There have been renewed calls for the European Union (EU) to apply new targeted sanctions against Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) officials to increase the pressure to find a solution to the political and security crisis.

In December 2016, the EU imposed individual sanctions (asset freezing and a ban on travel within the EU) on seven senior security officials of President Joseph Kabila's regime it claimed were responsible for a violent crackdown on protests that killed some 50 people in September 2016 in the capital, Kinshasa.

In March, the EU then threatened Congolese politicians and security services with fresh individual restrictive measures if the political blockade and violence against civilians persist.

The European Network for Central Africa (EurAc) is now urging EU Ministers to impose new sanctions closer to Kabila's inner circle, who it claims is responsible for human rights abuse and persistent crackdown on dissident voices and undermining the democratic process.

"EurAc believes that it is now time for the EU to turn words into action," said the network which brings together 46 organisations from 11 European countries active in Central Africa.

The network also expressed "great concern" at claims security forces are behind widespread human rights abuse and killings in the restive Kasaï region – violence the EU strongly denounced at the end of March.

European Foreign Affairs Ministers are due to discuss the situation in the DRC at the next Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting on 15 May.

Joseph Kabila
Democratic Republic of Congo's President, Joseph Kabila REUTERS/James Akena

"The next FAC meeting is the perfect opportunity for the EU to show its coherence and its strong commitment to support democracy and the protection of human rights in the region, which constitutes the true added value of European cooperation," the network said in a statement. "It is also a crucial moment to avoid a new large-scale security and humanitarian crisis in the Great Lakes region."

This call is echoed by Bandi Mbubi, the founder of campaign group Congo Calling, who described how the first round of EU and US sanctions – including those on Célestin Kanyama, former head of police of the capital Kinshasa who was sacked last month – had little effect

According to Mbubi, sanctions now need to target officials closer to the president. "It's no longer enough to have symbolic, or targeted sanctions, they are not biting. Until Kabila's vital interests are threatened he won't budge," Mbubi told IBTimes UK. "They put Kanyama on the sanctions list – he was ousted. It didn't have any impact because he is not a pillar of Kabila's regime. Kabila doesn't care: Kanyama is just a pawn on his chessboard."

The campaigner said that "only smart sanctions would work".