Zaire Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997.
After 31 years of authoritarian rule, President Mobutu Sese Seko is generally considered to remain in control of the Government, although his poor health and prolonged absence from the country signaled a significant decline in his authority. A Sovereign National Conference (CNS) in 1992 formulated a new constitution and enacted legislation establishing a transitional government, directly challenging Mobutu.
Following a turbulent contest for political leadership in the ensuing 2 years between the governments of Etienne Tshisekedi and Faustin Birindwa, Mobutu allies and opposition leaders in 1994 passed a Transitional Act, creating a transition constitution and a Combined Transitional Parliament, the High Council of the Republic-Transitional Parliament (HCR-PT). In 1994 the HCR-PT elected Leon Kengo Wa Dondo as Prime Minister. A lawsuit contesting the legality of the election was set aside in September, but continuing political challenges and the protracted transition have left the Kengo Government with little effective authority. In 1995 the HCR-PT extended the transition period and scheduled new elections for mid-1997.
The HCR-PT officially installed a National Election Commission (NEC) in April, which established an electoral calendar
providing for a constitutional referendum and national elections in 1997. The HCR-PT approved the draft constitution in
October for approval by popular referendum.
President Mobutu's authority rests on his control of key security forces, which include the Civil Guard, a police force with
paramilitary and antiterrorist capabilities, and the 7,000-member Special Presidential Division (DSP). Both remain under the
command of Mobutu loyalist generals. There exist, in addition, the regular armed forces and a gendarmerie. The security forces suffer from major discipline problems due to irregular pay and a lack of trained commissioned and noncommissioned officers. Members of all the security forces committed numerous and serious human rights abuses.
Most sectors of the economy have been contracting since the late 1970's, and in the 1990's the decline accelerated. Production and incomes have fallen steadily, as the modern sector has virtually collapsed. Physical infrastructure has suffered serious damage, financial institutions have collapsed, and human capital has significantly eroded. Annual per capita national income is estimated at $115. Subsistence activities, a growing informal sector, corruption, and widespread barter characterize much of the economy. The insolvent public sector cannot provide even basic public services, and foreign economic assistance is limited, pending the 1997 elections.
Amid a general atmosphere of economic and personal insecurity, the Government continued to tolerate and commit serious human rights abuses. Security forces continued to commit numerous human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, looting, and arbitrary detention. In general, the authorities did not punish the perpetrators, and the problem of impunity remained.
Most prison conditions remain life threatening. Large scale military pillaging largely stopped in 8 of the 11 regions when the
Government met most military payrolls. Extensive pillaging occurred, however, in North and South Kivu and Haut Zaire as the Zairian Armed Forces (FAZ) fled advancing rebels.
Citizens were not able to vote to change their government in multiparty elections. Prolonged pretrial and extrajudicial detention is a problem. The judicial system was not independent and was plagued by corruption, lack of due process, lack of resources, and many other problems. It remained largely ineffective as a deterrent or corrective force to human rights abuses. Security forces continued to violate citizens' rights to privacy. Although freedom of expression continued to increase, and was particularly evident in the proliferation of independent newspapers, authorities sought to limit freedom of speech and the press. Military and civilian security forces detained or arrested journalists, editors, and newspaper vendors. The authorities permitted some political demonstrations to proceed unhindered, but at other times the police or Civil Guard intervened, using intimidation, violence and arrests. The Government and security forces restricted freedom of movement. Discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, and Pygmies occurred. Violence against women is seldom punished.
