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Security forces attack, detain protesters and local residents; twenty-four killed since election results announced

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Kinshasa, December 22, 2011 - Congolese security forces have killed at least 24 people and arbitrarily detained dozens more since President Joseph Kabila was announced the winner of the disputed presidential elections on December 9, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should immediately halt attacks and arbitrary arrests against opposition supporters and local residents by security forces in an apparent effort to prevent any protest of disputed election results.

Those killed include opposition activists and supporters as well as people gathered on the street or even in their homes, Human Rights Watch found. Human Rights Watch has received dozens of reports of other killings and attacks by security forces, which it is seeking to confirm and is continuing its investigations.

"Since Joseph Kabila was declared the winner of the presidential election, security forces have been firing on small crowds, apparently trying to prevent protests against the result," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "These bloody tactics further undermine the electoral process and leave the impression that the government will do whatever it takes to stay in power."

Kabila, the incumbent, was inaugurated in Kinshasa, Congo's capital, on December 20 following an election that international and national election observers strongly criticized as lacking credibility and transparency. The Kabila-appointed Supreme Court on December 16 rejected the opposition's contention that the vote should be annulled because of fraud allegations.

The incidents of post-election abuse by security forces were documented by seven Human Rights Watch staff working with 17 Congolese human rights activists trained as election observers and deployed across the country. Human Rights Watch interviewed 86 victims, family members, and other witnesses, in addition to gathering information from other sources.

Human Rights Watch received numerous accounts of incidents in which members of the Republican Guard presidential security detail, the police, and other security forces fired on groups of people in the street who may have been protesting the election result, were preparing to protest, or were simply bystanders. In other incidents, suspected opposition supporters were targeted and killed.

At least 24 people were killed by security forces between December 9 and 14, including 20 in Kinshasa, two in North Kivu, and two in Kasai Occidental province. Human Rights Watch also documented an incident in which local youth in Kinshasa threw rocks at a priest who later died from his injuries.

Police and other security forces appear to be covering up the scale of the killings by quickly removing the bodies. Several sources informed Human Rights Watch that the government had instructed hospitals and morgues not to provide information about the number of dead or any details about individuals with bullet wounds to family members, human rights groups, or United Nations personnel, among others. Some family members have found the bodies of their loved ones in morgues far outside of Kinshasa, indicating that bodies are being taken to outlying areas.

The security forces have also forcibly blocked attempts by opposition groups to organize peaceful protests against election irregularities and arrested a number of the organizers on spurious charges of threatening state security, Human Rights Watch found. The Republican Guard, which is not empowered to arrest civilians, has apprehended opposition supporters and detained them in illegal places of detention at Camp Tshatshi, the Guard's Kinshasa base, and at the Palais de Marbre, a presidential palace. Some of the detainees were mistreated.

"The callous shooting of peaceful demonstrators and bystanders by the security forces starkly illustrates the depths the government will reach to suppress dissenting voices," Van Woudenberg said. "The UN and Congo's international partners should urgently demand that the government rein in its security forces."

The Republican Guard is a force of some 12,000 soldiers whose primary task is to guard the president. Under Congolese law, the Republican Guard has no authority to arrest civilians, to detain them or to provide security for the elections. Congo's police are responsible for providing security and ensuring public order during the elections. The national police chief, Gen. Charles Bisengimana, can call on the regular Congolese army, not the Republican Guard, to provide assistance if his force is unable to control public order.

Bisengimana told Human Rights Watch that he had not called on the army for any help with maintaining public order in Kinshasa and did not foresee any need to do so in the near future. He could not explain to Human Rights Watch why Republican Guard soldiers were so widely deployed across Kinshasa, including in places where there were no presidential installations for them to guard. He added that the Republican Guard was not under his authority or control.

"The Republican Guard has no authority to arrest Congolese civilians and hold them at illegal places of detention," Van Woudenberg said. "The government should order the immediate release of all detainees in their custody, and undertake an impartial investigation into responsibility for these unlawful arrests and the mistreatment of detainees."

Click here for a detailed account of the killings and arrests Human Rights Watch has documented

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