An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

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, President Joseph Kabila’s second and final term in office expired in 2016. The government, however, failed to organize elections in 2016 in accordance with constitutional deadlines, and the president remained in office. In 2016 the government and opposition parties agreed to a power-sharing arrangement that paved the way for elections, the release of political prisoners, and an end to politically motivated prosecutions. The government failed to implement the agreement as written, however, and in November 2017 it scheduled presidential, legislative, and provincial elections for December 23, 2018. In August the president announced that he would abide by his constitutionally mandated term limit and not seek an illegal third term. Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30; however, presidential elections were canceled in Beni, Butembo, and Yumbi with those legislative and provincial elections postponed to March 2019. President Kabila did not run as a candidate and announced he would hand power over to the winner, which would mark the first civilian transfer of power resulting from elections. Results of the elections were still pending at year’s end.

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

Armed conflict in eastern DRC and parts of the Kasai regions exacerbated an already precarious human rights situation.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings by government and armed groups; forced disappearances and abductions by government and armed groups; torture by government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home; threats against and harassment of journalists, censorship, internet blackouts, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; delayed elections and restrictions on citizens right to change their government through democratic means; corruption and a lack of transparency at all levels of government; violence against women and children, caused in part by government inaction, negligence; unlawful recruitment of child soldiers; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and persons with disabilities or members of other minority groups; trafficking in persons, including forced labor, including by children; and violations of worker rights.

Despite the occurrence of some notable trials against military officials, 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 sexual and gender based violence. 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.

The 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 389 extrajudicial killings across the country as of year’s end. Many of these extrajudicial killings occurred in the Kasais, where the SSF fought Kamuina Nsapu and other antigovernment militias. RMGs were responsible for at least 780 summary executions.

On January 21 and February 25, security forces used lethal and disproportionate force to disrupt protests led by Roman Catholic and some Protestant church leaders in support of credible elections and implementation of the December 2016 Agreement. During the two days of protests, UN observers and others witnessed members of the Republican Guard and other members of security forces fire directly at protesters, resulting in seven deaths on January 21 and two on February 25. Among those killed on January 21 was Therese Kapangala, a 24-year-old studying to become a nun, who was shot and killed outside her church in a Catholic parish in Kinshasa. During protests organized by the Catholic Lay Committee on February 25, state security forces killed two persons, including local human rights activist Rossy Mukendi Tshimanga, who was shot by a rubber bullet inside a church compound. From August 3 to 7, the SSF used tear gas and live bullets to disperse protests, resulting in the deaths of three persons, including two children, and the injury of at least two persons by police.

In March a joint report by the UN human rights office in Kinshasa (JHRO) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) covering January 2017 through January stated that the SSF used illegal, systematic, and disproportionate force against protesters, resulting in 47 civilian deaths. On November 12 and 15, police were responsible for the deaths of two students who were protesting against a teachers’ strike at the University of Kinshasa.

On July 4, the OHCHR released a report on abuses in the Kasais region that accused RMGs Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura and the SSF of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Based on interviews with 524 persons, the experts’ report accused the military of cooperation with Bana Mura militia and an excessively violent response to conflict in the region, particularly the 2101st Regiment that was redeployed to Kananga from North Kivu in 2007 when it was part of the Fifth Integrated Brigade. The report estimated that the conflict, which was most violent in 2017, resulted in “thousands of deaths and a disastrous human rights situation” and displaced 1.4 million persons. Among other incidents, the report documented an SSF attack in May 2017 in Tshikulu that resulted in the summary execution of at least 79 civilians, including at least 19 children. On September 15, a regional civil society development network in the Kasai region released a report stating that in March 2017 the SSF killed 264 civilians in the village of Nganza during antimilitia operations.

RMGs committed arbitrary and unlawful killings throughout the year (see section 1.g.). Numerous armed groups recruited and used children as soldiers and human shields and targeted the SSF, members of the government, and others.

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 several cases detained suspects in unofficial facilities, including on military bases and in detention facilities operated by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). The whereabouts of some civil society activists and civilians arrested by the SSF remained unknown for long periods.