Severe, lethal ethnic conflict in eastern Zaire resulted in many deaths. The continued refugee presence resulting from the 1994 influx from Rwanda exacerbated existing tensions and contributed to a revolt by Banyamulenge ethnic Tutsis and other grou ps,which many observers conclude was supported by Rwanda and Uganda.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Security forces, including police, are alleged to have committed over 100 killings during the year although precise estimates are unavailable. Given the administrative and security breakdown throughout the country and the often anecdotal nature of the accounts of these killings, it was often difficult to determine whether these killings were committed for political, monetary,
personal, or law enforcement reasons. The Zairian Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AZADHO), a respected
human rights group based in Kinshasa, reported 102 cases of extrajudicial killing for the year. Reports often linked security
forces to killings and random acts of robbery or extortion. For example, the local press in Kinshasa in August reported that a
soldier shot and killed a merchant in the central market because she refused to pay for protection; the soldier was not arrested or charged with a crime. Only rarely have there been reports that civil or military authorities made inquiries into such incidents. In the east, interethnic conflicts led to many deaths (see Section 1.g.).
Persons incarcerated in the country's prisons are reportedly beaten by prison officials, while other prisoners die of illness or
starvation (see Section 1.c.).
In July 1995, in a particularly egregious example of extrajudicial killing, civil guards used lethal force to put down an unauthorized demonstration in Kinshasa by the Unified Lumumbist Party (PALU), led by Antoine Gizenga. Human rights
monitors stated that there were 14 deaths, including a soldier; 54 others were seriously wounded. The Government claimed,
however, that there were four deaths plus one soldier killed by the protesters. Gizenga was detained for several days and
released on bail. He reportedly was charged with organizing an unauthorized demonstration and possessing an M-16 assault rifle which authorities claimed was found in his house. Military forces attacked Gizenga's home and raped and killed a member of his family immediately after the 1995 incident. The military services launched official inquiries into the incident in August 1995 but failed to make public any results. The charges were dropped on February 29.
In several cases, notably in the interior, citizens responded to military aggression in kind, sometimes killing soldiers. On
February 15, for example, Goma residents killed a soldier whom they believed had earlier murdered a civilian. In Kinshasa in July, a group of citizens destroyed a courthouse after a gendarme working there shot and killed a taxi driver for refusing him free transportation. There are no reports that the gendarme was ever tried or sentenced for the crime. There were extrajudicial killings of Zairian officials by Banyamulenge rebels and their allies in the Kivus in November (see Section 1.g.).
There were several reported cases of disappearances, although the number appears to be down from previous years. As in the past, some of these disappearances may have been criminal, rather than political, in nature. Security forces regularly hold alleged suspects in secret detention for varying periods of time before acknowledging that they are actually in custody. The most frequent accounts describe unidentified assailants who abduct, threaten, and often beat their victims before releasing them. Journalists and opposition party members claim that they are targets for such actions. Patrick Shotsha On'oto, a youth leader who had been periodically harassed by uniformed personnel since participating in the 1992 Christian Students' March, disappeared in April 1995 after giving a lecture on the role young people should play in elections. His whereabouts remain unknown. In Kisangani a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), Friends of Nelson Mandela, reported the disappearance of Damadu Mbula, exact date unknown. Mbula has not been located. Mbula Kwete, a journalist based in Kinshasa, disappeared in September. According to a local newspaper, Kwete had been sought by the authorities for some time due to his political beliefs.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the law forbids torture, security forces and prison officials routinely disregard this prohibition, often beating prisoners in the process of arresting or interrogating them. In March in Bunia, in the region of Haut Zaire, according to the National League for Free and Fair Elections (LINELIT), a local NGO, two members of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) were arrested and tortured by members of the Civil Guard because of their political activities. AZADHO reported in August that two members of the government tax collectors' union were arrested and tortured for requesting an audit of the Director General of Taxation. AZADHO reported torture marks on the bodies of the two unionists. An American citizen was arrested in May and again in August. Akerele's mother, a Zairian, is a declared candidate for President. On both occasions, police beat Akerele; the second time police shaved his head and inscribed the letters "p.m." He was never charged with any crime. Several other released prisoners claim to have been struck, kicked, whipped, and suspended upside down for long periods of time. The authorities, including the judiciary, rarely investigate claims of torture, despite their prevalence. Members of all the security forces routinely prey on civilians, generally without official rebuke. They continued to commit many criminal infractions, including robbery, extortion, and looting.
