Thursday, November 10, 2011

D.R. Congo: Alarm over pre-election human rights violations in DR Congo

UN - A new United Nations report details numerous human rights violations during the pre-electoral period in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and warns that such incidents could threaten the democratic process and result in post-electoral violence.

The presidential and parliamentary polls are slated for 28 November – only the second time since its independence in 1960 that DRC will be holding democratic elections.

The joint report issued today by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN peacekeeping mission in DRC (MONUSCO), documents 188 violations apparently linked to the electoral process that occurred between 1 November 2010 and 30 September this year.

“I am sure the Congolese people share my hope for peaceful, free and fair elections and a smooth exercise of their fundamental right to vote,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

“The kind of intimidation, threats, incitement, arbitrary arrests and violence that we have documented is unacceptable and has a chilling effect on voters,” she said.

“The Government and leaders of political parties must make it clear that there is to be zero tolerance against any such actions which seriously limit the exercise of the right to vote.”

The violations most frequently infringed individuals’ freedom of expression, the right to physical integrity and the right to liberty and security of the person, as well as the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, according to a news release on the report. There have also been instances of violence and disturbance of public order committed by supporters of political parties.

While the report is not an exhaustive account of human rights violations and acts of violence perpetrated, violations documented include incidents such as death threats against human rights defenders for holding a press conference in which they denounced reforms, and the beating or arrests of civilians for merely wearing the T-shirts of opposition parties.

Among other violations were repeated summons to the National Intelligence Agency, the reported beating of a civilian for asking an “unpatriotic” question and the arrest and ill-treatment of four individuals for discussing politics in a barbershop.

Most of the violations committed directly involved elements of the Congolese National Police, or of the National Intelligence Services.

The situation in the country’s east is of particular concern, the report notes, adding that political parties have reportedly been targeted and their members detained, ill-treated and threatened.

The report stresses that freedom of expression is essential during an electoral period, as people can only effectively exercise their right to vote if they can make informed decisions.

“Taking into account the violent events following the 2006 poll, the 2011 elections will constitute an important challenge for human rights, security and the consolidation of democracy in the country,” it adds.

The report urges the Congolese Government to intensify cooperation with civil society, to issue public messages calling for state agents – particularly members of the security forces – to promote and respect human rights, and to fight impunity of state agents who are perpetrators of human rights violations.

It also urges political parties to issue public statements promoting peaceful participation in the electoral process and calling on supporters, particularly the youth, to refrain from violence and to respect national laws and the public order.

The international community is called on to step up its support to the Government, civil society and other stakeholders in their efforts to train security forces and judicial officers, and to promote free and fair elections and monitoring of such elections.

Yesterday the Security Council reiterated its call for credible and peaceful elections in DRC, stressing that the Government bore the primary responsibility for ensuring free and fair polls.

It also reiterated its concern over reports of election-related violence and urged all parties to campaign peacefully, in a press statement following a briefing from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for DRC and head of MONUSCO, Roger Meece.