[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Saturday criticized [press release] the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of using “unlawful and excessive force” against protestors in the capital of Kinshasa this past week. The recent demonstrations have taken place across the country to oppose proposed changes in a law that would allegedly allow President Joseph Kabila [Forbes backgrounder] to extend his presidential term, past the allotted two-year limit. HRW contends that 36 people have been killed in Kinshasa, at least 21 of whom were shot by security forces of the DRC between January 19 and 21. Four more people were killed during separate demonstrations in Goma. HRW’s Senior Congo Researcher Ida Sawyer expressed her concern, stating, “People should be allowed to express their views and peacefully protest without the fear of being killed or arrested.” Earlier this week the Senate of the DRC [official website, in French] amended [JURIST report] the electoral law to address protestors’ concerns. The amendments clarify that, if this law is enacted, the 2016 presidential election will not require a census to be conducted and will go forth as scheduled. This amendment is being seen by many in the DRC as a step toward a well-functioning democracy.
The DRC has been the site of considerable human rights abuses committed by both government forces and various rebel groups in the recent past. Earlier this month HRW urged Congolese authorities [JURIST report] to bring to justice those who commanded rebel troops to commit killings, rapes, mutilations and child abductions across the DRC. In November HRW released a report accusing police officers in the DRC of executing [JURIST report] 51 youths and causing the disappearance of 33 others. The UN issued a report [JURIST report] in October that addressed the human rights violations taking place in connection with Operation Likofi. In July the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict presented a report outlining the situation of the child in the DRC, which found the recruitment of child soldiers [JURIST report] persists. In June the head of the UN Mission in the DRC strongly condemned [JURIST report] an outbreak of deadly violence in the eastern areas of the DRC, sparked by a confrontation over cattle. In April a coalition of 146 Congolese and international human rights organizations released a joint declaration urging the DRC to create new mechanisms in its national justice system [JURIST report] for prosecuting war crimes.