The United Nations peacekeeping chief on Tuesday condemned the Democratic Republic of Congo’s security forces for violently cracking down on protesters and said authorities must prosecute those responsible.
At least five people were killed during clashes on December 31 when police burst into churches, firing tear gas and shooting bullets in the air to break up protests in the capital Kinshasa and in the central city of Kananga, according to UN figures.
The demonstrations took place on the first anniversary of a political deal brokered by the Catholic church that was to pave the way for elections in 2017 and the end of President Joseph Kabila’s rule.
The elections were pushed back to December 2018 after the government cited delays in preparing the nationwide polls.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the UN under secretary-general for peacekeeping, told the Security Council that he “condemned the violent repression by the national security forces of the demonstrations organized by civil society on December 31.”
He added that authorities must “diligently carry out the necessary investigations to establish who is responsible and bring to justice the perpetrators of these human rights violations”.
Kabila has been in power since 2001 when he succeeded his assassinated father Laurent Kabila.
He refused to step down at the end of his second and final term in December 2016.
DR Congo’s Ambassador Ignace Gata Mavita said his government “regretted” the violence. The authorities will investigate and take action against security forces who burst into churches, he told the council.
The ambassador, however, accused the opposition of seeking to undermine the elections by holding protests.
“The right attitude of all political actors and all the Congolese people should be to do everything possible to prepare for the smooth running of these elections in a peaceful atmosphere,” he told the council.
Brutality and cruelty
“It is not normal to see the kind of unrest and demonstrations that took place” on December 31, he added.
France called for those responsible for the repression to face justice.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said Kabila “must hold his security forces accountable, respect the human rights of his citizens, and follow through with his commitment to step down” following elections in December.
“To hear reports of such brutality and cruelty against innocent civilians and children in the most sacred of places is truly horrifying,” said Haley in a statement.
The Security Council was meeting for the first time to discuss the situation in the DR Congo since the date of December 23, 2018 was set for the historic elections.
The council backs the new timetable for the vote and warned that there should be no more delays.