UN warns of pre-election rights abuses in DR Congo

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The UN warned on Wednesday that human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo could harm the democratic process ahead of the country's November 28 elections.

Opposition supporters have faced violence or arrest simply for wearing the T-shirts of their favoured candidates, the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) said, producing a "chilling effect" on voters.

Such rights violations could also lead to post-electoral violence in the central African country, it said.

In a newly-published report the body charted 188 human rights violations in the period from November 1 last year to September 30 that appeared to be linked to the upcoming vote.

Incumbent leader Joseph Kabila, who has ruled DR Congo since the assassination of his father in 2001, is standing against 10 rivals for the presidency.

Death threats were made against the hosts of a press conference denouncing government reforms while in another incident four people were arrested and ill-treated for discussing politics in a barbershop. the UNJHRO said.

Most of the violations involved elements of the Congolese National Police or of the National Intelligence Services, the report found.

"The kind of intimidation, threats, incitement, arbitrary arrests and violence that we have documented is unacceptable and has a chilling effect on voters," said human rights chief Navi Pillay.

"The government and leaders of political parties must make it clear that there is to be zero tolerance against any such actions which seriously limit the exercise of the right to vote."

Pillay added: "I am sure the Congolese people share my hope for peaceful, free and fair elections and a smooth exercise of their fundamental right to vote."

The situation in eastern parts of the country is particularly worrying, the report said, with political parties reportedly targeted and their members detained, ill-treated and threatened.

Most of the violations have targeted members or supporters of the opposition parties, in particular the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and the Union for the Congolese People (UNC).

The national vote later this month will mark only the second time since its independence in 1960 that DR Congo will hold democratic elections.

The UNJHRO urged the government to boost cooperation with civil society and issue public messages calling for state agents, including members of the security forces, to promote and respect human rights.

It also called on political parties to issue public statements promoting peaceful participation in the electoral process and on supporters to refrain from violence and to respect national laws and the public order.

The UN Security Council on Tuesday warned political rivals in DR Congo against stirring up unrest and on Wednesday the prosecutors' office at the International Criminal Court expressed concern at the violence.

ICC official Pascal Turlan said Kinshasa had asked the court to send staff to the country "to help put an end to the situation", which it would do if necessary.

© 2011 AFP

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