Monday, 29 February 2016

Suspected Ugandan rebels kill 13 in DR Congo

Suspected Ugandan rebels kill 13 in DR Congo

 29/02/2016
 
A village in Kivu region, eastern Democratic Republic
 of Congo
 
Suspected Ugandan rebels killed 13 civilians in an overnight raid on a village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the army said Monday.

"We've just discovered a total of 13 bodies, cut to death, including four women," said Lieutenant Mak Hazukay, army spokesman in the region of Beni, in the north of the North Kivu province.

The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) "carried out their dirty work in three small isolated villages," he told AFP, reached by phone from Goma, the capital of the troubled province.

Earlier the spokesman had said "terrorists" killed six people with machetes and three others were missing, while a local official had spoken of two people decapitated in the village of Ntombi, where the local health centre "was completely looted."

Ntombi lies about 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Beni in a part of North Kivu where the rebels from neighbouring Uganda are blamed for attacks and sometimes massacres.
The ADF launched a rebellion against Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni more than 20 years ago, but were forced to pull back into the DRC.

Active in the east since 1995, the movement is accused of serious and repeated human rights violations while financing its activities by trafficking in tropical timber.

The United Nations, which maintains a peacekeeping mission of almost 20,000 troops and police in the vast central African country, accuses the ADF of killing more than 500 civilians in massacres and attacks in Beni territory and the Ituri region since October 2014.

Since last September, ADF forces have been blamed for a series of attacks with automatic weapons on National Highway 4, between Beni and the frontier with Ituri province to the north.

The rebels have targeted civilian vehicles and passers by as well as army outposts.

Like the rest of eastern DRC, the Beni region has been torn by conflict for more than 20 years.

The fighting is fuelled by ethnic differences and claims to land, along with bids for control over valuable natural resources and rivalry between regional powers.

By Afp 
 

Will the Democratic Republic of Congo be Egypt's newest ally in dam disputes?

Will the Democratic Republic of Congo be Egypt's newest ally in dam disputes?

 
29/02/2016



An aerial view shows the semi-functional Inga Dam on
the Congo River, Oct. 22, 2006

 
CAIRO — Political and technical negotiations between Cairo and Addis Ababa on Nile River water management remain at a standstill in light of Ethiopia’s insistence on going forward with construction of the Renaissance Dam, which threatens Egyptian Nile water interests. This once again pushed the Egyptian political administration to renew its policy based on mending and strengthening its relationship with other Nile upstream countries in the equatorial lakes region, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been one of Egypt’s political and strategic allies since the beginning of the Nile water dispute.
 
On Feb. 4, Augustin Matata Ponyo, the Democratic Republic of Congo's prime minister, visited Cairo for three days at the head of a delegation that included the ministers of energy, water and industry. Ponyo held extensive meetings with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail. In addition, a memorandum of understanding was inked between Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo on the Inga Dam project. In a press conference held at the Council of Ministers, the Egyptian and Congolese prime ministers announced that Egypt will participate in stages 3 and 4 of the Inga Dam construction project and stated that an Egyptian official visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo will be scheduled to acquire further accurate information about the dam.
 
In this regard, Egypt’s Minister of Electricity and Energy Mohamed Shaker told Al-Monitor, “We will provide technical, technological and engineering support for the construction of the Inga Dam.”
 
Shaker talked about how Egypt will benefit from the Congolese dam project. “There are ambitious plans for power grids [interconnecting] between South Africa and North Africa, whose execution may require some time — but there is a vision to start the execution of these plans on the ground over different stages,” he said.
 
The Egyptian grants that were agreed upon during the visit reached $10 million and were allocated for the execution of six projects, including the design studies and commissioning of the Inga Dam and other service projects to dig wells for providing drinking water, as well as scholarships and training for workers in the field of water resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
 
Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Hossam Maghazi told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation will send a delegation to [the Democratic Republic of Congo] to follow up on the implementation of cooperation projects and on all matters related to coordination on the execution of the Inga Dam.”
 
The Inga Dam, located on the Congo River 225 kilometers (140 miles) southwest of the capital, Kinshasa, is one of the largest hydropower projects in Africa. It is designed to generate 40,000 megawatts of electricity. The project, which is still under construction, is facing financial hurdles with the estimated cost to build it having risen to $80 billion, and counting.
 
Congolese Minister of Energy and Water Matadi Gamanda told Al-Monitor, “The completion of the dam is facing major challenges in terms of design, financing and management, and we hope Egypt will cooperate with us on facing these challenges.”
 
He added, “The Inga Dam project will be the largest integration project in Africa, which is still in need of more power to meet the needs of its population."
 
“We do intend to compete with Ethiopia in terms for the production of hydroelectric power. The Inga Dam project will certainly provide huge amounts of energy that may not be compared with a project such as the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam."
 
