U.S. tries to stem government evils in Congo
Africa | Unilateral sanctions target official who terrorized civilians
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 6/24/16, 12:11 pm
The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday said it had sanctioned a police commissioner from the Democratic Republic of Congo for his role in violently repressing human rights and political freedom in the country. But experts worry the United States’ unilateral move comes with its own risks.
The Treasury Department said police officials, under Gen. Célestin Kanyama’s leadership, engaged in violence against civilian protesters. The department froze Kanyama’s assets in the U.S. and prohibited him from conducting transactions with U.S. citizens. Kanyama currently serves as the provincial commissioner of Kinshasa, the country’s capital.
U.S. officials have been pushing for sanctions against members of President Joseph Kabila’s inner circle, but faced pushback from European powers that are wary of acting too abruptly.
“Treasury’s action sends a clear message that the United States condemns the regime’s violence and repressive actions, especially those of Céléstin Kanyama, which threaten the future of democracy for the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said John E. Smith, acting director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Kanyama served as the primary commander of the police’s Operation Likofi between late 2013 and early 2014. The operation aimed at eradicating criminal delinquency in Kinshasa, but instead created an avenue for unlawful violence by police officials. The Treasury Department said uniformed police wearing black masks dragged suspects out of their homes at gunpoint without any arrest warrants. At least 50 young men and boys were killed, and more than 30 “forcibly disappeared” during the operation. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office also reported an increase in violations of political rights and public freedoms by Congolese government agents at the start of 2015.
“The history of Kabila’s regime has been a grim one,” said David Seddon, an expert on sub-Saharan African politics. “There’s no doubt at all that human-right violations have been carried out by the regime as well as other rebel groups.”
President Kabila has exceeded the term limit to rerun for presidency in the upcoming November elections after serving two terms. Opponents have accused Kabila of repressing his opposition and attempting to change the constitution in his favor. Court officials on Wednesday sentenced opposition presidential candidate Moise Katumbi to three years in prison in absentia. The sentence and a $1 million fine relate to charges accusing Katumbi of falsely acquiring a building. But his supporters call the move a political tactic aimed at hindering Katumbi from running in the upcoming elections.
Congolese officials rebuked the sanction, saying it would impede the country’s democracy. Ambassador Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi said in a statement the sanction infringes on Congo’s sovereignty and could harm bilateral relations between the two countries. The Treasury Department said the action is not directed at the population, but at individuals who engage in violence against civilians.
Seddon described the move as an unusual step, saying the normal procedure for considering a sanction would involve going through the United Nations and the European Union.
Stephanie Wolters, with the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa, told Reuters the sanction poses a risk.
“The more isolated the government becomes, the harder it will be to manage potential fallouts of the growing crisis,” Wolters said. “European countries are worried about just that.”
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.