Congo opposition leader files plea for international protection

Democratic Republic of Congo’s opposition Presidential candidate Moise Katumbi talks to his supporters after leaving the prosecutor’s office in Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi filed a legal complaint with the U.N. Human Rights Committee on Friday, in hope of getting international protection if he returns to face President Joseph Kabila in a future election.

“The reason I’ve come to make this complaint is to alert the international community, because President Kabila is going to organize elections without Moise Katumbi,” he said.

“Despite the risk I have to go back because I’m a candidate and I will remain one. If the (election) timetable begins I have to go back.”

The multi-millionaire businessman has been abroad since he was accused of plotting against the state a year ago.

Any return would heighten political tensions in Democratic Republic of Congo where opposition groups say Kabila is trying to cling to power by cracking down on dissent and delaying the vote. The government denies the accusations.

Kabila, in power since 2001, refused to step down after his mandate expired in December. Under a deal struck with his opponents, an election must take place by the end of 2017 but the process remains stalled due to delays registering voters.

Congo has never experienced a peaceful transition of power. The overthrow of longtime ruler Mobutu Sese Soko in 1997 fueled years of conflict in the mineral-rich east that sucked in more than half a dozen countries and killed millions of people.

Speaking after lodging the 36-page petition at the United Nations in Geneva, Katumbi told reporters that he stood for peace and the rule of law, and he wanted to end impunity in his country and see an international tribunal mete out justice.

“For Kabila, he needs to keep Moise Katumbi out of the country to organize elections. Because he knows very well, if we go into an election, I am sure and certain that I am going to win the election to bring change to my country,” Katumbi said.

His lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti, said it was impossible to say how long the U.N. process would last, but Congo’s government was likely to take as long as possible to answer any questions arising from the legal complaint, which spells out allegations about violations of Katumbi’s rights.

“However, there are some provisional measures. During this process of questions and answers, at some point the committee can ask the state to protect him. From the moment we have that recommendation from the committee, we can already involve the African Union, the United Nations, to get protection,” he said.

“Because we know with certainty that if Moise Katumbi returns to his country without protection he is going to his death.”

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