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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a nominally centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Under the constitution the president’s second and final term in office expired in December 2016. The government, however, failed to organize elections in 2016 in accordance with constitutional deadlines and the president remained in office. In December 2016 the government and opposition parties agreed to a power-sharing arrangement that paved the way for elections in 2017, the release of political prisoners, and an end to politically motivated prosecutions. The government failed to implement the agreement as written, however, and elections had not occurred by year’s end. On November 5, the national electoral commission announced that elections would be held in December 2018. The country’s most recent presidential and National Assembly elections, which many local and international observers characterized as lacking in credibility and seriously flawed, were held in 2011. All national-level democratically elected officials, including the president and both houses of parliament, have overstayed their elected mandates.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain control over the security forces.

Armed conflict in the east and Kasai regions exacerbated an already precarious human rights situation.

The most significant human rights issues included: unlawful killings; disappearances and abductions; torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and rape; life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention facilities; arbitrary arrests and prolonged detention; denial of fair public trial; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home; restrictions on freedoms of speech and the press, assembly, and association; abuse of internally displaced persons (IDPs); inability of citizens to change their government through democratic means; harassment of civil society, opposition, and religious leaders; corruption and a lack of transparency at all levels of government; violence and stigmatization against women, children, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, indigenous persons, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and persons with albinism, with little government action to investigate, prosecute, or hold perpetrators accountable; trafficking in persons, including forced labor, including by children; and violations of worker rights.

Authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Government security forces, as well as rebel and militia groups (RMGs) continued to commit abuses, primarily in the east and the central Kasai region. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and SGBV. RMGs also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and compelled forced labor. The government took military action against some RMGs but had limited ability to investigate abuses and bring the accused to trial (see section 1.g.).

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

State security forces (SSF) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in operations against RMGs in the east and in the Kasai region (see section 1.g.). According to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights (UNJHRO), security forces were responsible for 1,176 extrajudicial killings during the year across the country. Many of these extrajudicial killings occurred in the Kasais, where the SSF fought Kamuina Nsapu and other antigovernment militias. In December, UNJHRO reported that at least 170 women were victims of extrajudicial killings nationwide from January to October.

In February video footage of the SSF massacring unarmed civilians, including women and children, in the village of Mwanza Lomba in East Kasai Oriental circulated on social media. The massacre reportedly occurred in December 2016 during an engagement between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and Kamuina Nsapu. Another video, which also appeared on social media at the same time, showed government officials insulting and beating a mortally injured girl in what appeared to be a government office in Kananga (see section 1.d.). On March 14-15, the SSF killed at least 100 individuals, including women and children, in Kananga, according to reporting by the Catholic Church. From March 28-30 in Kananga, the SSF reportedly killed hundreds more civilians during what the SSF described as cordon and search operations for Kamuina Nsapu members. According to eyewitnesses, the Catholic Church, and UN personnel, civilians executed by the SSF included children as young as six months old, some of whom were shot in their beds.

In June the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed that 251 persons, including 62 children, of whom three were under the age of eight, were victims of extrajudicial and targeted killings from March 12 to June 19 in Kamonia territory of Kasai Province. The OHCHR reported that “local security forces and other officials actively fomented, fueled, and occasionally led, attacks on the basis of ethnicity.” According to the OHCHR, “survivors have spoken of hearing the screams of people being burned alive, of seeing loved ones chased and cut down, of themselves fleeing in terror.” The OHCHR also reported that the SSF and local authorities supported and allegedly armed a militia, the Bana Mura, responsible for killing civilians in Kasai. According to the OHCHR, “FARDC soldiers were seen leading groups of Bana Mura militia during attacks on villages.” In April and May, the Bana Mura reportedly attacked ethnic Luba and Lulua, “beheading, mutilating, and shooting victims; in some cases burning them alive in their homes.” The OHCHR determined that, in one attack on April 24, in the village of Cinq, “90 patients, colleagues and people who had sought refuge in a health center were killed, including patients who could not escape when the surgical ward was set on fire.” The OHCHR reported seeing “children as young as two whose limbs had been chopped off; many babies had machete wounds and severe burns. One two-month-old baby seen…had been hit by two bullets four hours after birth; the mother was also injured. At least two pregnant women were sliced open and their foetuses mutilated.”

