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DR Congo: Second Term Should Focus on Rights

(Kinshasa) – Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi should ensure that human rights are central to his policies during his second term in office, Human Rights Watch said today in a “Human Rights Agenda” for his administration.

Human Rights Watch urged the Tshisekedi administration to prioritize improvements in five key areas: the rights to free expression, media freedom, and peaceful assembly; protecting civilians in conflict areas; reforming the justice system and addressing corruption; providing accountability for serious crimes; and strengthening democratic institutions.

“President Tshisekedi’s first term ended with deep uncertainty about the Congo’s worsening violence and humanitarian crises, recurrent violations of civil and political rights, and growing mistrust in democratic institutions,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The second term is a chance to start afresh and reverse course on significant human rights backsliding.”

Tshisekedi, the declared winner of the December 2023 presidential elections, was sworn in on January 20, 2024, for a second and final five-year term. The elections were marred by logistical issues, irregularities, and violence.

Tshisekedi faces significant challenges, most immediately an uptick in violence in the eastern province of North Kivu, where an offensive by the abusive Rwanda-backed M23 armed group has dramatically affected civilians. Violence is also rife in Ituri province as militia fighters have increased attacks on and killings of civilians. Insecurity continues in and around the western province of Mai-Ndombe and among communities in the southern Katanga region.

The government has also significantly repressed the rights to free expression, media freedom, and peaceful assembly. The authorities have over the past four years increasingly cracked down-including online-on journalists, human rights and democracy activists, critics of the government, and opposition party members and officials. Security forces have repeatedly used unnecessary or excessive force, including lethal force, to block or disperse peaceful demonstrations.

Tshisekedi recently described the country’s justice system as “ill.” His administration should act to reform the justice system and address corruption, which significantly reduces the government’s capacity to deliver on its obligations to provide quality education, health care, and social security.

Widespread impunity for serious abuses remains the norm. The president should commit to take concrete measures to address recurring cycles of violence fueled by a lack of criminal accountability for grave crimes. Concrete steps are also needed to restore the Congolese people’s trust in democratic institutions.

“President Tshisekedi promised to address recurring violence, to end repression, and to improve the daily lives of all Congolese,” Fessy said. “The president should devote his second term to fulfilling these goals by working for, rather than against, human rights, the rule of law, and democratic principles.”