March 19, 2018 / 12:25 PM / 9 months ago

U.N. condemns Congo's 'unlawful' crackdown on protests

DAKAR (Reuters) - The United Nations on Monday condemned Congolese security forces for killing at least 47 people, including women and children, in “unlawful and unjustified” crackdowns on protests during 2017 and early this year.

Democratic Republic of Congo is facing growing public unrest since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down after his mandate expired at the end of December 2016, and after repeated delays to an election meant to replace him.

Security forces shot dead at least six people and wounded dozens others during an anti-Kabila protest organized by the Catholic church in January this year. A similar incident in December 2017 left at least seven dead.

A report U.N. Human Rights Office said that Congolese authorities used lethal force on protesters and attempted to cover up rights abuses by hiding dead bodies after protests calling for Kabila to arrange long delayed elections.

“It is particularly disturbing that security services and defense forces carry out this violence with almost full impunity,” said Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in the DRC Leila Zerrougui in the report.

Another two people were killed by security forces during church-led demonstrations against the government last month.

Kabila has denied accusations of excessive force, rejecting charges against his security forces during a press conference in January.

The opposition accuses him of pushing back the election date in order to cling to power. The polls, which were initially scheduled for November 2016, are now set to take place in December this year. But the electoral commission has since said they may not be possible until at least April 2019.

Reporting by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Tim Cocks

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