January 23, 2018 / 12:50 PM / 3 months ago

U.N. says Congo forces targeted its officials during deadly protests

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. monitors were among the targets of violence by Congolese security agents who used deadly force to disperse protests organized by the Catholic Church on Sunday, a U.N. human rights spokeswoman said.

Congolese security forces shot dead at least six people and wounded dozens more as they fired tear gas to disperse a protest in Kinshasa against President Joseph Kabila.

U.N. rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a U.N. briefing in Geneva on Tuesday that 68 people were wounded and 121 arrested, and the United Nations had information about “a number of other killings” in protests elsewhere in the country.

One of those injured was a U.N. human rights monitor who was punched and kicked by security forces, despite wearing a blue U.N. vest with a human rights logo and working under the long-established U.N. mandate to observe demonstrations, she said.

“He was in the right place at the right time. He was there to monitor the protests and the conduct of the security forces in the context of the protests,” she said.

After he was beaten up, the U.N. team came back to monitor the protest but military police fired tear gas to stop them doing their work.

“They were targeted,” Shamdasani said. “This is the U.N. we are talking about. If security forces are going to be so brazen as to even attack the U.N., then we are very concerned about they way they are going to be treating other protesters.”

The U.N. mission in Congo was taking up the incident with the authorities, and wanted an investigation into the killings, she said.

“It is not our hope that they will investigate, it’s their obligation to investigate. It is the obligation of the government to ensure that security forces are handling protests in line with the law.”

A Congo government spokesman was not immediately reachable to comment.

Kabila’s refusal to step down at the end of his mandate in December 2016 has triggered a series of street protests, and emboldened armed rebel groups, who are starting to coalesce in opposition, a U.N. official said last week.

Shamdasani said Internet and SMS services had been suspended since Saturday night, and tear gas was fired into and around churches in Kinshasa, Goma, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and Bukavu, while there were heavy deployments of security forces around places of worship in Mbandaka, Beni, Mbuji-Mayi and Butembo.

“The Catholic church is rallying people, mobilizing people to stand up for their rights. This is why you’ve seen that there are attacks against churches, tear gas being fired into churches, and people prevented from going in and in some cases prevented from coming out of churches after services.”

Reporting by Tom Miles, additional reporting by Joe Bavier, Editing by William Maclean

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