It should be noted that Egypt's water interests with the Democratic Republic of Congo are not limited to Egyptian official support to the Inga Dam; Egypt raised proposals in the last three years aimed at pumping more water into the Nile River in the equatorial lakes region by linking the Nile and Congo rivers, to provide Egypt with additional water shares — a proposed project that was subject to a wide technical controversy.
 
Gamanda said of this proposal, “This project is not realistic; it is merely a dream. What is more important now is to promote cooperation to help [the Democratic Republic of Congo] benefit from the water resources on its territory."
 
He added, “[The Democratic Republic of Congo's] position to support Egypt in the dispute between it and the Nile upstream countries on water management in the Nile basin is clear and explicit.”
 
"We will not sign any agreements that harm Egyptian interests," Gamanda added, referring to the Agreement on the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework, also known as the Entebbe Agreement. The agreement was signed by the six Nile Basin upstream countries and rejected by the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, which object to clauses giving upstream countries the right to exploit the Nile resources without being bound by the obligations not to harm water interests or historical quotas.
 
"We are ready to act as mediator again between Egypt and the rest of the Nile upstream countries in order to renegotiate the agreement and resolve this crisis, if Egypt asks us to play this role,” said Gamanda.
 
It seems that Cairo is banking on improving its relationship with the Democratic Republic of Congo as an important step to ensure Egypt’s presence in the Nile’s headwaters (the equatorial lakes) region by building on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s policies and its support for Egypt’s stance during the arduous negotiations over the past 10 years with the Nile upstream countries on water management in the Nile River basin.
 
Mohamed Nasreddin Allam, the former minister of water resources and irrigation who participated in the negotiations with the Nile Basin countries between 2009 and 2011, told Al-Monitor, "[The Democratic Republic of Congo] has been consistently supporting the Egyptian stance and opinion and refused to sign the Entebbe Agreement — unlike Burundi, which signed it after the Egyptian revolution in 2011.”
 
He added, “The current political coordination of positions with [the Democratic Republic of Congo] is important in order for Egypt to gain a strong African ally, especially in light of enormous pressures on Egypt by the Nile upstream countries and poor coordination with Sudan, which was a strategic ally of Egypt in the Nile water issue.”
 
Allam said, “Egypt's support to Inga Dam in [the Democratic Republic of Congo] is a strong pressure card against Ethiopia's dream to be the only source of energy export to the African countries, since the execution and commissioning of the dam will turn [the Democratic Republic of Congo] into the first energy exporter in Africa as well as the cheapest and safest alternative.”
 
It seems the Egyptian political administration has managed to gain allies from among the Nile upstream countries to secure its water interests. Yet its biggest challenge is to link its official rapprochement policies to projects and direct interests that bring about tangible benefits for the peoples of the upstream countries aspiring for development and not just contenting itself with official visits and political promises.

By Ayah Aman















Will the Democratic Republic of Congo be Egypt's newest ally in dam disputes?

Will the Democratic Republic of Congo be Egypt's newest ally in dam disputes?

 
29/02/2016

An aerial view shows the semi-functional Inga Dam on
the Congo River, Oct. 22, 2006

 
CAIRO — Political and technical negotiations between Cairo and Addis Ababa on Nile River water management remain at a standstill in light of Ethiopia’s insistence on going forward with construction of the Renaissance Dam, which threatens Egyptian Nile water interests. This once again pushed the Egyptian political administration to renew its policy based on mending and strengthening its relationship with other Nile upstream countries in the equatorial lakes region, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been one of Egypt’s political and strategic allies since the beginning of the Nile water dispute.
 
On Feb. 4, Augustin Matata Ponyo, the Democratic Republic of Congo's prime minister, visited Cairo for three days at the head of a delegation that included the ministers of energy, water and industry. Ponyo held extensive meetings with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail. In addition, a memorandum of understanding was inked between Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo on the Inga Dam project. In a press conference held at the Council of Ministers, the Egyptian and Congolese prime ministers announced that Egypt will participate in stages 3 and 4 of the Inga Dam construction project and stated that an Egyptian official visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo will be scheduled to acquire further accurate information about the dam.
 
In this regard, Egypt’s Minister of Electricity and Energy Mohamed Shaker told Al-Monitor, “We will provide technical, technological and engineering support for the construction of the Inga Dam.”
 
Shaker talked about how Egypt will benefit from the Congolese dam project. “There are ambitious plans for power grids [interconnecting] between South Africa and North Africa, whose execution may require some time — but there is a vision to start the execution of these plans on the ground over different stages,” he said.
 
