Carbone Beni did not sleep the night of December 17, 2016. The pro-democracy activist had spent the previous four days naked in a dark Kinshasa jail cell before being beaten by six soldiers. Beni was arrested while campaigning for the then-president, Joseph Kabila, to leave office at the end of his second term. The day after his beating, he was put in front of Gen. Ilunga Kampete, then commander of the elite Republican Guard. “If you want to go free, tell the media that you are now ready to work with the president,” Kampete told him.
Since that month, Kampete has been under European Union human rights sanctions. The EU will soon decide whether to renew targeted financial and travel sanctions against him and 10 other senior officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo responsible for violent repression and other serious human rights abuses. These sanctions should be renewed.
EU sanctions were first imposed in December 2016 against individuals who played a key role in the political repression. The United States and the United Nations Security Council also imposed sanctions on senior officials. More names were added to these sanctions lists in 2017.
Neither Kampete nor any of the sanctioned individuals have since been investigated or prosecuted by the government for alleged rights violations, leaving victims and their families in doubt that justice will ever be served.
Kabila’s successor, Felix Tshisekedi, took office in January 2019 with the promise of an approach mindful of human rights. While he showed positive steps in that direction initially, repression of critics, journalists, and peaceful demonstrators has been constant throughout 2020. Some of the individuals whom the EU sanctioned, like Kampete, may continue to play an influential role, even if they no longer hold official positions. Their impunity demonstrates that despite a change at the top, the leaders who got away with serious abuses can expect to continue to do so. Others have now been promoted to more senior positions.
The EU should remind Tshisekedi that, despite the passage of time, the world will not forget crimes committed by senior officials. “Sanctions should be renewed until these individuals are finally held accountable for what they have done,” said Beni, who still continues his pro-democracy work. The EU should stand with Congo’s victims of abuse and demand justice.