UN human rights chief expresses concerns over human rights in Comoros amid protests against election results News
jorono / Pixabay
UN human rights chief expresses concerns over human rights in Comoros amid protests against election results

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, urged Comoros authorities on Wednesday to ensure the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as Comoros witnessed protests against Sunday’s presidential election.

After the incumbent president Azali Assoumani won a fourth term, Comoros’s main opposition party, Juwa, called on people to protest and for international media to cover the issue more impartially. Juwa has claimed that the election was illegitimate since official statistics show the election only had a voter participation rate of 16 percent. Hundreds of people, largely young people, began protesting the outcome and were dispersed by security forces using tear gas. An overnight curfew was announced on Wednesday.

In his report, Türk urged authorities must exercise restraint and “do their best to maintain calm over the situation.” He also stated that “members of the political opposition, can freely express their views and exercise their right to peaceful assembly,” and that this must be guaranteed by the government. However, he also reiterated that the protesters should remain peaceful in their actions and requests. 

Comoros has faced much civil unrest, with 20 coups in its 40 years of independence from France. Notably, Assoumani himself ascended to power following a 1999 coup, before stepping down in 2002 and being elected in 2018. While the nation has remained relatively stable since the coup, critics allege he has pushed the nation closer to a dictatorship, with declining scores on rule of law indices, contested constitutional reform to strengthen his powers and run for re-election, arrests of opponents and dissenters, and weakening of constitutional and anti-corruption courts. 

Protesting has been particularly dangerous since the Assoumani government banned any form of major public protests in 2019. Türk reiterated that the government must ensure that democracy and freedom of speech are respected. He also addressed his concerns about the current trajectory of the government. He called for a “new chapter” for Comorians, “based on pluralism, freedom of expression, justice and accountability,” to fulfill democracy.