The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor warned on Thursday of a risk of “grave crimes” in the troubled Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of elections scheduled for this weekend.
Fatou Bensouda said she would “not hesitate to take action” over such crimes linked to Sunday’s vote, which is due to select a successor to President Joseph Kabila, in power for nearly 18 years.
“I am concerned by the growing tensions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the risk of escalating violence that could lead to the commission of grave crimes under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,” Bensouda said in a statement.
The Hague-based prosecutor made an “appeal to the Congolese people, and more particularly to the authorities, political actors, their supporters and sympathisers, to do their utmost to prevent and avoid any conduct of criminal violence.”
Bensouda added that she would “closely monitor developments in the DRC in the days and weeks to come and identify any act of incitement or resort to violence.”
“Experience in other countries has demonstrated that when passions run high during elections and people do not act with restraint, this may lead to large-scale crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC,” she added.
“In such a case, my office will not hesitate to take action”.
The ICC was set up in 2002 to try the world’s worst crimes including war crimes and crimes against humanity. So far most of its cases have involved African countries, including in the DRC.
Problems have piled up ahead of the Congolese vote, with violence at electoral rallies, inter-ethnic conflict, militia attacks in the east and an Ebola outbreak.
Electoral campaigning officially began on November 22, since when at least six people have died in violence, according to a Congolese rights NGO called Acaj.
The authorities deny that there have been any deaths linked to the campaign.
The DRC’s national election commission is mulling whether to postpone the vote after nearly 8,000 of some 10,000 voting terminals for the capital Kinshasa were destroyed in a warehouse blaze, sources there said.