from JEAN KASSONGO in Kinshasa, DRC
KINSHASA, (CAJ News) – THE declaration of martial law intended to end insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has instead deepened the repression by the military.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the uniformed forces have suppressed peaceful critics in the more than ten months since the government imposed martial law in the conflict-ridden provinces of Ituri and North Kivu.
The rights group lamented that the soldiers and police had curtailed freedom of expression, put down peaceful demonstrations with lethal force and arbitrarily detained and prosecuted activists, journalists and political opposition members.
“The military’s reassurances last year that human rights would be respected under martial law have long been forgotten and a wide range of rights have been stifled,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at HRW.
“With no clear timeline from the Tshisekedi administration, this backsliding on fundamental rights and democratic space seems to have no end in sight,” Fessy said.
HRW has documented more than two dozen cases of alleged arbitrary arrests, intimidation, beatings and abusive prosecutions in Ituri and North Kivu since September.
Security forces allegedly killed at least one activist during a protest.
Martial law is said to have strained an already weak judiciary in both provinces.
Military courts are unable to cope with the number of cases.
Under martial law orders, military authorities are able to search people’s homes anytime, ban publications and meetings deemed against public order, restrict people’s movements and arrest anyone for disrupting public order.
Civilians are prosecuted before military courts contrary to regional standards.
Ituri and North Kivu are epicentres of ethnic clashes and insurgency.
President Felix Tshisekedi has said martial law would only be lifted “when the circumstances which motivated it resolve.”
– CAJ News