2017 – Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

Médard Mulangala, a Congolese human rights activist and opposition leader, addresses the 9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On the DRC’s crossroads moment: 

“This is a critical moment in the history of my country because, in the next few months, we’ll see whether we finally break the bad habit we have of transferring power either through coup d’état, either through a rebellion, either through the assassination of a president.”

“Things seem to be changing because what you are seeing now are attempts by the President and his coalition to change the rules, to change the constitution, to change the electoral law in such a way that they can stay in power forever. We from the opposition are not going to accept that.”

“The time of the strong man is gone, what we need now is a strong institution and the way to achieve that is to be able, together as Congolese, to have a good election, transparent election, credible election.”

On the legacy of Mr Étienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba:

“He was truly an African lion, not just a champion for the DRC, but for all of Africa.”

“For nearly 40 years he represented the fight for democracy, the fight for change, the fight for good governance, and his determination was an inspiration not just to us in the Congo but across Africa.”

Full Remarks

Well, after such a powerful speech from Mohamed I was wondering what to say because he said it all. What he’s been saying about his country is what we live every day in DRC and in Africa. But I’ve got a message to give you, to you people.

First, let me thank you for inviting me to this panel and giving me the opportunity and the honour to address such an audience. The panel charter is ‘voices for the voiceless’. This tells me that I’m not here for myself, I’m not here for the opposition of DRC, I’m not speaking on behalf of ALN, I’m speaking on behalf of all the people who have battled for the cause of African democracy.

Before I introduce members of the panel, I hope you will allow me to speak to the millions in my own country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the millions more across Africa as a whole who are today demanding a democratic voice of their own. This is a critical moment in the history of my country because, in the next few months, we’ll see whether we finally break the bad habit we have of transferring power either through coup d’état, either through a rebellion, either through the assassination of a president. So, this for us is a unique opportunity to change the course we’ve been on since independence.

All day today we’ve heard stories about heroes from across the world. Men and women who’ve been defending human rights, who stood up against oligarchy, against the strong man. Yet, today back home in DRC we are mourning one such hero who was a lion of freedom and democracy, Mr Étienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba. He was truly an African lion, not just a champion for the DRC, but for all of Africa. For nearly 40 years he represented the fight for democracy, the fight for change, the fight for good governance, and his determination was an inspiration not just to us in the Congo but across Africa. He did not give us only a voice, he gave us a role. 

I would like you to join me and stand up for a few moments to mark the passing of a champion for Africa and human rights. Please stand up in his memory.

Thank you, everybody, thank you so much, your support means a lot to us. Please sit down. 

Because we are the champion who helped us negotiate a peace deal on the eve of December last year. A call that was preparing for good elections, was preparing for a government of national unity, was preparing for a peaceful transfer of power at the helm of our country. Today, with his death things seem to be changing because what you are seeing now are attempts by the incumbent president and his coalition to change the rules, to change the constitution, to change the electoral law in such a way that they can stay in power forever. We from the opposition are not going to accept that. Already in September last year, in November and in December, there had been peaceful demonstrations all over the country that were met – and that’s the bad news – by violence by the state. Those were met by disproportionate force by the military and the police and there are many people who have passed away, many people have been detained as a result of that and all these violations have been properly documented by the United Nations back home and by the partners all over the world. And today what we want to say is that I would like you to join us, join the DRC opposition, join the Africa Liberal Network, join Liberal International. 

Whomever said that the time has come up for a proper independent international Commission of Inquiry. That commission will allow us to know exactly what’s been happening and I know that many of you have seen the press recently, what is being done in Kasai, I think we’ve seen that video of the army shooting people who were just protesting, who were unarmed. So, the time has come for all of us to stand up and say we need to have that Commission of Inquiry because on that basis things can be changed in the country.

For many of us we believe that this is Africa’s moment, because, if we can bring democracy to DRC as we saw a few weeks ago in Gambia when the people stood up against the attempt to change the name of the game; if we can do that in the DRC, I think that this will send a strong message to the continent and this will demonstrate that yes, the Congolese people, with the support of their partners, with the support of the international community, have been able this time to change the way power is being transferred to the country. 

The time of the strong man is gone, what we need now is strong institutions and the way to achieve that is to be able, together as Congolese, to have a good election, transparent election, credible election, which will pave the way for a new government to come there and first look at all the human rights violations which have been denounced by the Commission and shed light upon them and bring back justice to the people. 

This is today my message to all of you here in Geneva. Again, thank you for inviting me. It’s been an honour and a good opportunity for me to speak to you and I wish that with this message we’ll all work together so that at the next session in March of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, that question of the Commission of Inquiry will be on the table and the decision will be made in the right direction.

Thank you so much.