The United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today voiced deep concern over increasing incidents of election-related violence and the use of inflammatory language by political leaders that has marred campaigns for presidential and legislative polls later this month.
The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) said in a press release that some leaders have been using inflammatory language to incite people to violence. It stressed that such conduct is a violation of the country’s electoral law and international electoral standards.
“MONUSCO wishes to stress that it is only through a free, fair and democratically held election that Congolese can choose their political leaders,” said the mission.
In New York, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for DRC and head of MONUSCO, Roger Meece, told the Security Council that the mission and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) are providing a wide range of assistance to the country’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as it prepares for the 28 November elections.
“We have added 30 civilian aircraft, for example, to the MONUSCO air fleet to help distribute election materials throughout the country in accordance with the INEC logistics plan,” said Mr. Meece.
He added that security remains an ongoing concern ahead of the elections and stressed the importance of candidates, political leaders and their followers acting responsibly. MONUSCO, he said, had been training thousands of police in crowd control and public order tactics.
“I underscore once again, however, the pressing need for additional non-lethal equipment for trained police units, which we are unable to provide under MONUSCO financing.”
The activities of illegal armed groups in eastern DRC also remain a major concern, Mr. Meece said, noting that while none of those groups have until now shown evidence of seeking to disrupt the elections, their actions continue to pose a major threat to civilians.
He voiced disappointment that only 12 per cent of candidates for seats in the National Assembly are women, despite the fact that women represent just under half of the registered voters.
There are an estimated 32 million registered voters in DRC. Eleven candidates are vying for the presidency and 18,864 candidates are competing for seats in the National Assembly, double the number that ran in 2006, according to Mr. Meece. A list 63,865 polling stations was published recently.
In a press statement following Mr. Meece’s briefing, 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. The UN body expressed support for the critical role played by MONUSCO in providing technical and logistical assistance for the elections and promoting dialogue.
Members of the Council reiterated their deep concern over persistent high levels of violence, especially sexual violence, and human rights violations against civilians and called for swift prosecution of perpetrators of abuse.
They urged DRC authorities, with the support of MONUSCO, to implement the appropriate responses to address human rights abuses, and commended the UN mission for continuing its efforts to protect civilians.
Mr. Meece emphasized the ongoing concern over sexual and gender-based violence, saying that armed groups were responsible for most of the crimes in the east. “Clearly, the elimination of the threat posed by these groups therefore remains central to improving security and reducing sexual-based violence.”
He, however, noted that significant progress has been made in fighting impunity for sexual violence, saying that the number of soldiers and members of militias prosecuted for sex crimes is on the rise.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, who also briefed the Council, expressed concern over the use of sexual violence for political reasons and urged all parties in the DRC to declare their commitment to ending the scourge.
“The candidates should be asked where they stand on this particular issue,” said Ms. Wallström, voicing concern that a militia leader whose group has been accused of committing sexual violence is a candidate in the elections despite the fact that an arrest warrant had been issued against him. She called for his arrest.