Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
With official campaigning for next month's presidential and parliamentary elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) beginning today, 41 local and international human rights and humanitarian organisations have expressed their concerns about increasing political tension and the deteriorating security situation - and called upon Congolese and international actors to take urgent measures to prevent electoral violence, better protect civilians and ensure credible, free and fair elections.
The organisations - including leading Congolese civil society groups and international organisations such as OSISA - added that if the polls are not regarded as credible than the risk of electoral disputes and violence is high.
Among a host of recommendations, they called for the government to deploy well-trained and equipped police forces and ensure they refrain from using execessive force; urged the National Independent Electorla Commission (CENI) to publish more details about its strategy, including how it plns to collate and publish the results; encouraged politcal parties to abide by the Code of Conduct and avoid hate speech; called on major donors to work with local groups to ensure the election is a well and widely monitored as possible; and, urged MONUSCO to have its rapid reaction force ready to intervene.
Of particular concern is a spate of bloody incidents that illustrate the potential for violence and destabilization over the electoral period. Since early September violent clashes between the police and opposition demonstrators have occurred, with several people killed and numerous demonstrators injured in Kinshasa. In addition to this election-related violence, the country has been ravaged by widespread insecurity for years, with a recent increase of attacks targeting humanitarian workers, including the deadliest incident in Congolese history, in which five aid workers were killed in October in South Kivu. Security forces in the DRC are already struggling with ongoing insecurity and are unable to respond to any further escalation.
“This election in Congo is the ultimate test. Is Congo on course to consolidate its fledging democracy or return to a state of widespread instability, insecurity and violence? Second elections are vital to consolidate democratic peace gains in the country, complete a full electoral cycle and strengthen democratic institutions”, said Thierry Vircoulon, Central Africa Director at the International Crisis Group (ICG).
So what needs to be done? The organisations have urged key actors to take the following measures:
The DRC authorities should ensure that civilians are able to participate safely in the elections by deploying well-trained and equipped national police forces and by ensuring that the police refrain from using excessive force. The authorities should respect freedom of expression and the press, guarantee the right of assembly and peaceful protest, and abstain from intimidation. They should ensure that effective electoral dispute mechanisms are in place.
“The Congolese authorities say there is peace and safety in the DRC, but with elections just one month away, political tensions have risen with clashes between political parties and supporters occurring regularly. The decision by the DRC government to forbid political and public demonstrations reveals the government’s inability to prevent and respond to electoral violence, and goes against the Congolese constitution. We need reliable security forces to protect us during the electoral period, especially in Kinshasa where tensions are already very high”, declared Jerome Bonso, Coordinator of the Congolese coalition Agir pour des Elections Transparentes et Apaisées (AETA).
The National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) should immediately publish more information about its strategy, including its plans for collating and publishing the results and voter education. It should facilitate a constructive dialogue about the electoral process between civil society, the opposition and the authorities in power, in line with the consultation process that took place in 2006.
The political parties should abide by the Electoral Code of Conduct, accept the result of free and fair elections, and ask their supporters to remain peaceful. They should avoid engaging in hate speeches or inciting the population to violence.
Embassies and international electoral observation missions should coordinate their actions with local observers in order to monitor as much of the country as possible. They should focus observation on likely flashpoints – such as large urban areas Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Mbandaka – invest more in building local observation capacity, and publicly denounce any violations in the electoral process.
"The international community provides billions of dollars in assistance to DRC. It cannot afford for fraudulent or poorly conducted elections to spark violence and set back development. We have significantly less electoral observers than in 2006. The international community must be strict in monitoring compliance with international standards, and strongly condemn any irregularities. After so many decades of war and plunder, the Congolese people deserve peace and stability – and really need support for that”, said Paul Nsapu, General Secretary of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and chair of the Ligue des Electeurs in the DRC.