People walk near burning debris during protests in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Picture: John Bompengo/AP

Johannesburg - The UN has reported that more than 20 people have been killed during clashes between protesters and security forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) capital Kinshasa following President Joseph Kabila’s failure to step down after his mandate expired on Tuesday.

There were “solid” reports that 20 civilians had been killed in clashes on Wednesday in Kinshasa, Jose Maria Aranaz, the UN human rights director for DR Congo said.

Eye witnesses said some of the dead were shot at close range by troops.

Kabila has formed a 74-member transitional government after the electoral commission cancelled presidential elections that were scheduled for last month.

The UN envoy for the DRC also expressed grave concern on Tuesday over the wave of arrests and arbitrary detention “of those who seek to express their political views” in the country over the past three days.

The envoy reiterated the necessity for all Congolese authorities to respect the rules of the country and ensure protection of free speech.

“I urge the national authorities to strictly adhere to their international human rights obligations, to create a climate of political tolerance and respect at this important juncture in the DRC’s history, and to grant full access to United Nations personnel to all detention centres,” said Maman S. Sidikou, the Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission (Monusco).

The UN has documented 113 arrests in the country, including opposition leaders and sympathisers, civil society activists and human rights defenders, media professionals and other individuals, since December 16.

In addition, the UN has not always been granted the required access to verify the conditions of those arrested, he explained.

Most of the arrests took place in Goma, Kinshasa and Bukavu, undertaken by the Congolese National Police (PNC), Agence National de Renseignement (ANR) and the Republican Guard.

“I call on the relevant authorities to apply due process for all those who have been detained and to bring an end to politically-motivated detentions,” said Sidikou, adding that he has previously highlighted the necessity for all Congolese to respect the laws of the Republic.

The Special Representative also underlined the importance of promoting and protecting human rights, including the freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly enshrined in the Constitution, in an open political space.

“This is essential to create a conductive environment for the conduct of meaningful dialogue on the way forward in the DRC,” he stated.

Just three days ago, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he was “deeply alarmed” at a planned government shutdown of social media networks in the country from the evening of December 18, ahead of the end of Kabila’s mandate, coupled with a continuing ban on demonstrations by civil society and the opposition.