01/04/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 01/04/2019 07:39
WILMINGTON - U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement ahead of tomorrow's long-delayed elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
'I call on the authorities of the Democratic Republic of Congo ensure that long delayed elections take place as scheduled tomorrow, December 30 and that the Congolese people are able to participate freely. Security forces, candidates, and their supporters must refrain from violence and commit to the rule of law and transparent, accountable governance.
'The people of the DRC, a country the size of Western Europe, have suffered enough in recent years due to pervasive corruption, attacks by armed groups, and a lack of basic services. The current and recent outbreak of Ebola in the east compounds these challenges. Congo's 81 million people have never known the leaders they deserve. The election tomorrow represents an opportunity to turn over a new page in the country's history.
'But the conduct of the pre-election environment has not been encouraging. This election should have been held at the end of 2016 under DRC's constitution. The Saint Sylvestre political agreement of December 2016 provided a one-year extension, which authorities again failed to respect. Most recently, a mysterious fire that destroyed some eight thousand voting machines, which were apparently to be used in the capital of Kinshasa (an opposition stronghold), caused an additional one-week delay. Finally, the electoral commission decided unilaterally this week that some 1.2 million people in Beni, Butembo, and Yumbi (also known for supporting opposition candidates) will not be able to vote on Sunday, due to the Ebola outbreak as well as recent violence. These delays are concerning.
'I am also disappointed by the electoral commission's refusal to accept independent election observers from the European Union or the U.S.-based Carter Center. DRC authorities have also disrupted and forcibly prevented opposition rallies and campaign events, repressing the rights of free assembly and expression in violation of the government's commitments under Saint Sylvestre agreement.
'I condemn successive election delays and enduring political restrictions. These attempts to repress the will of the people of the DRC must stop.
'As the people of DRC head to the polls tomorrow, I call upon the security forces of the DRC to protect the vote and act with restraint. Simply put, the government's security forces must back off and let the people exercise their democratic rights. Regional organizations such as the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, as well as the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO, must help ensure that people can cast their votes in peace.
'If we again see the security forces attack civilians peacefully exercising their rights, there will be consequences. I am determined to work with the Trump Administration to impose targeted sanctions against high-level officials responsible for further violence or repression.
'The people of the DRC have waited years for this moment. They deserve a peaceful, credible election, followed by necessary anti-corruption measures and governance reforms.'
Sean Coit at 202-224-5042 or [email protected]