The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) [HRW backgrounder] government recruited former M23 rebel fighters to protect President Joseph Kabila [BBC profile] after protests broke out last December over his refusal to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two terms, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [text] Monday.
During December of last year, at least 62 people were killed and hundreds were arrested. The M23 fighters were granted authority to use lethal force if any resistance was met. Many journalists were also detained to keep them from reporting about the events taking place.
According to the report, rebel forces have long been recruited into the Armed Forces without formal training or extensive vetting. The forces in question were deserters of the group, recruited from Rwanda and Uganda. The Armed Forces have themselves been criticized for various human rights violations. In February the UN human rights office expressed concern [JURIST report] over reports that at least 101 people have been killed.
M23 rebelled against the government of Congo in 2012 and were defeated in 2013. In 2016 Kabila began actively recruiting those from M23 following his refusal to step down and distrust amongst his forces, according to the report.
After the protests in December, Kabila agreed to a Catholic Church-mediated power-sharing agreement with the main opposition coalition, agreeing that presidential elections would be held by the end of this year and Kabila would not run or amend the constitution. However, elections were not organized, and in October, the DRC’s electoral commission published an electoral calendar with the end of next year as the time for elections. Opposition groups say this is another delaying tactic to keep Kabila in power prompting violent protests [JURIST report].
Kabila’s push to maintain power has lead to many arrests. In October the arrest of 30 opposition party members [JURIST report] were announced as a part of a crackdown by Kabila.
Opposition groups call for Kabila to step down by the end of this year and for unbiased individuals to lead until elections can be organized.