By Global Information Network
NEW YORK | KINSHASA (IDN) – Considering that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the world's largest producer of cobalt ore, and a major producer of copper and diamonds, has never had a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960, the current political crisis does not come as a surprise.
But the killing of a peacekeeper from South Africa deployed with the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) in North Kivu on December 19 has precipitated the situation.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the killing and called on the country's "authorities to ensure that this attack is investigated and its perpetrators are brought to justice". Attacks against UN peacekeepers are unacceptable,” according to a statement issued by Ban’s spokesperson.
The peacekeeper was killed in Butembo during an exchange of fire with suspected combatants of a Mayi Mayi armed group. Two other peacekeepers from South Africa were also injured, the statement added. According to MONUSCO, a member of National Police was also killed.
The country in Central Africa has been confronted with a wave of protests triggered by President Joseph Kabila's refusal to step down from office on December 19, 2016 when his second and final term under the current constitutional arrangements came to an end. Elections to replace him have been delayed until 2018.
The United Nations envoy for the DRC expressed grave concern on December 20 over the wave of arrests and arbitrary detention “of those who seek to express their political views” in the country over the previous three days, and reiterated the necessity for all Congolese authorities to respect the rules of the country and ensure protection of free speech.
“I urge the national authorities to strictly adhere to their international human rights obligations, to create a climate of political tolerance and respect at this important juncture in the DRC’s history, and to grant full access to United Nations personnel to all detention centres,” said Maman S. Sidikou, the Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO).
The United Nations has documented 113 arrests in the country, including opposition leaders and sympathizers, civil society activists and human rights defenders, media professionals and other individuals, since December 16. In addition, the UN has not always been granted the required access to verify the conditions of those arrested, he explained.
Most of the arrests took place in Goma, Kinshasa and Bukavu, undertaken by the Congolese National Police (PNC), Agence National de Renseignement (ANR) and the Republican Guard.
“I call on the relevant authorities to apply due process for all those who have been detained and to bring an end to politically-motivated detentions,” said Sidikou, adding that he has previously highlighted the necessity for all Congolese to respect the laws of the Republic.
The Special Representative also underlined the importance of promoting and protecting human rights, including the freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly enshrined in the Constitution, in an open political space. “This is essential to create a conductive environment for the conduct of meaningful dialogue on the way forward in the DRC,” he stated.
Three days earlier, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was “deeply alarmed” at a planned Government shutdown of social media networks in the country from the evening of December 18, ahead of the end of President Kabila's mandate, coupled with a continuing ban on demonstrations by civil society and the opposition.
Raising alarm over “double standards” applied by the DRC authorities – allowing pro-government youths to conduct public political activities while repressing dissenting voices – a group of UN rights experts called on the Government to end the “targeted repression” and to guarantee conditions that allow fundamental rights and freedoms to be exercised peacefully.
“The targeted repression of dissenting voices of civil society and human rights defenders is contrary to democratic principles […] If civil society is not allowed to exercise the rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, protesters will inevitably resort to violence, for which only the authorities are to be blamed,” warned a group of UN human rights experts.
These measures have most recently affected the citizens’ movements Lucha and Filimbi, both young citizen movements aiming at promoting political participation, which recently launched a public awareness campaign calling for respect for the Constitution.
On December 1, five Lucha members and a journalist were arrested in the vast country’s eastern Ituri province while they were preparing a press conference to launch the campaign. The journalist was later released, but the other five are still in detention facing jail for alleged incitement of misconduct toward the authorities.
Observers fear the current political crisis could trigger a repeat of civil wars that killed millions of people between 1996 and 2003. After 15 years, Kabila has become the symbol of stagnation and societal ills, they say. The most prominent grievances are unemployment, corruption and lack of access to education, electricity, roads and transport. Rising inflation further worsens precarious living conditions.
But perhaps most shocking is a recent expose of Kabila’s personal “business networks” including some 70 companies controlled by the President, his wife, two children and eight of his siblings.
Bloomberg News investigators, backed by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, revealed that Kabila companies control diamond permits that stretch more than 450 miles across the country’s southern border with Angola. The Kabilas are said to own more than 120 permits to dig gold, diamonds, copper, cobalt and other minerals.
Family members also have stakes in banks, farms, fuel distributors, airline operators, a road builder, hotels, a pharmaceutical supplier, travel agencies, boutiques and nightclubs. Another venture even tried to launch a rat into space on a rocket.
The exact value of the businesses is not known but publicly accessible documents reveal investments worth more than $30 million in just two companies, the investigative reporters found. Estimated revenue for another company exceeds $350 million over four years – while nearly two-thirds of the 77 million people live on less than $1.90 per day.
All in all, observers said, the Kabilas network of businesses has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to the family – which may explain why the president is ignoring pleas by the U.S., the European Union and a majority of the Congolese people to hand over power and avoid the kind of chaos that cost millions of lives after his father took power nearly two decades ago.
Independent experts and Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. [IDN-InDepthNews – 20 December 2016]
Photo. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) with Joseph Kabila, President of the DR Congo, at the Secretary-General's residence in New York on 23 April 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider
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