We are writing to urge your government's support for the renewal and expansion of the European Union's targeted sanctions against senior officials responsible for violent repression and other serious human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We understand that a decision regarding renewal of the sanctions imposed against 16 Congolese individuals in December 2016 and May 2017 will be taken during the EU's Foreign Affairs Council meeting on December 11.
The targeted sanctions imposed by the EU - together with sanctions from the United States and the United Nations Security Council, the threat of further sanctions against President Joseph Kabila's associates, and strong pressure from Angolan, South African and other regional leaders - appear to have played a critical role in convincing Kabila to commit to organizing elections for his successor. This step followed nearly four years of repression against those who opposed his efforts to remain in office beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit in December 2016.
Yet less than one month before the scheduled elections, the repression continues, those responsible for past abuses have not been held to account, and the enabling environment for credible elections does not exist.
Many of the individuals whom the EU sanctioned no longer hold the same function: some were promoted to more senior positions, others were moved into different, similarly powerful positions, and others continue to play an important role in the broader strategy of repression but in a less official capacity, as detailed in the below Annex. None of the 16 individuals has been investigated or brought to justice for their alleged involvement in serious human rights violations. Lifting sanctions now would signal that the EU is condoning impunity and merely embolden senior officials and others close to Kabila to continue with their violent repression.
Many activists and opposition leaders remain concerned that the vote scheduled for December 23 will effectively be a parody of an election, in which the candidate whom Kabila supports, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary - who is himself sanctioned by the EU - will have an unfair advantage. Beyond the ongoing repression, they cite the lack of independence of the courts and electoral commission, the use of state officials and resources to campaign for Shadary, the lack of equal access to the media, and irregularities in the voter rolls that could include six million potential "ghost voters," according to an audit by the International Francophonie Organization. Certain opposition leaders have been arbitrarily excluded from the candidate list, and the government is using a controversial voting machine that many fear will facilitate fraud.
Given these challenges, it appears that Congo may be heading toward chaotic, repressive, and fraudulent elections. Or yet another last-minute delay could be announced, with electoral officials citing logistical or other constraints. Both scenarios could lead to more violence and instability, with potentially serious consequences across the region. And neither scenario would address the country's deeper problems of poor governance, widespread insecurity, large-scale corruption, and systematic impunity for serious crimes.
Strong leadership and sustained pressure from the EU, together with other regional and international players, is needed now more than ever. The EU should focus on the need to ensure all Congolese are able to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and expression, cast ballots freely, and that there is transparency and confidence in the voting and tabulation procedures.
Renewing targeted EU sanctions against top officials responsible for Congo's violent crackdown in recent years would show that the consequences for the repressive actions persist until the abuses are curtailed and addressed. The EU should also consider expanding targeted sanctions to increase the pressure on Kabila and other senior officials to create an enabling environment for credible elections.
At a minimum, the EU should press for the following actions:
Political prisoners and detained activists should be released immediately, and those in exile should be allowed to return home;
Security forces and intelligence services should immediately cease arbitrary arrests of activists and the political opposition, and end the use of torture, ill-treatment, and enforced disappearances;
All political leaders and civil society activists should be able to meet, organize, travel, and campaign freely;
Media outlets supporting the opposition should be reopened; and
Security forces should act impartially at all times and not use excessive force during political rallies and protests or interfere in the campaign and elections through intimidation or violence.
Coordinated pressure from EU member states is urgently needed so that President Kabila and other senior officials take the necessary steps.
The EU should also work to ensure that independent observers and political party witnesses have the resources necessary to be fully trained, equipped, and deployed across the country to independently report on election results, irregularities, and allegations of fraud or violence.
Lastly, the EU should send a clear signal now that it will not accept elections that do not meet international standards, that it will not endorse a fraudulent process, and that there will be real consequences for any further repression and abuse.
Please find below details on recent government repression and other violations documented by Human Rights Watch, including the continued involvement of sanctioned officials. Please let us know if you have any questions or would like to discuss these issues in further detail.
