“The DRC security forces have repeatedly used excessive force to quash protests related to proposed presidential elections, firing teargas and live ammunition into crowds of protestors and inflicting numerous casualties,” said Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, in a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). More than 80 people had been reportedly killed, hundreds injured, thousands arrested and at least 225 demonstrations quashed or banned since January 2015, when protests began against prospective electoral law reforms that could extend President Joseph Kabila’s office term beyond the constitutional two-term limit. Details were still being verified, while other sources reported much higher figures. President Kabila’s final term in office is due to expire in December and elections are due in late November, but the National Electoral Commission has said that it will not be possible to hold them then. “People’s demand for a legal and peaceful political transition should not be met with excessive force and paid in blood. They ought to be celebrated and respected,” noted the new UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard. “Indiscriminate firing into a crowd is unlawful. Firearms and other potentially lethal weapons should never be used simply to disperse a demonstration.” Human rights defenders, journalists and opposition leaders have reportedly been particularly targeted by the Congolese National Police, the National Intelligence Agency, the Republican Guard and the armed forces. Genuine and meaningful elections cannot be achieved if fundamental freedoms are violated UN rights expert Maina Kiai“Demonstrations should ordinarily be managed with no resort to force, unless in exceptional circumstances of imminent threat of death or serious injury, and even in such cases force shall always be subject to the requirements of necessity and proportionality,” Ms. Callamard continued. In his press statement, Mr. Kiai urged the Government to “immediately halt the violent repression of protests and to release protestors who have been arrested for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” At the same time, Ms. Callamard expressed alarm at the number of people reportedly injured and killed during the demonstrations. He recalled the State’s duty to promptly investigate all suspected violations and bring perpetrators to justice, saying “Allegations of excessive use of force, bodily harm and unlawful killings should not go unpunished.” Both Rapporteurs also called for an international independent and interdisciplinary investigation, to assist in shedding light on the allegations. “The renewed violent repression of protests and the increasing crackdown on civil society – including the targeting of key human rights activists – suggest that the Government considers civil society as a threat and is simply engaging in a systematic campaign to silence dissenting voices,” Mr. Kiai pointed out. Quoting his 2013 report concerning the exercise of these rights in the context of election periods, Mr. Kiai underscored, “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are essential to the democratic process, both during the election period and between elections.” “States have the responsibility to ensure the full exercise of these rights in general, and even more so during election periods,” the expert continued. “The resilience of a democracy can be judged, in large part, by how successfully it deals with challenges to those in power, and the peaceful transition from one leader to the next.” In the news release, Mr. Kiai further stressed that electoral periods often increase political tensions, but it is especially around these times that authorities should protect and facilitate fundamental expressive freedoms in order to allow citizens to fully participate in public debate and the decision making process. “There is clearly a political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but a threat to the government does not equal a threat to the State,” he added. “It is imperative at times such as these, that authorities give space to allow individuals to raise their voices to express their views and aspirations.” “Genuine and meaningful elections cannot be achieved if fundamental freedoms are violated”, concluded the human rights expert. Mr. Kiai’s and Ms. Callamard’s call has also been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye, and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst. Independent Experts and Special Rapporteurs, are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.