Conditions in most of the 220 known prisons and places of detention remain life threatening. There are no precise numbers of prisoners; however, AZADHO reports that there are 1,067 prisoners in the Makala and Ndolo prisons in Kinshasa. The
Government does not acknowledge any responsibility to furnish prisoners food or medical supplies. Prison facilities are grossly inadequate; living conditions are harsh and unsanitary, and prisoners are poorly treated. The system has severe shortages of funds, medical facilities, food, and trained personnel. Overcrowding and corruption are widespread. Reports of prisoners being tortured, beaten to death, deprived of food and water, or dying of starvation are common. Prisoners are wholly dependent on personal resources of family or friends for their survival. Inmates at Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa sleep on the floor without bedding and have no access to sanitation, potable water, or adequate health care. Even in Makala's best-equipped ward, over 100 white collar criminals share one latrine. Tuberculosis, red diarrhea, and other infectious diseases are rampant. Although authorities have not targeted women for abuse, rapes occur. Of the 50 women in Makala Prison in August, 5 were accompanied by children under the age of 5 years. Political prisoners are held in a separate ward and are allowed little, if any, direct contact with visitors. On December 27, 1995, the Minister of Justice issued an order prohibiting the use of 25 of the 73 detention centers in the region of Kinshasa following a Judicial Commission's report that these facilities were in "an advanced state of unhealthiness incompatible with human dignity." Makala Central Prison was not listed among the 25 prisons prohibited from use. In August, 20 of these prisons were reportedly still being used.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), religious organizations, and local human rights organizations report that they have regular access to prisons nationwide. In some cases, however, the unpublicized creation of unofficial detention sites by the civil and military authorities circumvents their access to all prisoners and detainees.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
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 is also vested in senior officers of the security services. The law instructs security forces to bring detainees to the police within 24 hours. The law also provides that detainees must be charged within 24 hours and be brought within 48 hours before a magistrate, who may authorize provisional detention for varying renewable periods.
In practice, these provisions are rarely followed. Gendarmes and civil guards commonly detain civilians without any legal
authority. The security forces--especially those carrying out the orders of any official who can claim authority--use arbitrary
arrest to intimidate outspoken opponents and journalists. Charges are rarely filed, and the political motivation for such
detentions are often obscure. When the authorities do press charges, the claims that they file are sometimes contrived or
recitations of archaic colonial regulations.
Estimates of political detainees are unreliable due to detention in clandestine locations and military facilities. The practice of detaining people for their political views declined from past years.
Political detainees are typically held incommunicado, sometimes in unofficial detention sites, with irregular or no access to legal counsel. Newspaper journalist Sumalili Kilue, arrested and released in February by the military forces, was never charged with a crime.
On May 3, the authorities in North Kivu released Malira Kabuya, Byamungu Kahima, Ndasimwa Malira, and Bonane (Hunde
ethnic group). They were never charged, and there was no action on the part of the authorities to investigate their severe
mistreatment by the police. Authorities detained five individuals on different occasions in incidents related to the outbreak of hostility in the Kivus. Political opposition members Willy Mishiki and Joseph Olenga Nkoy were detained for, respectively, inciting student demonstrations and for criticizing the Government's handling of the Kivu crisis. Both were released on December 13.
Three members of the local NGO La Voix des Sans Voix, including the organization's president Floribert Cheyeba, were
detained for having inquired about the welfare of prisoners of war; authorities released the three on November 2.
Corrupt local officials routinely use detention as a means of extortion, arresting people on fabricated charges, releasing hem only after payment of a "fine."
Of the 1,067 detainees accounted for in Makala and Ndolo Prisons in August, more than 75 percent had yet to come before a judge, although many had spent as long as 2 years in prison.
The Transitional Act specifically forbids exile, and there were no known cases.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Despite provisions for independence in the Transitional Act, the judiciary is not independent of the executive branch, and the
latter can and does manipulate it.
