By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on Thursday issued a strong warning about the deteriorating situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and insisted that, as part of the effort to avert a major crisis, there must be accountability for the killing of dozens of civilians and other human rights violations that took place during the outbreak of violence earlier this week.
The High Commissioner said, “I am deeply saddened by the recent explosion of violence in the capital Kinshasa.
“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.
“The writing is on the wall, and the authorities need to pull back from their extremely confrontational position and build bridges with the opposition.”
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.
“Some civilians were killed by gunshots to the head or chest, and I strongly condemn the clearly excessive use of force by defense and security forces against demonstrators in the capital. 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,” 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 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 September 19.
According to reports, some 300 people have been arrested since Monday.
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, and I urge the Government to immediately withdraw them from the streets and instead deploy properly trained police forces with appropriate equipment for crowd control,” he said.
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.
“Back in July, when I visited the DRC, I noted that the country was at a pivotal moment, with tensions on the rise and crucial electoral deadlines approaching. I also warned that the political uncertainty could lead to a serious crisis and outbreak of violence.
“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.”
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. He stressed that the investigation should also seek to identify the people responsible for these attacks and ensure that they are held accountable, in full accordance with the law.
“My Office stands ready to bring any kind of support to the Congolese authorities in their investigations,” said Zeid.