Kinshasa (AFP) – Human Rights Watch on Wednesday warned of a “repressive climate” in restive Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of an election cycle due to start later this year.
Local and provincial elections are scheduled for October, followed by presidential and parliamentary elections in November 2016, in which the opposition fears President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, will try to extend his rule.
Kabila is barred by the constitution from seeking a third five-year term at the end of his mandate late next year, but has so far rejected opposition demands to announce he will step down when his term ends.
HRW chief Kenneth Roth said his organisation was deeply concerned about “continuing serious human rights violations” in the country, parts of which have been wracked by conflict for years.
“While we have seen some progress in reining in impunity and improving security in eastern Congo, we are deeply concerned about the repressive climate in advance of elections,” he told reporters in Kinshasa.
Roth cited a crackdown on freedom of expression and a clampdown on activists, political leaders and others who have spoken out against attempts to allow Kabila to stay in power.
“Across the country, authorities have sought to silence dissent through threats, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and killings,” he said.
Roth highlighted “the security forces’ use of excessive force against demonstrations in Kinshasa and other cities in January” in which he said Republican Guard soldiers shot dead at least 38 people in Kinshasa and another five in Goma in the east.
Sprawling DR Congo has been the scene of some of Africa’s bloodiest wars.
Its mineral-rich North Kivu region has been torn apart by conflict for over two decades and the UN’s Congo mission has stationed most if its 20,000 peacekeepers there.