US ready to impose sanctions on people delaying Congo vote

The United States said Tuesday it is ready to impose sanctions on anyone in Congo who stands in the way of presidential elections to be held by the end of the year, which would lead to the country's first democratic transition of power.

Congo law bars President Joseph Kabila seeking another term but allows him to remain in power until another election can be held. The vote was once scheduled for November 2016, but it was delayed until no later than Dec. 31 this year under an agreement reached last New Year's Eve.

The head of Congo's electoral commission announced Friday that it would not be possible to organize a presidential ballot by Dec. 31, drawing sharp criticism Tuesday from members of the U.N. Security Council who insisted the election take place on time.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Michele Sison went a step further, demanding that Congo's electoral commission immediately specify a date for the presidential election. She declared that "election delays cannot continue" and vowed U.S. action if voting doesn't take place on time.

The United States has already imposed sanctions on those who "delay and obstruct" implementation of the New Year's Eve agreement, Sison said, and the Trump administration is "ready to take additional action to sanction those who stand in the way" of the presidential election.

"The international community must step up and apply more pressure," not only on Kabila but on the National Independent Electoral Commission, to ensure that voting occurs by Dec. 31, she said.

Sison said the Security Council should also consider targeted sanctions on those people responsible for undermining peace and security in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC, the country's official name.

"Thus far, stakeholders have felt few consequences for perpetuating instability," she said.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix said implementation of the election agreement remains slow and inadequate, and he warned that "unless political actors demonstrate good faith and political will, the DRC is set to enter another potentially precarious period."

Lacroix said that during closed Security Council consultations following an open meeting, all 15 council members agreed that "implementation in full and in good faith of the Dec. 31 agreement is absolutely vital for the future of the DRC."

He expressed serious concern over recent attacks and instability in eastern Congo as well as violence in the Kasai provinces in the west that "has reached very disturbing levels with killings, daily reports of human rights violations and abuses and discovery of mass graves."

Lacroix said the U.N. peacekeeping mission has established a small and mobile presence in various locations in the Kasais to help protect civilians and in those spots "we've been able to bring back a measure of stability."

But, he added, "the current political impasse, the rising insecurity and the worsening human rights and humanitarian situation in the DRC require a concerted response from regional and international partners" aimed at bringing a successful transition and the holding of free elections.

Congo's U.N. ambassador, Ignace Gata Mavita, responded to concerns about the election by saying that while 33 million of the 45 million expected voters have been registered in 24 provinces, registration has not yet begun in two provinces — Kasai and Kasai Central — as a result of the violence.

The government "cannot envision the conduct of such a critical election of the president while excluding Kasai Central and Kasai Province which represent more than 10 percent of the electors," he said. Registration in those two provinces is scheduled to begin July 20, he said.