RMGs kidnapped numerous persons, generally for forced labor, military service, or sexual slavery. Many of these victims disappeared (see section 1.g.). In July the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) confirmed that 66 persons were previously kidnapped in Kasai Province by the Bana Mura, a RMG supported by the government, and used as sexual slaves. The kidnapped included two women, 49 girls, and 15 boys who had been in captivity since as early as April 2017. The government denied the findings, claiming the information was false.

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 November the British nongovernmental organization (NGO) Freedom from Torture reported that torture was widespread both inside and outside conflict zones in DRC. It had accumulated witness testimony of almost 900 cases of torture from DRC, including 74 cases from 2013 to 2018. The report states, “Torture is used predominantly as a form of punishment for political and human rights activism, and as a deterrent against future involvement.” Throughout the year activists circulated videos of police beating unarmed and nonviolent protestors.

As of October 10, 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. Of these cases, 11 involved allegations of an exploitative relationship; three involved allegations of transactional sex; two involved the alleged rape of a child, and one involved sexual assault. As of October 10, all investigations were pending. The United Nations also reported that Bangladeshi peacekeepers were involved in sexual exploitation and abuse while deployed in MONUSCO from 2015 to 2017. The peacekeepers in question were repatriated by the United Nations, and investigations by Bangladeshi government were pending at the end of the year.

The United Nations reported that during the year it received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a peacekeeper from the DRC while he was deployed in United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central Africa Republic. The case alleged rape of a minor. Investigations by both the United Nations and the DRC were still pending as of year’s end. Twenty-six allegations reported prior to 2018 remained pending, in many cases awaiting additional information by the DRC. The cases included 17 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of minors.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in most prisons throughout the country worsened during the year, aggravating the already harsh and life threatening conditions due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Even harsher conditions prevailed in small detention centers run by the 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. Poor ventilation subjected detainees to extreme heat. Central prison facilities were severely overcrowded, with an estimated occupancy rate of 200 percent of capacity. 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. In September, Radio Okapi reported there were 7,400 inmates at Makala. Authorities generally confined men and women in separate areas but often held juveniles with adults. Women were sometimes imprisoned with their children. In July local NGO Rural Action for Development reported that 13 infants suffered from malnutrition and other diseases due to poor conditions while held with their mothers in Munzenze Prison in Goma. Authorities rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners.

Because inmates had inadequate supplies of food and little access to water, many relied exclusively on relatives, NGOs, and church groups to bring them sustenance. The United Nations reported 223 individuals died in detention during the year, a 10-percent increase compared with the 201 deaths recorded in 2017. These resulted from malnutrition, poor hygienic conditions, and lack of access to proper medical care. From January to June, cholera and tuberculosis epidemics aggravated the already overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, leading to a 20 percent increase in deaths in detention compared with the same period in 2017. In July, five prisoners died from severe diarrhea and malnutrition due to poor sanitation and inadequate medical services in Tshela Prison in Kongo Central. In January, MONUSCO reported that 57 inmates in Manono Prison in Tanganyika Province suffered from malnutrition and that prisoners had endured 10-14 days without food.

Most prisons were understaffed, undersupplied, and poorly maintained, leading to corruption and poor control of the prison population that contributed to prison escapes. On March 21, media reported that two police officers were sentenced to life in prison by a military court for their involvement in a March 18 prison break in Lubumbashi, Haut Katanga province. The United Nations reported that at least 801 individuals escaped detention centers during the year, a significant decrease from the number of 5,926 escapees in 2017.

Authorities often arbitrarily beat or tortured detainees. On September 13, police arrested seven members of the local civil society group Les Congolais Debout! (Congolese Awake!) at the University of Kinshasa while they were campaigning against the use of voting machines on grounds that the seven were carrying out political activities in what is supposed to be an apolitical environment. After reportedly being beaten, whipped, and forced to clean toilets with bare hands while in police custody, their attorney said they were transferred to an ANR cell and, as of November 15, remained in detention without charges.

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. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited an unknown number of prisoners. 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 RG, ANR, and the intelligence services of the military and police.

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 Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the military intelligence service operate under the control of the Ministry of Defense and are primarily responsible for external security but in reality focus almost exclusively on internal security. 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 may 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. According to the United Nations, state agents were responsible for 61 percent of the human rights violations documented during the year. 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. Nonprofit organizations and the United Nations reported regular instances of extortion, sexual-based violence, including gang rape, arbitrary arrests, and violent assaults by the SSF on Congolese migrants and expelled refugees returning from Angola in October.