Civil and criminal codes are based on Belgian and customary law. The legal system includes lower courts, appellate courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of State Security. There is a separate system of military tribunals with an appeals structure that parallels that of civilian courts. Decisions from the military tribunals may be appealed to the Supreme Court. Charges of misconduct against senior government officials must be filed directly with the Supreme Court.
The Transitional Act provides for the right to a speedy public trial, the presumption of innocence, and legal counsel at all stages of proceedings. Defendants have the right to appeal in all cases except those involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, all of which are adjudicated by the court of state security. 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 authorities ignore these protections.
Adherence to established legal procedures varies considerably, and fair public trial is rare. Corruption is pervasive, particularly among magistrates, who are very poorly and intermittently paid and are poorly trained. The judicial system is further hobbled by major shortages of personnel, supplies, and infrastructure. Defendants never meet their counsel or do so only after months of detention and interrogation. Cases are heard only when the defendant or plaintiffs pay all court costs, including salaries, a situation that routinely results in corruption.
Judicial officials assigned to remote areas in the country in some cases either refused to assume their posts or fled from them in ethnic purification campaigns, particularly in Maniema and Shaba. As a result, local authorities usurped judicial proceedings in some parts of the country.
There are no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners, but the trend of incarcerating people for their political views was down from past years. There were no reported cases of individuals formally accused, tried, and imprisoned for political beliefs.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Security forces routinely ignore the Transitional Act provisions for the inviolability of the home and of private correspondence. They ignore the requirement for a search warrant, entering and searching homes at will. In January, for example, four civil guards entered the home of Denis Wathum without a warrant, detained him at a military precinct, and asked for money. He was later released.
The threat of rape, sometimes perpetrated by uniformed persons, restricts the freedom of movement at night for women in
many neighborhoods. Groups of citizens have implemented neighborhood watch programs, but women in many parts of Kinshasa do not leave their homes at night.
Elements of the DSP and Civil Guard have reportedly been used to intimidate private businesses for the commercial gain of individuals. For example, the DSP in 1995 intervened in a private commercial dispute between a foreign-owned company and a local competitor owned by one of Mobutu's closest associates, and in September a house owned by the central bank was seized. Members of the armed forces are employed as security guards and enforcers. The Kengo Government strongly supports the contractual rights of foreign investors and has sought, albeit unsuccessfully in most cases, to curtail arbitrary interference by elements of the military forces. Uniformed personnel routinely interfere with daily business activities, especially those of the informal economy. Currency vendors are particularly at risk and remain subject to repeated robberies by uniformed assailants. In February and in November soldiers robbed several currency vendors in downtown Kinshasa's Wall Street district. They were never charged or brought to trial.
Citizens are free to join or refrain from participating in any political party. However, opposition party members complain that
they are followed or harassed by troops loyal to the President. In July Christian Badibangi, a member of the radical opposition, was shot and wounded by unknown persons in his home. No one has been charged. Citizens widely assume that the Government monitors mail and telephone communications. The Government does not restrict access to foreign publications.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
The July 1994 influx and protracted presence of refugees and former Rwandan soldiers aggravated longstanding conflicts
between Zairian groups, and violent ethnic clashes, described as ethnic cleansing, took place in North Kivu in several
subregions north of Goma in February. Also, ambiguities in Banyarwanda (peoples of Rwandan origin) legal status, caused by conflicting laws that bestow and then revoke citizenship, further inflamed tensions, especially with the prospect of multiparty elections. In the Masisi region of North Kivu almost all ethnic Tutsi citizens were forced out of the country due to fear of ethnic violence and are now refugees in Rwanda. Hutus were the dominant ethnic group in the Masisi region until October. These violent ethnic clashes in eastern Zaire included widespread human rights abuses, despite the deployment of additional Zairian troops to the region in February and March. These tribal conflicts encouraged ethnic groups in the region to engage in violent attacks against other tribes. Violence, or the threat of violence was carried out by Hutu, Hunde, Nande, and other Zairian ethnic groups, some of which formed bands of youth to terrorize the ethnic minority Tutsi. From February to October, more than 1,000 people were reported killed in the Masisi region as a result of fighting between the Banyarwanda and indigenous ethnic groups.
