On behalf of the United States, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, I thank all of you for your briefings. Our presence at this gathering sends a strong message of commitment to inclusive and credible elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo on December 23, 2018. We have come together united in our desire to help the DRC advance their first peaceful, democratic transition of power. Our interest in free, fair, and credible elections begins with ensuring that the Government of the DRC genuinely represents and reflects the will of the Congolese people. But it is also about addressing a worsening political, human rights, humanitarian, and economic situation in the Congo.
Time and again the Security Council has expressed its concern about the deteriorating conditions in the DRC. When I visited the Congo in October, I met with President Kabila, the elections commission, members of the opposition, the Catholic Bishops, and civilians affected by the conflict. What they want from the international community, almost without exception, is help in moving forward with the elections. These elections, of course, were supposed to happen last year. We cannot permit another delay.
Those responsible for delaying elections cannot point to the lack of a roadmap for elections in the Congo – nor can they claim a lack of clarity on the roadmap’s objectives. The December 31 political agreement, the DRC constitution, and the electoral calendar set out a clear process. They affirmed, and then re-affirmed, that the DRC must hold elections this December 23, and that President Kabila cannot seek a third term.
In a recent press conference, President Kabila himself referred a reporter to the Congolese constitution when asked if he would run again. The constitution is clear that that is not possible.
Last week, an aide to Kabila acknowledged that Kabila will not participate in the December elections, nor will he seek to appoint a hand-picked successor. This is a welcome development – a significant step toward a peaceful transition of power in the Congo. With this critical commitment behind us, all interested parties can move forward to ensure that the December elections are inclusive, orderly, free, fair, and credible.
To this end, the completion of voter registration on January 31 was a significant step in the right direction. It demonstrated the Congolese people’s appetite for a vote. But there is still much to be done. Voter rolls must be scrubbed of deceased and fraudulent voters. Congolese living abroad must be registered to vote. And a register of candidates must be created. I ask that we all commit to working with the Government of the DRC and all stakeholders to implement these steps.
The technical aspects of the electoral process, however, are only one piece of the equation. Of even greater importance to stability in the DRC are the political benchmarks laid out in the December 31 Agreement. The government must now work to release political prisoners, end politically motivated prosecutions, and guarantee the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. These changes are desperately needed – right now – in the Congo. Like many others, I was appalled by the government’s repressive actions and excessive use of force during peaceful protests last December 31 and January 21.
At least 13 people have died over the past two months, effectively because the government has refused to hold elections. This is completely unacceptable. The use of excessive force against civilians who simply want a say in determining their future is against everything the United Nations is supposed to stand for – that is “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction.”
We are very pleased to have the President of DRC’s independent election commission here today. I hope that he has addressed the concerns about the election planning and that we all move forward constructively.
We are deeply concerned by the election commission’s insistence on using an electronic voting system that has never been used in the DRC. Our understanding is that the commission has never even tested this electronic voting system in the DRC but plans to deploy this technology for the first time on election day. It should go without saying that employing an unfamiliar technology for the first time during a crucial election is an enormous risk. It has the potential to seriously undermine the credibility of elections that so many have worked hard to see happen. These elections must be held by paper ballots so there is no question by the Congolese people about the results. The U.S. has no appetite to support an electronic voting system.
I should note, as well, that we have continued concerns about attempts to politicize the election commission. We believe there is an urgent need for the National Assembly to allow the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party to replace its representative on the commission.
The Security Council, as well, has its work cut out for it. As a Council we must use our tool, MONUSCO, to support elections. We must work to make MONUSCO responsive to the needs of the Congolese people and alter the mission when necessary to address the changing political landscape. But the UN and MONUSCO cannot go at it alone. Engagement by regional leaders is essential. We must all be serious about holding the DRC government accountable to its commitment to abide by the December 31 Agreement, the constitution, and the electoral calendar.
We cannot be afraid to apply pressure – on the government, on the elections commission, and on the opposition – to ensure that the Congolese people achieve the peaceful and democratic transition of power that they deserve.
As we continue this discussion today, I ask all my colleagues to consider what more can be done to ensure that all the parties abide by their commitments. What we do here today and in the months to come will help the Congo realize its aspirations for a democratic future. This is its right. Helping to secure that right is our duty to the Congolese people.