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Booker, Flake, Senators Urge DRC President Kabila to Hold Free and Fair Elections on Schedule

Senators urge Kabila to meet benchmarks to ensure transparency and accountability ahead of December 2018 elections

January 25, 2018
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Washington, DCU.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ, Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) sent a letter urging President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo to support a clear and transparent timeline that meets critical benchmarks in order to facilitate nationwide elections in December of 2018.  The Senators also encouraged Kabila to immediately release political prisoners per the December 2016 Saint-Sylvestre Political Agreement, as well as permit peaceful protests and political meetings, and respect the freedom of the press.

As the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy, Booker has been an outspoken voice for addressing the turmoil in the DRC. In October 2017, he led a letter to President Trump urging the President to address the political and humanitarian crises in the region. In July 2017, he led a bipartisan letter urging the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, to work with the UN Secretary-General to pursue an independent special investigation into the suspicious deaths of two UN investigators killed in DRC in March. And in April 2017, he led a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)pushing the agency to keep in place key parts of the bipartisan Conflict Minerals Rule, which addresses the illicit mineral extraction that has helped fund armed groups in DRC.

“Continued delays in holding elections have increased tensions, unrest, and instability in your country. Nearly two million people fled their homes in search of safety in 2017, making it the country with the world’s highest level of new displacement last year,” the Senators wrote.

“We now wish to ensure that the Congolese Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and the Government of the DRC implement the calendar and do not undertake any actions that further delay long overdue elections. To that end, we will monitor whether the government completes actions necessary to support the CENI timeline below, by providing adequate resources, ensuring transparency and accountability for those resources, and passing the necessary election legislation,” the Senators continued.

“Finally, we ask that your government demonstrate its commitment to a credible elections process. Immediate release of political prisoners as agreed to in the December 2016 Accord and permitting peaceful protests and political meetings organized by the opposition and civil society groups to take place would show such a commitment. The cruel and violent attack by state security forces on political protests on December 31 in which civilians were killed is unacceptable and those responsible should be brought to justice. Further, we ask that you halt the crackdown on media and freedom of expression by providing access to media that has been arbitrarily banned,” the Senators concluded.

The full text of the letter is available here and below:

His Excellency Joseph Kabila Kabange

President of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Palais de la Nation

Ave de Lemera

Kinshasa

Democratic Republic of Congo

Dear President Kabila,

Ambassador Haley’s recent trip to the African continent was an important opportunity for the United States government to outline its policy toward the Democratic Republic of Congo and to emphasize concern regarding the Congolese election timeline. We are pleased that, following the Ambassador’s visit, the Congolese Electoral Commission (CENI) announced that elections will take place before the end of December, 2018. However, more work needs to be done to facilitate these elections.  

Continued delays in holding elections have increased tensions, unrest, and instability in your country. Nearly two million people fled their homes in search of safety in 2017, making it the country with the world’s highest level of new displacement last year. In total, with more than 4 million internally displaced persons inside DRC and 620,000 Congolese refugees sheltering in other countries, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs refers to this as “the largest displacement crisis in Africa.”

We note the statements by the African Union, Catholic Church, and United Nations Security Council in recent weeks that clearly state there cannot be any further election postponements. We now wish to ensure that the Congolese Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) and the Government of the DRC implement the calendar and do not undertake any actions that further delay long overdue elections. To that end, we will monitor whether the government completes actions necessary to support the CENI timeline below, by providing adequate resources, ensuring transparency and accountability for those resources, and passing the necessary election legislation. We will look for the completion of these benchmarks:

·      Issuance of district-level voter registration figures before April 7, 2018;

·      Completion of any legislation to enable redistricting by May 8, 2018;

·      Fulfill the constitutionally-required step of “calling the electorate” by June 23, 2018;

·      Publishing of the final list of presidential and parliamentary candidates by September 19, 2018; and

·      Holding presidential, parliamentary, and provincial elections by December 23, 2018.

We believe this timetable will help ensure that elections are held before the end of December 2018, and that they are free and fair. Any efforts to modify the constitution or alter presidential term limits would be counterproductive. Representatives from your government continue to insist that you are committed to carrying out these elections, and that you do not intend to serve beyond the two terms mandated by your constitution. We ask that you make a public statement to that effect.

Finally, we ask that your government demonstrate its commitment to a credible elections process. Immediate release of political prisoners as agreed to in the December 2016 Accord and permitting peaceful protests and political meetings organized by the opposition and civil society groups to take place would show such a commitment. The cruel and violent attack by state security forces on political protests on December 31 in which civilians were killed is unacceptable and those responsible should be brought to justice. Further, we ask that you halt the crackdown on media and freedom of expression by providing access to media that has been arbitrarily banned.

We believe taking necessary actions to ensure the CENI benchmarks are met, in addition to releasing political prisoners, and opening of political spaceis necessary to demonstrate your commitment to democracy and the well-being of Congolese men, women, and children.

                                                        Sincerely,

______________________                                                ______________________

JEFF FLAKE                                                                        CORY BOOKER

United States Senator                                                                United States Senator

______________________                                                ______________________

JOHNNY ISAKSON                                                              CHRISTOPHER A. COONS

United States Senator                                                                    United States Senator

______________________                                                ______________________

TOM UDALL                                                                        JEFF MERKLEY

United States Senator                                                                    United States Senator

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