The Egyptian grants that were agreed upon during the visit reached $10 million and were allocated for the execution of six projects, including the design studies and commissioning of the Inga Dam and other service projects to dig wells for providing drinking water, as well as scholarships and training for workers in the field of water resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
 
Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Hossam Maghazi told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation will send a delegation to [the Democratic Republic of Congo] to follow up on the implementation of cooperation projects and on all matters related to coordination on the execution of the Inga Dam.”
 
The Inga Dam, located on the Congo River 225 kilometers (140 miles) southwest of the capital, Kinshasa, is one of the largest hydropower projects in Africa. It is designed to generate 40,000 megawatts of electricity. The project, which is still under construction, is facing financial hurdles with the estimated cost to build it having risen to $80 billion, and counting.
 
Congolese Minister of Energy and Water Matadi Gamanda told Al-Monitor, “The completion of the dam is facing major challenges in terms of design, financing and management, and we hope Egypt will cooperate with us on facing these challenges.”
 
He added, “The Inga Dam project will be the largest integration project in Africa, which is still in need of more power to meet the needs of its population."
 
“We do intend to compete with Ethiopia in terms for the production of hydroelectric power. The Inga Dam project will certainly provide huge amounts of energy that may not be compared with a project such as the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam."
 
It should be noted that Egypt's water interests with the Democratic Republic of Congo are not limited to Egyptian official support to the Inga Dam; Egypt raised proposals in the last three years aimed at pumping more water into the Nile River in the equatorial lakes region by linking the Nile and Congo rivers, to provide Egypt with additional water shares — a proposed project that was subject to a wide technical controversy.
 
Gamanda said of this proposal, “This project is not realistic; it is merely a dream. What is more important now is to promote cooperation to help [the Democratic Republic of Congo] benefit from the water resources on its territory."
 
He added, “[The Democratic Republic of Congo's] position to support Egypt in the dispute between it and the Nile upstream countries on water management in the Nile basin is clear and explicit.”
 
"We will not sign any agreements that harm Egyptian interests," Gamanda added, referring to the Agreement on the Nile Basin Cooperative Framework, also known as the Entebbe Agreement. The agreement was signed by the six Nile Basin upstream countries and rejected by the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, which object to clauses giving upstream countries the right to exploit the Nile resources without being bound by the obligations not to harm water interests or historical quotas.
 
"We are ready to act as mediator again between Egypt and the rest of the Nile upstream countries in order to renegotiate the agreement and resolve this crisis, if Egypt asks us to play this role,” said Gamanda.
 
It seems that Cairo is banking on improving its relationship with the Democratic Republic of Congo as an important step to ensure Egypt’s presence in the Nile’s headwaters (the equatorial lakes) region by building on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s policies and its support for Egypt’s stance during the arduous negotiations over the past 10 years with the Nile upstream countries on water management in the Nile River basin.
 
Mohamed Nasreddin Allam, the former minister of water resources and irrigation who participated in the negotiations with the Nile Basin countries between 2009 and 2011, told Al-Monitor, "[The Democratic Republic of Congo] has been consistently supporting the Egyptian stance and opinion and refused to sign the Entebbe Agreement — unlike Burundi, which signed it after the Egyptian revolution in 2011.”
 
He added, “The current political coordination of positions with [the Democratic Republic of Congo] is important in order for Egypt to gain a strong African ally, especially in light of enormous pressures on Egypt by the Nile upstream countries and poor coordination with Sudan, which was a strategic ally of Egypt in the Nile water issue.”
 
Allam said, “Egypt's support to Inga Dam in [the Democratic Republic of Congo] is a strong pressure card against Ethiopia's dream to be the only source of energy export to the African countries, since the execution and commissioning of the dam will turn [the Democratic Republic of Congo] into the first energy exporter in Africa as well as the cheapest and safest alternative.”
 
It seems the Egyptian political administration has managed to gain allies from among the Nile upstream countries to secure its water interests. Yet its biggest challenge is to link its official rapprochement policies to projects and direct interests that bring about tangible benefits for the peoples of the upstream countries aspiring for development and not just contenting itself with official visits and political promises.

By Ayah Aman









Sunday, 28 February 2016

Congo Republic Refuses Entry, Sends Back Amnesty International Expert

Congo Republic Refuses Entry, Sends Back Amnesty International Expert

28/02/2016

 
The Republic of Congo’s refusal of entry and return of an Amnesty International research manager on mission is another worrying sign of the government’s attempt to muzzle criticism ahead of Presidential elections, Amnesty International said today. 

Late on Friday 26 February, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Stephen Cockburn, was refused entry at the border and sent back to Dakar, despite having a valid visa, invitation letter and confirmations of meetings with authorities including the Minister of Defense and officials from the Ministry of Justice. 