Lotte Leicht Ida Sawyer
European Union Advocacy Director Deputy Africa Director
Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch
Head of Cabinet of the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Mr Stefano Grassi
Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Ms Helga Schmid
Deputy Secretary General for political affairs, Political Director, EEAS, Mr Jean-Christophe Belliard
Managing Director for Africa, EEAS, Mr Koen Vervaeke
Deputy Managing Director for Africa, EEAS, Ms Birgitte Markussen
Head of Division for Central Africa, EEAS, Mr Gerardus Gielen
Deputy Secretary General for economic and global issues, EEAS, Mr Christian Leffler
Managing Director for human rights, global and multilateral issues, EEAS, Ms Lotte Knudsen
Deputy Managing Director for human rights, global and multilateral issues, EEAS, Mr Marc Giacomini
Head of Division for Human Rights, EEAS, Ms Luisa Ragher
Chair of the EU's Political and Security Committee, Ms. Sofie From-Emmersberger
Ambassadors to the EU's Political and Security Committee
Chair of the Council's Working Group on Africa, Ms Marie Lapierre
Members of the Council's Working Group on Africa
President of the European parliament, Mr Antonio Tajani
Chair of the European Parliament's Committee for Foreign Affairs, Mr David McAllister
Vice-Chairs of the European Parliament's Committee for Foreign Affairs
Chair of the European Parliament's Subcommittee for Human Rights, Mr Pierantonio Panzeri
Vice-Chairs of the European Parliament's Subcommittee for Human Rights
Annex: Continued Government Repression and Abuse in Congo
Human Rights Watch previously published profiles of the seven individuals sanctioned by the EU in December 2016 and the nine individuals sanctioned by the EU in May 2017. These profiles are available at the following links:
Following is an overview of more recent government repression and other serious abuses in which sanctioned individuals, or forces under their command, played a role.
Security Force Abuses
Members of the security forces - including the police, army, military intelligence services, and the Republican Guard presidential security detail - continued to be involved in violent repression against pro-democracy activists and other serious abuses. In total, security forces have killed nearly 300 people during largely peaceful political protests since January 2015 and arrested at least around 2,000 pro-democracy activists and opposition leaders and supporters, most of whom were later released, often after weeks or months of ill-treatment. Security forces were also responsible for attacks on civilians and other serious human rights violations in the central Kasai region and in the eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu, sometimes as part of a deliberate government strategy to orchestrate chaos and delay elections.
The following sanctioned individuals continue to hold influential positions in the security forces and may bear some responsibility for these abuses:
Ilunga Kampete, commander of the Republican Guard presidential security detail, sanctioned in December 2016;
Gabriel Amisi Kumba (also known as "Tango Four"), former commander for the western region of the Congolese army who was promoted in July 2018 to deputy chief of staff of the Congolese army in charge of operations and intelligence, sanctioned in December 2016;
Ferdinand Ilunga Luyolo, former commander of the anti-riot body known as the National Intervention Legion of the Congolese National Police (LENI) who was named commander of the police unit responsible for protecting institutions and important individuals in July 2017, sanctioned in December 2016;
Célestin Kanyama, former Kinshasa police commissioner who was named director general of the Congolese police training academies in July 2017, sanctioned in December 2016;
Delphin Kahimbi, former director of military intelligence who was named deputy chief of staff of the Congolese army in July 2018, sanctioned in December 2016;
John Numbi, former police commander who was suspended from his functions in June 2010 following widespread national and international indignation around the murders of the human rights activist Floribert Chebeya and his driver, Fidèle Bazana, in which Numbi was implicated. In June 2017, he was decorated as a national hero, and in July 2018, he was officially reintegrated into the Congolese army. In July 2018, he was named inspector general of the Congolese army. Sanctioned in December 2016;
Muhindo Akili Mundos, former army commander in charge of the 31st brigade in North Kivu's Beni territory who was named commander of the army's 32nd region in South Kivu province in July, sanctioned in May 2017;
Eric Ruhorimbere, former deputy army commander of the 21st military region in the Kasai area who was named commander of the 31st military region in Equateur in July 2018, sanctioned in May 2017.
Amisi, Kahimbi, Kampete, Mundos, and Numbi are also reportedly members of an unofficial group of around 20 senior security force and other officials who are charged with implementing the strategies devised by a smaller group of advisors tasked with ensuring Kabila's regime maintains its hold on power and crushes any opposition, dissent, or threat to their authority, according to well-placed sources, including from the security and intelligence services.
