A group of Congolese Tutsis were guarded by armed police as they registered to vote in the eastern town of Nyangezi in February, with one of the groups describing a campaign of threats and violence aimed at excluding them from the upcoming election.
One newly registered voter at the enrolment centre had a bruised face and cradled her wrist after she was allegedly beaten with sticks and rocks by youths on her way to sign up.
“They were saying, ‘go home’,” said Philippe Ruhara, a local representative of the Tutsi ethnic group in South Kivu province known as the Banyamulenge.
“Look at how her arm is broken, her face injured,” he said on February 25, gesturing towards the woman who asked not to be named or quoted.
He said members of his community had received anonymous leaflets warning them not to vote — part of a hostile campaign that has also seen groups of young men gather at registration centres to deter would-be Tutsi voters.
Elsewhere, in the courtyard of a school in the provincial capital Bukavu, a group of young men shouted and jeered as they scuffled with a Tutsi man who had come to register to vote on February 24, according to a Reuters witness.
The state representative in Nyangezi, Papy Migabo, said on Sunday local authorities and the police had intervened after such incidents were reported in February. Since then “enrolment is going well and we hope that it will continue like this,” he told Reuters.
The Tutsi minority has long faced discrimination in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to their ethnic link to Rwanda’s Tutsi community.
M23 rebel group
Congo accuses Rwanda of seeking to destabilise its eastern territories — most recently by supporting an offensive by the M23 rebel group that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Rwanda denies supporting the armed group.
The offensive has fuelled internal tensions as Congo gears up for presidential and parliamentary elections in December. The United Nations has expressed concern about the spread of hate speech in the run-up to the vote, particularly towards the Banyamulenge.
On February 27, President Felix Tshisekedi addressed the issue in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council.
“The Congolese government stands firm against any individual or group of individuals who would engage in such a speech and reiterates its request to every person, organisation or external partner to denounce it.”
There is no data on how many Banyamulenge have been prevented or deterred from registering to vote since enrolment kicked off in South Kivu on February 16.
Cases of intimidation
Enock Sebineza, a prominent community elder and former deputy minister, told Reuters he was aware of numerous cases of intimidation in South Kivu and elsewhere, including in the eastern city of Goma and the capital Kinshasa.
“Today, unfortunately, hate speech based on how you look is excluding us from the country and we are excluded from the electoral process,” he said.
Everyone with the appropriate voter card has the right to register to vote, said Godens Maheshe, head of the election commission in South Kivu province.
“Citizens must respect the law,” he told Reuters.