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Cablegate: Freedom of Assembly: Theory Vs. Practice

VZCZCXRO7294
PP RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHKI #0440 1400601
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 190601Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY KINSHASA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8010
INFO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE
RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

UNCLAS KINSHASA 000440

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958; NA
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM CG
SUBJECT: FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY: THEORY VS. PRACTICE


1. (SBU) Summary: Articles 25 and 26 of the 2006 DRC Constitution
guarantee freedom of assembly for peaceful meetings and protests.
Congolese authorities often take advantage of differences between
the Constitution and existing law to prevent or suppress public
protests. The Embassy is working with the Konrad Adenauer
Foundation, a German NGO, to encourage Parliament to develop
enabling legislation to bridge this legal gap. End summary.

2. (U) Congolese Senators and National Assembly Deputies
participated in a three-day conference on Freedom of Association and
Protest March 17-19 at Parliament. The parliamentarians reached
consensus regarding the importance of closing the gap between the
Constitution and existing law governing freedoms of association and
protest. They were unable to reconcile views on how best to balance
unlimited freedoms with reasonable restrictions.

3. (U) During the discussion of freedoms and restrictions,
Jean-Louis Esambo, a constitutional expert and Acting
Prosecutor-General for the Kinshasa-Gombe Court of Appeal made a key
observation: Congolese authorities often view public protests as
acts of insurrection and threats to public order. He said peaceful
protest should in fact be seen as a product of the freedom of
expression. He called for changing the mentality of government
officials, police, and public on the meaning of peaceful protest and
its role in a developing democracy.

4. (U) Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly
for all peaceful meetings, provided participants respect the law,
public order, and good morals. Most meetings in the DRC are held in
private spaces. Actions by authorities to disrupt or otherwise
break up meetings are not common.

5. (U) In practice, current Congolese law restricts freedom of
protest. Article 26 of the Constitution guarantees freedom to
protest, provided organizers inform appropriate authorities in
writing of their plans in accordance with application procedures
established by law. However, Parliament has yet to adopt
legislation to implement these procedures. Legal restrictions
enacted prior to the current constitution remain in force even if in
conflict with it.

6. (U) Authorities often take advantage of the gap between the
theory of the 2006 Constitution and established practices based on
existing law to deny or disrupt public protests. Decree 196 of
January 29, 1999, the law currently governing public protests,
provides authorities three to five days to approve or deny an
application. It also requires protests to respect public order and
good morals, but provides no guidance on determining the appropriate
approval period.

7. (U) Eve Bazaiba and Ekombe Mpetshi, presidents respectively of
the Senate's Socio-Cultural and Political, Administrative and Legal
Committees, told us during the week of April 22 that restrictive
laws must be updated before 2009 provincial elections. They
appealed for assistance to fund a small group of technical experts
to aid the committees in drafting the enabling legislation.

8. (SBU) Comment: Government infringement of the right to peaceful
protest is a regular theme in the annual human rights report on the
DRC. Closing the legal gap between current law and the Constitution
will be an important step in the DRC's democratic transition.
PolOff and representatives of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation plan to
meet with other key parliamentarians in the coming weeks to gauge
their views on updating these and other civil rights laws. End
comment.

BROCK

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