Crackdown on Pro-Democracy Activists, the Political Opposition, and Peaceful Protesters
Congolese security forces killed at least 62 people and arrested hundreds more during demonstrations across the country between December 19 and 22, 2016, after Kabila refused to leave office at the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit. Republican Guard soldiers carried out house-to-house searches in two municipalities in the capital, Kinshasa, arresting dozens of suspected demonstrators.
In the lead-up to the December protests, and as domestic and international pressure on Kabila escalated, senior Congolese security force officers had mobilized at least 200 and likely many more former M23 rebel fighters from neighboring Uganda and Rwanda to protect Kabila and help quash the anti-Kabila protests. Once in Congo, the M23 fighters were deployed to the capital, Kinshasa, and the eastern and southern cities of Goma and Lubumbashi. They were given new uniforms and weapons and integrated into the police, army, and Republican Guard. Congolese security force officers - including Gen. Kahimbi, Gen. Amisi, and Gen. Mundos - looked after them, paying them well and providing them with food and accommodation. To protect the president and quash protests, the M23 fighters were given explicit orders to use lethal force, including at "point-blank range" if necessary.
Earlier, on December 13, 2016, security forces arrested the representative of the Filimbi citizens movement in Kinshasa, Carbone Beni, along with other activists during a peaceful sit-in. Beni was released after 29 days in secret detention.
Gloria Sengha, another activist of the LUCHA citizens movement, was arrested in Kinshasa on December 16, 2016. She was thrown in a car, blindfolded, beaten up and had her belongings stolen. First held incommunicado by the Republican Guard and later the intelligence services, she received little food and water until her release on December 27. Another activist, Bobo Mpolesha, was arrested on January 7, 2017 in Kinshasa and taken to a military intelligence prison where he was beaten. He was released two weeks later.
On April 11, 2017, Congolese security forces fired teargas and arrested more than 80 people to disperse or prevent small demonstrations across the country. Opposition parties had called for a demonstration against the non-implementation of the late 2016 Catholic Church-mediated New Year's Eve agreement aimed at ending the electoral crisis. A day earlier, at least 40 people had been arrested in Kinshasa.
Later that month, on April 27, police briefly arrested 24 LUCHA and "Il est temps" activists in Kinshasa, stripping two women half-naked. A week later, on May 5, police arrested 13 other activists from the two movements for several hours, after they had delivered a document to the mayor's office in Kinshasa, advocating for greater employment opportunities for youth.
An activist from the Collectif 2016 citizens movement, Rossy Mukendi, was held for 29 days by the military intelligence services in Kinshasa without access to his family or a lawyer, after he and 13 fellow activists had denounced the bad state of a public road during a peaceful march on May 17, 2017.
Military intelligence officers arrested and detained without charge or access to their families and legal counsel the pro-democracy youth activist Jean-Marie Kalonji and his lawyer, Sylva Mbikayi Kabanga, in Kinshasa on June 23, 2017. They were released on July 18, 2017.
In late November 2017, Republican Guard soldiers arrested national parliamentarian and former member of the ruling party Gérard Mulumba alongside his collaborator Isaac Kabundi. Beaten and kept in poor conditions, Mulumba's health deteriorated rapidly. He was later sentenced to an 18-month prison term for "insulting the head of state."
Unidentified men kidnapped Filimbi activist Palmer Kabeya on December 23, 2017 in Kinshasa. He was held at a military intelligence detention center before being transferred to an intelligence agency detention center and later the central prison. Kabeya was freed in September 2018 while his four colleagues - who had been arrested separately on December 31, 2017 - were sentenced to a one-year prison sentence, due to end on December 30, 2018.
During three separate Catholic Church-led protests in December 2017, January and February 2018, the army, police, and Republican Guard used excessive force, including teargas and live ammunition, against peaceful protesters within and around Catholic churches in the capital, Kinshasa, and other cities. Catholic Church lay leaders in Congo had called for peaceful marches to press Congo's leaders to respect the Catholic Church-mediated New Year's Eve agreement. Security forces killed at least 18 people during these protests, including prominent pro-democracy activist Rossy Mukendi. More than 80 people were injured, including many with gunshot wounds.
