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World : Africa : Democratic_Republic_of_Congo
 

The area known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was populated as early as 10,000 years ago and settled in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. by Bantus from present-day Nigeria. Discovered in 1482 by Portuguese navigator Diego Cao and later explored by English journalist Henry Morton Stanley, the area was officially colonized in 1885 as a personal possession of Belgian King Leopold II as the Congo Free State. In 1907, administration shifted to the Belgian Government, which renamed the country the Belgian Congo. Following a series of riots and unrest, the Belgian Congo was granted its independence on June 30, 1960. Parliamentary elections in 1960 produced Patrice Lumumba as prime minister and Joseph Kasavubu as president of the renamed Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Within the first year of independence, several events destabilized the country: the army mutinied; the governor of Katanga province attempted secession; a UN peacekeeping force was called in to restore order; Prime Minister Lumumba died under mysterious circumstances; and Col. Joseph Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko) took over the government and ceded it again to President Kasavubu. Unrest and rebellion plagued the government until 1965, when Lieutenant General Mobutu, by then commander in chief of the national army, again seized control of the country and declared himself president for 5 years. Mobutu quickly centralized power into his own hands and was elected unopposed as president in 1970. Embarking on a campaign of cultural awareness, Mobutu renamed the country the Republic of Zaire and required citizens to adopt African names. Relative peace and stability prevailed until 1977 and 1978 when Katangan rebels, staged in Angola, launched a series of invasions into the Katanga region. The rebels were driven out with the aid of Belgian paratroopers. During the 1980s, Mobutu continued to enforce his one-party system of rule. Although Mobutu successfully maintained control during this period, opposition parties, most notably the Union pour la Democratie et le Progres Social (UDPS), were active. Mobutu's attempts to quell these groups drew significant international criticism. As the Cold War came to a close, internal and external pressures on Mobutu increased. In late 1989 and early 1990, Mobutu was weakened by a series of domestic protests, by heightened international criticism of his regime's human rights practices, and by a faltering economy. In April 1990 Mobutu agreed to the principle of a multi-party system with elections and a constitution. As details of a reform package were delayed, soldiers in September 1991 began looting Kinshasa to protest their unpaid wages. Two thousand French and Belgian troops, some of whom were flown in on U.S. Air Force planes, arrived to evacuate the 20,000 endangered foreign nationals in Kinshasa.

In 1992, after previous similar attempts, the long-promised Sovereign National Conference was staged, encompassing over 2,000 representatives from various political parties. The conference gave itself a legislative mandate and elected Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo as its chairman, along with Etienne Tshisekedi, leader of the UDPS, as prime minister. By the end of the year Mobutu had created a rival government with its own prime minister. The ensuing stalemate produced a compromise merger of the two governments into the High Council of Republic-Parliament of Transition (HCR-PT) in 1994, with Mobutu as head of state and Kengo Wa Dondo as prime minister. Although presidential and legislative elections were scheduled repeatedly over the next 2 years, they never took place.

