For the attention of His Excellency, Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
CC : M. Patrick Muyaya Katembwe, Ministre de l’Information et de la Communication et porte-parole du gouvernement ; M. Désiré-Cashmir Eberande Kolongele, Ministre du Numérique ; M. Denis Kadima Kazadi, Président de la Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI) ; M. Dieudonné Amuli Bahigwa, Commissaire Général de la Police Nationale Congolaise (PNC) ; M. Dieudonné Badibanga Kamuleta, président de la Cour Constitutionnelle de la RDC ; M. Christophe Mboso N’Kodia Pwanga, Président de l’Assemblée Nationale de la République Démocratique du Congo ; M. Muriel Mwewa Kangoyi, Présidente de la Haute Autorité des Médias (HAM) ; M. Christian Katende, Président de l’Autorité de Régulation des Postes, des Télécommunications et des Nouvelles Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication (ARPTC) ; M. Khalil Al Americani, Président Directeur Général de Vodacom RDC ; M. Ziad Dalloul, Président du Conseil d’Administration d’Africell RDC ; M. Yves Matungulwa, Président Directeur Général d’Orange RDC ; et M. Alain Kahasha, Président Directeur Général du groupe Airtel RDC.
Nations across Africa, and the world, must ensure people can access open, secure, and free internet when they need it the most — during important national events. This election, we urge the government of DRC to #KeepItOn.
We, the undersigned organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of over 300 organizations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns — appeal to you, President Felix-Anoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, to publicly commit to ensuring that the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have unfettered access to the internet, social media platforms, and all other communication channels throughout the upcoming general election on December 20, 2023.
As the people of the DRC prepare to vote, your government must adopt and prioritize measures that advance human rights, by enabling unrestricted access to information and avenues for freedom of expression, assembly, and association — both offline and online. This will also contribute to an inclusive, free, and fair election process.
The internet and social media platforms play a critical role in enhancing participatory governance, advancing inclusiveness and transparency, and enabling the enjoyment of fundamental human rights in a democratic society – all principles enshrined in Articles 23 and 24 of the DRC Constitution. These platforms enable public discourse about election processes and political candidates, and allow voters to hold governments accountable for their actions. Access to the internet and digital platforms also facilitates effective election reporting, monitoring, and coverage by journalists, human rights defenders, and election observers. We note that European Union election observers and other observation groups, who play a critical role in monitoring elections in the region, will not be involved in the 2023 DRC election period, it is more vital than ever to protect open and secure communication channels that help uphold transparency and integrity.
In 2019, access to social media and communication platforms including X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp was restricted across the country. These platform blocks followed anti-corruption protests against the government, with the then-Minister of Information, Eugene Nagbe, claiming they were necessary due to “security concerns.” However, critics argued authorities were restricting access in order to quell the protests and prevent them being broadcast online.
History of shutdowns in the DRC
During elections in December 2018, the authorities in DRC cut off internet access and SMS services for 20 days, arguing there was a need to preserve public order and prevent the circulation of false election results. However, according to UN reports, the shutdown hindered election observers and witnesses in remote polling stations from communicating with the central centers compiling election results. The government of the DRC also weaponized internet shutdowns between 2017 and 2018, in an attempt to quell nationwide protests calling for then-President Kabila to step down after his tenure expired in 2016.
Internet shutdowns harm human rights, exacerbate crises, and stop the free flow of information
Research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand-in-hand. Shutting down the internet during times of conflict, protests, or public health emergencies restricts the availability of vital, timely, and potentially life-saving information, as well as limiting access to emergency services. By disrupting the flow of information, shutdowns can exacerbate existing tensions, potentially instigate or conceal violence and human rights violations perpetrated by state and non-state actors, and spur the spread of misinformation.
Shutdowns also make it extremely difficult for journalists to report from the ground, thereby denying people both in and out of the DRC access to credible information. Shutting down the internet would also make it hard for key stakeholders including Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), national and international election observers, political party candidates, and civil society actors to closely monitor the electoral process.
