U.S. Sanctions Congo Police Chief for Role in Rights Abuses

  • Congolese government condemns the decision by State Department
  • Kanyama led operations that resulted in dozens of deaths

The U.S. imposed targeted sanctions on a senior police chief in the Democratic Republic of Congo, following months of criticism over the involvement of Congo’s security forces in human rights violations and restrictions on political freedoms.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control placed General Celestin Kanyama, the police commissioner in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, on its Specially Designated Nationals List, which freezes any assets Kanyama holds in the U.S. and prohibits Americans from dealing with him.

The Congolese government condemned the action. “It is an infringement on our sovereignty and will undermine bilateral relations,” Ambassador Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi said in an e-mailed statement. Kanyama’s phone was switched off when Bloomberg called seeking comment.

Security Crackdown

Kanyama led a crackdown on criminal gang activity in Kinshasa between November 2013 and February 2014, during which Human Rights Watch said Congo’s police executed 51 people and were behind the disappearance of another 33. The government said 34 policemen had been convicted in connection with the incidents, but subsequently described the operation as a success and praised Kanyama for his leadership.

In January 2015, more than 40 people were killed in protests in Kinshasa against attempts by President Joseph Kabila to change the electoral law. The U.S. has said at least 20 of the victims were shot by security forces under Kanyama’s control.

Kabila, in office since 2001, is barred by the constitution from running for another term in elections scheduled for November, but he has yet to publicly confirm his intention to step down. Opponents say Kabila is trying to delay the vote to hold onto power.

“The chief of police is often a key tool in the machinery of a government determined to silence its people,” Holly Dranginis, senior policy analyst at the Enough Project, said in an e-mailed statement. “Today’s sanctions action is exactly the kind of enforcement step needed to send a message to Kabila’s regime that abusive behavior will have consequences.”

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