On January 21 and February 25, security forces fired teargas at three maternity hospitals in Kinshasa, where demonstrators had taken refuge, threatening the lives of newborns. Human Rights Watch documented that members of the security forces in civilian clothing also fired at peaceful demonstrators. A video filmed in Kinshasa's Kintambo neighborhood on January 21 shows at least four men in civilian clothes with assault rifles patrolling the streets. One of them appears to fire on a group of demonstrators in the distance. Two former security force agents and one current official told Human Rights Watch that they recognized at least one of the people in the video as a Republican Guard officer.
In the run-up to the February 25 demonstrations, officials of the ruling People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) recruited hundreds of young people from within and outside the party to attack peaceful demonstrators in Kinshasa. The PPRD youth were joined on February 25 by other youth associated with Vita club, one of Kinshasa's main football clubs, whose president is General Gabriel Amisi. Human Rights Watch interviewed five current members of the ruling party's youth league, as well as a former leader about the recruitment efforts.
In early August 2018, Congolese security forces fired teargas and live ammunition to disperse political opposition supporters during the candidate registration period for presidential elections, killing at least two people - including a child - and injuring at least seven others with gunshot wounds. Security force officers also restricted the movement of opposition leaders, arrested dozens of opposition supporters, and prevented one presidential aspirant, Moïse Katumbi, from entering the country to file his candidacy.
Congolese police arbitrarily arrested nearly 90 pro-democracy activists and injured more than 20 others during peaceful protests on September 3, 2018. The protesters had called on the national electoral commission to clean up the voter rolls - after an audit by the International Francophonie Organization (Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, OIF) found that over 16 percent of those on the lists had been registered without fingerprints, raising concerns about potentially fictitious voters. They also called on the commission to abandon the use of controversial voting machines, which are untested in Congo and could be used to tamper with results.
Police arrested five journalists from the Congolese newspaper Africa News for several hours on October 19 after they published an article on Gen. Kanyama's misappropriation of student rations at a police academy.
In November, police arrested without basis Congolese journalist Peter Tiani and 17 pro-democracy youth activists in the capital, Kinshasa. Many were beaten during arrest and detention. In the eastern city of Goma, unidentified assailants abducted and tortured an activist from the LUCHA youth movement, Tresor Kambere, for three days before releasing him. Goma police arrested four other youth activists during a small peaceful demonstration demanding Kambere's release. The activists arrested in November have been released, but Tiani remains detained.
Security Force Abuses in the Context of Armed Conflicts
The humanitarian situation in Congo has severely worsened over the last several years, with the country facing one of the world's most complex and challenging displacement crises and 7.7 million Congolese inflicted by severe food insecurity. Much of this is due to longstanding or newly emerging conflicts in many disparate parts of the country. The electoral crisis at the national level often prevented a resolution of the conflict or actively contributed to it.
For example, more than 140 armed groups are currently active in eastern Congo's North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, and many continue to attack civilians. Some of these groups are fighting against the government, while many others have been created by and supported by senior army and government officials. Many of their commanders have been implicated in war crimes, including ethnic massacres, rape, forced recruitment of children, and pillage and have at times been working with Congolese security forces.
Some of the worst violence has been in North Kivu's Beni territory, where fighters have killed more than 1,000 civilians since a series of massacres began in October 2014, including at least 235 killed since the start of this year. As he was commanding the Congolese army's military operations against one of the main groups active in Beni, the Allied Defense Forces (ADF), Gen. Mundos also created a new armed group that was implicated in some of the massacres, according to the UN Group of Experts.
Between August 2016 and September 2017, violence involving Congolese security forces, including army troops under the command of Col. Ruhorimbere, government-backed militias, and local armed groups left up to 5,000 people dead in the country's central Kasai region. Six hundred schools were attacked or destroyed, and 1.4 million people were displaced from their homes, including 30,000 refugees who fled to Angola. Nearly 90 mass graves have been discovered in the region, the majority of which are believed to contain the bodies of civilians and militants killed by government security forces using excessive force against alleged militia members or sympathizers.
