A senior U.S. diplomat visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo has urged the government there to take concrete steps to prepare for future elections, and to cooperate fully with the U.N. mission working to resolve conflicts in the DRC. Sarah Sewall, the U.S. undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, also warned of consequences for those who violate constitutional processes. Sewall spoke to reporters Saturday in Goma, in the eastern part of the country.
Sewall was wrapping up a weeklong visit to the DRC, which she said focused on two key issues: elections and cooperation between the Congolese army and the U.N. mission here, known as MONUSCO.
The American diplomat said there was a need to move forward with registering voters and with making and communicating preparations for ensuring security during the elections, and there was also a need to agree on an electoral timetable. She called for a dialogue to settle electoral issues.
“We believe that there is a need for a neutral forum for discussion in order to make progress, with the principle of upholding the constitution and anticipating the peaceful transition of power,” said Sewall.
Opposition parties have rejected previous government offers of dialogue, because they say it would be dedicated to reaching a deal allowing President Joseph Kabila to extend his rule beyond his constitutional two-term limit. The opposition instead has called for an internationally mediated dialogue focused on electoral issues.
The U.S. has committed $25 million to help support elections in the DRC, Sewall said.
"The U.S. has been fully committed to moving the electoral process forward, which is why it is so frustrating to see constant delays on the part of the institutions that should be moving forward to provide additional funding to begin the registration process, and otherwise taking concrete steps towards realizing elections,” said Sewall.
Sewall added that she thought the lack of preparation was a "conscious choice."
Will of the people
Referring to attempts to override presidential term limits, Sewall said recent events in Burundi and Congo Brazzaville show “how destabilizing the rejection of the people’s will can be.” She suggested the U.S. could soon follow the EU in imposing travel bans on those instigating violence in Burundi.
"These are the kinds of tools that can help convince those who would violate constitutional processes that there will be consequences for their actions,” said Sewall.
On security, Sewall urged the resumption of joint operations by the government and the U.N. mission against armed groups in eastern Congo.
That choice, she said, is up to the government.
"The core issue with regard to the continued operation of the armed groups is the political position of the government about whether or not it will conduct joint operations with MONUSCO,” said Sewall.
Undersecretary Sewall also said she raised the issue of the continued detention of democracy activists during her talks. She urged the government "to refrain from targeting those who aim to express their beliefs peacefully" and to “stop confusing peaceful expression of opinion with criminal activity.”