In June the country’s Council of Catholic Bishops (CENCO) estimated that at least 3,383 civilians were killed in the Kasai region from October 2016 to June 19 by both the SSF and RMGs. This included as many as 500 persons allegedly killed by the SSF and RMGs in Dibula in December 2016, 150 allegedly killed by RMGs in Mbawu-Milambu in January, 100 allegedly killed by the SSF in Tshimbulu in February, 400 allegedly killed by the SSF in Kananga in March, 800 allegedly killed by the SSF in Mwene-Ditu in March, 100 allegedly killed by the SSF in Tshisuku in May, and 130 allegedly killed by the SSF in Maswika in May.

On September 15, the SSF shot and killed 36 Burundian refugees and asylum seekers in Kamanyola outside of Bukavu in eastern DRC.

In December the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reported that at least 80 persons were killed by FARDC’s 2103 Regiment from November 29 to December 1 in Kabeya Lumbu and Mbawu, which are 15 miles and 27 miles north of Tshikapa, respectively. The killings reportedly took place during a military operation against a Kamuina Nsapu-affiliated militia group. Six FARDC personnel were also reportedly killed.

On December 7, Human Rights Watch and the Congo Research Group published a report stating that at least 526 civilians were killed in North and South Kivu provinces from June to November. The reported stated that the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), other RMGs, and government proxy RMGs were responsible for some of these killings.

RMGs committed arbitrary and unlawful killings throughout the year (see section 1.g.). Kamuina Nsapu militants recruited and used children as soldiers and human shields and targeted SSF, members of the government, and others. In June the OHCHR stated it had documented serious abuses committed by the Kamuina Nsapu militia and accused the Kamuina Nsapu of carrying out targeted killings, including against “members of the armed forces, police, public officials, and civilians perceived to cooperate with them, as well as alleged sorcerers. Witnesses indicated that the Kamuina Nsapu militia comprises many children, some as young as seven, many of them under the influence of drugs.” In March Kamuina Nsapu killed, beheaded, and dismembered the wife of a local mayor in Luebo. Kamuina Nsapu killed three employees of the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) in Kasai Central Province, including a CENI official who was killed and beheaded on April 3 and the director of the territorial CENI office killed in May. In April the same RMG killed three officials from the Ministry of Education who had travelled to Kasai to administer student examinations. The government stated that the Kamuina Nsapu also beheaded 39 police officers on the road between Tshikapa and Kanaga in March, but provided no names of those allegedly killed.

On August 7, another RMG, the Bundu dia Kongo militia, killed as many as eight SSF members during attacks in Kinshasa. According to the United Nations, the SSF response resulted in the deaths of at least 40 persons.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributable to the SSF during the year. Authorities often refused to acknowledge the detention of suspects and in some cases detained suspects in unofficial facilities, including on military bases. The whereabouts of some civil society activists and civilians arrested by the SSF remained unknown for long periods. For instance, a local NGO reported in July that dozens of individuals arrested during September and December protests in 2016 were still being held at Makala Central Prison.

RMGs and some FARDC elements kidnapped numerous persons, generally for forced labor, military service, or sexual slavery. Many of these victims disappeared (see section 1.g.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law criminalizes torture, but there were credible reports that the SSF continued to torture civilians, particularly detainees and prisoners. In July the DRC National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) stated, “Most people arrested by security forces on suspicion of belonging to [Kamuina Nsapu] claim they were victims of serious torture. Following this treatment, some lost their lives or became mentally ill.” The CNDH also noted that suspected militants brought to military camp Bobozo in Kananga were “subjected to torture and treatment of a rare cruelty.” In February government officials were filmed beating a mortally injured girl in what appeared to be a government building in Kananga. On December 31, police were filmed beating peaceful and in some cases sedentary protesters with sticks in the towns of Beni and Kasindi.

As of October 24, the United Nations reported that it had received 15 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against military, police, and civilian personnel deployed with MONUSCO during the year. Nine of these cases involved allegations of transactional sex; four involved allegations of an exploitative relationship; one involved the sexual assault of a child; and one involved the alleged rape of a child. As of October 24, all investigations were pending.

The United Nations reported that it received one allegation during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse against DRC peacekeepers serving outside the DRC. The allegation of transactional sex, alleged to have taken place at an unspecified time in 2014-15, was made against a DRC military officer deployed with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). As of October 24, an investigation was pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in most prisons throughout the country remained harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Even harsher conditions prevailed in small detention centers run by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR), Republican Guard (RG), or other security forces, which often detained prisoners for lengthy pretrial periods without access to family or legal counsel. Some civil society activists arrested in Kinshasa were reportedly held in an underground cell operated by the RG at a military camp.