Although the military justice system convicted some SSF agents of human rights abuses, impunity remained a serious problem. 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 violations. The United Nations reported that the government convicted at least 120 FARDC soldiers and 66 PNC officers for crimes constituting human rights violations during the year. On July 26, the mobile High Military Court in Bukavu sentenced on appeal three convicted high-ranking FARDC officers for various crimes against humanity: Colonel Julius Dhenyo Becker to two years in prison, a sentence that observers criticized for its relative leniency; Lieutenant Colonel Maro Ntuma to 20 years in prison for conviction of crimes including murder; and Colonel Bedi Mobuli to life in prison for conviction of crimes against humanity and crimes of war, including rape and murder. On October 20, the Military Tribunal of Ituri convicted and sentenced Sergeant Bienvenue Mugisa Akiki to death for the October 16 murder of four civilians in Djugu territory of Ituri Province.

The trial continued for individuals accused of involvement in the March 2017 killings of UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. After a delay of several months, the military prosecution began to call key suspects to testify, and, on December 7, arrested a military colonel and announced he was a suspect in the killings. Other key suspects have been called to testify although not all have been apprehended.

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 unofficial detention centers 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 often remained indefinitely in prison (see section 1.e.).

In 2014 the PNC issued a decree reforming arrest and detention procedures. The decree required the PNC to verify facts before arresting individuals, separate men from women, and provide sanitary detention centers. Some improvements in recently rehabilitated detention centers were noted although authorities did not consistently implement the decree, including the holding of men and women together.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arrested and detained numerous civil society activists, journalists, and opposition party members who criticized 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. The United Nations reported the SSF arbitrarily arrested at least 2,933 persons across the country from January through August. In September the UNJHRO reported that at least 561 women were victims of arbitrary arrest from January through August.

In November 2017 civil society activist and member of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party Christian Lumu, was arrested and then transferred to an ANR detention cell. He was held without charge and on November 28, was transferred to a military prison where he remained as of December 31. Witnesses stated that he received electric shocks and was beaten while in detention.

On January 21, more than 100 persons were arbitrarily arrested across the country according to the United Nations, for participation in peaceful demonstrations organized by Catholic and some Protestant church leaders in support of credible elections and implementation of the December 2016 Agreement. On February 25, the United Nations reported that at least 7,194 persons were arbitrarily arrested during protests organized by the Catholic Lay Association. The United Nations reported at least 89 persons, including one minor, were arrested and kept under preventive detention during protests organized in support of opposition politician Moise Katumbi in Lubumbashi and Kasumbalesa in Haut Katanga province on August 3-7.

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. On September 15, a report by the regional civil society development network CRONGD documented that, of 461 persons arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of RMG involvement, 44 were in detention without charge.

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: A total of 148 persons were released following the signing of four executive orders by the minister of justice in January and February. Two of the executive orders applied the law on amnesty of 2014 (43 persons released) and the two others granted conditional release to persons sentenced for participation in an insurrectional movement, war crimes, and political offenses.

On December 29, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba announced the pardon of “several hundred” prisoners for the New Year and said these individuals would be released. The prisoners were not released by year’s end.

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. On August 16, the minister of justice claimed to have issued an international arrest warrant for businessman and opposition politician Moise Katumbi, who was convicted in 2015 of real estate fraud despite a Catholic Council of Bishops (CENCO) 2017 report concluding that the SSF pressured judicial officials to convict him. It was not clear that any warrant was actually issued. CENCO also concluded that a similar property fraud case against opposition member and businessman Jean-Claude Muyambo was equally unfounded and amounted to “judicial harassment.” Muyambo, who claimed to have permanent damage to his foot following beatings during his arrest in 2015, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 and ordered to pay 1,580,000 Congolese francs ($9,900) in damages for conviction of breach of trust and illegal retention of documents. Muyambo was among the prisoners slated to be released by the justice ministry on December 30, but he remained in prison at year’s end.

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. One judge on the High Council said its March investigation into corruption concluded that 250 magistrates were guilty of counterfeiting, including fake diplomas, and failure to pass the recruitment test.

