Contested election could lead to widespread violence, warns a coalition of 44 NGOs .
Kinshasa, 28 October 2011 – The national election campaign officially starts today in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), exactly one month ahead of historic presidential and legislative elections, scheduled for November 28 2011. 44 humanitarian and human rights organizations have expressed concern about the high political tension and deteriorating security situation. They have called upon all Congolese and international actors involved to take urgent measures to prevent electoral violence, better protect civilians and ensure credible, free and fair elections. “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).
The government presides over a country in which the average adult has 3.8 years of education, approximately 20% of children die before age five and millions of civilians have died in the last decades as a result of war. A new government will need a strong, legitimate mandate from the Congolese people to effectively address these systemic problems.
“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.
Recent events in the DRC have indicated the alarming 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.
“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 DRC government has the primary responsibility of protecting civilians and organizing peaceful elections. Yet, there are serious doubts about whether credible, transparent and democratic polls are possible within the official electoral calendar. Without elections that meet free and fair standards, as well as a strong international and local observation presence to build confidence in the electoral process, the risk of electoral dispute and violence is high. Hot spots include Kinshasa, where some of our organizations have denounced excessive use of force against protesters by the national police. The potential for violence is also high in Eastern Congo, which voted heavily for President Kabila in the last election.
Our organizations call for the following measures to be urgently taken to prevent electoral violence:
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 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 UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) should ensure that its rapid reaction force and UN police are ready to deploy in identified flashpoints in order to prevent and respond to any possible violence, including responding to any deliberate use of excessive force against civilians by the Congolese authorities. It should also publicly report on election-related violations, and mediate conflicts between political parties.
CONTACT: Aldine Furio, email@example.com, +33 668 121 153 SIGNATORY ORGANIZATIONS
Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network
Agir ensemble pour les droits de l’Homme (AEDH)
Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI)
Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
International Crisis Group (ICG)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture - FIACAT
Justitia et Pax Netherlands
Ecumenical Network Central Africa (OeNZ)
Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
Open Society Institute-Brussels (OSI)
Save the Congo
Search for Common Ground (SFCG)
Society for Threatened Peoples International
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
African Association for Human Rights (ASADHO)
Bureau pour le Volontariat au service de l’Enfance et de la Sante (BVES)
Coalition for Peaceful and Transparent Elections (AETA), a coalition of 12 Congolese organizations
Eglise du Christ au Congo (ECC) – Programme de rapatriement, démobilisation des réfugiés combattants étrangers
Journalistes en Danger (JED)
Ligue des électeurs
Solidarité et Assistance Intégrale aux Personnes Démunies (SAIPD)
Voix des sans Voix (VSV)
NOTE TO EDITORS • Possible interviewees
Spokespersons from signatory organizations are available for interviews in English and French. Contacts with people on the ground in the DRC can be facilitated.
• Additional facts and figures Currently 32,024,640 voters have been registered, exceeding the projected figures of 31,000,000 voters. The revision of the voter registration list was concluded on 15 July, after having been extended numerous times due to technical difficulties: outdated electoral kits, difficult access to certain areas of the country, belated deployment of equipment and personnel, stock shortage of voter cards and late payment of election officials.1 After the verification of the voter registration list, in which CENI found irregularities, 119,941 cases of duplication have been detected, decreasing the number of voters from 32,144,581 to 32,024,640. Aside from 11 presidential candidates, 19,010 candidates divided over 428 registered political parties will stand to be elected for 500 seats in the National assembly. 1 4,000 tons of ballots are needed nationwide. The ballot design took longer than expected. 1 The production and deployment of ballot boxes have also been delayed. Their delivery in each polling station is an important logistical challenge. 1 62,000 polling stations will be erected to accommodate all voters from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. With an average of 516 voters per polling station, the estimated total time of the election according to international standard voting timing exceeds 24 hours. 1 Compared to the 2006 elections, there are considerably less international observation missions, many of which are currently still in a preliminary phase.