DR Congolese opposition leader Moise Katumbi filed a legal complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee, in the hope of international protection if he returns to run in a future presidential election.
“The reason I’ve come to make this complaint is to alert the international community, because President (Joseph) Kabila is going to organise elections without Moise Katumbi,” he told Reuters.
“Despite the risk I have to go back because I’m a candidate and I will remain one. If the election timetable begins I have to back.”
The multi-millionaire businessman has been abroad since he was accused of plotting against the state a year ago and repeatedly vowed to return to Congo. Last year he was convicted of real estate fraud and sentenced to three years in prison in absentia. He dismissed the verdict as politically motivated.
Any return would heighten political tensions in Democratic Republic of Congo where opposition groups say Kabila is trying to cling to power by cracking down on dissent and delaying the vote.
Government has repeatedly dismissed his allegations that his safety is at risk in Congo and called on him to return to answer charges against him.
A government spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
Kabila, in power since 2001, refused to step down after his mandate expired in December. Under a deal struck with opponents, an election must take place by the end of 2017 but the process remains stalled due to delays registering voters.
Speaking after lodging the 36-page petition at the United Nations in Geneva, Katumbi told reporters he stood for peace and the rule of law and wanted to end impunity in his country and see an international tribunal mete out justice.
“For Kabila, he needs to keep Moise Katumbi out to organise elections. Because he knows well, if we go into an election, I am sure and certain I am going to win and bring change to my country,” Katumbi said.
According to a rare national poll published last month by the Congo Research Group at New York University, 38% of Congolese would vote for Katumbi if the presidential election were held now, more than any other potential candidate.
His lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti, said it was impossible to say how long the UN process would take, but Congo’s government was likely to take as long as possible to answer questions arising from the legal complaint, which spells out allegations about violations of Katumbi’s rights.
“There are some provisional measures. During this process of questions and answers, at some point the committee can ask the state to protect him. From the moment we have that from the committee, we can involve the African Union, the United Nations, to get protection,” he said.
“Because we know with certainty that if Moise Katumbi returns to his country without protection he is going to his death.”