A recruitment drive during the year, however, increased to 3,000 the number of military and civilian judges, and in July the minister of justice announced the recruitment of appellate court judges throughout the country. That same month, three members of the nine-member constitutional court were inducted, including one advisor to the president and another prominent member of the president’s ruling party.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for a presumption of innocence, but this was not always observed. Authorities are required to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, but this did not always occur. 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 and humanitarian organizations and MONUSCO access to some of these prisoners, authorities always denied access to detention facilities run by the RG, military intelligence, and the ANR (see section 1.c.).

As of year’s end, the United Nations estimated that at least 71 persons were held in detention for their political opinions or legitimate citizens’ activities, although the United Nations reported that many more persons deemed political prisoners might be held in unreported locations. A local NGO, Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ), reported at the UN Security Council on November 13 that 54 political prisoners were in detention. On September 25, a court sentenced activists Carbone Beni and three other members of the citizen movement Filimbi to 12 months in prison for offenses against the head of state, undermining state security, and distributing subversive material. They were originally arrested in December 2017 following advocacy for peaceful protests organized by the Catholic Church in support of the December 2016 Agreement and credible elections. They were held without charge in ANR cells for nearly six months before they were taken to the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kinshasa for questioning and transferred to Makala Prison. Observers criticized the proceedings for presenting confessions obtained under duress and for fabricating evidence. An international human rights NGO stated that police and intelligence agents beat the Filimbi members while they were in detention and during interrogation. On December 25, Beni and the three other Filimbi members were released for time served.

On July 16, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe announced the government had liberated 4,019 prisoners as part of the December Agreement’s “confidence building” measures. Most of the prisoners, however, were released some time earlier under the terms of the 2013 Nairobi agreement between rebel group M23 and the government and were not political prisoners.

In August, four civil society activists who were arrested in July 2017 for attempting to march and deliver a letter to the Lubumbashi Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) office were convicted of disturbing the peace and sentenced to eight months in prison. In November 2017 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. Mbuya served six months in jail before he was released on February 13 while the four other activists were released shortly before him.

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 previously reported that FARDC soldiers conducted door-to-door searches in the Nganza commune of Kananga, Kasai Central Province, in March 2017 looking for suspected Kamuina Nsapu militia sympathizers. The OHCHR report on the Kasais released in July attributed 89 civilian deaths, including at least 11 children, to the March 2017 FARDC operation (See 1.a.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials, the president, or government policies regarding elections, democracy, and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, and arrest. The government also prevented journalists from filming or covering some protests and refused to renew or grant visas for several foreign media correspondents.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, the president, or the SSF. Plainclothes and uniformed security agents allegedly monitored political rallies and events.

Press and Media Freedom: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications (CSAC) to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned predominantly in Kinshasa, although with some representation across the country, and the government licensed a large number of daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio stations and three television stations, and the president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and to a lesser extent church leaders, owned or operated the majority of media outlets.

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee of 250,000 Congolese francs ($156) and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were also subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns of harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

In November local NGO Journalists in Danger (JED) reported 121 cases of attacks on media from November 2017 to October and attributed 77 percent of these attacks to government agents, including nearly half to state security forces. JED reported that the number of attacks on media had not changed from 2017. JED reported 53 cases of arrests of journalists, including 15 who remained in detention for more than the legal limit of 48 hours without being charged. In September the District Court of Kinshasa found editor of satirical newspaper Le Grognon Tharcisse Zongia guilty by default of criminal defamation charges for accusing Barthelemy Okito, secretary general of the Sports Ministry, of embezzling public funds meant for the national football team. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to intimidation and violence by the SSF. On July 6, Bukavu correspondent for Africanews Gael Mpoyo and his family went into hiding after receiving multiple death threats for posting a documentary film concerning the forcible eviction of residents in Mbobero from a property belonging to President Kabila.

The 121 documented press freedom violations reported by JED included 53 journalists detained or arrested, 30 cases of journalists threatened or attacked, and 21 instances of authorities preventing the free flow of information. Other incidents included efforts to subject journalists to administrative, judicial, or economic pressure. At year’s end the government had not sanctioned or charged any perpetrator of press freedom violations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the CSAC is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power. Some press officers in government agencies allegedly censored news articles by privately owned publications. Privately owned media increasingly practiced self-censorship due to fear of potential suppression and the prospect of the government shutting them down as it had done previously to a handful of major pro-opposition media outlets.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by the government not to cover events organized by the opposition or news concerning opposition leaders.