“Stifling independent human rights monitoring is unacceptable, and will do little to build confidence as Congo prepares for elections, especially in a context where political opponents have been detained and protestors killed,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Research and Advocacy Director. 

“The government should take all measures to ensure that these elections can be held in a climate that respects the freedom of all people to express their views, protest peacefully and monitor the human rights situation so that violations can be exposed and remedied.” 

Upon his arrival at Brazzaville airport, Stephen Cockburn was taken out of the queue for passport control by a security official who was holding a piece of paper with the names of Stephen and two other Amnesty International colleagues, who were not due to arrive until later. His passport was confiscated and he was held, but not mistreated, at the airport until Saturday morning, when he was placed on a return flight to Dakar. 

A document later provided to the airline referred to the motive for refusing entry as Amnesty’s ‘unwelcome’ presence and indicated that the visa should not have been granted. 

Amnesty International was visiting Congo to meet authorities, embassies and UN agencies to discuss human rights violations committed by authorities and security forces, including in relation to forthcoming elections.
 
On Tuesday 23 February 2016, the head of the police had written to Amnesty International declining an invitation to meet the delegation, stressing his opinion that the organisation should not visit the country during a turbulent pre-electoral period, although he did not suggest the visit had been banned. The letter also criticized a July 2015 Amnesty International report documenting the expulsion of more than 180,000 DRC nationals in 2014.
 
Presidential elections are scheduled on 20 March. Last October, Amnesty International called on security forces to refrain from using excessive force after they fired on crowds gathered in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire to demonstrate against proposed changes in the country’s constitution. Opposition groups reported that at least 18 people were killed.


Amnesty International has also highlighted the detention of political opponents both before October’s constitutional referendum and in the run up to the forthcoming elections. Among those currently detained include Paulin Makaya, the leader of the political party ‘Unis Pour le Congo’ (UPC), and Serge Matsoulé, Federal Secretary for ‘Convention d’action pour la démocratie et le développement’ (CADD).

In October 2015, security forces surrounded the house of another opposition leader, Guy Brice Parfait Kolélas, without any judicial authority and did not let him leave for 12 days. In the same month six activists were arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment for taking part in an unauthorized protest. 

By Ekele Peter Agbo
 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

DR Congo: Youth Activists Rounded Up at Strike

DR Congo: Youth Activists Rounded Up at Strike


Halt Crackdown on Perceived Political Opponents


24/02/2016
Six LUCHA activists on trial in Goma, eastern Democratic 
Republic of Congo on February 22, 2016, where they face 
trumped-up charges for supporting a February 16 national
 strike to protest election delays.

Democratic Republic of Congo authorities have arbitrarily arrested eight youth activists, Human Rights Watch said today. The youth activists and at least 30 political opposition supporters were detained on or around February 16, 2016, in connection with a national strike, or “ville morte” (dead city), to protest delays in organizing presidential elections. Other activists who supported the ville morte have received text message threats from unknown phone numbers.

“Peaceful protest is not a crime, and the Congolese authorities should immediately release all those wrongfully arrested or detained on trumped up charges,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These latest arrests are part of a growing crackdown on opponents of the government’s attempts to delay elections and extend the president’s term in office.”

