The U.N. human rights office has condemned the violent response by government security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo against people protesting the refusal of President Joseph Kabila to resign.
The U.N. says at least five people were killed, 92 injured and around 180 arrested during recent protests in the DRC's capital, Kinshasa, and a number of other cities.
Most of those arrested have been released. However, the U.N. expressed alarm at the brutal action of the security forces that allegedly fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas grenades, in some cases at point-blank range.
Human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell says the casualty figures from the demonstrations on December 31 probably are higher than reported.
"Our colleagues on the ground were denied access to morgues, hospitals and detention centers," she said. "They were also sent away from these sites by defense and security forces, and so were unable to fully conduct their human rights monitoring work.
"Security forces are also reported to have fired tear gas inside churches, stopped people attending religious services and stolen their personal property. This is an alarming development that impinges on freedom of religion or belief."
The government and opposition signed an agreement Dec. 31, 2016, stating that Kabila would step down as president when elections were held before the end of 2017. That timeline has come and gone, yet the president remains in power, provoking the recent deadly demonstrations.
The U.N. rights office is calling for credible and independent investigations into the alleged use of excessive force, and for those responsible for human rights violations to be brought to justice.