised concerns surrounding the mass grave in Maluku, on the outskirts of Kinshasa, where over 400 bodies are thought to have been buried on 19 March. According to the DRC government, the bodies included those of people were abandoned by their families or whose families could not afford burial, and stillborn babies. HRDs raised concerns that individuals killed in clashes between the security forces and protesters in the disturbances in January could be amongst them, given that some families of those thought to have been killed in the unrest have been unable to locate their relatives. We were also concerned by allegations relating to the death of a nurse in charge of one of Kinshasa’s morgues. On 10 April, the EU delegation in Kinshasa made a statement on the subject on behalf of all EU Heads of Mission in Kinshasa. We called upon the DRC judicial officials to investigate the mass grave properly, urging them to work with MONUSCO, and the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC. We called on MONUSCO and UNJHRO to ensure that a transparent and credible investigation is urgently undertaken, and encouraged the government to ensure a thorough response to the public complaint filed on 5 June by the families of 34 disappeared persons.

We remained focused on the issue of tackling sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) during this period, working closely with the DRC government, NGOs, and civil society to improve the care of SGBV survivors. We were delighted to welcome President Kabila’s Personal Representative for Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment, Jeanine Mabunda, to London in February. She discussed her work on this priority area with the former Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, the Rt Hon William Hague MP, other ministers, and experts in her field.

In February, the decision was made to terminate support for the UK’s bilateral Security Sector Accountability and Police Reform Programme. This was due to a lack of progress on the part of the DRC authorities in investigating allegations set out in the UNJHRO’s report into “Likofi”, a DRC National Police operation aimed at combating violent street crime. Assistance to the programme had been suspended in November 2014 when we pressed the relevant authorities for a full and transparent investigation into the Likofi allegations and for the responsible officers to be suspended.