The United States on June 1, 2017, imposed targeted sanctions against the personal military chief of staff of President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said today. The US also imposed sanctions on a resort the adviser owns outside the capital, Kinshasa.
The US action follows new targeted sanctions announced by the European Union on May 29 against eight senior officials and a militia leader who have long been implicated in serious abuses in Congo. The sanctions include travel bans, assets freezes, and a ban on making funds or economic resources available to, or engaging in transactions with, the listed individuals and entity.
“The new US and EU targeted sanctions against top Congolese officials and business interests send a powerful message that there’s a high cost for the government’s violent repression of activists, journalists, and the political opposition,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The sanctions signal that the most serious rights abusers and those delaying elections will have to pay a price, no matter their rank or position.”
President Kabila was due to step down at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, 2016, but he has held on to power as the vote to elect his successor has been delayed repeatedly.
The new US sanctions show that the business interests of powerful individuals involved in abuses can also be targeted, Human Rights Watch said. In 2016, the US sanctioned seven senior government and security force officials. The EU’s new sanctions reach higher up in the Kabila government than did its earlier sanctions. They target the head of the intelligence agency, two government ministers, a former minister, and two governors, in addition to two security force officers and a militia leader. In December 2016, the EU had sanctioned seven senior security force officers.
The US sanctioned Gen. François Olenga for his role as the head of the “military house” of the president, “which oversees the Republican Guard, an entity that has, or whose members have, engaged in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions” in Congo. The Safari Beach resort on the outskirts of Kinshasa was also listed “for being owned or controlled by Olenga.”
In a statement from the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announcing the new sanctions, OFAC Director John E. Smith said, “This action against Olenga sends a strong message that continued acts of violence, aggression, and suppression by the Congolese military against its own citizens are unacceptable. The United States is prepared to apply additional sanctions against those who undermine the DRC’s democratic or electoral processes.”
The EU sanctioned eight officials for “planning, directing, or committing” serious human rights violations: Kalev Mutondo, the intelligence chief; Évariste Boshab, the former vice prime minister and interior and security minister; Ramazani Shadari, the current vice prime minister and interior and security minister; Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga, a militia leader; Muhindo Akili Mundos, an army commander; Eric Ruhorimbere, another army commander; Jean-Claude Kazembe Musonda, governor of Haut Katanga province; and Alex Kande Mupompa, governor of Kasai Central province. The ninth, the communications and media minister and government spokesperson, Lambert Mende, was listed as being “responsible for the repressive media policy” in Congo, “which breaches the right to freedom of expression and information and undermines a consensual and peaceful solution towards the holding of elections.”
In its declaration announcing the new sanctions, the EU expressed concern about the “deterioration of the situation” in Congo, including the continued restrictions on “democratic space and fundamental rights,” as well as the crisis in the Kasai region, which “has reached an exceptional level in security and humanitarian terms and as regards human rights.”
The EU urged Congolese authorities “to act in compliance with human rights and fundamental freedoms and to initiate, without delay, credible and transparent investigations, flanked by high-level international expertise.” On the political front, the EU called for an electoral timetable, “genuinely inclusive transitional institutions,” swift implementation of “measures to ease tension,” and “space for unimpeded expression and debate.”
The EU noted that it will follow political and human rights developments closely over the next few months and stands ready to “consider additional restrictive measures or, conversely, withdraw some of them.”
In June 2016, the United States imposed targeted sanctions against Kinshasa’s police commissioner, Gen. Célestin Kanyama, and in September against Gen. Gabriel Amisi Kumba, commander for the western region of the Congolese army, and former police inspector John Numbi. In December, the US expanded the sanctions to then-Interior Minister Boshab and Mutondo, the intelligence chief.
In December 2016, the EU imposed targeted sanctions against General Amisi; Gen. Delphin Kahimbi, director of military intelligence; Gen. Ilunga Kampete, commander of the Republican Guard presidential security detail; General Kanyama; Roger Kibelisa, interior director of the National Intelligence Agency; Col. Ferdinand Ilunga Luyolo, commander of the anti-riot body known as the National Intervention Legion of the Congolese National Police (LENI); and former police inspector Numbi.
The United Nations Security Council has imposed targeted sanctions against numerous individuals and armed groups responsible for serious human rights abuses, mostly in eastern Congo, but it has not sanctioned senior officials involved in government repression.
Targeted sanctions against alleged rights abusers appear to have wide support in Congo, Human Rights Watch said. In a joint statement on April 27, 165 Congolese human rights organizations called for increased pressure and new targeted sanctions against top Congolese officials. A new nationally representative poll by the New York University-based Congo Research Group and a Congolese polling agency, the Bureau d’Études, de Recherches et de Consulting International (BERCI), found that 72 percent of all survey respondents approved of the targeted sanctions imposed by the US and EU against senior government and security forces officials last year.
The US and EU announcements come at a time when the prospect of democratic elections by year’s end in Congo, as agreed to in a New Year’s Eve agreement, seems to be fading. Congo’s ruling coalition has defied key tenets of the agreement, which lays the groundwork for elections, as political repression and large-scale human rights abuses continue unabated, Human Rights Watch said.
“Stronger international action and high-level engagement are needed to help prevent the situation in Congo from spiraling out of control,” Sawyer said. “The UN Security Council should also impose new individual sanctions targeting those responsible for abuses, while the African Union and regional leaders should press Kabila’s government to end abuses and urgently organize credible elections.”