At about 4:30 a.m. on February 16, in the eastern city of Goma, police entered the office of an organization where youth activists had been working through the night preparing banners for the national strike. One of the banners read, “In 2016, we won the [African Nations (football) Championship’s] Cup; we can also win democracy.”
The police arrested Rebecca Kavugho, Serge Sivya, Justin Kambale, John Anipenda, Ghislain Muhiwa, and Melka Kamundu, all members of the Struggle for Change (La Lutte pour le Changement, LUCHA) citizens’ movement.
The six were taken to the P2 police station in Goma, where they were questioned without a lawyer present. The police also confiscated two laptops, six cell phones, and the banners. When Human Rights Watch visited the activists that evening in detention, one of them had a deep cut on his upper left arm incurred during the arrest.
About midday on February 17, two-dozen university students in Goma gathered in front of the P2 police station, peacefully protesting the arrests. They held signs that read: “We demand the release of our colleagues arrested yesterday and detained here.” About 20 police officers quickly dispersed the protesters, arresting and beating several of them. While most were released within a few hours, one student was held overnight. He later told Human Rights Watch that a police officer at P2 beat him with the barrel of his gun, injuring his right ear. The police then transferred him to a jail at the mayor’s office. He was released the next day, without charge, after his family paid US$30.
Shortly after the police station demonstration, the police transferred the six LUCHA activists to the prosecutor’s office. There they were charged with associating with criminals and attempting to incite revolt – charges that appear to be politically motivated, Human Rights Watch said.
Their trial began on February 18, at Goma’s High Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance) for charges flagrante delicto – for allegedly being “caught in the act.” The activists’ lawyers contended that the chamber had lost its jurisdiction because it can only hear cases within 48 hours of the alleged act. At a hearing the next day, all the police officers except one who had been called in to testify about the arrests failed to appear in court. The judges then decided to hear the case during regular proceedings, instead of for charges flagrante delicto,where a verdict would have been required immediately.
In the capital, Kinshasa, two other LUCHA activists, Bienvenu Matumo and Marc Héritier Kapitene, were reported missing from a hotel in Bandal commune early in the morning on February 16. At about 5:40 a.m. one of the activists sent a text message to a friend saying “arrested.” The previous evening, they had attended a meeting with other LUCHA activists to prepare for the strike. Just after the meeting, Victor Tesongo, a member of an opposition political party who had met with the LUCHA activists at the end of their meeting, was arrested on his way home.
The three remained missing until February 19, when they were transferred from a national intelligence agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements, ANR) detention center to the prosecutor’s office. Until then, they were unreachable by phone, and their families and colleagues were not able to find them. They were first held at the provincial police commissioner’s prison, then transferred to the ANR on February 18. Human Rights Watch had contacted security officials to ask about the missing activists, but the officials did not confirm the arrests or provide information on the activists’ whereabouts, raising concerns of forced disappearances.
During a hearing at the prosecutor’s office in Kinshasa’s Gombe commune on February 20, Matumo, Kapitene, and Tesongo were put under a provisional arrest warrant on charges of incitement to civil disobedience, spreading false information, and attacking state security.
LUCHA activists told Human Rights Watch they believe the police have been closely monitoring their activities since at least November 2015, when security officials brutallyrepressed a peaceful demonstration the movement organized in Goma. During that demonstration, two LUCHA activists and seven other people were arrested. They remain in detention and are on trial on trumped-up charges.
“Congolese authorities seem determined to repress free speech and peaceful protest in Congo,” Sawyer said. “Concerned governments should press Congo to immediately free the peaceful protesters it’s holding and end its political repression.”
Additional Arrests
Human Rights Watch also received credible reports that more than 30 political opposition members and supporters were detained on or around February 16. While some might have been involved in burning tires in the streets, many others appear to have been arrested merely for peacefully supporting or encouraging others to observe the ville morte. Some were released after their families bribed the police or after UN human rights officials intervened.
On February 14, security officials arrested an opposition leader and member of parliament, Martin Fayulu, and detained him at the military intelligence headquarters in Kinshasa. He had been involved in mobilizing participation in the national strike. He was released seven hours later without charge.
In Kinshasa’s Masina commune, eight people were arrested on February 16 when a small group of people had peacefully gathered in support of the ville morte, chanting “Yebela” (“be warned” in Lingala), in reference to the president being near the end of his term. When the protesters were arrested, the police put them in the back of a police pickup, demanded to know the political parties they belonged to, and took them to the Masina police station jail, one of the detainees said. He and many of the others were released the next day after their families paid the police about $200 each.
Three women said that on the morning of February 16, in Kinshasa’s Ngaliema commune, the police badly beat them and forced them into the back of a police pickup. The women said they just happened to be on the side of the road when young men were burning tires. They were released later that evening without charge. One of the women’s leg was injured during the arrest, and she now has difficulty walking.
In Uvira, South Kivu province, on the morning of February 16, security officials arrested a lawyer and local opposition spokesman for the Union pour la Nation Congolaise (UNC) political party, Francois Yuma Kaziga. Kaziga told Human Rights Watch that before he was arrested, an acquaintance had stopped him on the road to tell him that the local ANR director had told him to inform Kaziga that he needed to change his clothes and wear different colors; he was wearing red and white, the UNC party colors.
Kaziga said that he was stopped by armed soldiers in uniform who forced him into their jeep. They took him to the ANR office and interrogated him about his political party affiliation, his position, and why he was wearing red and white. Later that evening, they transferred him to a local police jail. He was released the next afternoon, without charge.
Several activists who had supported the ville morte told Human Rights Watch that they had received text message threats from unknown phone numbers in the days before and after the ville morte. One message said, “We are going to prove to you how much trouble we can cause. Your family members and loved ones are at our doorstep and will be harassed one after another.” Another message said, “Young man, you’re bothering us. This is your last warning.”
The “Ville Morte” Strike
Since January 2015, Congolese security and intelligence officials have clamped down on peaceful activists, political leaders, and others who oppose attempts to allow President Joseph Kabila to stay in power past his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ends in late 2016. Plans for presidential elections, due to be held in November, have been deliberately stalled and Kabila has yet to declare publicly that he will step down at the end of his term.
Leaders from Congo’s main opposition parties, nongovernmental organizations, and pro-democracy youth movements called on Congolese citizens to stay home from work and school on February 16, for the ville morte in commemoration of those killed during a pro-democracy march on February 16, 1992, and to protest the delays in elections and the government’s alleged failure to respect the constitution.
The ville morte was largely observed in Kinshasa, with many schools, shops, and businesses closed, and the usual traffic-jammed streets largely empty, despite government officials’ efforts to make it a normal work day. Employment Minister Willy Makiashi issued a statement on February 15, prohibiting public employees from participating in the strike and warning that attendance would be taken with consequences for those absent from work. Other government officials echoed his warning. Many of Congo’s other cities also observed the ville morte to varying degrees.
On the morning of the strike, a coalition of 135 Congolese human rights organizations published a news release calling on authorities to respect the right to demonstrate peacefully. They alleged that the authorities have “tried to keep the population in fear by banning or brutally repressing public meetings and demonstrations, and arresting the participants they wrongly accused of instigating trouble, regardless of the nature of their demands.”
In the early hours of February 16, the signal of Radio France International, one of the most listened-to radio stations in Congo, was cut in an apparent attempt to disrupt the strike. It was restored at the end of the day. In January 2015 government authorities had similarly blocked radio signals, text messages, and Internet services during mass demonstrations across the country.

