February 2, 2023

US Ambassador to DR Congo Michael Hammer says free speech is ‘foundational’ to democracy

Michael Hammer
Michael Hammer

Michael Hammer has served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo since September of 2018. As the United States’ top diplomat to the repressive DRC, he wrote last week that freedom of expression “ is a foundational component of a vibrant, fully functioning democracy.”

Hammer has had an experienced diplomatic career for decades. He was the U.S. ambassador to Chile from 2014-2016. Ambassador Hammer has also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, Special Assistant to the President, Senior Director for Press and Communications, and National Security Council Spokesman.

In addition to his time as Ambassador to Chile and Ambassador to the DRC, Hammer has also served internationally in Bolivia, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark.

Contrary to its name, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is extremely undemocratic and one of the most repressive governments in Africa. According to Human Rights Watch, 5.2 million people across the country are internally displaced and nearly a quarter of its population face severe food insecurity.

Human Rights Watch also reports that there are many violent armed groups in the region, saying “Many of their fighters and often abusive government security forces have carried out massacres, kidnappings, sexual violence, recruitment of children, and other attacks on civilians – often with near total impunity.”

When Félix Tshisekedi became President in 2019, the election was highly contested and widely criticized for voter suppression, electoral fraud, and tampering.

“The U.S. is committed to advancing democracy in DRC by supporting the difficult work required to make progress on elections, human rights, press freedom, anti-corruption, good governance, the rule of law, and fighting terrorism,” says Ambassador Hammer.

As people all across the Democratic Republic of Congo face dire situations, the government has done very little to help with humanitarian issues. Additionally, Transparency International ranks the DRC as the 10th most corrupt of 180 nations.

Amnesty International reported that last year, “Continuing armed conflict and violence claimed thousands of lives, large-scale displacement and widespread sexual violence.”

Speech is consistently suppressed throughout the DRC. Protests are often met with violence while human rights defenders and journalists are targeted with attacks and threats.

“Freedom of expression, including for members of the press, is a foundational component of a vibrant, fully functioning democracy. Peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive societies depend on the free flow of information and ideas, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information both online and offline,” wrote Ambassador Hammer for World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2022.

“The United States condemns threats, harassment, and violence targeting journalists and media workers,” he continued.

For decades, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been home to widespread armed violence, human rights abuses, and government corruption. While the DRC has a longstanding diplomatic relationship with the United States, its developmental and humanitarian needs are extensive.

While Tshisekedi’s assumption of power was the nation’s first ever peaceful transition of power, there remain many reasons to be concerned about the future of the DRC. If human rights are not made a priority and its corrupt institutions do not become more democratic, nothing will ultimately change.


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