In March 2017, two United Nations investigators--Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalán, a Swedish and Chilean citizen--were summarily executed by a group of armed men while investigating serious rights abuses in the Kasai region. Human Rights Watch investigations and an RFI report suggest government responsibility for the double murder. A seriously flawed trial in Congo began in June 2017. Several well-placed security force officials have told Human Rights Watch that the violence in the Kasai region was part of a deliberately orchestrated government strategy to justify election delays.
Between December 2017 and March 2018, violence intensified in parts of northeastern Congo's Ituri province, where militia fighters launched deadly attacks on villages, killing at least 260 civilians, raping or mutilating many others, torching hundreds of homes, and displacing an estimated 350,000 people. Three assailants told Human Rights Watch how local government officials had organized the mass slaughter.
Abuses by the National Intelligence Agency
The National Intelligence Agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements, ANR) continued to play a critical role in the repression against activists and the opposition, including its director, Kalev Mutondo, and its interior director, Roger Kibelisa. Both individuals have been sanctioned by the EU and continue to hold the same functions.
Mutondo remains one of the main architects of the government's efforts to suppress political dissent. He is also reportedly a member of the small group of advisors around Kabila charged with devising strategies to maintain his hold on power. He therefore may bear some responsibility for the abuses described above that were carried out by members of the security forces, in addition to the abuses by the ANR described in detail below. Human Rights Watch interviewed more than a dozen government officials, members of the Kabila majority coalition, and security forces officials about Mutondo's role.
Scores of political prisoners and activists have been arrested, detained in inhumane conditions, and in many cases ill-treated or tortured in the so-called "3Z" detention center, the ANR building in Kinshasa where Kibelisa's office is located. Families of detainees, lawyers and human rights defenders are regularly denied access to the 3Z center. Others were detained at the ANR's main headquarters in Kinshasa, where Mutondo's office is located.
Christian Lumu Lukusa, external relations officer of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) political opposition party's youth league, was kidnapped by unidentified men while on his way to university in Kinshasa on November 22, 2017. He was then held for four days in a police office next to the provincial police inspectorate before being transferred to the ANR's 3Z detention center on November 25. He was granted occasional visits by his family but denied access to legal counsel. Over a year later, on November 28, 2018, he was transferred to a military prison. The reasons for his arrest remain unknown. He is currently experiencing pain in his chest and when he urinates, according to his family, after having contracted pulmonary pleurisy six months prior to his arrest.
Five members of the Filimbi citizens' movement - Carbone Beni, Grâce Tshunza, Cédric Kalonji, Palmer Kabeya, and Mino Bompomi - were arbitrarily arrested in December 2017 as they mobilized Kinshasa residents for nationwide protests on December 31, 2017. A witness told Human Rights Watch that intelligence officers and police officers beat the activists after arresting them because they "fought against the head of state" and that they would "die because of[their] stubbornness." The police then presented the activists to journalists as "terrorists disturbing public order." Police officers and intelligence officers interrogated them until nightfall in a police station in Kinshasa. The witness explained that whenever the detainees "gave an answer that did not satisfy them," the police beat them. The authorities then told them that they would be taken to the intelligence services and killed. Carbone Beni and the others were then transferred to 3Z.
In January 2018, Carbone Beni spent a few days in an ANR medical center to treat the injuries he suffered when he was arrested. On May 1, 2018, he was taken to a local clinic in Kinshasa, where doctors diagnosed him with a hernia and appendicitis. On May 2, he was transferred to a hospital for surgery. A Congolese court sentenced Beni, Tshunza, Kalonji, and Bompomi to one year in prison in September for insulting the head of state and undermining state security and to two months for publishing and distributing subversive documents, while Kabeya was acquitted and later released.
Meanwhile, seven activists of the citizens movement Les Congolais Débout (LCD) were arrested on September 11, 2018 by guards of the University of Kinshasa. They were raising awareness outside the main entrance of the university about the use of controversial voting machines widely suspected to be used to tamper with the December 2018 elections. Initially held at the provincial police inspectorate, they were transferred to the ANR's 3Z detention center on September 12. They are being held without charge and without access to their families or legal counsel at time of writing.
Kris Berwouts, a well-known Belgian researcher on Congo, was arrested upon arriving in Kinshasa on October 7 and held in detention, including at the ANR headquarters, until he was expelled on October 10. During this period, he was held without charge and unable to seek medicine for his diabetes and hypertension. "The objective was clearly to neutralize me as an independent researcher," he later said.