By 1996, the war and genocide in neighboring Rwanda had spilled over to Zaire. Rwandan Hutu militia forces (Interahamwe), who fled Rwanda following the ascension of a Tutsi-led government, were using Hutu refugees camps in eastern Zaire as bases for incursions against Rwanda. In October 1996, Rwandan troops (RPA) entered Zaire, simultaneously with the formation of an armed coalition led by Laurent-Desire Kabila known as the Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire (AFDL) . With the goal of forcibly ousting Mobutu, the AFDL, supported by Rwanda and Uganda, began a military campaign toward Kinshasa. Following failed peace talks between Mobutu and Kabila in May 1997, Mobutu left the country, and Kabila marched into Kinshasa on May 17, 1997. Kabila declared himself president, consolidated power around himself and the AFDL, and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Kabilaís Army Chief and the Secretary General of the AFDL were Rwandan, and RPA units continued to operate tangentially with the DRCís military, which was renamed the Forces Armees Congolaises (FAC). Over the next year, relations between Kabila and his foreign backers deteriorated. In July 1998, Kabila ordered all foreign troops to leave the DRC. Most refused to leave. On August 2, fighting erupted throughout the DRC as Rwandan troops in the DRC "mutinied" and fresh Rwandan and Ugandan troops entered the DRC. Two days later, Rwandan troops flew to Bas-Congo, with the intention of marching on Kinshasa, ousting Laurent Kabila, and replacing him with the newly formed Rwandan-backed rebel group called the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD). The Rwandan campaign was thwarted at the last minute when Angolan, Zimbabwean, and Namibian troops intervened on behalf of the DRC government. The Rwandans and the RCD withdrew to eastern DRC, where they established de facto control over portions of eastern DRC and continued to fight the Congolese Army and its foreign allies. In February 1999, Uganda backed the formation of a rebel group called the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC), which drew support from among ex-Mobutuists and ex-FAZ soldiers in Equateur province (Mobutuís home province). Together, Uganda and the MLC established control over the northern third of the DRC.

At this stage, the DRC was divided de facto into three segments, and the parties controlling each segment had reached military deadlock. In July 1999, a cease-fire was proposed in Lusaka, Zambia, which all parties signed by the end of August. The Lusaka Accord called for a cease-fire, the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation (MONUC), the withdrawal of foreign troops, and the launching of an "Inter-Congolese Dialogue" to form a transitional government leading to elections. The parties to the Lusaka Accord failed to fully implement its provisions in 1999 and 2000. Laurent Kabila drew increasing international criticism for blocking full deployment of UN troops, hindering progress toward an Inter-Congolese Dialogue, and suppressing internal political activity.

On January 16, 2001, Laurent Kabila was assassinated and succeeded by his son, Joseph Kabila. Joseph Kabila reversed many of his fatherís negative policies; over the next year, MONUC deployed throughout the country and the Inter-Congolese Dialogue proceeded. During this period, many Ugandan troops, most Angolan troops, nearly all Namibian troops, and some Zimbabwean troops withdrew from the DRC. Rwanda maintained its full troop presence and has insisted it cannot withdraw from the DRC until Rwandan Hutu militias (who continued military action in the Congo after the refugee camps were closed in 1996) have been demobilized. In October 2001, the Inter-Congolese Dialogue began in Addis Ababa under the auspices of Facilitator Ketumile Masire (former president of Botswana). The initial meetings made little progress and were adjourned. On February 25, 2002, the Dialogue was reconvened in South Africa. It included representatives from the government, rebel groups, political opposition, civil society, and Mai-Mai (Congolese local defense militias). The talks ended on April 19 without the parties reaching an all-inclusive agreement on a transition to an electoral government. However, the government and the MLC brokered an agreement which was signed by the majority of delegates at the Dialogue. Those who refused to sign this agreement, notably the Rwandan-backed RCD and opposition party UDPS, formed a coalition called the Alliance to Save the Dialogue (ASD), which is demanding that all parties restart negotiations. Those who signed the agreement (the government, the MLC, the RCD-ML, the RCD-N, most political parties, and most civil society groups) are attempting to implement the agreement reached in South Africa and to move toward elections. Meanwhile, negotiations to bring the RCD and the remaining political parties into the agreement continue.

INCIDENCE OF CRIME

The Democratic Republic of Congo does not yet report data to either the United Nations or INTERPOL; however the U.S. State Department provides a profile of crime in its U.S. Embassy Counsular Information Summary Sheet. According to this report, in Congo-Kinshasa (The Democratic Republic of Congo), low levels of economic prosperity continue to promote crime, especially in urban areas. However, vehicle thefts, burglaries, and armed robbery occur throughout the country; carjackings occur in some regions.

