KINSHASA – Security forces loyal to Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila were responsible for abuses and killings which left at least 33 people dead in the capital Kinshasa during last year’s elections, a United Nations report accused on Tuesday.
Kabila won a new term in a November 28 poll marred by violence and chaotic organisation, branded by election monitors as lacking credibility and rejected by the opposition. It had been hoped the election would mark a new start for the mineral-rich nation after years of conflict.
The report by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) said at least 22 people were killed in shootings in the month before and after polling day, while others died after mistreatment at the hands of security forces. It added at least 16 people were still unaccounted for.
“The number of deaths could be much higher as the team faced many difficulties in documenting the allegations of violations,” the report stated, noting that many witnesses were too afraid to speak out and alleging that authorities had instructed hospitals not to talk to investigators.
“These human rights violations were attributed mainly to elements of the Republican Guard, officers of the National Congolese police … and to a lesser extent, to soldiers of the armed forces,” it said of accounts by witnesses and victims.
Human Rights Watch has already accused authorities of being behind dozens of killings across the country during the polls.
Congolese Justice Minister Luzolo Bambi Lessa said in a statement that the report was “lightweight and incoherent”.
“(The report) is selective and partisan (and) has chosen to forget or omit the serious acts carried out by armed protesters against the agents and installations of the police,” he said.
The statement added that a police investigation had only uncovered 20 deaths during the electoral period, many at the hands of the opposition.
“BODIES THROWN INTO RIVER”
The UNJHRO report also documents abuses by members of Kabila’s bodyguard including covering victims with canvas before stabbing them repeatedly, throwing them into excrement-filled gutters and injecting them with unknown substances.
The report said that men in uniform were seen throwing bodies into the Congo river near Kabila’s presidential palace after two outbreaks of violence in Kinshasa, and that other corpses were found on the riverbank.
“As the team has not been able to identify these victims, it did not consider them in the number of people reported killed,” UNJHRO stated, calling for credible moves to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Parts of the Congolese police underwent extensive training with the United Nations and other agencies in an effort to avoid bloodshed during the elections.
While everyday life has largely returned to normal, Congo is still without a new government more than three months after polls and the country’s leading opposition candidate, Etienne Tshisekedi, remains under effective house arrest in Kinshasa after declaring himself president.
Congo has some of the largest copper and cobalt deposits in the world, but many international investors are wary of the hostile business climate and political uncertainty, something Kabila has vowed to tackle.