GENEVA (7 January 2019) – A United Nations expert has called on the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to restore internet services in the country.
General elections were held on 30 December and the next day all primary telecommunications were shut down ahead of the announcement of the results.
“A general network shutdown is in clear violation of international law and cannot be justified by any means,” said David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression.
“Access to information is crucial for the credibility of the ongoing electoral process. Shutdowns are damaging not only for people’s access to information, but also for their access to basic services,” the expert said.
A senior government official said that internet and SMS services were cut to preserve public order after “fictitious results” began circulating on social media, and that the disconnections would remain until the publication of results on 6 January.
Reports indicate that the shutdown is hindering electoral observers and witnesses in relaying information from rural polling stations to the local centres for compiling results. It is also hampering the UN mission’s (MONUSCO) ability to communicate with its partners in the field, including with protection mechanisms.
“I urge the authorities to restore internet services as a matter of urgency and to ensure the integrity of a fundamental democratic exercise such as this one,” the Special Rapporteur said.
In 2016, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution which unequivocally condemned measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law, and called on all States to refrain from and cease such measures.
This followed the 2015 Joint Declaration of UN and regional experts in the field of freedom of expression, which stated that network shutdowns or internet “kill switches” are measures which can “never be justified under human rights law”.
The UN Special Rapporteur will continue to closely monitor developments in DRC and is at the disposal of the authorities to provide assistance as required.