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France's foreign policy in Africa: the absence of human rights and democracy
Tribune  Posté le 12:42 28-02-2023, modifié le 12:42 28-02-2023 par Tournons la Page

February 28, 2023. As part of diplomatic visits to the African continent, President Emmanuel Macron will travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on March 5, after visiting Gabon, Angola, and Congo-Brazzaville. 31 civil society organizations are encouraging France to place the defense of human rights and respect for democracy at the heart of its foreign policy.

French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to the DRC, the largest French-speaking country in the world, will take place in a particularly difficult context for the Congolese people. When violence has been going on for more than thirty years, can we still talk about a crisis? At the end of 2021, the rebel group March 23 Movement (M23), presumed to have disbanded, reappeared in the east of the country where many other armed groups operate, creating new episodes of violence and localized conflicts. Civilians, especially women, are, as always, the primary victims. The humanitarian situation is critical, and the rise of hate speech is adding fuel to an already burning inferno that could ignite other countries in the region. The elections scheduled for December 2023 are a crucial step in the consolidation of the country's democratic life, but they represent a challenge both from the point of view of their logistical organization and in view of the political and security situation in which they will take place.

In 2017, when he had just been elected for the first time, the French President declared before African students in Ouagadougou that he planned to "stand by those who work daily to make democracy and the rule of law irreversible." Nearly six years later, it is more than ever time for these statements to be put into action. The visit of President E. Macron's visit to the Great Lakes is an opportunity to make French diplomacy in favor of human rights more than just wishful thinking.

The DRC has an active and dynamic civil society, which ensures the proper functioning of democratic life in the country. Activists, human rights defenders and journalists are committed to the Congolese people, often at the risk of their lives. This first visit of President E. Macron's first visit to the DRC must be as inclusive as possible, particularly in the current context of tension. As such, it is essential that Congolese civil society be heard. We strongly encourage the President to include in his program consultations with its representatives while the Congolese population wonders about the ambivalence of the French position. Recent announcements by France and the European Union (EU) on Rwanda's position in the regional context, with the condemnation of Rwanda's support for the M23 rebels in the DRC on the one hand and the granting of 20 million euros in aid to Rwandan forces for their intervention in northern Mozambique on the other - where serious allegations have been made about the preservation of the economic interests of the French company TotalEnergies - have raised legitimate questions. The risks and impacts of such projects on human rights have already been analyzed and denounced by civil society, as well as by the European Parliament, in the context of TotalEnergies' exploitation of Lake Albert oil, between the DRC and Uganda. In this respect, it is essential that France adopt a firm position that calls for respect for human rights, responsible investment and economic relations that respect international standards and the environment in the DRC, and more generally in Africa. France must take advantage of its visit to the DRC and Africa to inquire about the effective implementation of the duty of care by companies operating and deploying their value chain in the DRC.

Since February 20, the EU has had a new strategy on the Great Lakes that emphasizes economic aspects as a global response to the conflicts in the region to the detriment of policies based on respect for human rights and good governance. While the visit of President E. Macron's visit comes on the heels of Pope Francis' visit to Kinshasa in January 2023, where he strongly condemned the plundering of African countries and the DRC, it is essential that France support initiatives aimed at understanding the root causes of conflicts in the sub-region. Support for the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes and for ongoing transitional justice efforts, as well as support for the peace efforts and processes initiated, should be at the heart of France's visit to the DRC. If the rise of actors such as China or Russia on the African continent is today a reality that is countering the EU's place in the Great Lakes region, it is in democratic values and human rights that European and French cooperation finds its added value, and not in increased economic competition with actors such as China and Russia.

With respect to the electoral process in the DRC, it is important to remind the Congolese government of its own commitments in terms of inclusiveness, respect for civil and political rights, and also in terms of women's political participation and representation in this process, in accordance with the 2015 law on parity. Supporting the effective implementation of these commitments means supporting the efforts of the Congolese authorities to restore the confidence of the Congolese population in its institutions, which is essential for the establishment of an environment conducive to holding credible and peaceful elections. During this election period, it is also important to support the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in its mandate to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the DRC, as well as the mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.

The signatory organizations call on President Emmanuel Macron to place the defense of human rights and respect for democracy at the heart of his foreign policy:

  • Promoting an inclusive dialogue with Congolese civil society - guarantor of the respect of democratic principles - by including in its program meetings with its representatives;
  • Clarifying France's position in terms of military and security cooperation, particularly with regard to Rwandan forces, by prioritizing the implementation of a policy of due diligence with regard to human rights for all support to the security and defense sector;
  • Supporting ongoing peace processes and initiatives to address the root causes of conflict, including the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes;
  • Making a firm commitment to the law on the duty of care of multinationals, adopted in 2017 by the French Parliament, particularly concerning TotalEnergies' activities in Lake Albert;
  • Supporting financing and investments that respect France's international commitments to the environment, democracy and human rights in the DRC and Africa;
  • Promoting, in its bilateral political dialogue with the Congolese authorities, the opening of democratic space and human rights as prerequisites for credible and peaceful elections, particularly with regard to the rights to freedom of assembly, association and demonstration as well as the protection of human rights defenders.


List of signatory organizations:

  1. Action des chrétiens pour l’abolition de la torture de République démocratique du Congo (ACAT RDC)
  2. Actions Sans Frontières (AFRO)
  3. Agir ensemble pour les droits humains
  4. Appel Patriotique (AP)
  5. Association africaine des droits de l’Homme (ASADHO)
  6. Célébrons le courage de la Femme
  7. Centre de Recherche et d’information pour le développement (CRID)
  8. Centre International pour la Promotion de Développement et des Droits de l'Homme (CEIPDHO)
  9. Collectif Simama Congo (COSIC)
  10. Commission Justice et Paix Belgique francophone
  11. Congolese International Congres (CIC)
  12. Emmaüs International
  13. Ensemble contre la peine de mort (ECPM)
  14. Fédération internationale des ACAT (FIACAT)
  15. Fédération internationale pour les droits humains (FIDH)
  16. Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) (Uganda)
  17. Groupe Lotus (RDC)
  18. Justicia, asbl
  19. Karibu Jeunesse Nouvelle (KJN)
  20. Le Mouvement de la Paix
  21. Ligue burundaise ITEKA
  22. Ligue des Electeurs (RDC)
  23. Misereor
  24. Nouvelle Dynamique de la Société Civile en RDC (NDSCI)
  25. Observatoire des Droits de l’Homme au Rwanda (ODHR)
  26. Organisation mondiale contre la torture (OMCT)
  27. Protection International
  28. Réseau européen pour l’Afrique Centrale (EurAc)
  29. SAPI International
  30. SOS IJM
  31. Tournons La Page (TLP)
  32. Vision Social (VISO)