Physical Conditions: Serious threats to life and health were widespread and included violence (particularly rape); food shortages; and inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and medical care. Because inmates had inadequate supplies of food and little access to water, many relied exclusively on relatives, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and church groups to bring them sustenance. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited an unknown number of prisoners. In July a prison director in Tshikapa reported that eight prisoners had died of malnutrition in three weeks, citing food shortages. Also in July part of the central prison in Goma caught fire, reportedly due to electrical problems. Authorities generally confined men and women in separate areas but often held juveniles with adults. In August the provincial office of the CNDH successfully advocated for 10 minors detained in Mbuji Mayi to be separated from adults in the prison. Authorities rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners. Central prison facilities were severely overcrowded, with an estimated occupancy rate of 200 percent of capacity; they also had little ventilation or light, subjecting detainees to extreme heat. For example, Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, which was constructed in 1958 to house 1,500 prisoners, held as many as 8,500 inmates during the year, although as many as 4,000 of these escaped during a mass prison break on May 17. The United Nations reported 100 individuals died in detention between January and June, mostly from starvation or illness; 45 of these deaths occurred in Kongo Central Province.

Most prisons were understaffed, undersupplied, and poorly maintained, often allowing escapes. From January to June 30, the United Nations documented at least 5,528 prisoner escapes.

Authorities often arbitrarily beat or tortured detainees. For example, the United Nations reported that one 14-year-old boy arrested by the FARDC for association with the Kamuina Nsapu militia was tortured by soldiers who hacked off his thumb and cut him at least 22 times over his body with a machete. Government officials were also filmed beating a mortally injured girl in what appeared to be a government building in Kananga (see section 1.a.).

RMGs detained civilians, often for ransom, but little information was available concerning detention conditions (see section 1.g.).

Administration: Some prison directors could only estimate the numbers of detainees in their facilities. Authorities denied access to visitors for some inmates and often did not permit inmates to contact or submit complaints to judicial authorities. Directors and staff generally ran prisons for profit, selling sleeping arrangements to the highest bidders and requiring payment for family visits.

Independent Monitoring: The government regularly allowed the ICRC, MONUSCO, and NGOs access to official detention facilities maintained by the Ministry of Interior but consistently denied access to facilities run by the ANR and the RG.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but both the SSF and RMGs routinely arrested or detained persons arbitrarily (see section 1.e.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Congolese National Police (PNC) operates under the Ministry of Interior and has primary responsibility for law enforcement and public order. The PNC includes the Rapid Intervention Police and the Integrated Police Unit. The ANR, overseen by the presidency, is responsible for internal and external intelligence. The FARDC and the military intelligence service operate under the control of the Ministry of Defense and are primarily responsible for external security, but also fulfill an internal security role. The presidency oversees the RG, and the minister of interior oversees the Directorate General for Migration, which, together with the PNC, are responsible for border control. Military magistrates are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all crimes allegedly committed by SSF members, whether or not committed in the line of duty. Civilians can be tried in military tribunals if charged with offenses involving firearms. The military justice system often succumbed to political and command interference, and security arrangements for magistrates in areas affected by conflict were inadequate. Justice mechanisms were particularly ineffective for addressing misconduct by mid- and high-ranking officials due to a requirement the judge of a military court must outrank the defendant.

Elements of the SSF were undisciplined and corrupt. PNC and FARDC units regularly engaged in illegal taxation and extortion of civilians. They set up checkpoints to collect “taxes,” often stealing food and money and arresting individuals who could not pay bribes. The FARDC suffered from weak leadership, poor operational planning, low administrative and logistical capacity, lack of training, and questionable loyalty of some of its soldiers, particularly in the east. In August, two FARDC soldiers in Ituri, including a regiment commander, were arrested and brought before a military court in Kisangani for selling their weapons to South Sudanese rebels. On January 5 and 8 in Lubumbashi, Upper Katanga Province, PNC officers shot and injured two men and one agent of the CENI in an altercation related to PNC officers charging a 1,000 Congolese francs ($0.63) entrance fee to voter registration centers.

Although the military justice system convicted some SSF agents of human rights abuses, impunity remained a serious problem. For example, the government’s inquiry into September and December 2016 opposition protests failed to attribute responsibility for dozens of extrajudicial killings and disappearances perpetrated by the SSF, and no SSF members were prosecuted or held accountable by year’s end. The government maintained joint human rights committees with MONUSCO and used available international resources, such as the UN-implemented technical and logistical support program for military prosecutors as well as international NGO-supported mobile hearings.

