After two years of unconstitutional delays and widespread repression of opposition protests, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is finally preparing to hold elections on 23 December. Protests and political violence have taken place in Kinshasa and elsewhere since elections were first postponed in 2016, with more than 100 civilians shot and killed by security forces and hundreds of people arbitrarily detained over the past two years.
As a result of a failure to hold elections, mediation between the government and opposition took place under the aegis of the Conference Episcopale du Congo (CENCO). On 31 December 2016 the negotiations resulted in an agreement calling for elections to be held during 2017 and for President Joseph Kabila to abstain from seeking re-election. Following months of opposition protests, on 8 August 2018 President Joseph Kabila finally announced that he would not run for a third term. The ruling coalition nominated as its candidate former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadari, who has been on the European Union sanctions list since May 2017 for his alleged role in human rights violations committed by the security forces in the Kasaï region and violence against the political opposition.
The elections are taking place amidst increasing violence and instability throughout the DRC. Various armed groups have utilized the weakness of state authority in various parts of the country to sporadically attack security forces and perpetrate mass atrocity crimes. Despite military offensives conducted by the government's armed forces (FARDC) with assistance from the UN Peacekeeping Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and its Force Intervention Brigade, attacks by armed groups and inter-communal violence continue. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), over 4.5 million Congolese are currently internally displaced while more than 810,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries. Nearly half of all internally displaced persons in the DRC were displaced during 2017.
Several provinces in eastern DRC - notably North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika - have been plagued by a recent rise in inter-communal violence and attacks by armed groups. Suspected attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and other militias near Beni, North Kivu, have also hampered efforts to stem an Ebola outbreak. Militia attacks on humanitarian workers during September and October led to the temporary suspension of Ebola response efforts. During 2018 attacks by the ADF and other militias have killed at least 235 civilians around Beni, while more than 165 people have been abducted by armed groups. Clashes over access to land and water between the Banyamulenge and Bafuliro ethnic groups and affiliated militias near Uvira, South Kivu, also displaced more than 76,000 people earlier this year.
Tensions between the government and a local militia, Kamuina Nsapu, have also resulted in atrocities in Kasaï, Kasaï Central and Kasaï Oriental provinces since August 2016. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC identified at least 80 mass graves in the Kasaï region during 2017, with responsibility for most of these attributed to the FARDC. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused the FARDC and local officials of fomenting ethnic violence and supporting the formation of a pro-government militia, Bana Mura. The UN has documented children being used as combatants or human shields by Kamuina Nsapu, while Bana Mura has targeted populations based upon their ethnicity. According to the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated International Team of Experts, violations in the Kasaï region may constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Following the expulsion of Congolese migrants from Angola during a crackdown on artisanal mining during mid-October, UNHCR estimates that 200,000 people have returned to Kasaï Province, causing a humanitarian crisis.
If the conduct of the upcoming presidential election is not seen as credible and legitimate it could generate a new political crisis with dangerous consequences for the DRC and its neighbors. Government repression of the opposition over the past two years has also exacerbated political tensions throughout the DRC.
Widespread violence in the east is indicative of the enduring challenge of building effective governance and political stability in the DRC. Competition for control of profitable minerals, as well as unresolved inter-communal conflicts, have enabled the proliferation of militias and armed groups. Security forces have repeatedly used disproportionate and deadly force against peaceful demonstrators and perpetrated more than 1,100 extrajudicial and arbitrary executions during 2017.
The government of the DRC has struggled to uphold its Responsibility to Protect and government forces have at times been complicit in the perpetration of mass atrocity crimes.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) currently subjects 13 entities and 31 individuals in the DRC to sanctions. Several governments and regional organizations, including the United States and European Union, have also imposed sanctions on government officials who have impeded the election process or are deemed responsible for deadly attacks on peaceful demonstrators.
On 31 March the UNSC extended MONUSCO's mandate until March 2019, emphasizing that the DRC government "bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction, including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes."
On 13 August the UNSC released a Press Statement welcoming President Kabila's announcement that he would not run for re-election and calling upon the government to ensure a swift and peaceful transition of power, including through implementation of the December 2016 CENCO agreement. On 5-7 October the UNSC visited the DRC. UNSC members emphasized the need for President Kabila's government to ensure the upcoming election is credible, inclusive and transparent.
On 30 October the UNSC adopted Resolution 2439 condemning attacks by armed groups that have jeopardized the response to the Ebola outbreak. The resolution emphasized that the government "bears the primary responsibility to protect civilians within its territory and subject to its jurisdictions including protection from crimes against humanity and war crimes."
The DRC government must ensure respect for the universal human rights of all Congolese, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The AU and the Southern African Development Community should ensure rigorous oversight of the DRC election process. All political candidates in the DRC should refrain from using hate speech or inciting violence.
The DRC government and MONUSCO must ensure that protecting civilians remains their primary priority as they address the ongoing threat posed by various armed groups. The government and MONUSCO should implement measures to mediate inter-communal tensions and ensure the upcoming election is free, fair and transparent.
The government should undertake measures to ensure accountability for crimes perpetrated in the Kasaï region, as recommended by the HRC's International Team of Experts, as well as for the use of disproportionate and deadly force against unarmed protesters.
Last Updated: 15 November 2018
The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been featured in the R2P Monitor since the January 2012 issue.