Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday urged Congolese authorities to investigate incidents of electoral violence that the human rights organization says imperil the country’s upcoming general elections.In its statement, HRW called attention to the various forms of violence and human rights abuses that have plagued the DRC’s political landscape in the lead-up to the December elections, which have the potential to restructure the Congolese government as these elections are for president, as well as national and provincial parliaments, and small-scale local offices.The organization called upon local authorities to “urgently and impartially investigate” the various recent incidents of electoral violence, which have cast a shadow over the prospects of a free, fair, and transparent election in one of Africa’s largest and most politically significant nations. HRW also called for the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the violence, warning that authorities should “deter attacks” and “prioritize accountability”.This election cycle has been marred by a series of violent incidents, including at a rally for opposition candidate Moïse Katumbi last Wednesday, where live rounds fired into the crowd and reportedly injured several individuals, including a police officer. Two parliamentary candidates were also killed in separate incidents on Friday. Additionally, reports of both physical and sexual violence emerged following a major incident on November 7 where supporters of incumbent President Félix Tshisekedi and supporters of Katumbi clashed at a rally in the southeastern Haut-Katanga province.HRW, in their statement, emphasized the need for action from Congolese authorities and parties involved in the election, imploring them to take measures to end the further escalation of electoral violence. “Congolese authorities need to act urgently to prevent violence before, during, and after the vote, to stop a dangerous situation from getting even worse,” remarked Thomas Fessy, a senior researcher for the DRC at HRW. “Political parties and candidates should publicize their anti-violence stance and help ensure that people have the opportunity to vote for the candidates of their choice.”International law instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), guarantee individuals’ democratic rights and impose upon state parties obligations to undertake active steps to protect and facilitate the enjoyment of these rights. The DRC is a state party to both the UDHR and ICCPR.This election cycle has also been marred by pre-existing political unrest within the country. Over 1.5 million individuals are projected to be unable to exercise their right to vote, due to their displacement within areas of active conflict. A UN peacekeeping mission has been deployed in the rebel-plagued eastern provinces, including North Kivu where Rwanda-backed M23 rebels have committed war crimes since 2022, including unlawful killings and sexual violence.Additional challenges have been encountered concerning the distribution of voting materials, made difficult by the absence of the appropriate infrastructure and a lack of paved roads. The DRC has asked the UN Security Council (UNSC) to allow the peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO, to expand its mandate beyond the eastern provinces and to extend its support to other provinces.Fessy continued, “Congolese citizens across the country should be able to exercise their right to vote safely. With the credibility of the electoral process at stake, Congolese authorities should put in place comprehensive plans to protect voters, candidates, election officials, observers and journalists.”

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