POLICE

The Government's security forces consist of a national police force under the Ministry of Interior, the National Security Council (CNS), the National Intelligence Agency (ANR), the Rapid Intervention Forces (PIR), and the Congolese Armed Forces (FAC), which includes an Office for the Military Detection of Anti-Patriotic Activities (DEMIAP). The immigration service, Direction Generale de Migration (DGM), also functioned as a security force. The People's Self Defense Forces (FAP) and the People's Power Committees (CPP) also served as security forces, but were less active than in previous years. In 1999 Laurent Kabila gave Mai Mai leaders commissions in the FAC and coordinated operations with the Mai Mai and Hutu militias. The Government continued to supply and coordinate operations with the Mai Mai and Hutu militias during the year 2001. The People's Defense Committees (CPD's), which in previous years operated outside the formal structure of the State and were intended to be an armed wing of the CPP's, remained unarmed and ceased to function during the year 2001. The police force handles basic criminal cases. The CNS shares responsibility for internal and external security with the ANR, including border security matters. The FAC retains some residual police functions. Military police have jurisdiction over armed forces personnel, but also have domestic security responsibilities, including the patrolling of urban areas. Security forces are poorly trained, poorly paid, and often undisciplined. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there are frequent instances in which the security forces acted independently of government authority. The security forces have committed numerous, serious human rights abuses. Members of the security forces have committed extrajudicial killings, and the Government misused the judicial system to try, sentence, and execute numerous persons without due process. The Government also materially supported Mai Mai and Hutu armed groups, which, according to credible reports, repeatedly killed unarmed as well as armed persons in areas held by rebel forces. An international humanitarian NGO estimated that as many as 2.5 million persons have died during the war because of killings, malnutrition, or starvation.

Despite a stable cease-fire along the front lines during most of the year 2001, there continued to be reports throughout the year of killings and other human rights abuses by both progovernment and rebel forces, primarily in the eastern areas of the country. Verification of these reports was extremely difficult, particularly those emanating from remote areas and those areas affected by active combat. Independent observers often found access difficult due to hazardous security conditions as well as impediments imposed by authorities. Both progovernment and rebel forces extensively used propaganda disseminated via local media, including charges leveled at opposing forces, further complicating efforts to obtain accurate information. Progovernment Mai Mai guerilla units killed many civilians, sometimes after torturing them, in areas where they operated. Hutu militia units fighting on the side of the Government, and reportedly supported materially by the Government, also killed many noncombatants. Information about killings by Mai Mai, Interahamwe, and Hutu militia units remained very incomplete, and many such killings may not have been reported.

The law forbids torture; however, security forces and prison officials used torture, and often beat prisoners in the process of arresting or interrogating them. The Government has not responded to charges of inmate abuse and repeated beatings by its security force and prison officials. Members of the security forces also raped, robbed, and extorted money from civilians; some abusers were prosecuted. Incidents of physical abuse by security forces occurred during the arrest or detention of political opponents, journalists, and persons believed to be responsible for the assassination of Laurent Kabila.

The law prohibits such actions; however, members of the security forces routinely ignored these provisions in practice. Security force officials often harassed and robbed persons. Government security forces reduced but did not cease surveillance of the headquarters of opposition parties and the movements of leading opposition political figures. The security forces raided private businesses, such as newspapers, and arrested employees whom they accused of collaborating with rebel forces, although there were fewer reported cases than in previous years. Security forces routinely ignored requirements for search warrants, entering and searching at will. Security agents forced their way into private homes without search or arrest warrants, often beating the inhabitants, stealing money and goods, and raping occupants. On November 30 2001, four soldiers in an unmarked vehicle followed a Belgian couple to their home in the Binza neighborhood of Kinshasa. The soldiers forced their way into the house, stole money and other goods, and raped the couple's daughter. There were no reports of raids of opposition party leaders' residences; however, soldiers continued to occupy opposition leader Antoine Gizenga's home, which military forces confiscated for political reasons in 2000. On April 23, during the festivities to celebrate the return to the country of opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, security forces reportedly commandeered a number of vehicles from Tshisekedi supporters and parked them three miles away. Police often looted the homes of the persons they arrested and sometimes installed themselves in the homes of detainees. ANR security agents monitored mail passing through private express delivery companies as well as through the largely dysfunctional state mail service. The Government widely was believed to monitor telephone communications. Government forces forcibly conscripted adults and children; however, there were fewer reports of such activity than in previous years, and the Government stopped encouraging the enlistment of children in paramilitary organizations. Following the June visit of Olara Otunnu, the U.N. Special Representative for Children, the Government announced that it had ratified the Optional Protocol banning the participation in war of children under the age of 18. The Government cooperated with UNICEF to demobilize some child soldiers during the year 2001, but many children already in the armed forces continued to serve. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that the FAC forcibly conscripted homeless boys.

