The United Nations human rights chief today strongly warned of the deteriorating situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the wake of violent clashes between protestors and security forces earlier this week, insisting that those who committed the killings and other human rights violations during these incidents must be held accountable in order to avert a major crisis.
At least 50 people, including at least four police officers, were reportedly killed during clashes and violence in the capital Kinshasa on 19 and 20 September, and at least 77 others were injured. The figures could be much higher as verification continues, according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“The high number of civilian casualties, the burning of the headquarters of several political parties and the continuing high tension together provide a stark warning that a large-scale crisis could be just around the corner,” High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in the news release.
“To pull back from this dangerous trajectory, a fully inclusive dialogue must be restored and all sides must exercise restraint. It is absolutely crucial to ensure full accountability for the many human rights violations that have occurred this week, through a prompt, transparent and impartial investigation,” he said.
“I am particularly shocked at reports that some men in uniform took a direct part in some of the attacks against the headquarters of six opposition political parties, including the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS) building,” Mr. Zeid said. “This is a clear assault against democracy and fundamental human rights. What DRC needs now is a climate more conducive to inclusive dialogue and to free and fair elections.”
The High Commissioner also strongly condemned the attacks by unknown assailants against the headquarters of the ruling party, a courthouse, a school and several government buildings, including police stations, as well as other criminal acts, such as looting and destruction of private property.
Mr. Zeid said he had also received reports that Republican Guards, ANR intelligence service and PNC (Police nationale congolaise) had conducted raids and searches of residences in some parts of the capital, preventing civilians from leaving their homes for several hours.
He expressed particular concern at allegations of arbitrary detentions by police not just in Kinshasa, but also in Kisangani, Tshikapa and Goma, including of journalists trying to cover demonstrations in the capital on 19 September. According to reports, some 300 people have been arrested since Monday.
Mr. Zeid reminded the Government of its obligations to respect international standards on the use of force during demonstrations.
“The deployment of Republican Guards for crowd control, despite the fact that they were heavily implicated in the excessive use of force which led to numerous casualties during the 2011 elections, is deeply worrisome,” he said, urging the Government to immediately withdraw them from the streets and instead deploy properly trained police forces with appropriate equipment for crowd control.
The High Commissioner also regretted that no one was held to account for the serious violations committed by members of the Republican Guards and the police in the context of the 2011 elections.
“My Office stands ready to bring any kind of support to the Congolese authorities in their investigations,” said Mr. Zeid.