AMSTERDAM/KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congolese politicians must avoid electoral violence or risk facing the International Criminal Court (ICC), its prosecutor said on Friday, joining an international chorus of warning about the prospect of bloodshed in this month’s voting.
“The use of violence cannot be tolerated,” ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement, adding that his office was following the electoral process closely.
“Let no one doubt our determination to prevent and, where appropriate, to prosecute such crimes as we do in Kenya and Ivory Coast,” he said, naming two African countries where the ICC has investigated election-related violence.
The vast minerals-rich Central African nation is gearing up for a November 28 presidential and parliamentary election that has also been shrouded in concerns over logistical delays.
Separately, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, the head of Congo’s election commission, said it had invited the ICC “to observe the elections (and) to take those who are accused of inciting or creating violence”.
Mulunda told reporters in Kinshasa that the presidential and parliamentary elections would take place on November 28, as expected, rejecting suggestions they would be delayed because of a lack of preparation.
The United Nations this week warned that political manipulation of Congo’s security forces has brought crackdowns on opposition parties and could lead to bloodshed.
The report, produced by the United Nations’ Joint Human Rights Office, documented 188 cases of election-related violence from November 2010 to September 2011.
New York based-Human Rights Watch has said that the report documents just a fraction of the actual abuses.
The European Union and African Union have issued separate warnings of a deteriorating political situation in the central African country.
Cardinal Pasinya Monsengwo, the influential archbishop of Kinshasa, on Thursday also issued a statement condemning the violence and calling on politicians to be more responsible.
“How are we meant to trust leaders who are incapable of protecting the population? ... Please, reassure us, reassure the people so they can vote with their minds at rest,” he said.
The Hague-based ICC, the world’s top war crimes court, has already brought four cases from the Congo wars.
It is expected to rule this year on whether six high-profile Kenyan politicians and officials should stand trial for their alleged roles in the deadly violence which followed a disputed election in December 2007.
Moreno-Ocampo on Friday urged all parties in the Congo elections to avoid the temptation to use violence.
“We are particularly attentive to reports of incitement to hatred and exclusion and physical abuse from the different political actors in Kinshasa and in the whole country.”
Preparations for the elections are far behind schedule, the early stages of campaigning have been increasingly violent and there are fears of results being challenged in unrest.
President Joseph Kabila is seen as favourite against a divided opposition, but his challengers have strong support among the country’s many ethnic communities.
Etienne Tshisekedi, one of Kabila’s main rivals, has a strong following in the capital, Kinshasa, as well as the southern Kasai provinces. Vital Kamerhe, a former ally of the president, is popular in the east of the vast country.