Military courts convicted some SSF agents of human rights abuses. The United Nations reported that the government convicted at least 77 FARDC soldiers and 28 PNC officers for crimes constituting human rights violations from January to June. On July 6, a military court in Mbuji Mayi, East Kasai Province, convicted eight FARDC soldiers for their roles in a December 2016 massacre of civilians in Mwanza Lomba in the province. The soldiers received sentences ranging from 12 months to life in prison. Video footage of the massacre circulated in February and showed FARDC executing civilians, including women and children. In May military prosecutors arrested and started legal proceedings against four police officers accused taking a bribe to facilitate the escape of an individual suspected of involvement in the March 12 killings of UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. The four police officers were charged, and the trial continued at year’s end. A fifth police officer implicated in the case remained at large.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law arrests for offenses punishable by more than six months’ imprisonment require warrants. Detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities must inform those arrested of their rights and the reason(s) for their arrest, and they may not arrest a family member in lieu of the suspected individual. Authorities must allow arrested individuals to contact their families and consult with attorneys. Security officials, however, routinely violated all of these requirements.

While the law provides for a bail system, it generally did not function. Detainees who were unable to pay were rarely able to access legal counsel. Authorities often held suspects incommunicado, including in facilities run by the ANR, military intelligence, and the RG, and refused to acknowledge these detentions.

Prison officials often held individuals longer than their sentences due to disorganization, inadequate records, judicial inefficiency, or corruption. Prisoners unable to pay their fines remained indefinitely in prison (see section 1.e.).

In 2014 the PNC issued a decree reforming arrest and detention procedures. The decree requires the PNC to verify facts before arresting individuals, separate men from women, and ensure the detention centers are sanitary. Authorities did not consistently implement the decree.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arrested and detained numerous perceived opponents and critics of the government, occasionally under the pretext of state security, and often denied them due process, such as access to an attorney (see sections 1.a., 2.a., and 5). Throughout the year security forces regularly held protestors and civil society activists incommunicado and without charge for extended periods. For example, on June 15, state agents arrested opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) Youth League president David Mukeba in Kisangani for raising concerns about the country’s voter registration process. The ANR allegedly held Mukeba incommunicado until August 31, when he was released.

On July 31, the SSF arbitrarily arrested at least 131 civil society activists and civilians following nationwide protests. While most were released within two days, five individuals who attempted to deliver a letter to the local CENI office in Lubumbashi were prosecuted. In August a court convicted four of the activists for disturbing the peace and sentenced them to eight months in prison. In November a court convicted the fifth activist, Timothee Mbuya, of provocation and incitation of disobedience and sentenced him to 12 months in prison. The United Nations reported that the SSF arbitrarily arrested 32 persons in Lubumbashi on October 22 in connection with the visit of opposition politician Felix Tshisekedi and released them on October 24.

The SSF arrested as many as 74 persons across the country for planning or participating in November 15 protests. Among those arrested and later released was Binja Yalala, a 15-year-old girl on the island of Idjwi in Lake Kivu. According to MONUSCO, the SSF arbitrarily arrested 213 persons during protests on November 30. Most of those arrested were subsequently released.

On December 31, police arrested as many as 180 persons for participating in peaceful protests organized by the Catholic Church in support of the December 2016 agreement and credible elections. Most of these were subsequently released. Several civil society activists who were arrested on December 30, including Carbone Beni, remained in ANR detention facilities at year’s end. Other civil society activists arrested in late December were imprisoned in Kindu, Kananga, and Kisangani.

In December, UNJHRO reported that at least 528 women were victims of arbitrary arrest during the year.

Police sometimes arbitrarily arrested and detained persons without filing charges to extort money from family members or because administrative systems were not well established.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention, ranging from months to years, remained a problem. NGOs estimated that at least three quarters to four-fifths of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Judicial inefficiency, administrative obstacles, corruption, financial constraints, and staff shortages also caused trial delays.

Local NGOs reported in August that several individuals arrested during or following protests in 2016 were being held incommunicado and without charge at Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention; however, few were able to obtain prompt release and compensation.

