Acting Assistant Secretary Peterson reiterates U.S. support for human rights, democracy and anti-corruption efforts in DRC during Kinshasa visit
Ambassador Lisa Peterson, U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), visited the DRC June 14-18 to strengthen our partnership with the DRC to advance respect for human rights and democracy, fight corruption and end impunity under the framework of our bilateral Privileged Partnership for Peace and Prosperity #PP4PP. Ambassador Peterson led a delegation to participate in the first Human Rights Dialogue between the United States and the Democratic Republic of Congo. During the Dialogue, Ambassador Peterson, joined by Ambassador Hammer and other American officials, met with Prime Minister Sama Lukonde, as well as the Vice Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Human Rights, and the Vice Minister of Defense. The delegation also held discussions with the National Assembly leadership including President Mboso, Vice President Kabund, and new Human Rights Committee Chair Iyananio Moligi where we discussed important legislative initiatives like a new Anti-human Trafficking Law, the recently passed CENI law, as well as the law affording the autochthonous people’s protections. Plus, Ambassador Peterson met with National Police leadership, representatives from DRC’s Council of Bishops (CENCO) and Church of Christ in Congo (ECC), Congolese civil society leaders, one of the leaders of the opposition Martin Fayulu, and senior officers from the UN Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO).
Throughout the visit, Ambassador Peterson stressed the importance of civilian protections and accountability for human rights violations. “I served previously in Kinshasa in the 1990s and during this visit I was impressed with the palpable change that is taking place with a clear opening of political space and a serious commitment by the government to improving human rights. These positive developments under President Tshisekedi’s leadership are important but, as we discussed during the Dialogue, more progress is necessary. That is why during our talks we pledged to increase our cooperation to address continuing concerns about press freedom, and child labor, as well as to improve gender equality.”
Together with DRC government interlocutors, Ambassador Peterson underscored that the state of siege in eastern DRC highlights the critical need to strengthen protections for Congolese citizens, who have suffered from brutal violence for far too long at the hands of armed groups, terrorists and criminal gangs. Ambassador Peterson also highlighted the importance of protecting and preserving fundamental freedoms and civic space for all Congolese, and of ensuring that human rights defenders, journalists, and civil society members can express themselves freely without fearing reprisals or abuse from state security forces. Ambassador Peterson agreed with her Congolese counterparts that ending impunity must be a priority, whether in the case of the murders of UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan or all those crimes committed against Congolese citizens in Eastern DRC over the past twenty years, including by using the UN’s Mapping Report to seek justice. The United States is also actively supporting legislative reforms to protect freedom of expression in DRC, including an access to public information law and decriminalizing press offenses in the 1996 Press Freedom Law, as well as protecting freedom of expression and the right to protest free from arbitrary arrest.
During a working session on combatting human trafficking, Ambassador Peterson worked with focal points from various government ministries to identify best practices for protecting trafficking victims, urging DRC improve coordination among government entities and to adopt a clear government process for referring trafficking victims to care. She also urged defense ministry officials to continue working to prevent any recruitment of children by armed groups and during a roundtable alongside DRC government counterparts and civil society leaders, the United States committed to support Congolese efforts to ensure a free, fair, transparent, credible, and on-time election in 2023.
At the U.S-DRC Human Rights Dialogue, Ambassador Peterson announced new U.S. technical and financial assistance and the expansion of existing American programs designed to assist DRC in its human rights goals.
- A $1 million International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) program to strengthen the PNC’s ability to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable.
- A senior U.S. military justice advisor, who will work side by side with the FARDC to further strengthen its system of combat legal advisors.
- USAID’s continued support to counter gender-based violence in eastern DRC to improve access to quality care for survivors of GBV.
- USAID’s Countering Trafficking in Persons activity will continue through 2023. USAID will also conduct an assessment this summer to improve government knowledge of trafficking prevalence, coordination between government and civil society, and data collection practices to combat human trafficking.
- INL will continue to support to mining police in North and South Kivu, including training and equipping 250 additional police in the detection, prevention, and protection of children in mining areas.
- INL will expand the training and equipping of new community policing units in Mbuji Mayi and Lubumbashi.
- To support a credible, free and fair 2023 election, USAID’s DRC Elections Integrity activity continues to work with CENI and civil society groups to prepare for elections and encourage citizen participation. USAID’s Media Sector Development Activity will also increase communication to the public and dialogue around elections reform and the upcoming 2023 election.
The U.S. and DRC agreed to have a second formal human rights dialogue in one year.