DR Congo: Youth Activists Rounded Up at Strike

DR Congo: Youth Activists Rounded Up at Strike


Halt Crackdown on Perceived Political Opponents


24/02/2016
Six LUCHA activists on trial in Goma, eastern Democratic 
Republic of Congo on February 22, 2016, where they face 
trumped-up charges for supporting a February 16 national
 strike to protest election delays.

Democratic Republic of Congo authorities have arbitrarily arrested eight youth activists, Human Rights Watch said today. The youth activists and at least 30 political opposition supporters were detained on or around February 16, 2016, in connection with a national strike, or “ville morte” (dead city), to protest delays in organizing presidential elections. Other activists who supported the ville morte have received text message threats from unknown phone numbers.

“Peaceful protest is not a crime, and the Congolese authorities should immediately release all those wrongfully arrested or detained on trumped up charges,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These latest arrests are part of a growing crackdown on opponents of the government’s attempts to delay elections and extend the president’s term in office.”

At about 4:30 a.m. on February 16, in the eastern city of Goma, police entered the office of an organization where youth activists had been working through the night preparing banners for the national strike. One of the banners read, “In 2016, we won the [African Nations (football) Championship’s] Cup; we can also win democracy.”
The police arrested Rebecca Kavugho, Serge Sivya, Justin Kambale, John Anipenda, Ghislain Muhiwa, and Melka Kamundu, all members of the Struggle for Change (La Lutte pour le Changement, LUCHA) citizens’ movement.
The six were taken to the P2 police station in Goma, where they were questioned without a lawyer present. The police also confiscated two laptops, six cell phones, and the banners. When Human Rights Watch visited the activists that evening in detention, one of them had a deep cut on his upper left arm incurred during the arrest.
About midday on February 17, two-dozen university students in Goma gathered in front of the P2 police station, peacefully protesting the arrests. They held signs that read: “We demand the release of our colleagues arrested yesterday and detained here.” About 20 police officers quickly dispersed the protesters, arresting and beating several of them. While most were released within a few hours, one student was held overnight. He later told Human Rights Watch that a police officer at P2 beat him with the barrel of his gun, injuring his right ear. The police then transferred him to a jail at the mayor’s office. He was released the next day, without charge, after his family paid US$30.
Shortly after the police station demonstration, the police transferred the six LUCHA activists to the prosecutor’s office. There they were charged with associating with criminals and attempting to incite revolt – charges that appear to be politically motivated, Human Rights Watch said.
Their trial began on February 18, at Goma’s High Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance) for charges flagrante delicto – for allegedly being “caught in the act.” The activists’ lawyers contended that the chamber had lost its jurisdiction because it can only hear cases within 48 hours of the alleged act. At a hearing the next day, all the police officers except one who had been called in to testify about the arrests failed to appear in court. The judges then decided to hear the case during regular proceedings, instead of for charges flagrante delicto,where a verdict would have been required immediately.
In the capital, Kinshasa, two other LUCHA activists, Bienvenu Matumo and Marc Héritier Kapitene, were reported missing from a hotel in Bandal commune early in the morning on February 16. At about 5:40 a.m. one of the activists sent a text message to a friend saying “arrested.” The previous evening, they had attended a meeting with other LUCHA activists to prepare for the strike. Just after the meeting, Victor Tesongo, a member of an opposition political party who had met with the LUCHA activists at the end of their meeting, was arrested on his way home.
The three remained missing until February 19, when they were transferred from a national intelligence agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements, ANR) detention center to the prosecutor’s office. Until then, they were unreachable by phone, and their families and colleagues were not able to find them. They were first held at the provincial police commissioner’s prison, then transferred to the ANR on February 18. Human Rights Watch had contacted security officials to ask about the missing activists, but the officials did not confirm the arrests or provide information on the activists’ whereabouts, raising concerns of forced disappearances.
During a hearing at the prosecutor’s office in Kinshasa’s Gombe commune on February 20, Matumo, Kapitene, and Tesongo were put under a provisional arrest warrant on charges of incitement to civil disobedience, spreading false information, and attacking state security.
LUCHA activists told Human Rights Watch they believe the police have been closely monitoring their activities since at least November 2015, when security officials brutallyrepressed a peaceful demonstration the movement organized in Goma. During that demonstration, two LUCHA activists and seven other people were arrested. They remain in detention and are on trial on trumped-up charges.
