Press briefing note on DRC and Ethiopia, 23 January 2018

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 23 January 2018
Subject: DRC and Ethiopia

(1) DRC

We are deeply concerned about what appears to be a recurring pattern of repression – including through the use of force – of demonstrations in the DRC in the context of rising political tensions. Last Sunday, the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC* recorded at least six deaths during demonstrations in Kinshasa, with 68 people wounded, 121 people arrested and the firing of tear gas into churches in various parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The figures are likely to rise as more information is verified. Security forces also reportedly used live ammunition against demonstrators. Sunday’s events came after the killing of nine people and the injuring of at least 98 others during the 31 December 2017 protests.

Among those injured on Sunday was a UN human rights officer who was kicked and punched by security forces in Kinshasa while trying to conduct human rights monitoring of the demonstrations. Military police also fired tear gas towards at least three UN patrols, thus restricting their movements and impeding them from carrying out the UN’s mandate of monitoring the human rights situation in the country. The UN mission in the DRC is taking up this incident with the authorities.

Throughout the country, Internet and SMS services have been suspended since midnight on Saturday, 20 January night, following a similar 48-hour suspension around the 31 December protests. Tear gas was fired into and around churches in Kinshasa, Goma, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and Bukavu, while heavy deployments of the Police Nationale Congolaise and the FARDC armed forces, were reported in Mbandaka, Beni, Mbuji-Mayi and Butembo, particularly around places of worship. In Mbuji-Mayi, security forces prevented people from accessing a number of places of worship.

We urge the Government to investigate all incidents where security forces may have used excessive force against demonstrators and UN personnel. Those held responsible for the killings and injuries must be brought to justice without delay. The rights to freedom of religion, expression and peaceful assembly must be fully respected, in line with the DRC’s obligations under international law. The authorities must also ensure that UN human rights personnel are able to carry out their essential monitoring work.

Violent dispersal of protestors will not resolve the political tensions but will only serve to heighten them. We call on the authorities to work constructively with political opponents, religious leaders and civil society to ensure that the right of all Congolese to participate in the public affairs of their country is upheld.

* The UN Joint Human Rights Office, which was established in February 2008, is the Human Rights Division of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC.

(2) Ethiopia

We are extremely concerned by the use of force by security officials against worshippers celebrating the Ethiopian Orthodox festival of Epiphany this weekend that left at least seven people dead and a number injured.

The incident, in Woldiya City in Amhara Regional State on 20 January, reportedly took place when the security forces tried to stop people from chanting anti-government songs and allegedly opened fire on them. Protesters reportedly later blocked roads and destroyed a number of properties.

This incident is all the more regrettable, as it comes just two weeks after Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, officially announced its intention to undertake reforms.

We call on the authorities to ensure that the security forces take all feasible measures to prevent the use of force.

We understand that the President of Amhara Regional State, who confirmed that there had been deaths and injuries, said there would be what he termed a “careful examination” of the incident.

We urge for this to be a prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigation to ensure those responsible for any violations are held accountable. We also call on the Government to undertake the necessary legal and policy reforms, along with guidance and training, to create the conditions for law enforcement officials to operate in line with international standards.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466/ ethrossell@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)