EU foreign ministers paved the way Monday for sanctions against Congo, which has been gripped by violence amid a political crisis in light of upcoming presidential elections.
Mass protests have taken place in recent weeks. Dozens of people have also been killed after election authorities postponed planned November polls. They are now scheduled for April 2018.
The Congolese opposition is concerned that President Joseph Kabila, whose second term in office ends on December 19, is trying to extend his time in power. According to the current constitution, he cannot run for a third term.
"The EU will use all the means at its disposal, including individualrestrictive measures" against people who commit serious human rights violations, promote violence or try to obstruct efforts to resolve the crisis, ministers said in a statement.
They called on EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to prepare such steps.
"If the current presidential term comes to an end without prior agreement on the electoral calendar, the EU will have to consider the impact on its relations with the government of the DRC," they added, expressing deep concern at the situation.
DRC is an abbreviation for the Congo's full name, the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The government must ensure the respect of human rights and the rule of law and "cease all use of the justice system as a political tool," the statement said, expressing concern about a large number of arrests following opposition protests last month.
The ministers also expressed "profound concern" about recent violence in the east of the country, and called on the United Nations to consider imposing sanctions in response to serious human rights violations.