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UN sounds warning bell over pre-election human rights violations in the DRC

GENEVA/KINSHASA (9 November 2011) – A UN report released today reveals a worrying number of human rights violations during the pre-electoral period in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, warning that such incidents could endanger the democratic process and lead to post-electoral violence as well.

Between 1 November 2010 and 30 September 2011, the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO*) documented 188 human rights violations apparently linked to the electoral process. The violations most frequently infringed individuals’ freedom of expression, the right to physical integrity and the right to liberty and security of the person, as well as the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. There have also been instances of violence and disturbance of public order committed by supporters of political parties.

While the report is not an exhaustive account of human rights violations and acts of violence perpetrated, violations documented include incidents such as death threats against human rights defenders for holding a press conference in which they denounced reforms; beating or arrests of civilians for merely wearing the T-shirts of opposition parties; repeated summons to the National Intelligence Agency; the reported beating of a civilian for asking an “unpatriotic” question and the arrest and ill-treatment of four individuals for discussing politics in a barbershop.

“Preparations for the elections have taken place against a backdrop of limited freedom of expression and freedom of association,” the report notes. “Freedom of expression is essential during an electoral period, as people can only effectively exercise their right to vote if they can make informed decisions.”

“Taking into account the violent events following the 2006 poll, the 2011 (presidential and parliamentary) elections will constitute an important challenge for human rights, security and the consolidation of democracy in the country,” it adds.

Most of the violations committed directly involved elements of the Congolese National Police, or of the National Intelligence Services.

“I am sure the Congolese people share my hope for peaceful, free and fair elections and a smooth exercise of their fundamental right to vote,” the UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said.

“The kind of intimidation, threats, incitement, arbitrary arrests and violence that we have documented is unacceptable and has a chilling effect on voters. The Government and leaders of political parties must make it clear that there is to be zero tolerance against any such actions which seriously limit the exercise of the right to vote”, Pillay added.

This report notes that the situation in the East of the country is of particular concern. Political parties have reportedly been targeted and their members detained, ill-treated and threatened.

Most of the violations have targeted members or supporters of the opposition parties, in particular the Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social (UDPS) and the Union pour la nation congolaise (UNC).

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and MONUSCO head, Roger Meece, applauded progress made in some areas, including in the behaviour of some police units trained by MONUSCO in maintaining order during political demonstrations. But he noted concerns that as the elections approach, an increased level of political tension may contribute to the risk of human rights violations or other violence.

“It is incumbent on all candidates, political leaders, and their followers to do all possible to ensure appropriate conditions for peaceful, open, and democratic elections”, he stated. “A denial of human rights or fundamental freedoms, or violent confrontations endanger the democratic process as well as contribute to potential post-electoral violence.”

In the report, the UNJHRO urges the Congolese Government to intensify cooperation with civil society, to issue public messages calling for state agents - particularly members of the security forces - to promote and respect human rights, and to fight impunity of state agents who are perpetrators of human rights violations.

It also urges political parties to issue public statements promoting peaceful participation in the electoral process and calling upon supporters – particularly the youth – to refrain from violence and to respect national laws and the public order.

The report calls upon the international community to step up its support to the Government, civil society and other stakeholders in their efforts to train security forces and judicial officers, and to promote free and fair elections and monitoring of such elections.

The national elections are due to be held on 28 November 2011 and will mark only the second time since its independence in 1960 that the DRC will be holding democratic elections.

The full reports, in English and French, can be accessed at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/ZRIndex.aspx

END

* On 1 February 2008, the MONUC Human Rights Division (HRD) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the DRC were merged creating the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC (UNJHRO).

OHCHR Country Page – Democratic Republic of the Congo: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/ZRIndex.aspx

MONUSCO: http://monuc.unmissions.org/

For more information or interviews, please contact

In Geneva: UN Human Rights spokesperson Rupert Colville (+ 41 22 917 9767 or rcolville@ohchr.org) or press officers: Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 or rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 or xcelaya@ohchr.org)

In Kinshasa: Pour de plus amples informations sur ce rapport, merci de contacter le porte-parole de la MONUSCO, Mounoubai Madnodje (+243 81 890 76 05 ou mounoubai@un.org)