The Democratic Republic of Congo could be headed for another civil war, according to a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In its report published Sunday, the HRW lists incidents of human rights abuses in the DRC for the last two years and contends that the government’s steps in the coming weeks will determine the direction of the country.
“This is a critical opportunity for the country to strengthen democracy, the rule of law, and human rights for its own future and for the entire region,” the Human Rights Watch said.
The HRW accuses the Congolese government of using excessive force against activists and opposition protesters who have been pressuring President Joseph Kabila to respect the constitution and hand over power, when his second and final term comes to an end in December.
“In the capital Kinshasa, about a dozen pro-democracy youth activists were arrested following a meeting, on September 15, on non-violence, peace, and respect of the constitution. They are being held by the national intelligence agency without charge and without access to their families or lawyers.” Human Rights Watch reported.
The organization further reports that on September 16, Congolese police in the southeastern city of Lubumbashi fired teargas, and later, live bullets to disperse members of the opposition who had gathered to plan Monday’s nationwide protests.
Some of the protesters reportedly responded by throwing stones at the police, barricading roads, burning tires, and looting several businesses and offices.
Dozens were arrested the following day, including human rights activist Patrick Pindu who was arrested for allegedly participating in a civil society meeting and holding a press conference on elections.
“To help deter violence, government officials and security forces should respect people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly and allow peaceful demonstrations and political meetings to go forward,” Human Rights Watch insisted.
Pindu was released the next day without charge and ordered to report to the intelligence agency every 15 days.
Rising Political Tension
Political tensions in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been rising in the run-up to the next presidential election, which is supposed to be held in November as President Kabila prepares to vacate office in December.
Opposition leaders, activists, and religious leaders have condemned what is seen as President Kabila’s attempts to hold on to power for longer than the two consecutive terms permitted by law.
The Congolese government insists that it does not have the required resources to hold presidential elections this year as legally anticipated, suggesting a postponement for a later date.