In October a rebellion nominally led by the ethnic Tutsis in South Kivu resulted in open warfare and the expulsion of Hutu
refugees from the immediate area of the refugee camps in North and South Kivu, and loss of life of all sides (see Section 2.d.). The rebellion expanded in November and December, and many observers concluded that the rebellion was supported by Rwanda and Uganda. Rebels have been accused of massacring segments of the refugee population, of summarily executing business people who did not comply with rebel directives, and of killing political leaders closely associated with the Government. Tutsi led rebels reportedly massacred 500 men at a camp for Rwandan refugees and Zairian displaced persons south of Bukavu in November. A Bukavu Catholic bishop was executed, allegedly by the FAZ for a public statement supporting Banyamulenge rights. The Catholic archbishop of Bukavu was murdered, apparently by the rebels.
In contrast, there were no reports of violence against Kasaians living in Shaba since the expulsion of 1992. The last groups of displaced Kasaians forced to flee Shaba were resettled in July 1995.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Transitional Act provides for freedom of expression as a fundamental civil right. However, while the press and the public can exercise freedom of expression much more openly than before the transition began in April 1990, in practice the
Government--notably those elements loyal to the President--continues to restrict freedom of speech and the press to a
Newspaper publishers are required to deposit copies of each issue with the Ministry of Information prior to publication. The
Government continued arbitrarily to intimidate, harass, and detain journalists and other media officials for publishing
controversial articles. On September 17, Ladi Luya, the editor of Le Palmares, a pro-opposition newspaper, was arrested for
publishing an article speculating on the President's health. He was released on September 28. In March the Minister of
Information suspended the publishing of two newspapers because of an article entitled, "The Financial and Budget
Mismanagement of the Zairian Armed Forces." Their publisher, Bonsanje Yema, was held briefly in detention but is now free. Though the two newspapers are still banned, Bonsanje is publishing a newspaper under a different title. In August the Governor of Haut Zaire banned the NGO LINELIT from having access to the government owned radio and television stations. They are still banned. Several church radio stations in Kisangani and Bunia (Haut Zaire) have been banned from broadcasting any nonreligious programs. In some cases, government and military authorities have targeted media reporters and officials for extortion purposes.
The principal means of communication with the public are radio and television, both of which remain under presidential control. Although there is no specific policy prohibiting opposition access to radio and television, opposition parties complain that they are un ble to gain access to such media.
In December 1995, the Parliament passed a new press law after consultations with media representatives, but the President
refused to sign it and sent the legislation back to Parliament for reconsideration. However, on June 22, President Mobutu
signed the law into effect. While the law deals mainly with media administrative issues, it also codifies the law in libel cases and requires journalists to reveal sources "when required by the law."
In principle, academic freedom is provided for in the Transitional Act. However, in the past when teachers and academic staff have organized to protest their salaries and working conditions, they were met with repression.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Transitional Act upholds the right to assemble and associate. The full exercise of the right of assembly is subordinate to the maintenance of "public order." The Government requires all organizers to apply for permits, which are granted or rejected at its discretion. In some cases, the Government uses this power to discriminate against political opponents, and has revived a 1959 colonial ordinance to justify banning public meetings. The Government allowed several groups, including the radical opposition, to hold several large gatherings, the last one on July 26, during which security forces exercised restraint. Nevertheless, in other instances security forces repressed unauthorized political and other demonstrations, sometimes violently (see Section 1.a.). On July 19, several UDPS members of the opposition who tried to hold a banned march were arrested and tortured. Dieudonne Nyengele was detained for almost a month but was released on August 16. NGO's in Bunia reported that opposition political parties' rallies were usually banned by regional authorities. (Bunia was in rebel hands at year's end.)
