(Washington, DC, September 28, 2016) – The United States government on September 28, 2016, imposed targeted sanctions against two senior security force officers in the Democratic Republic of Congo who have long been implicated in serious abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. The officials are Gabriel Amisi (known as “Tango Four”), army commander of the country’s western region, and John Numbi, a former national police inspector.
“The US announcement of targeted sanctions against two senior Congolese security force officers sends a powerful message that there are consequences for the government’s violent repression of political demonstrations and other serious abuses,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “For the greatest impact, the US should expand sanctions to include other senior government, security, and intelligence officials responsible for brutal repression over the past two years.”
In a statement to announce the new designations, the acting director of the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), John E. Smith, said that Amisi and Numbi “have engaged in actions that undermine democratic processes in the DRC and repress the political rights and freedoms of the Congolese people, risking further and more widespread instability in the DRC, and the broader Great Lakes region.” He noted that the “action is not directed at the people of DRC,” but “is intended to alter the behavior of the targeted individuals.”
On June 23, the US announced targeted sanctions against Gen. Célestin Kanyama, the police commissioner for the capital, Kinshasa.
Since January 2015, Congolese government officials and security forces have carried out a brutal campaign of repression against people who opposed attempts to extend President Joseph Kabila’s presidency beyond the constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ends on December 19. The officials arrested scores of activists and opposition leaders and supporters, repeatedly banned opposition demonstrations, shut down media outlets, prevented opposition leaders from moving freely around the country, and fired on peaceful protesters.
Government repression reached new heights during the week of September 18, when Congolese across the country took to the streets to protest election delays. In Kinshasa, security forces fatally shot at least 50 people and detained scores of others. The security forces took away some of the bodies, witnesses reported, in an apparent effort to hide the evidence and prevent families from organizing funerals.
In an apparent attempt to block independent observers from documenting government repression, security forces detained several international and Congolese journalists and a Congolese human rights activist soon after the protests began. The offices of a prominent human rights organization and a civil society organization were also vandalized. Some of the protesters also turned violent, beating or burning to death several police officers.
“The European Union and the United Nations Security Council should urgently adopt similar sanctions as the US,” Sawyer said. “Taking strong action now could put further pressure on President Kabila to abide by the constitutional requirement to step down at the end of his term, and help prevent a broader crisis, with potentially volatile repercussions throughout the region.”
For brief biographies of Amisi and Numbi, please see below.
Gen. Amisi has a long record of involvement in serious human rights abuses in Congo. An officer in then-President Joseph Mobutu’s army, Amisi joined the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) rebellion, backed by Rwanda, which ousted Mobutu in 1997. Amisi later joined another Rwanda-backed rebellion, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD)-Goma, and in May 2002, was among the commanders responsible for widespread killings, summary executions, rapes, and pillage during the suppression of a mutiny in Kisangani, Human Rights Watch research at the time showed.
The UN Group of Experts on Congo reported that Amisi was later allegedly involved in the trafficking of minerals, including tin and gold, while he was commander of the Congolese army’s land forces. Amisi was suspended in November 2012, following accusations made by the Group of Experts that he was overseeing a network distributing ammunition for poachers and armed groups. Congolese authorities cleared him of all charges in July 2014.
Amisi is currently the commander of the First Defense Zone, which covers the capital, Kinshasa, and other western provinces. Troops under his command have been involved in the violent repression of political demonstrations over the past two years and the excessive and unlawful use of force.
John Numbi is the former national inspector for the Congolese National Police. In 2008, he was involved in deploying about 600 police officers to repress the political-religious group Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK), based in Bas Congo. Human Rights Watch research at the time showed that during three weeks of police operations, the police fired at protesting BDK adherents, some of them violent, without adequate warning, killing over 200 and injuring scores of others. The police used excessive and lethal force and in some cases deliberately killed people who were wounded, including people who were seeking medical treatment at health centers, running away, or otherwise in no position to threaten the police. The police systematically burned meeting places, homes, and other buildings belonging to BDK adherents. The police arrested over 150 suspected BDK followers, including those who had not participated in any actions against the police, and tortured or ill-treated some of them.
On June 1, 2010, the prominent human rights defender Floribert Chebeya, who had documented police abuses against the BDK, visited the police headquarters in Kinshasa following a telephone call requesting his presence at Numbi’s office. His body was found soon afterward. Chebeya’s driver, Fidèle Bazana, remains missing. Following widespread indignation in Congo and internationally about the apparent double murder that implicated Numbi, he was suspended as national police inspector on June 5, 2010. A high military court in 2012 refused to examine Numbi’s alleged role in the murder.
The US government statement announcing the sanctions says that Numbi is still an influential adviser to President Kabila even though he no longer has an official function. During gubernatorial elections in March, the statement says, he used “violent intimidation to secure victories for candidates affiliated with President Kabila’s MP [majorité présidentielle] coalition” and “threatened to kill opposition candidates who did not voluntarily withdraw from the race.”