Amnesty: Following the defeat of the March 23 Movement (M23) in 2013, the National Assembly enacted a law in 2014 that provides amnesty for acts of insurgency, acts of war, and political offenses. Many individuals who should have benefited from the amnesty, however, reportedly remained in custody at year’s end in contravention of both the 2014 law and the December 2016 agreement between the government and opposition parties.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was corrupt and subject to influence. Officials and other influential individuals often subjected judges to coercion. For instance, during the year CENCO investigated, in accordance with the December 2016 agreement between the government and opposition parties, the 2015 conviction of opposition politician Moise Katumbi for real estate fraud. CENCO concluded that the government and the country’s intelligence agencies pressured judicial officials to convict Katumbi, called the case against Katumbi a politically motivated “farce,” and recommended that charges be dropped and Katumbi be allowed to return to the country. The government, however, took no action to clear Katumbi’s name in accordance with CENCO’s recommendations. In July, one of the judges who presided over the Katumbi case, Jacques Mbuyi Lukasu, was shot and injured by unidentified armed men.

CENCO also concluded that a similar property fraud case against opposition member Jean-Claude Muyambo was equally unfounded and amounted to “judicial harassment.” CENCO called for Muyambo’s immediate release. Muyambo, who claimed to have permanent damage to his foot following beatings during his arrest, was sentenced in February 2016 to 26 months in prison. Instead of releasing him in March for time served, the government appealed the decision and, on April 12, a court in Kinshasa extended Muyambo’s sentence to five years in prison plus 1,580,000 Congolese francs ($9,900) in damages for breach of trust and illegal retention of documents.

In July a court in Kinshasa convicted Sindika Dokolo, a Congolese businessman and son-in-law of former Angolan president Eduardo Dos Santos, of property fraud in absentia and sentenced him to one year in prison and a $15,000 fine. During the year Dokolo emerged as a vocal critic of President Kabila on social media while living abroad, and in June accused the ANR of fabricating charges allegedly to prevent him from returning to the country. Local media first reported the existence of the case in February.

A shortage of judges hindered the government’s ability to provide expeditious trials, and judges occasionally refused transfers to remote areas where shortages were most acute because the government could not support them there. Authorities routinely did not respect court orders. Disciplinary boards created under the High Council of Magistrates continued to rule on numerous cases of corruption and malpractice each month. Many of these rulings included the firing, suspension, or fining of judges and magistrates.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for a presumption of innocence, but this was not observed in practice. Authorities are required to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary. The public may attend trials at the discretion of the presiding judge. Defendants have the right to a trial within 15 days of being charged, but judges may extend this period to a maximum of 45 days. Authorities only occasionally abided by this requirement. The government is not required to provide counsel in most cases, with the exception of murder trials. While the government regularly provided free legal counsel to indigent defendants in capital cases, lawyers often did not have adequate access to their clients. Defendants have the right to be present and to have a defense attorney represent them. Authorities occasionally disregarded these rights. Authorities generally allowed adequate time to prepare a defense, although there were few resources available. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present evidence and witnesses in their own defense, but witnesses often were reluctant to testify due to fear of retaliation. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal, except in cases involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, which the Court of State Security usually adjudicates. These rights extend to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees. Authorities charged political prisoners with a variety of offenses, including offending the person or threatening the life of the head of state, inciting tribal hatred or civil disobedience, spreading false rumors, treason, and attacking state security. While the government permitted international human rights organizations and MONUSCO access to some of these prisoners, authorities consistently denied access to detention facilities run by the RG, military intelligence, and the ANR (see section 1.c.).

During the year CENCO concluded that Jean-Claude Muyambo’s conviction and imprisonment were unfounded and amounted to “judicial harassment.”

In Goma the SSF arrested 13 opposition activists for planning and participating in peaceful protests in December 2016. The 13 face charges of inciting civil disobedience. According to a report, one of the activists, Sephora Bidwaya, was kept in detention despite serious chronic health problems linked to a miscarriage during her detention as well as chronic asthma, which was aggravated by a fire in the prison in July. All 13 activists remained in prison as of August 16.

In August, four civil society activists who were arrested on July 31 for attempting to march and deliver a letter to the Lubumbashi CENI office were convicted of disturbing the peace and sentenced to eight months in prison. In November a fifth member of this group, NGO activist and human rights lawyer Timothee Mbuya, was convicted of provocation and incitement of disobedience and sentenced to 12 months in prison.