Imposing internet shutdowns also interferes with people’s livelihoods and has a negative effect on entire economies. Shutdowns can cost nations billions of dollars, with businesses, public organizations, and private institutions that rely on the digital economy losing huge sums of money when they occur.
Internet shutdowns contravene international laws
The DRC is a signatory to regional and international frameworks such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which provide for the protection and promotion of the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, assembly, and access to information — both offline and online. In addition, DRC is a state party to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which calls for the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights during elections. Furthermore, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa 2019 calls upon States not to “engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.” The 2016 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Resolution recognizes the “importance of the internet in advancing human and people’s rights in Africa,” expressing concern over the “emerging practice of State Parties interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the internet, social media, and messaging services.” Moreover, the UN Secretary General and other experts have affirmed that, “blanket Internet shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services are considered by United Nations human rights mechanisms to be in violation of international human rights law.”
Telecom companies must respect human rights
Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, telecommunications companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, prevent or mitigate potential harms, and provide remedy for any harms they cause or contribute to. Telecommunications and internet service providers operating in DRC — including Vodacom, Africell, Orange, and Airtel — have a responsibility to provide quality, open, and secure access to the internet and digital communication tools.
Internet shutdowns — whether in the DRC or elsewhere — jeopardize human rights and must never become a norm. We encourage businesses in the DRC to integrate the UN Principles and OECD Guidelines when responding to censorship and network disruption requests in any market where they operate.
As organizations championing the internet and digital platforms as enablers of human rights, we call on you to:
- Publicly assure the people of the DRC that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, will remain open, accessible, inclusive, and secure before, during and after the election;
- Refrain from ordering the disruption of telecommunications services, social media platforms, or other digital communication platforms throughout the elections;
- Ensure that telecommunications and internet service providers (ISPs) implement all necessary measures to provide high-quality, secure, unrestricted, and uninterrupted internet access throughout the election period and thereafter, in line with their quality of service and license conditions; and
- Ensure that telecommunication and ISPs inform the people of DRC of any potential disruptions, and take all reasonable steps to remedy any identified disruptions likely to impact their quality of service
Please let us know how the #KeepItOn coalition can support you in upholding a free, open, secure, inclusive, and accessible internet for all in the DRC.
- Access Now
- African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
- Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
- Africa Media and Information Technology Initiative (AfriMITI)
- Africa Open Data and Internet Research Fou dating (AODIRF)
- Avocats Sans Frontières France (ASF France)
- Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
- BloGoma (Blogosphère Gomatracienne)
- Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI)
- Center for Media studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)
- Center for the Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD Ethiopia)
- Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- Common Cause Zambia
- Computech Institute
- Core23lab-Democratic Republic of Congo
- Digital Rights Lab – Sudan
- Digital Rights Lawyers Initiative (DRLI)
- Friends of Congo Brazzaville
- Gambia Press Union (GPU)
- Give1Project Gambia
- Haki na Sheria
- Human Rights Network For Journalists- Uganda
- Jonction, Sénégal
- Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)
- Kijiji Yeetu
- International Press Institute (IPI)
- Internet Protection Society (Russia)
- Life campaign to abolish the death sentence in Kurdistan
- Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
- Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Zimbabwe)
- Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
- Miaan Group
- NGO IGBANET
- Office of Civil Freedoms
- OpenNet Africa
- Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)
- Organization of the Justice Campaign
- Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
- PEN America
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
- Rudi International
- Sassoufit collective
- Single Mothers Association of Kenya (SMAK)
- Support Center for Rural and Community Development (CADERCO)
- Unwanted Witness
- Webfala Digital Skills for all Initiative
- Wikimedia Uganda
- Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
- Women ICT Advocacy Group (WIAG)
- Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC-Nigeria)
- Zaina Foundation – Tanzania