DETENTION

Despite legal provisions governing arrest and detention procedures, the security forces were responsible for numerous cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Under the law, serious offenses (those punishable by more than 6 months' imprisonment) do not require a warrant for a suspect's arrest. Only a law enforcement officer with "judicial police officer" status is empowered to authorize arrest. This status also is vested in senior officers of the security services. The law requires security forces to bring detainees to the police within 24 hours. The law also requires that detainees be charged within 24 hours and be brought within 48 hours before a magistrate, who may authorize provisional detention for varying periods. In practice these provisions were violated systematically. Security forces, especially those carrying out the orders of any official who could claim authority, used arbitrary arrest to intimidate outspoken opponents and journalists. Charges rarely were filed, and the legal basis for such detentions often was obscure. When the authorities did press charges, the claims that they filed sometimes were contrived or recitations of archaic colonial regulations.

COURTS

The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the judiciary has been not independent of the executive branch, which manipulated it during the year 2001. The Government failed to establish mechanisms to ensure the independence of the judiciary; a judicial reform decree, reportedly awaiting presidential approval since 1997, still had not been promulgated by year's end. The judiciary was ineffective and corrupt. The civil judiciary, including lower courts, appellate courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of State Security, largely was dysfunctional. Military courts have continued to try both military and civilian defendants.

Civil and criminal codes are based on Belgian and customary law. The legal code provides for the right to a speedy public trial, the presumption of innocence, and legal counsel at all stages of proceedings; however, the Government did not respect these rights in practice. Defendants have the right to appeal in all cases except those involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, all of which are adjudicated in theory by the Court of State Security, and except those cases adjudicated by the special military tribunals, whose jurisdiction is ill defined. The law provides for court-appointed counsel at state expense in capital cases, in all proceedings before the Supreme Court, and in other cases when requested by the court. In practice the Government did not respect fully these provisions. Corruption remained pervasive, particularly among magistrates, who were paid very poorly and only intermittently, and who also were trained poorly. The system remained hobbled by major shortages of personnel, supplies, and infrastructure.

Military courts, which are headed by a military judge and apply military law inherited from Belgium, try military and civilian defendants as directed by the Government, and tried nearly all cases during the year 2001. There is no appeals process in the military courts, and the accused do not have a right to legal counsel, although counsel may be provided at the discretion of the military judge. The Government tried to ensure that most defendants were provided with legal counsel during the year 2001. Sentencing guidelines also were inherited from Belgian military law; however, in practice military courts have broad discretion to go outside of these sentencing guidelines. Military courts, which are located in all military installations and in most urban areas, may be open to the public at the discretion of the military judge. The Government claimed that its use of military courts rather than civilian courts was a result of the ongoing war in the country. During the year 2001, the military courts sentenced civilians as well as military personnel to death after summary trials; however, death sentences from military trials were less frequent than in previous years, and the use of military courts to sentence civilians decreased. Military courts sentenced civilians to death for crimes against national security; however, unlike in previous years, civilians were not sentenced to death for non-violent offenses. No civilians who received death sentences were executed during the year 2001. Military courts also sentenced to death military defendants charged with armed robbery, murder, inciting mutiny, espionage, and looting while in a state of mutiny. Human rights NGO's reported that six military defendants who received death sentences for violent crimes were executed early in the year. In January the military court sentenced to death six child soldiers; however, their sentences were commuted following vigorous appeals from numerous human rights NGO's.