As of June 30, the United Nations estimated that at least 170 persons were held in detention for their political opinions or legitimate citizens’ activities.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations within the civil court system. Most individuals, however, preferred to seek redress in the criminal courts.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, the SSF routinely ignored these provisions. The SSF harassed and robbed civilians, entered and searched homes and vehicles without warrants, and looted homes, businesses, and schools. The United Nations reported that FARDC soldiers conducted door-to-door searches in the Nganza commune of Kananga, Kasai Central Province, from March 28 to 30 looking for suspected Kamuina Nsapu militia sympathizers. According to the United Nations, the SSF broke into homes and killed hundreds of civilians. NGOs reported that some individuals were killed if they could not pay members of the SSF.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but citizens were unable to exercise this right during the year due to the government’s and CENI’s failure to organize elections in accordance with the constitution.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The government failed to organize elections in 2016 in accordance with the constitution. In December 2016 the government and opposition parties agreed to a power-sharing arrangement that paved the way for elections by the end of December. The government failed to implement the agreement as written, however, and elections had not occurred by year’s end. On November 5, CENI announced that elections would be held in December 2018. The country’s most recent presidential and National Assembly elections, which many local and international observers characterized as lacking in credibility and seriously flawed, were held in 2011. All national-level democratically elected officials, including the president and both houses of parliament, have overstayed their elected mandates.

CENI held indirect gubernatorial elections in eight provinces on August 26. Since only provincial assembly members could vote, the total number of voters in these contests ranged from 17 provincial assembly members in Lower Uele Province to 34 in South Kivu. The ruling party coalition and independent candidates each won four gubernatorial seats. Critics accused the ruling party coalition of manipulating the rules to disqualify independent candidates who were critical of the government.

CENI last held presidential and parliamentary elections in 2011 and declared Joseph Kabila the winner of the presidential election. Several international observer missions stated the results of the elections were “seriously flawed” and “lacked credibility” due largely to irregularities and a lack of transparency in the vote tabulation process. NGOs reported security forces killed or arbitrarily detained dozens of citizens prior to the voting. The United Nations confirmed at least 41 persons had died at the hands of the SSF throughout the electoral period and that security forces physically harmed hundreds. Losing candidates contested the election results for approximately 340 of the 500 parliamentary seats at the Supreme Court. Many of the cases reportedly had little merit. In 2012 the Supreme Court certified the results of 482 parliamentary electoral contests. Denis Engunda of the Christian Democratic Party won election to the National Assembly from Equateur Province in 2012, marking the resolution of the last contested result from the 2011 parliamentary elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Although President Kabila was nominally independent, the president’s Presidential Majority political alliance–which included his former party (the PPRD), the Alliance of Democratic Forces for Congo, and other parties–enjoyed majority representation in government, the parliament, and judicial bodies, including on the Constitutional Court and CENI. State-run media, including television and radio stations, remained the largest source of information for the public and government (see section 2.a.). There were reports of government intimidation of opposition members, such as denying opposition groups the right to assemble peacefully (see section 2.b.), limiting travel within or outside the country, targeting opposition leaders in politically motivated judicial actions, and exercising political influence in the distribution of media content.

The law recognizes opposition parties and provides them with “sacred” rights and obligations. Government authorities and the SSF, however, prevented opposition parties from holding public meetings, assemblies, and peaceful protests. The government and the SSF also limited opposition leaders’ freedom of movement and arbitrarily arrested opposition party members. At various points during the year, the SSF used force to prevent or disrupt opposition-organized events. National Assembly president Aubin Minaku prevented the opposition UDPS party from changing its representative to the CENI, allegedly in violation of a December 2016 agreement between the government and opposition parties. The government and Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala also continued its practice of duplicating opposition parties, also allegedly in violation of the December 2016 agreement.

In a number of districts, known as “chefferies,” traditional chiefs perform the role of a local government administrator. Unelected, they are selected based on local tribal customs (generally based on family inheritance) and then are approved and paid by the government.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women held 10 percent of seats in the National Assembly (50 of 500) and 6 percent in the provincial assemblies (43 of 690). Four of 108 senators were women. Among the 59 government vice prime ministers, ministers, ministers of state, and vice ministers, six were women, a decrease in the total number from that of the government formed earlier in 2016 (from 11 percent of 68 such positions to 10 percent of 59 such positions). Some observers believed cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men.

Some groups, including indigenous persons, claimed they had no representation in the Senate, the National Assembly, or provincial assemblies. Discrimination against indigenous groups continued in some areas, such as Equateur, East Kasai, and Upper Katanga provinces, and contributed to their lack of political participation (see section 5).

The national electoral law prohibits certain groups of citizens from voting in elections, in particular members of the armed forces and the national police.

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