- DRC President Felix Tshisekedi enacted a state of siege in North Kivu and Ituri to combat armed groups and protect civilians last year.
- Sweeping powers given to the military have led to at least a thousand civilian deaths in the two provinces within a year.
- Amnesty International says the state used the siege to silence those demanding accountability for its actions in the conflict-stricken provinces.
A year since the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government enacted a state of siege in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, the number of civilians killed by armed groups has doubled, Amnesty International (AI) says in a new report.
According to AI, the state of siege - similar to a state of emergency - has been used as a tool to crush dissent, with two human rights activists killed by security forces and dozens of activists arbitrarily detained on trumped-up charges.
Al's director for east and southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, commenting on the findings in the report titled "DRC: Justice and Freedoms under siege in North Kivu", said the state of siege was characterised by lawlessness from state actors.
"In total disregard of the law, defence and security forces have been given broad powers that are not justified by the stated purpose of the state of siege, which they have used to silence anyone who demands accountability for the state's actions in the conflict-stricken provinces," he added.
There are fears if the state of siege, which began on 3 May last year, is not lifted it could become the new normal and stifle freedoms.
"[DRC] President Felix Tshisekedi must lift all human rights restrictions and ensure that the state of siege does not become a permanent regime by outlining a clear schedule for ending the restrictions," said Muchena.
Initially, Tshisekedi introduced the measure to combat armed groups and protect civilians but the number of civilian casualties from armed conflict in the region has more than doubled.
According to the report, citing UN figures, more than a thousand civilians have been killed and no one had been charged.
The report read:
Parliamentarians and pro-democracy activists, who have openly spoken against the state of siege, are being labelled enemies of the state.
AI gave an account of Mumbere Ushindi, 22, who was killed by police after he staged a peaceful demonstration.
The report said "he was shot by police during a protest against the state of siege's failure to stop the killing of civilians. He died of gunshot wounds on 24 January 2022".
La Fontaine Katsaruhande, 22, an activist working with Fight for Change (LUCHA), had his right leg amputated after being shot by a policeman on 21 September 2021 at a peaceful protest also denouncing the continuation of civilian deaths despite the state of siege, the report said.
The plight of civilians is made worse because military courts are mandated to prosecute criminal cases and this undermines the right to a fair trial.
In November 2021, 12 LUCHA activists arrested in Beni were each sentenced to a year in prison by the military courts for voicing their concerns about the state of siege's failure to protect civil liberties.
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