The Government requires that NGO's and political parties register with the Minister of Justice, but there have been no reported cases in which an organization has been refused registration.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Transitional Act provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this provision in practice, with the
reservation that the expression of this right neither disturb public order nor contradict commonly held morals. There is no legally established or favored church or religion.
A 1971 law regulating religious organizations grants civil servants the power to establish and dissolve religious groups. Although this law restricts the process for official recognition, officially recognized religions are free to establish places of worship and to train clergy. Many recognized churches have external ties, and foreign nationals are allowed to proselytize. The Government generally does not interfere with foreign missionaries. Many missionaries, however, report that local security forces and government authorities often demand money for alleged taxes and that they are never given receipts for the sums paid. There has been no known persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses or any other groups for practicing their faith in recent years. The Jehovah's Witnesses, formally unbanned in 1993, were permitted to construct a headquarters in Kinshasa.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Transitional Act allows for freedom of movement, but the Government, and in particular the security forces acting
independently, often restrict this freedom. All citizens, refugees, and permanent residents are nominally required to carry identity cards. However, the Government has not officially issued identity cards since 1987 when it invalidated the old ones, then banned the new ones. Consequently, some citizens carry both cards, while other citizens have none. Security forces erect checkpoints at airports, ferry ports, and roadblocks, usually to extort money from travelers. Passports and exit permits are available in principle to all citizens but often at exorbitant cost from corrupt officials. Women must have the permission of their husbands to apply for a passport (see Section 5).
The Government provides first asylum. Zaire housed nearly 1 million Rwandan Hutu refugees, mostly 1994 first asylum cases, along its densely populated eastern border until a revolt, led by Banyamulenge ethnic Tutsis and other groups, led to the November repatriation of the majority of the refugees.
The Government cooperated with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who estimated that there were also
approximately 150,000 Burundi Hutu refugees located in the area. Extreme regional insecurity and open warfare between
ethnic Tutsis, Hutu extremists, and Zairian security forces, prompted the United Nations and donor nations to request a military operation in the region of the Kivus in November. Plans for such an operation were suspended after the majority of the refugees in the Kivu camps returned to Rwanda.
The 1,500 members of the Zairian camp security contingent troops (CZSC) from the Special Presidential Division generally
performed their duties well in the camps throughout the year. However, cross-border violence rendered the overall refugee
security situation unstable, and refugees were subject to extortion, robbery, and sexual abuse. The UNHCR reported that
rapes in and outside the refugee camps were on the rise since January. There were reported abuses by the former Rwandan military forces located in the camps, by civilian refugees, and by local Zairians. The Kengo Government removed some intimidators from the refugee camps throughout the year. Most of the Rwanda Hutu hardliners, however, remained and moved deeper into Zairian territory following the massive return of refugees to Rwanda in November.
Zaire is a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention and its 1967 Protocol related to the treatment of refugees.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Transitional Act mandates the right of citizens to change their government, but citizens have not been able to exercise this right by voting in multiparty elections. President Mobutu, who in 1990 promised democratic reform, continued to impede
democratic progress through his control over key parts of the state apparatus, especially the military forces, and by distracting factions of the political opposition, often with spurious promises. In the process, the President exacerbated party maneuvering and political posturing in the HCR-PT and reinforced Tshisekedi's and the radical opposition's intransigence in Parliament. Despite these impediments, the Parliament passed implementing legislation establishing a National Electoral Commission (NEC) to conduct a nationwide census, register voters, publish a list of candidates, and supervise eventual elections. On January 1, the HCR-PT broke the deadlock over the question of the NEC's membership. In October the HCR-PT completed its deliberations on the draft constitution and implementing legislation for the referendum. President Mobutu promulgated the draft constitution in late December.
There are no official restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in politics. However, in practice, there are few
women or Muslims in senior positions in the Government or in political parties. In the new cabinet established December 24,
there is one female minister. A U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) study on women reported that there were 38 women in the
HCR-PT of a total membership of 739.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
While the Government rarely responds to human rights accusations, it permits a number of effective human rights organizations to operate, including AZADHO, LINELIT, and the Voice of the Voiceless. These organizations investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases, largely without government restriction. The Government acknowledged AZADHO's 1995 report of human rights abuses, although it disagreed with the group's figures.
