Groups warn of DRC election violence
28 October 2011, 16:23
Kinshasa - Rights groups accused candidates of creating a "climate of fear" in the Democratic Republic of Congo as campaigning got underway Friday for presidential and legislative elections.
Violence has marred the build-up to the vote and local and international rights groups joined together Thursday to send an open letter to all presidential candidates calling for calm and an end to 'hate speech' ahead of the November 28 vote.
"Since March, our organisations have documented dozens of instances across the country of apparent ethnic hate speech, ethnic slurs and incitement to violence by political candidates," said the letter.
"In some cases, we have documented candidates or their supporters inciting gangs, youth, the unemployed, or members of armed groups to use violence and intimidation against their opponents."
"Candidates who use these strategies create a climate of fear, increase ethnic tensions, and risk provoking a violent election campaign."
President Joseph Kabila, who has ruled the country since the assassination of his father Laurent in 2001, has been bullish about his chances of returning to power in comments to journalists.
But he also promised he would stand aside in the event of an electoral defeat.
There are 11 candidates for the presidency and nearly 19 000 candidates are in the running for the 500 parliamentary seats.
The electoral commission, helped by Monusco, the UN stabilisation mission in the country, will have the task of distributing 186,000 voting boxes and 64 million voting cards to 62 000 voting stations.
In a country that is four times the size of France and still suffers regular attacks from rebel groups in the east, that will be a massive logistical challenge.
Violent clashes between opposition activists and the police have been a regular feature of the political scene prior to the official launch of campaigning.
Police have regularly broken up rallies by the Union for Democracy and Social Progress Party (UDPD) and their supporters who have called for a free and fair electoral process. One activist has been shot dead, others injured and many others arrested.
The signatories to the letter, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch, ActionAid and the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), have documented cases of candidates and supporters using ethnic slurs against opponents.
"We are deeply concerned by such tactics," the letter said.
Last week, Congolese police fired tear gas to disperse opposition supporters. The same day, US think tank The Carter Centre said Kinshasa had to take action to ensure the upcoming vote was credible.
The group, founded by former US president Jimmy Carter, urged the Congolese government to "take rapid and convincing steps to ensure the transparency and credibility of the voter register."
The group "also noted that serious incidents of intimidation and violence have occurred during campaigning", and said political players must be conscience of the potential consequences of a flawed election.