“Congolese authorities seem determined to repress free speech and peaceful protest in Congo,” Sawyer said. “Concerned governments should press Congo to immediately free the peaceful protesters it’s holding and end its political repression.”
Additional Arrests
Human Rights Watch also received credible reports that more than 30 political opposition members and supporters were detained on or around February 16. While some might have been involved in burning tires in the streets, many others appear to have been arrested merely for peacefully supporting or encouraging others to observe the ville morte. Some were released after their families bribed the police or after UN human rights officials intervened.
On February 14, security officials arrested an opposition leader and member of parliament, Martin Fayulu, and detained him at the military intelligence headquarters in Kinshasa. He had been involved in mobilizing participation in the national strike. He was released seven hours later without charge.
In Kinshasa’s Masina commune, eight people were arrested on February 16 when a small group of people had peacefully gathered in support of the ville morte, chanting “Yebela” (“be warned” in Lingala), in reference to the president being near the end of his term. When the protesters were arrested, the police put them in the back of a police pickup, demanded to know the political parties they belonged to, and took them to the Masina police station jail, one of the detainees said. He and many of the others were released the next day after their families paid the police about $200 each.
Three women said that on the morning of February 16, in Kinshasa’s Ngaliema commune, the police badly beat them and forced them into the back of a police pickup. The women said they just happened to be on the side of the road when young men were burning tires. They were released later that evening without charge. One of the women’s leg was injured during the arrest, and she now has difficulty walking.
In Uvira, South Kivu province, on the morning of February 16, security officials arrested a lawyer and local opposition spokesman for the Union pour la Nation Congolaise (UNC) political party, Francois Yuma Kaziga. Kaziga told Human Rights Watch that before he was arrested, an acquaintance had stopped him on the road to tell him that the local ANR director had told him to inform Kaziga that he needed to change his clothes and wear different colors; he was wearing red and white, the UNC party colors.
Kaziga said that he was stopped by armed soldiers in uniform who forced him into their jeep. They took him to the ANR office and interrogated him about his political party affiliation, his position, and why he was wearing red and white. Later that evening, they transferred him to a local police jail. He was released the next afternoon, without charge.
Several activists who had supported the ville morte told Human Rights Watch that they had received text message threats from unknown phone numbers in the days before and after the ville morte. One message said, “We are going to prove to you how much trouble we can cause. Your family members and loved ones are at our doorstep and will be harassed one after another.” Another message said, “Young man, you’re bothering us. This is your last warning.”
The “Ville Morte” Strike
Since January 2015, Congolese security and intelligence officials have clamped down on peaceful activists, political leaders, and others who oppose attempts to allow President Joseph Kabila to stay in power past his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ends in late 2016. Plans for presidential elections, due to be held in November, have been deliberately stalled and Kabila has yet to declare publicly that he will step down at the end of his term.
Leaders from Congo’s main opposition parties, nongovernmental organizations, and pro-democracy youth movements called on Congolese citizens to stay home from work and school on February 16, for the ville morte in commemoration of those killed during a pro-democracy march on February 16, 1992, and to protest the delays in elections and the government’s alleged failure to respect the constitution.
The ville morte was largely observed in Kinshasa, with many schools, shops, and businesses closed, and the usual traffic-jammed streets largely empty, despite government officials’ efforts to make it a normal work day. Employment Minister Willy Makiashi issued a statement on February 15, prohibiting public employees from participating in the strike and warning that attendance would be taken with consequences for those absent from work. Other government officials echoed his warning. Many of Congo’s other cities also observed the ville morte to varying degrees.
On the morning of the strike, a coalition of 135 Congolese human rights organizations published a news release calling on authorities to respect the right to demonstrate peacefully. They alleged that the authorities have “tried to keep the population in fear by banning or brutally repressing public meetings and demonstrations, and arresting the participants they wrongly accused of instigating trouble, regardless of the nature of their demands.”
In the early hours of February 16, the signal of Radio France International, one of the most listened-to radio stations in Congo, was cut in an apparent attempt to disrupt the strike. It was restored at the end of the day. In January 2015 government authorities had similarly blocked radio signals, text messages, and Internet services during mass demonstrations across the country.


