GENEVA – A group of United Nations human rights experts has called on authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to lift an “unjustified” ban on protests in the capital, Kinshasa, amid social discontent over delayed presidential elections.
The ban was imposed in September after a series of large demonstrations that were brutally supressed by security forces, reportedly leaving dozens of people dead and injured.
“The rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are fundamental rights guaranteed by international law. These rights can only be restricted in very specific and narrowly defined circumstances,” the experts said.
“It is clear that the current situation in the DRC does not justify a general ban on demonstrations in several cities,” they noted. “In fact, given that the country is in a hotly disputed election period, people should be given more space, not less, to express their democratic freedoms.”
Since the ban on protests in Kinshasa took effect on 22 September, at least four demonstrations have been cancelled.
The UN experts have also raised fears over the National Dialogue agreement which took effect in October, postponing presidential elections beyond the constitutional deadline.
The agreement could be used to justify new and unacceptable restrictions on the legitimate activities of civil society organizations, violating their right to freedom of association, the experts warned.
“The protest ban and the restrictive tone of the National Dialogue agreement are both disturbing signs that democratic space is rapidly dissipating in the DRC, with human rights organizations and opposition parties bearing the brunt of the repression,” the independent experts said.
“In view of forthcoming demonstrations, in particular those planned for 5 November, we urge the Congolese authorities to revoke its decision to ban demonstrations,” they stated.
“The DRC is obligated to facilitate assembly and association rights and to protect people who exercise these rights,” the experts noted. “It is of the utmost importance that the country allows the development of an inclusive and participatory civil society sector at this critical juncture in the development of its democracy.”
The ban is the fourth of its kind in the DRC since 2015. Two remain in force, affecting Kalemie in Tanganyika province and Lubumbashi in Haut Katang.
The crackdown on protests in Kinshasa in September prompted an earlier statement from the experts, who condemned the authorities’ repeated use of “excessive force”, which included firing tear gas and live ammunition into crowds of protesters (check the September 2016 statement).
(*) The experts: Mr Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.