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DRC President reinstated capital punishment in the DRC 20 years after the country abolished it

Democratic Republic of Congo’s incumbent president, Felix Tshisekedi, recently reinstated the death penalty twenty after its abolishment.

The last time that legal punishment was used in the country was in 2003. In March 2024, the Congolese government lifted the moratorium on executions to combat militant violence. However, prisoners facing execution will instead have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

The government says the purpose of reinstating the death penalty was to deter violence and militant attacks, particularly in the eastern provinces. The death penalty applies to crimes like treason, espionage, involvement with armed gangs, and desertion by military personnel.

The first time legal punishment was used in the DRC was under the leadership of President Mobutu. Indeed, the former dictator used the death penalty as a repressive political tool to contain his political opponents and consolidate his power rather than using it as a tool of justice to ensure that law and order prevail. Since then, capital punishment has been used systematically to deter criminals and reduce crime.

The death penalty is often handed down in the DR Congo, but no offender has been executed in over 20 years and their sentences are typically commuted to life in prison. The decision, announced on March 15, 2024, by the Central African nation’s Ministry of Justice, said the pause on capital punishment since 2003 had guaranteed impunity for offenders.

The eastern part of the DR Congo has been plagued with decades of conflict, linked to dozens of armed groups, including M23, whose deadly attacks in recent weeks have displaced thousands of people. The death sentence will be available to be handed down to those accused of war crimes against humanity, espionage, participation in banned groups, or an insurgency movement, and treason, amongst other crimes, the document revealed.

Last October, a military court in the former Belgian colony sentenced Edouard Mwangachuchu, a member of the National Assembly, to death, on charges including treason and involvement with the M23 rebel movement.

Rights groups have condemned the decision, calling it a step back for the country. For example, Jean-Claude Katende, president of the African Association for Human Rights, stated: “This initiative is against the constitution. We don’t think that capital punishment and the execution of this sentence are appropriate measures to restore order.” Moreover, Citizen’s movement Lucha said that lifting the moratorium is unconstitutional and opens the door to summary executions. Amnesty International said that this decision was a serious step backward and a further sign of President Tshisekedi's administration’s alarming backtracking on human rights.

The debate on whether the death penalty is the right measure to deter crime will always remain a point of contention between human rights activists and proponents of law and order. It seems, however, that President Tshisekedi will not back down on his decision to reinstate capital punishment. One thing we can be sure of is that now that it has been reinstated, citizens will adjust their behavior accordingly.


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