Accountability for killings of protesters vital, Zeid says, as DRC crisis continues
Reports that dozens of people have been killed by police and soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over the past few days are deeply troubling and point to growing instability in the country, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Friday.
Over the past week, the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO) has documented at least 40 killings of civilians in Kinshasa, Lumbumbashi, Boma and Matadi, mainly of people protesting against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down at the official end of his mandate on 19 December. Some 107 people have been injured or ill-treated and there have been at least 460 arrests.
“Such high casualty figures suggest a serious disregard by the various police, defence and security forces of the need to exercise restraint in policing demonstrations. Not only are soldiers participating in law enforcement operations, but all the forces involved are heavily armed and using live ammunition,” Zeid said.
The High Commissioner recalled that law enforcement officials, including the military acting in that capacity, must never use firearms except against someone representing an imminent threat to life or of serious injury and only when less extreme means are insufficient.
“The failure by the DRC authorities and the security forces, to abide by their international obligations to guarantee people’s right to freedoms of expression and of association and assembly is to be deplored,” he stressed.
The violence of the past few days has not been limited to Kinshasa, Lumbumbashi and the east but has also been reported in several regions, which indicates that the political crisis is leading to wider destabilisation, Zeid noted.
“Violent repression of dissenting voices and a heavy-handed and irresponsible response to demonstrations risk provoking violence in return by demonstrators and possibly even tipping the constitutional crisis over the president’s future into further conflict across the country,” the High Commissioner warned.
The High Commissioner noted that to date no one has been held accountable for the deaths of 54 people in Kinshasa in September when the defence and security forces used excessive force against demonstrators calling for constitutional deadlines to be respected and for President Kabila to step down at the end of his second and final mandate.
“Such impunity for past violence appears to have fostered a belief among security personnel that they can open fire against demonstrators without being held accountable for their actions,” Zeid said.
The High Commissioner reiterated calls by, among others, the National Episcopal Conference (CENCO) which has been trying to mediate an accord between the opposition and the ruling party, for an independent and transparent inquiry into the recent violence.
“It is essential that all those, at whatever level, who are responsible for human rights violations are held accountable. Without such a credible response from the government, the risk is that violent situations or ongoing conflict, including between communities over resources, could degenerate further,” Zeid said.
Among the violations documented by UNJHRO:
· On 20 December, 13 civilians were killed in Kinshasa by defence and security forces and another two people were killed on 22 December. Eleven of these killings are attributable to the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC, including six by the Military Police (MP) and one by the Republican Guard (RG). Two policemen were killed by protesters. In addition, at least 12 people were injured by defence and security forces, and at least 150 people were arrested.
· On 20 December in Lubumbashi, at least eight men and two children were killed and at least 60 civilians were injured by the security forces. During demonstrations in Lumbumbashi on 20 December, at least 130 people were arrested. A further 145 people, including 23 minors, were arrested in their houses during search operations on 21 and 22 December
· In Matadi, on 20 December, at least three men were killed by officers from the National Police (PNC). Five people were injured by PNC officers and FARDC soldiers, and the police arrested at least 26 people.
· On 20 December, in Boma, 12 civilians, including three women, were killed and 12 others were wounded by PNC officers and FARDC soldiers.
· Between 17 and 22 December, at least 102 people were arbitrarily arrested in Goma, including 24 activists from the Lucha youth movement, a journalist and 10 members of opposition political parties.
· Eight Lucha activists were also arrested in Mbuji-Mayi by agents from the National Information Agency (ANR) on 21 December.
· In Oicha, at least 30 people, including 16 women, were arrested by PNC officers on 19 December.