UN watchdog gives Congolese a year to hold free elections

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The UN Human Rights Committee has given the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a year to report on actions it has taken to hold free and fair elections and clean up its rights record.

The UN watchdog, whose 18 independent experts monitor countries’ compliance with a global human rights treaty, said on Thursday that the country should come back with an explanation by November 10 2018, rather than after the regular four years between reviews.

The DRC should “co-operte with all stakeholders to establish an agreed electoral calendar for the holding of free, peaceful and honest elections as soon as possible”, the committee said in its report on the country.

The DRC’s electoral commission said on Sunday that the election to replace President Joseph Kabila, originally scheduled for late 2016 and repeatedly delayed, would now be held on December 23 2018.

The main opposition parties have rejected the date, saying it breaks the law as well as an agreement to go to the polls in 2017.

The AU says the electoral timetable has to be “scrupulously respected” and US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley says the citizens of the DRC are “hungry for democracy and new leadership”.

She said on Monday: “Further delays and attempts to hold on to power will only serve to isolate the DRC’s leaders and government.”

The UN committee’s report also said Kabila’s government should put an end to intimidation and human rights violations against opposition candidates, and ensure they were protected.

The government should take steps to make judges, officials and the public aware of the rights guaranteed by the UN treaty, it said, listing shortcomings in the country such as the treatment of women and indigenous minorities, torture, extrajudicial killings, child labour and arbitrary detention.

Sexual violence was persistent both in peaceful areas and in conflict zones, where it was used as a weapon of war by armed groups and by Congolese soldiers alike, the committee said.

It was particularly concerned about the Kasai region, where the UN has said a rebel militia largely composed of children has been confronted by a militia suspected of a campaign of ethnic massacres and rapes.

The UN has set up a fact-finding mission to investigate the Kasai atrocities, although the government has insisted that the DRC’s justice system is in charge.

The DRC has acknowledged isolated human rights violations in the Kasai conflict and other conflict zones but denies its troops systematically use disproportionate force.

But the UN committee said the DRC’s National Human Rights Commission was unable to operate outside Kinshasa, had received no funds since March 2017 and was not regarded as independent.

Source: Reuters

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