On September 24, 2021, Congolese police used tear gas to disperse students from the Official University of Ruwenzori (UOR) who had gathered to protest the decision of the Minister of Higher Education (ESU) to suspend the university’s Faculty of Medicine.
UOR’s Faculty of Medicine was one of many medical faculties deemed unviable by the ESU and therefore ordered to close. On the morning of September 24, the UOR students gathered near campus to start their protest against that decision, but the police prevented them from doing so. According to Radio Okapi, the police and students attempted to negotiate a resolution, but negotiations apparently failed and clashes broke out, with students throwing rocks and police using tear gas. Although the protest did not take place, some students were able to deliver a memorandum to the mayor’s office that demanded that UOR’s Faculty of Medicine be allowed to remain open.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by state security forces preventing a peaceful student assembly and using disproportionate force to disperse students exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – conduct which is protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Democratic Republic of Congo is a party. While state security forces have a responsibility to maintain security and safety, they must also refrain from the disproportionate use of force and ensure that their actions are not intended to retaliate against student expression and do not endanger civilians. Students are also reminded to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly peacefully and to refrain from engaging in violence. In addition to harm to the immediate victims, the disproportionate use of force to chill or restrict students’ expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.
*SAR identified this incident in data made publicly available by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).