The Government held some political prisoners, including suspects in the assassination and several human rights activists. The precise number of political prisoners could not be ascertained due to restrictions on access to prisons by independent monitors. Most of the persons whom the Government incarcerated during the year 2001 for political offenses were detained without being tried. The Government allowed some international humanitarian organizations to visit political prisoners on a regular basis, but only when the detainees were held in an official prison. The Government does not allow these organizations to visit the numerous other unofficial detention facilities scattered throughout the country. It is in these facilities that most recently arrested detainees are held, questioned, and often subjected to abuse.

In the territories occupied by the various rebel factions, particularly the RCD/Goma, the system of justice essentially remained nonfunctional. Judges and other public servants were not paid their salaries. There were credible reports of judges accepting bribes in return for favorable decisions. RCD/Goma officials and others with influence reportedly used the judicial system to arrest individuals on false charges to extract money and property from these individuals. Credible sources claim that higher RCD/Goma authorities reprimanded judges who refused to participate in such schemes. There also were documented cases of indiscriminate military justice in which persons suspected of treason were executed without a trial. Officially, the RCD/Goma established measures to investigate and punish rebel soldiers guilty of committing atrocities against civilian populations. However, the initiative largely remained ignored and ineffective, and there were no reports that the RCD/Goma tried, convicted, or punished any of its troops for committing atrocities. Persons reportedly incarcerated by rebel forces for political reasons generally were detained without being tried formally.

CORRECTIONS

The Government has operated 220 known prisons and other places of detention, and in all such facilities, conditions have lremained harsh and life threatening; there reportedly have been many other secret or informal detention centers. Living conditions have been harsh and unsanitary, and prisoners have been treated poorly. The penal system has suffered from severe shortages of funds, medical facilities, food, and trained personnel. Overcrowding and corruption in the prisons have been widespread. Prisoners reportedly have been beaten to death, tortured, deprived of water, or starved to death. The Government has provided food at some prisons, but not in sufficient quantities to ensure adequate nutrition for all inmates. Prisoners are dependent on the personal resources of family or friends for their survival. Guards have been known to steal food brought to prisoners. During the year 2001, the Government continued to make limited efforts to improve conditions at Kinshasa's main prison, the Makala National Penitentiary and Reeducation Center. Inmates at Makala sleep on the floor without bedding and have no access to sanitation, potable water, or adequate health care. There have been reports of guards forcing many prisoners into small cells with room only to stand. There are no toilets, forcing prisoners to urinate and defecate on the floor. Tuberculosis, red diarrhea, and other infectious diseases have been widespread. According to credible reports, prison guards demand bribes to allow family members to bring food to prisoners. Prisoners also pay bribes to receive better treatment. Guards have shown a reluctance to release prisoners out of fear of losing part of their incomes. Women and juveniles generally have been detained separately from men. Although authorities do not target women for abuse, prison guards have been reported to rape female inmates. Pretrial detainees, who generally have been held in detention camps, have not been separated from convicted prisoners. Political prisoners often have been held separately from other prisoners.

The Government exacerbated the overcrowding of civilian prisons by incarcerating numerous soldiers believed to have been part of the alleged Masasu coup plot in 2000 or involved in the January 2001 assassination of Laurent Kabila. Security forces detained approximately 85 suspects involved in the assassination at Makala prison's Pavilion One where they were guarded by Zimbabwean soldiers to reduce the chance of escape. At year's end, it was unknown how many soldiers continued to be detained in civilian prisons; however, local human rights NGO's claimed that up to 70 percent of the prisoners at Makala were soldiers.