The security forces continued occasionally to harass and intimidate human rights monitors, although there were fewer NGO
reports of this activity than in 1995. The Government permitted international organizations to visit and discuss abuses; the
ICRC was allowed to visit prisons on a regular basis.
In December the U.N. Human Rights Commission established a two-person field office in Kinshasa, with a mandate to assess human rights conditions.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Transitional Act forbids discrimination based on ethnicity, sex, or religious affiliation, but the Government made little
headway in advancing these provisions. Societal discrimination remained an obstacle to the advancement of certain groups, particularly women, Muslims, and the Pygmy (Batwa) ethnic group.
Domestic violence against women, including rape, is believed to be common, but there are no known government or NGO
statistics on the extent of this violence. Rape is a crime in Zaire, but the press rarely printed articles about specific incidents of violence against women or children. When the press reports a rape, it is generally as a consequence of some other crime, but rarely because of the act of rape itself. AZADHO listed only three reported rapes in 1996. The police rarely intervene in domestic disputes, and local NGO's dealing with women's issues stated that they were unaware of any Kinshasa court cases this year involving rape or spousal abuse.
Despite constitutional provisions, women are relegated to a secondary role in society. They comprise the majority of rimary
agricultural laborers, and small-scale traders and are almost exclusively responsible for childrearing. In the nontraditional sector, women commonly receive less pay for comparable work. Only rarely do they occupy positions of authority or high
responsibility. A UNICEF study on women in Zaire reported that only 85 of the country's approximately 600 lawyers are
women. Women also tend to receive less education than men. The UNICEF study reported that, as of 1995, 14 percent of
children between the ages of 10 and 14 had never been to school. Ranked by sex for this age group, 17.8 percent of girls had never attended school, compared with 10 percent for boys.
Women are required by law to obtain their spouse's permission before engaging in routine legal transactions, such as selling or renting real estate, opening a bank account, accepting employment, or applying for a passport (see Section 2.d.). A 1987 revision of the Family Code permits a widow to inherit her husband's property, to control her own property, and to receive a property settlement in the event of divorce. In practice, sometimes consistent with customary law, women are denied these rights. Widows are commonly stripped of all possessions--as well as their dependent children--by the deceased husband's family. Human rights groups and church organizations are working to combat this custom, but there is generally no government intervention or legal recourse. Women also are denied custody of their children in divorce cases, but they retain the right to visit them. Polygyny is practiced although it is illegal. Children of polygynous unions are legally recognized, but only the first wife is legally recognized as a spouse.
Government spending on children's programs is nearly nonexistent. Most schools, for example, only function in areas where
parents have formed cooperatives to pay teachers' salaries.
There are no documented cases in which security forces or others target children for specific abuse, although children suffer
from the same conditions of generalized social disorder and widespread disregard for human rights that affect society as a
whole. These conditions sometimes render parents unable to meet their children's basic human needs.
Female genital mutilation, which is widely condemned 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.
People with Disabilities
The law does not mandate accessibility to buildings or government services for the disabled. There are some special schools, many with missionary staff, that use private funds and limited public support to provide education and vocational training to blind and physically disabled students.
Societal discrimination continued against the Pygmy (Batwa) population of less than 10,000. Although citizens, Pygmies living in remote areas took no part in the political process.
