Government repression of political opposition, media and civil society will likely undermine next year's elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the UN has warned. Since January 2015, 143 human rights violations have been linked to the electoral process in the mineral-rich country, including extrajudicial killings, threats, arbitrary arrests and detentions.
Between January and September this year, at least 649 people were arbitrarily held in connection with the electoral process. Many were denied access to their families and lawyers, according to the report by the DRC's UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO). The DRC's state intelligence agency, Agence Nationale de Renseignements (ANR) is the main perpetrator of the illegal detentions that are often conducted incommunicado.
"Arbitrary arrests and detentions, in particular of political opponents, civil society activists or demonstrators, were a frequent means of intimidation used by the security forces to restrict freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly," the report states.
The report's damning findings come as pressure mounts on current president, Joseph Kabila to respect the two-term limit set by the constitution and step down from power when his mandate expires next year. As Kabila wildly attempts to defer the elections by disrupting the electoral process via the use of excessive force and insidious reworking of the justice and electoral system, his efforts have been characterised by one word on everybody's lips: "glissement" or "sliding".
"This trend of restricting freedom of expression and violating the security of those taking a critical stance on the government's actions, indicates a shrinking of the democratic space likely to compromise the credibility of the electoral process," the report warns. January saw a spike in the number of violations of political rights and public freedoms committed by state agents as anti-Kabila protests erupted in the capital, Kinshasa and other major provinces, including North and South Kivu and Eastern Kasai. The crackdown included the summary murder of at least 20 people by state actors.
A second wave of violent repression came in July when the media, political opponents and members of civil society were the primary targets. With the DRC's presidential election on the horizon, the stakes could not be higher for Africa's largest copper producer as it hopes to achieve its first peaceful transition of power in November 2016. If this is to happen, the sanctity of human rights and democracy must be protected, the UN has urged.
"I urge the Congolese authorities to ensure accountability for the very serious human rights violations documented in this report," the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said. "This is particularly important as DRC is heading towards a very packed electoral period. If the upcoming elections are to be credible and peaceful, the authorities must ensure that all citizens, independently of their political opinions, can fully participate in an open and democratic debate, and that civil society activists, media workers and political opponents are able to carry out their activities without fear."