The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] issued a statement [text] Monday calling for an “immediate halt” to “widespread human rights violations” allegedly committed by government officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) [official website]. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official profile], said the violence is part of a military effort to address the “root causes” of conflict between the government and local militias, but the result has been the unlawful targeting of civilians. In his statement, Zeid said a halt to the escalation in violence is especially necessary now because the conflicts are spilling into provinces that were considered “relatively calm.” He went on to state:
It is time to stop a blunt military response that does nothing to tackle the root causes of the conflict between the Government and local militias but instead targets civilians on the basis of their presumed links to the militias. In line with its international human rights obligations, the DRC Government must ensure that its security forces, including the police and the army, respect and protect life and only resort to firearms as a last resort when faced with an imminent threat to life or of serious injury.
The escalation of violence is, in part, in response to a graphic video that shows the killing of unarmed men and women with alleged ties to a local militia by DRC military personnel. The events in the video took place on December 21, according to statements [Radio Okapi report, in French] made by DRC Minister of Communication and Media Lambert Mende.
The DRC and surrounding region has seen a high level of conflict in the past decades, and the extension of presidential terms has been a contributing issue in many African nations. Last week the UN human rights office expressed concern [JURIST report] over reports that at least 101 people have been killed by Congolese soldiers. Last October violent protests erupted [JURIST report] in the country after the electoral commission announced that the next presidential election, originally scheduled for November 2016, would be pushed back to 2018. The commission stated that it needed more time to prepare supplies and voter registration lists. In the beginning of 2016 former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged African leaders to avoid using loopholes and undemocratic constitutional changes to “cling to power” [JURIST report]. In 2015 protests and demonstrations [JURIST report] took place across the DRC to oppose the proposed changes in the law that would allow DRC President Joseph Kabila to extend his presidential term past the allotted two-year limit, and the government was accused of using excessive force against these protesters.