On May 19,2001, the Government released 400 inmates at Makala prison who were not guilty of violent crimes or attempts to overthrow the Government; the release reportedly reduced the inmate population at Makala to 2,072. Between July and September 2001, the Government released 200 prisoners, including an unknown number of soldiers. The Government also released and returned to Uganda four Ugandan prisoners of war (POW's) in accordance with the Lusaka Accords.

The Government allowed some international humanitarian organizations to visit political prisoners on a regular basis, but only when the detainees were held in an official prison; however, the ICRC was denied access to some regular detention facilities. The Government did not allow these organizations to visit the numerous unpublicized and unofficial detention sites scattered throughout the country where most newly arrested detainees were held, questioned, and sometimes subjected to abuse. The ICRC was denied access to these sites; however, the ICRC regularly visited a facility in Kinshasa where the Government provides shelter to Tutsis for their own protection. The ICRC is the only international NGO allowed to visit POW's.

Harsh prison conditions and abuse have led to an undetermined number of deaths in prisons. Many prisoners died of illness or starvation. Some prisoners have died as a result of torture, which was used following the alleged coup plot led by Masasu in 2000 and the January assassination of Laurent Kabila. Unlike in the previous year, the Office of the President did not use the secret detention center known as "Alfa," where both extrajudicial killings and deaths due to torture and neglect were common in the past; however, it used another unofficial detention center known as "Ouagadougou." On March 7, 2001, the Government closed the GLM intelligence service detainment and interrogation center, where many prisoners were reported to have died as a result of torture. However, despite a promise by the President to close all unofficial prisons, many remained in operation at year's end.

WOMEN

Domestic violence against women, including rape, is common, but there are no known government or NGO statistics on the extent of this violence. The police rarely intervened in domestic disputes. Rape is a crime, but the press rarely reported incidents of violence against women or children. Press reports of rape generally appear only if it occurs in conjunction with another crime or if the crime allegedly was committed by Rwandan, Ugandan, or Burundian troops in rebel-controlled areas of the country. Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is condemned widely by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is not widespread, but it is practiced on young girls among isolated groups in the north. The Government has not addressed the problem. Prostitution is not a crime (except for children under the age of 14), and there has been an increase in prostitution due to poor economic conditions. Women sometimes are forced into prostitution by their families out of economic necessity. There was no information available as to the extent of prostitution in the country.

CHILDREN

The number of orphans and street children increased during the year 2001. Street children in Kinshasa were subject to severe harassment and exploitation, particularly by soldiers and police. On August 15, 2001, police shot and killed one street child for shoplifting in Kinshasa's central market. This provoked a riot during which police arrested dozens of street children. Public sentiment for the most part rested with the police, since the Kinshasa population is distrustful of street children. There were credible reports that the FAC sexually exploited homeless girls. There were no documented cases in which security agents or others targeted children for specific abuse, although children were affected by the same generalized social disorder and widespread disregard for human rights that impact society as a whole. These conditions sometimes make it impossible for parents to meet their children's basic human needs. The Juvenile Code includes a statute prohibiting prostitution by children under the age of 14; however, child prostitution is common in Kinshasa and in other parts of the country. There were reports during the year 2001 that girls as young as 8 years of age were forced into prostitution to earn money for their families.

TRAFFICKING IN PEOPLE

There are no specific laws that prohibit trafficking in persons, and trafficking is a problem; the country is a source for trafficked women and children. Women are trafficked to Europe, mainly France and Belgium, for sexual exploitation. Rebel and foreign forces have abducted a number of children in the country to be used for labor or sex. Credible reports persisted that Rwandan and RCD rebel troops abducted young women from the villages they raided, although it was unlikely that such abductions were sanctioned by the Rwandan Government. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that UPDF troops abducted women from the villages they raided. There were confirmed reports that some Ugandan soldiers married Congolese women who later voluntarily left the country with their soldier husbands; there were no reports of forcible abductions.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Internet research assisted by Anita Ortega

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