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UN Warns Rights Violations Threaten Credibility of DRC Elections

FILE - Congolese police officers attempt to disperse members of the Civil Society Action Collective (CASC) chanting slogans as they protest to demand free fair elections in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sept. 19, 2018.

The United Nations warns escalating human rights violations and restrictions to civil and political rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo are calling into question the credibility of upcoming presidential elections. The U.N. Human Rights Council held a special session in Geneva on the situation in the DRC.

The United Nations report highlights alarming trends of violations and repressive measures against people’s freedom of expression and peaceful assembly since June 2017.

Just three months ahead of crucial presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights notes a 35-percent increase in human rights violations linked to restrictions of democratic space, half perpetrated by the police.

The agency’s director of Field Operations and Technical Cooperation, Georgette Gagnon, says demonstrations are being forcibly suppressed. She says opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and activists are being threatened and intimidated. She notes all these violations are occurring in a persistent climate of widespread impunity.

“The essence of a democratic society resides in the ability of its citizens — irrespective of their political affiliation — to enjoy the rights and freedoms, without fearing reprisals from the state. Respect for human rights is one of the cornerstones which will determine the credibility of these forthcoming elections,” she said.

Gagnon warns the human rights situation in the DRC is likely to worsen as the elections approach. She is calling on the government to reverse these worrying trends.

DRC Minister of Human Rights Marie-Ange Mushobekwa Likulia agrees her country must make more efforts to protect human rights. But, she says much progress has been.

She says elections on December 23 will be free, credible, transparent and without outside interference, adding that restrictions on public protests were lifted for all political parties three months ago.

She notes for the first time since the Democratic Republic of Congo gained its independence 58 years ago, the government will be democratically handing over power. She calls this a historic achievement.