The last official census was taken in 1984. It is estimated that the population is now 45 to 50 million, and comprises more than
200 separate ethnic groups. Four indigenous languages have national status. French is the language of government, commerce, and education. Members of President Mobutu's Ngbandi ethnic group are disproportionately represented at the highest levels of the military and intelligence services. Violent clashes between Banyamulenge ethnic Tutsis and other ethnic groups and government security forces in the North and South Kivu regions led to open warfare, ethnic cleansing, and loss of life (see Section 2.d.). Rwandan and ethnic Tutsis elsewhere in Zaire, notably in major urban centers like Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, and Kisangani, were targeted for harassment, systematic theft at their homes and businesses, and physical abuse following the outbreak of hostilities in the Kivus. Hundreds were forced to flee the country.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Transitional Act and other legislation permit all workers except magistrates and military personnel to form and join trade
Before 1990 the law required all trade unions to affiliate with the National Union of Zairian Workers (UNTZA), the sole
recognized labor confederation and which also formed part of Mobutu's Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR) party.
When political pluralism was permitted in April 1990, UNTZA disaffiliated itself from the MPR and reorganized under new
leadership chosen through elections deemed fair by outside observers. Although UNTZA remains the largest labor federation, almost 100 other independent unions are now registered with the Labor Ministry and two other large federations are active. Some of these are affiliated with political parties or associated with a single industry or geographic area.
The law recognizes the right to strike; however, legal strikes rarely occur since the law requires prior resort to lengthy
mandatory arbitration and appeal procedures. Labor unions have not been able to defend effectively the rights of workers in
the deteriorating economic environment. In July and August, several government employees were arrested and released several times for being members of the Solidarity trade union. Illegal general, sector, and other strikes, often called by political parties and not necessarily organized by unions, occur despite their illegality. The law prohibits employers or the Government from retaliating against strikers, but it is rarely enforced.
In November 1995, the International Labor Organization Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) cited Zaire for serious
violations of the principles of freedom of association on the basis of complaints arising from events between mid-1993 and
March 1995. The CFA expressed "deep concern" about "arrests, detentions, and torture of trade unionists, acts of repression against demonstrators, the hampering of trade union activities, and acts of antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of officials, prohibition of union meetings in the health services, refusal to register trade unions, creation of trade unions by the authorities, and the Government's refusal to negotiate with representative trade unions." The CFA regretted the Government's failure to respond to these allegations and called on it to make restitution where possible and to desist from such actions in the future. Trade unions report that in 1996 the Government did not officially stop this type of harassment.
Unions may affiliate with international bodies. The UNTZA participates in the Organization of African Trade Union Unity, and
the Central Union of Zaire is affiliated with the World Confederation of labor.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for the right to bargain collectively, and an agreement between the UNTZA and the employers association provided for wages and prices to be jointly negotiated each year under minimal government supervision. This system, which functioned until 1991, broke down as a result of the rapid depreciation of the currency. While collective bargaining still exists in theory, continuing hyperinflation has encouraged a return to pay rates individually arranged between employers and employees.
The collapse of the formal economy has also resulted in a decline in the influence of unions, a tendency to ignore existing labor regulations, and a buyer's market for labor. The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination, although this regulation is not strongly enforced by the Ministry of Labor. The law also requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. In the public sector, the Government sets wages by decree; public sector unions act only in an informal advisory capacity.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced labor, and such labor is not practiced.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The legal minimum age for employment is 18 years. Employers may legally hire minors between the ages of 14 and 18 with the consent of a parent or guardian, but those under 16 may work a maximum of 4 hours per day; those between the ages of 16 and 18 may work up to 8 hours. Employment of children of all ages is common in the informal sector and in subsistence
agriculture. Neither the Ministry of Labor, which is responsible for enforcement, nor the labor unions make an effort to enforce child labor laws. Larger enterprises do not commonly exploit child labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Most citizens are engaged in subsistence agriculture or commerce outside the formal wage sector. The minimum wage, last
adjusted by government decree in 1990, is irrelevant due to rapid inflation. Most workers rely on the extended family and
informal economic activity to survive. The maximum legal workweek (excluding voluntary overtime) is 48 hours. One 24-hour
rest period is required every 7 days.
The Labor Code specifies health and safety standards, and, while the Ministry of Labor is officially charged with enforcing
these standards, its efforts to do so remained insufficient. There are no provisions in the Labor Code permitting workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without penalty.