Senior security force officers in the Democratic Republic of Congo mobilized over 200 former M23 rebel fighters from neighboring countries to quash protests against President Joseph Kabila in December 2016, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Mondat (December 5).
Kabila has since strengthened his hold on power and delayed elections, raising concerns that planned protests will be met with further violence and repression.
The 69-page report, “‘Special Mission’: Recruitment of M23 Rebels to Suppress Protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” documents that Congolese security forces along with recruited M23 fighters from Uganda and Rwanda killed at least 62 people and arrested hundreds more during country-wide protests between December 19 and 22, when Kabila refused to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit.
M23 fighters patrolled the streets of Congo’s main cities, firing on or arresting protesters or anyone else deemed to be a threat to the president.
“Covert operations to recruit fighters from an abusive armed group to suppress any resistance show how far President Kabila and his coterie are willing to go to stay in power,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch and one of the report’s authors. “Congolese officials should end all unlawful use of force against protesters and allow peaceful political activities by activists and the political opposition.”
The findings are based on over 120 interviews, including with victims of abuse, their family members, witnesses, local activists, nine Congolese security force officers, government and United Nations officials, and diplomats, as well as 21 M23 fighters, commanders, and political leaders.
Human Rights Watch conducted research in Kinshasa, Goma, and Lubumbashi in Congo, in Uganda, in Rwanda, and in Brussels, Belgium, from December 2016 to November 2017.
Between October and early December 2016, as public pressure on Kabila was escalating, senior Congolese security force officers recruited M23 fighters from military and refugee camps in neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. Many fighters had been based there since the armed group’s defeat in eastern Congo in November 2013.
After being transferred to Congo, the M23 fighters were deployed to the capital, Kinshasa, and to Goma and Lubumbashi. The security forces gave them new uniforms and weapons and integrated them into the police, army, and the Republican Guard, the presidential security detail.
Congolese army officers – including many from previous Rwandan-backed rebellions who had since integrated into the Congolese army – looked after them, paying them well and providing them with food and accommodation. To protect the president and quash protests, the M23 fighters were given explicit orders to use lethal force, including at “point-blank range” if necessary.
On November 5, soon after the United States ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, visited Congo and called on Kabila to hold elections by the end of 2018, Congo’s electoral commission (CENI) published an electoral calendar that set December 23, 2018 as the date for presidential, legislative, and provincial elections – more than two years after the end of Kabila’s two-term limit.
The CENI also cited numerous financial, logistical, legal, political, and security “constraints” that could affect the timeline.
The political opposition and civil society groups denounced the calendar as merely another delaying tactic to unconstitutionally extend Kabila’s presidency.
They have called on Kabila to step down by the end of 2017 and for a transition without Kabila to be organized. It should be led by people who could not be candidates in future elections, they have said, and should have the primary aim of organizing credible elections, restoring constitutional order, and allowing for a new system of governance in which basic rights are respected.
“Kabila’s refusal to step down as the constitution requires has plunged Congo into a political, economic, and human rights crisis that could have devastating consequences for the region,” Sawyer said. “To prevent an already explosive situation from worsening, Congo’s regional and international partners should press Kabila to step down and allow for credible, peaceful elections.”
EFF demands the sacking of South Africa’s finance minister Nene.
South Africa’s political players are headed for a collision course over the fate of the finance minister, who the Treasury on Tuesday said is traveling to Indonesia for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting.
Pressure has been piling on finance minister Nhlanhla Nene to resign, following his disclosure to the state-capture inquiry commission, that he had met the Gupta brothers between 2010 and 2013.
The Business Day on Monday reported that Nene had asked president Cyril Ramaphosa to relieve him of his duties as finance minister.
Ramaphosa’s office responded and said they were not aware of Nene’s request.
And on Tuesday, Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane said the finance minister was expected to arrive in Indonesia on Wednesday.
Nene is also expected to read the mid-term budget later this month.
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The news that Nene is continuing with his duties is likely to anger opposition supporters including the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), whose leader, Julius Malema on Monday asked Ramaphosa to sack Nene.
In a written letter to Ramaphosa, Malema argued that the country, whose economy is in recession, had very serious challenges that needed a credible finance minister to address them.
‘‘Public servants at all spheres and levels of government will have no obligation to responsibly manage state fiscal resources under a compromised minister of finance,’‘ Malema said.
He then added that that Nene can no longer inspire much needed confidence to revive the economy.
‘‘The Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS)‚ which is supposed to be a statement to build confidence amongst all important economic role players‚ cannot‚ and should not‚ be delivered by a minister who was part of the Gupta criminal syndicate.”
For the EFF, Nene’s position as finance minister is no longer tenable and they are determined to win what they are now calling a battle.
Malema had threatened on Sunday that streets protests might be organised to demand for the removal of Nene as finance minister.
The Gupta brothers are accused of using their friendship with former president Jacob Zuma to influence government decisions including unfairly winning state contrcats.
Both Zuma and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.
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South Africa: Ex-minister reveals Zuma’s Gupta deals.
South Africa’s Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said on Wednesday he was fired by former president Jacob Zuma for refusing to approve contracts that would financially benefit the Gupta family, friends of Zuma accused of corruption.