Sexual violence: a weapon of war in eastern Congo for more than 20 years

Sexual violence: a weapon of war in eastern Congo for more than 20 years



23 /02/2016



Victims of sexual violence in eastern Congo, 2007
 
Denis Mukwege has been treating female victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 1996. The subject of a new documentary by Thierry Michel, The Man Who Mends Women, Mukwege has dedicated his life to caring for victims of rape and other forms of sexual abuse in Africa. It is an epidemic that continues despite the supposed end of the Second Congo War in 2003.
 
Sexual violence is often a hidden dimension of war. The film illustrates how survivors work to rebuild their lives, organise to resist aggressors and denounce their crimes. They do so even when trapped in seemingly endless conflicts.

Through the testimony and actions of these brave women, impressive progress has been made to mobilise support and build collective awareness of this tragic oppression. Yet 20 years after Mukwege began his work, the fact remains: no one is yet able to protect women in conflict zones and to end the use of rape as a weapon of war.

The coming of the second war

Knowing the region’s history is critical to understanding the gravity of the situation. In 1994, widespread attacks on civilian populations in the border provinces of eastern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) led to an influx of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees, defeated soldiers and militia members fleeing the Rwandan civil war. Two years later, the Rwandan Patriotic Army - the armed wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Front operating under the orders of Rwanda’s current President Paul Kagame - destroyed the camps, forcing the refugees to flee deeper into the country.

In conjunction with Congolese opposition groups, the Rwandan army pushed all the way to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. In 1997 it brought down the regime of President Mobutu Sese Seko. Rwandan forces then occupied eastern Congo despite the hostility of the local population. By August 1998 when its senior officers were squeezed out of command positions in Kinshasa, Rwanda unleashed the Second Congo War.

By early 1999 the front line stabilised and the DRC was effectively partitioned. The strategists from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi had essentially achieved their goal. Now began a war within the war. Senior commanders of the occupying forces worked to enhance their own power, while their armies took on the administration and economic exploitation of conquered provinces - each in their own way and according to their own priorities.

In a December 2001 statement, the United Nations Security Council noted that

the plundering of the natural resources and other forms of wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues unabated.
It condemned activities

which are perpetuating the conflict in the country, impeding the economic developing of the DRC and exacerbating the suffering of its people.

Submission of populations

 
The nature of the conflict then shifted because there was another war that had to be won - forcing occupied populations into submission for the long term. The war of conquest now overlaid a civil war - or rather, civil wars. In working to build national alliances and reduce local resistance, the occupying armies exploited and aggravated existing divisions between populations.

In the province of Kivu, the armies' task was made easier by the multiplicity of community and tribal affiliations, ethnic groups and cultural areas (Bashi, Bahavu, Bavira, Bafuliru, Bahunde, Banyindu, Batembo, Banyanga…), tensions between shepherds and farmers, rivalries between professional organisations and various associations.



A soldier of the UN force in Beni, in the north-eastern
 Congo, in March 2014.
 
The situation lasted until October 2013 when the main rebel movement supported by the Rwandan authorities, M23, was defeated by the intervention of UN troops. The surrender allowed Congolese armed forces to retake the DRC’s eastern provinces. Beyond the urban centres and main roads, however, various armed forces and militia continue to exploit local resources and populations.

Women still suffer

Now 20 years long, the conflict is fuelled by armed groups that are being continuously renewed. Local populations are subject to violence and abuse not only at the hands of foreign armies, but also numerous guerrilla movements fighting for control of land, resources and people.

Among those implicated by women’s testimony are men carrying arms or wearing uniforms, including many Congolese military and police officers. So are “all the men” who, in the climate of impunity and violence, abuse their authority over local populations, and particularly women. It is no longer a question of a war, but the perpetuation of a state of lawlessness.

Many countries rebuilding after an armed conflict see rates of sexual violence remain high or even increase. The continuing instability in eastern Congo has led to the region being dubbed the “rape capital of the world”, even if reliable statistics in this domain remain difficult to establish.

The attitude of the Congolese authorities is also questionable, revealed by their banning The Man Who Mends Women for two months after its initial release in September 2015.

In this context, it’s astonishing that the DRC - the site of the first great African war, which caused the highest number of casualties since World War II - has never set up special tribunal. An independent authority is needed to fully assess this tragedy and establish the responsibilities of all the warring parties.

Tribunals in the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda at least made strong symbolic denunciations of sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide

The Conversation