KINSHASA - A draft law introduced in the Democratic Republic of Congo's parliament would impose tough penalties for persecution on ethnic grounds. The bill has been through several committee stages but was held up by lawmakers this week.
The DRC’s current law on ethnic discrimination dates back to the colonial era, and the penalties are relatively mild.
Lawmaker Steve Mbikayi proposed a bill in parliament this week that would impose a 10 year jail term for expelling people from their province on ethnic grounds, or life if the persecution led to war or ethnic cleansing.
He told the assembly that regionalism, tribalism and clannism are stronger than they used to be in Congo, and are corrupting the countries’ institutions and communities, causing mounting frustration and instability.
In the 1990s the country saw officially organized purges of Baluba and Batutsi people. Much of the conflict in the Kivu provinces is a legacy of that ethnic strife, stirred up by politicians.
Mbikayi first introduced this bill last year.
He says one reason for the timing is that DRC is due to hold local elections for the first time, and these elections will likely fire up up tribal feelings.
Another reason, he said, is that the country was split into 26 provinces earlier this year, and some ethnic minorities in the new provinces fear discrimination.
Several lawmakers objected to the bill in its current form, on legal grounds.
Our colleague Mbikayi was not well advised by the assembly’s legal experts, says this lawmaker, who added that it is not possible in Congolese law for a bill to modify several different texts, so the bill needs redrafting.
Lawmaker Juvenal Munubo from North Kivu province told VOA why he supports the bill.
We have a lot of problems in our way of living together, he says, adding, in Congo there are always tendencies towards tribalism among Congolese, and relations with non-Congolese are worse.
Mbikayi says he would present his bill again after redrafting it. In 2013 he proposed another bill – still at the committee stage – that would make homosexuality a criminal offense.