(CNN)Members of the UN Security Council are slated to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo on Friday amid mounting international concern about increased violence and political unrest in the troubled Central African nation.
President Joseph Kabila’s two terms in office are due to end December 19. But it remains unclear whether he will step down then and, if so, who might take charge.
Members of a UN-backed group agreed last month to push back elections originally due in November to April 2018, but the process has been criticized for not legitimately involving opposition, as virtually all opposition parties boycotted the process.
In the course of a four-day trip, the UNSC delegates are expected to visit Beni, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as the capital, Kinshasa. The final day will be spent in Luanda, in neighboring Angola.
International rights group Human Rights Watch told the UNSC delegates in a letter Wednesday that their visit came at a "critical moment" for the country.
"If President Joseph Kabila stays in power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit on December 19, with no clear commitments on if and when he will step down, there is a real risk that protests will erupt, security forces will respond with excessive force, and the country could descend into widespread violence and chaos, with potentially volatile repercussions across the region," the letter said.
HRW urged the UN to take steps to avert the potential crisis, including denouncing political repression and other serious human rights violations; urging Kabila to stand down as mandated or, if not, to declare a date before the end of 2017 by which he will leave; and imposing sanctions on security and government officials responsible for abuses.
It also called in the letter to ensure plans are in place to protect civilians, activists, journalists and politicians who may be at risk. It recommended the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo deploy greater numbers of peacekeepers to areas where political violence might break out, including Kinshasa.
A peacekeeping force has been present in the country for more than 15 years, especially in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which has faced recurrent waves of conflict.
Kabila succeeded his father, Laurent Kabila, after his assassination in 2001. The central African nation hasn’t had a peaceful transition of power since gaining independence in 1960.
On Tuesday, a homemade bomb in Goma, south of Beni, killed a Congolese girl and injured 32 UN peacekeepers, as well as two Congolese civilians, the United Nations said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
In September, at least 53 people died when political demonstrations turned violent, including 48 people who were killed by Congolese security services, according to a UN report last month. Four police officers were killed by unknown hands, it said.
Opponents of the government had taken to the streets to protest the national electoral commission’s failure to announce a timetable for the presidential election, which had been due to take place in November.
Opposition leader Martin Fayulu called on the government to abide by the constitution and for Kabila to step down on December 19.
But Lambert Mende Omalanga, minister of communication, told CNN that Kabila "will step down only when a new president is elected," adding, "I don’t think it is something credible. We are meeting in a national dialogue in order to organize free and fair elections."