In-Depth: Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) introduced this bill to promote free and fair elections in the DRC by imposing sanctions on high-level individuals who are undermining democratic processes and institutions in the country, as well as those who are responsible for extrajudicial killings or who have engaged in public corruption:
“With respect to the ongoing political situation in the DRC, President Joseph Kabila has deliberately stalled planned elections despite completing his constitutionally mandated
two terms. The Congolese government and security forces have curtailed anti-government mobilization through excessive use of force on peaceful protestors, shut downs of media outlets, and targeted arrests of activists. At the same time, the majority of Congolese people believe that President Kabila should have stepped down from office when his term expired in December 2016; to date, elections have been delayed. As a consequence of political insecurity and violence, more than 1.4 million people have been internally displaced, while greater than 30,000 Congolese have fled the country. Approximately 7.7 million people in the DRC are acutely food insecure according to the United Nations. The United States Congress has provided significant development aid, security assistance, and emergency humanitarian assistance to the DRC. This bill will continue to provide robust assistance and collaborate with international relief organizations to respond to existing and emerging needs. The U.S. has been committed to stability in the DRC[,] including promoting free and fair elections[,] and [this bill] is a step in that direction.”
Cosponsor Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) adds that this bill responds to Congolese citizens’ long-standing calls for the international community to hold the ruling party accountable for its actions:
“Congolese citizens have long called for the international community to play a role in holding the ruling party accountable to their country’s constitution. This bill responds to that request. Escalating domestic instability and increased tension and unrest caused by continued delays in elections have lead to an increased number of refugees and internally displaced persons. These developments have the potential to impact the entire region. It is our hope that this bill encourages political stability such that the Democratic Republic of Congo can take adequate steps to mitigate conflict, implement peacemaking initiatives, and respond to humanitarian needs.”
Jewish World Watch (JWW) supports this bill. The organization’s executive director, Susan Freudenheim, and advocacy and grantmaking director, Ann Strimov Durbin, write:
“Tear gas fired into maternity wards. Pro-democracy protesters arrested, tortured, wounded, some even killed. Children attacked with machetes. Villages reduced to ash. These scenes were witnessed in recent days by the Jewish World Watch (JWW) field representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In his war-torn country, he is the eyes and ears of JWW, which was founded in 2004 to fight genocide and mass atrocities. The political situation in the DRC is so perilous that he asked that we not use his name… A recent and rare bipartisan effort by the U.S. Congress aims to ensure the Congolese people can exercise their democratic rights, through the ‘Democratic Republic of the Congo Democracy and Accountability Act’ (H.R. 6207)... The bill expresses U.S. security concerns over the political violence, conflicts, corruption and humanitarian crises ravaging Congo and destabilizing the region. It also codifies sanctions against senior Congolese political figures — precisely the weighty pressure that Congolese civil society has been pushing for. U.S. lawmakers have reason for concern. Kabila has repeatedly broken promises to allow free and fair elections to replace him, so his declaration of new elections to take place this December has brought more instability than joy… Yet the Congolese continue to hope for peace, and we can ask our leaders in Congress to lend their support.”
The Enough Project’s Deputy Director of Policy, Sasha Lezhnev, adds that this bill is needed to ensure credible elections in the DRC:
“Congress is sending a strong message to Congo’s Kabila that unless there is a successful democratic transfer of power through a credible election process, it will require new sanctions and other financial consequences for his inner circle and the companies they control. This bill is a powerful new tool to make that happen and strongly support democracy and human rights in Congo.”
The Trump administration has indicated its willingness to impose sanctions against Kabila’s regime in order to dissuade him from trying to hold on to power. A senior administration official said, “[We] stand ready to apply sanctions to individuals or entities, regardless of who they are, who undermine the democratic process, or threaten the peace and security of the country.”
This bill passed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs by a unanimous vote with the support of 21 cosponsors, including 16 Democrats and five Republicans, as well as the support of Jewish World Watch, Foreign Policy for America, and Enough Project.
Of Note: Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that Congolese security forces and armed groups have killed thousands of civilians from 2016 to 2018. Most of the recent violence is linked to the DRC’s political crisis caused by President Joseph Kabila’s efforts to delay elections and use of violence, repression, and corruption to hold on to power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, 2016. HRW says:
“Kabila has presided over a system of entrenched impunity in which those most responsible for abuses are routinely rewarded with positions, wealth, and power. Congolese security forces have carried out or orchestrated much of the violence, in some cases by creating or backing local armed groups. Well-placed security and intelligence sources have told us that efforts to sow violence and instability are an apparently deliberate ‘strategy of chaos’ to justify further election delays.”
In June 2018, the U.S. imposed sanctions and visa bans on top DRC officials for corruption linked to election delays and human rights abuses. Before that, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on one of President Kabila’s most senior military officials in June 2017, and on Dan Gertler, an Israeli businessman and close friend of President Kabila, in December 2017.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / MarkRubens)