Demand free, fair and inclusive elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee, and Co-Chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, today issued the following statement on recent developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and grave concerns about the pending national elections there:
“I strongly urge the Biden Administration and advocates of democracy around the world to support efforts by the Catholic and other churches in the DRC to make certain that the elections scheduled to be held there at the end of this year are free, fair and inclusive.
“The US Administration must emphatically convey to DRC President Felix Tshisekedi that he and his government need to take every appropriate step to ensure that these elections are held on time, promote widespread participation, employ impartial processes—and are safe.
“The government of Congo can and should protect the rights of all Congolese citizens. As in the US, elected officials have a responsibility to do everything they can to guarantee that religious leaders and political groups with opposing views are protected from violent attacks.
“I remain extremely concerned by the Congolese ruling party threats to its political opponents and efforts to intimidate and curb the Catholic Church’s ability to participate in preparation for, and supervision of, the 2023 presidential elections. The Catholic Church is one of the few entities in Congo with the credibility, respect and influence to hold the government accountable for electoral fraud.
“Previous reports of church desecrations and calibrated attacks against religious leaders are alarming. I have criticized the violence that followed the July 10, 2021 statement by Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, Archbishop of Kinshasa, publicly denouncing a proposed electoral law that would disenfranchise any Congolese citizen whose mother and father were not born in the DRC. That legislation is still pending in the Congolese parliament, though it contravenes the Congolese Constitution and the will of an overwhelming majority of Congolese people.
“Similarly we continue to see rampant corruption throughout the DRC. Last year I chaired a Lantos Commission hearing on Child Labor and Human Rights Violations in the Mining Industry of the DRC. Unfortunately, witnesses underscored the complicity of corrupt officials in the exploitation of Congo’s resources by outside actors—above all, the People’s Republic of China and Chinese firms like China Molybdenum.
“Corrupt officials overlook illegal Chinese smelters that straddle the National Road near Likasi and Kolwezi. Processed ore is then often smuggled untaxed through Zambia, which further deprives the State and the Congolese people of revenue that they would otherwise be able to benefit from.
“As the Chinese Communist Party spreads its malign influence, the United States appears to be strangely mute. The DRC is far too critical—and its people far too precious—for the Biden Administration’s silence to continue.”