Libel/Slander Laws: The national and provincial governments used criminal defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. For example, during the year Minister of Kasai Oriental Alphonse Ngoyi Kasanji charged television journalist Eliezer Ntambwe with defamation for an accusation during an interview that the governor had stolen a 35-carat diamond. Ntambwe was arrested on April 2, but released on April 11 after the governor withdrew his charge.

National Security: The national government used a law that prohibits anyone from making general defamatory accusations against the military to restrict free speech.

Nongovernmental Impact: RMGs and their political wings regularly restricted press freedom in the areas where they operated.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Some private entrepreneurs made moderately priced internet access available through internet cafes in large cities throughout the country. Data-enabled mobile telephones were an increasingly popular way to access the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8.6 percent of individuals in the country used the internet in 2017.

According to Freedom House, there were reports that government authorities disrupted access to news coverage to prevent critical reports on the government and government figures.

On December 30, 2017, the day before planned protests calling on President Kabila to step down, Posts and Telecommunications Minister Emery Okundi Ndjovu directed internet providers and cell phone companies to “suspend” short message service and internet service throughout the country “for reasons of State security.” On January 1, internet access was restored. The government cut most internet service from January 21 to January 24 during church-led protests calling on the government to hold elections and implement the December 2016 Agreement. The government cut internet service again on February 25 during additional protests. On December 31, the day after nationwide elections, the government cut internet again. The internet remained blocked at year’s end. Authorities continued to reserve the right to implement internet blackouts, citing a 2002 act that grants government officials the power to shut down communications and conduct invasive surveillance. Additionally, the Criminal Code of 1940 and Press Freedom Act of 1996 have been used to restrict freedom of expression.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government frequently restricted this right and prevented those critical of the government from exercising their right to peaceful assembly. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government maintained that public events required advance permission and regularly declined to authorize public meetings or protests organized by opposition parties or civil society groups critical of the government. The government did, however, authorize protests and assemblies organized by progovernment groups and political parties. During the year the SSF beat, detained, or arrested persons participating in protests, marches, and meetings. The SSF also used tear gas, rubber bullets, and at times live ammunition, resulting in numerous civilian deaths and injuries.

According to MONUSCO there were 633 violations of democratic space from January through August. These included restrictions on freedom of assembly, the right to liberty and security of person, and of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

On March 19, a joint report of the UNJHRO and the OHCHR for 2017 stated that the SSF used illegal, systematic, and disproportionate force against protesters, resulting in 47 civilian deaths and several hundred wounded during protests. The report stressed the illegality of government prohibitions on public demonstrations and accused the FARDC’s 11th Rapid Reaction Brigade and the Republican Guard of grave violations of human rights for indiscriminately using live rounds specifically against civilians in August 2017 after members of the RMG Bundu dia Kongo separatist group attacked police and civilians in Kinshasa. The report also cited instances of threats and intimidation against protestors by government officials and outlined specific attacks and restrictions against UNJHRO personnel. The report confirmed at least nine deaths during December 2017 demonstrations, at least 98 wounded, and 185 arbitrarily arrested. For the January 21 demonstrations, the report cited at least seven persons killed, 67 wounded, and at least 121 persons arbitrarily arrested, including four children. The report also stressed that security force members were rarely, if ever, held accountable for disproportionate use of force during protests. It stated the United Nations was aware of only a few instances in which security force members were held accountable, including the case of one police officer who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in Bukavu for conviction related to his actions during a protest in July 2017.

In March government and civil society representatives released a report of investigations into abuses related to protests during December 2017, on January 21, and on February 25, alleging 14 deaths, 65 injuries, and 40 persons arrested, detained, and in some cases tortured.

In Kinshasa opposition parties were regularly allowed to hold political rallies. On April 24, the opposition UDPS party held a rally in the capital. On September 29, opposition parties held a rally in Kinshasa, but reports and photographs showed that the government sought to deter attendance by halting public transportation, raising fuel prices, and dumping garbage near the site of the rally.

The government, which must simply be informed of nonviolent demonstrations and is not vested with authorizing their occurrence, consistently prohibited nonviolent demonstrations elsewhere in the country, notably in Lubumbashi, