DR Congo reinstates death penalty after 21 years amid escalating violence and militant attacks News
MONUSCO Photos, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
DR Congo reinstates death penalty after 21 years amid escalating violence and militant attacks

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Friday revealed it was lifting a 21-year-moratorium on executions in response to escalating violence and militant attacks, to stop its citizens, as well as active duty military and police, from cooperating with M23 rebels in the country’s eastern regions. The decision to lift the moratorium and reinstate the death penalty was adopted by a council of ministers in early February and publicized in a justice ministry circular shared Friday. 

In the circular, addressed to many of the DRC’s senior government officials, Justice Minister Rose Mutombo Kiese asserted that the reinstatement of the death penalty in the DRC was necessary to thwart escalating violence, gang-related rebellion, and collaboration by locals with criminal insurgents most prominent in the country’s eastern region, where Rwanda-backed M23 rebels have been active since 2021 and a UN peacekeeping mission has since been deployed

“During the last 30 years, the eastern part of our country has been plagued by recurring armed conflicts, often orchestrated by foreign states which for the circumstance, sometimes benefit from the complicity of some of our compatriots,” Mutombo wrote. “These acts of treachery or espionage have exacted a heavy price from both the population and the republic given the immensity of the damage suffered.”

The death sentence will be available to be handed down to those accused of war crimes or crimes against humanity, espionage, participation in banned groups or an insurgency movement, and treason, amongst other crimes, the document revealed

Since being released, the decision has sparked outrage both domestically in the DRC and within the greater international community, amongst human rights NGOs and watchdog groups. 

“The government’s decision to reinstate executions is a gross injustice for people sentenced to death in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa. Referring to the decision as showing a “callous disregard for the right to life,” Chagutah called the move “a huge step backward for the country and a further sign that the Tshisekedi administration is backtracking on its commitment to respect human rights.” He went on to call the death penalty “the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment” and called on the DRC government to halt any execution plans and abolish the death penalty.

LUCHA, a local citizens rights movement in the DRC, echoed Chagutah’s sentiments, taking to X (formerly Twitter) to share its concerns. The group called the move unconstitutional and said that it opens the country up to summary executions without a functioning justice system. 

It has not yet been confirmed whether the lifting of the moratorium will take immediate effect, or whether the Justice Ministry intends to observe a transitional period before full reinstatement is to take place.

The DRC’s moratorium on capital punishment was first introduced in the early 2000s, with the country’s last known executions taking place in January 2003. However, the death penalty was never abolished. During the moratorium, such sentences were still handed down, but no hangings (the DRC’s chosen manner of execution) have taken place. Instead, prisoners facing execution would see their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.