Abuses Involving Sanctioned Former and Current Government Officials
One current government minister and two former ministers were also among those sanctioned by the EU:
Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the former vice prime minister and interior and security minister from December 2016 until February 2018; current secretary general of the ruling party (the People's Party for Reconstruction and Development, PPRD) and presidential candidate from the ruling coalition in upcoming elections; sanctioned in May 2017.
Évariste Boshab, the former vice prime minister and interior and security minister from December 2014 until December 2016, when he then returned to his seat as a deputy in the National Assembly and continued to play an influential role in the coalition supporting Kabila, including as director of the cell elaborating Shadary's proposed government program, sanctioned in May 2017;
Lambert Mende, the communications and media minister and government spokesperson, sanctioned in May 2017;
As interior and security ministers, Shadary and Boshab played an important commanding role in the repression over the past several years, according to many officials who spoke to Human Rights Watch. As interior and security minister, they were officially responsible for the police and security services, including the ANR, and coordinating the work of provincial governors. These entities have repeatedly banned or repressed opposition demonstrations, jailed activists and opponents, shut down media outlets, and blocked the freedom of movement of opposition leaders.
Boshab, who is originally from the Kasai region, reportedly also played a significant role in manipulating and eventually escalating local conflicts around customary authority in the Kasai region, which was at the heart of the mass killings there from 2016 to 2017. According to a report published in August 2017 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Congolese government officials actively fomented, supplied and sometimes even commanded local militia attacks against civilians in Kasai province to quell the uprising of the Kamuina Nsapu militia. Shadary also reportedly played a critical role in the Kasai violence, including as he oversaw the security and intelligence services as interior and security minister when the UN experts were murdered and in the ensuing government cover-up.
During his tenure as interior and security minister, Shadary also bears responsibility for the excessive use of force deployed by security forces during a crackdown against members of the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) politico-religious sect in Kinshasa and Kongo Central provinces in January, February, and August 2017 during which at least 90 people were killed, according to Human Rights Watch research.
During a meeting in Kinshasa on April 21, 2018, Shadary told new recruits from the ruling People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) youth league, according to verified by Human Rights Watch, "If they insult you, then you should respond by insulting them" - in what many recruits viewed as a call for them to use force against the opposition. Human Rights Watch has documented how ruling party officials and security force officers previously recruited youth league members to disrupt protests and provoke violence during earlier political demonstrations, including in September 2015, September 2016, and December 2016. Boshab and Shadary both continued to be influential members of the ruling PPRD political party and could bear some responsibility for government repression and other abuses committed after they left the government.
Meanwhile, as the communications and media minister, Mende has been the spokesperson for the government's policy of repression and has also been among those responsible for the crackdown on the media, arresting journalists, and shutting down media outlets.
At least four Congolese media outlets close to the opposition remain blocked at the time of writing, including Radio Télévision Lubumbashi JUA (RTLJ), Nyota TV, Radio Télévision Mapendo, and La Voix du Katanga.
The Congolese organization Journalists in Danger (JED) registered a total of 121 press freedom violations over 12 months ending in early November 2018. The organization holds government officials responsible for more than 75 percent of the cases, calling it "part of a planned system of repression."
Public criticism of governmental officials regularly led to harassment, threats, and arrests. For example, from December 6 to 7, 2017, the Radio Television station Kindu Maniema was ransacked and its journalists arrested after a listener had accused Shadary of corruption during a call-in show. The station owner later told JED that Shadary himself had called him to complain and threatened that he would send police and intelligence officials to "take revenge."
The government has denied or revoked visas for several international journalists and researchers, preventing them from continuing to work in Congo. The Congolese government issued a on June 14, 2018 requiring online media to seek prior government approval for advertisements, among other new regulations. The online media outlets were given 30 days to comply with these provisions. There are concerns the requirements will be used to crack down on Congo's vibrant online media.
Shadary, Boshab, and Mende also continue to play key strategic roles as members of the unofficial group of around 20 officials charged with implementing strategies to ensure the regime maintains its hold on power, according to well-placed sources, including from the security and intelligence services.