Washington, D.C. — Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, and Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), Ranking Member on the Subcommittee, introduced a bill on Monday, HR 6207, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Democracy and Accountability Act of 2018, to promote free and fair elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“The DRC is a strategically-located, resource-rich country which, unfortunately, has been horribly misgoverned for most of its history. This legislation supports the humanitarian and accountability efforts of civil society groups pushing back against civil strife and political repression,” said Rep Smith. “In particular it acknowledges the role of the faith community and the Catholic Church, which educates and heals the Congolese people through its schools and hospitals while upholding the need for rule of law and respect for constitutional principles in the DRC.”

“Congolese citizens have long called for the international community to play a role in holding the ruling party accountable to their country’s constitution. This bill responds to that request,” said Rep. Bass. “Escalating domestic instability and increased tension and unrest caused by continued delays in elections have lead to an increased number of refugees and internally displaced persons. These developments have the potential to impact the entire region. It is our hope that this bill encourages political stability such that the Democratic Republic of Congo can take adequate steps to mitigate conflict, implement peacemaking initiatives, and respond to humanitarian needs.”    

The Democratic Republic of the Congo Democracy and Accountability Act of 2018 calls on the DRC government to release all political prisoners, lift restrictions on freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and association, honor the right to peacefully protest, and establish accountability for abuses committed by security forces.

To establish a pathway to a peaceful democratic transition of power, the Catholic Church negotiated the 2016 Saint Sylvestre Agreement, which President Joseph Kabila subsequently reneged on. Kabila currently wields executive power in the country though his term of office has lapsed and he is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. 

The bill also codifies Executive Order sanctions authority and requires the Administration to utilize other existing authorities, including those provided by the Global Magnitsky Act.

Reps Smith and Bass were also joined by the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) in support of the bill. 

“Kabila’s security forces are responsible for massive human rights abuses and instability in the DRC,” said Rep. Royce. “Scores of people have been killed during crackdowns on peaceful protests. This bill will help push Kabila to follow through with his commitment to hold free, fair and transparent elections in December.”

“For years, President Joseph Kabila has put his interests ahead of the needs of his people, clinging to power in violation of the constitution,” said Rep. Engel. “He has closed political and civic space, and Congolese security forces have been accused of perpetrating human rights violations against largely peaceful protesters. This bill supports the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in their ambitions for a peaceful democratic transition, and seeks to hold those impeding the process accountable.”

The legislation is slated to be marked up at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday.