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#Democratic Republic of Congo

#Democratic Republic of Congo

Human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk of killings, threats, intimidation and judicial harassment. In May 2017, a bill on the protection of human rights defenders was passed by the Senate which, if enacted, would severely limit the work of human rights defenders in the country. The bill is rather harmful for their protection and does not promote the creation of a non-restrictive legal environment for human rights defenders. It contains provisions that pose a real threat to their recognition and legitimate work. Articles 3 and 7 set out excessive and discriminatory criteria and conditions for human rights defenders, particularly with regard to the age which, is fixed to 18 years of age, academic or training qualifications.

The situation in eastern DRC is especially precarious with a number of human rights defenders and journalists having been killed over recent years. The killings and persistent threats have instilled a climate of fear among local defenders, who are made more vulnerable by the ongoing violence, ethnic tensions, and the unstable political and military situation in the region.

According to the Congolese constitution, there is a two-term limit for the presidential mandate, which ended for President Kabila in December 2016. Follwing President Kabila’s refusal to stand down at the end of his term, negotiations mediated by the Catholic Church led to an agreement on 31 December 2016,which included commitments that he would not run for a third term, that there would be no change to the constitution nor a referendum and elections would be held by the end of 2017. The agreement was signed by the representatives of the majority coalition, the opposition and civil society organisations. By May 2018, President Kabila had yet to step down.

Human rights defenders have been organising peaceful protests since the end of President Kabila’s mandate to demand respect for the constitution and the publication of the electoral calendar. These protests have been systematically banned by authorities and when unauthorised protests have gone ahead, they have been violently repressed and have resulted in the deaths of human rights defenders and protesters. In November 2017, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on the Congolese authorities to respect human rights and to allow for freedom of expression during pro-democracy protests.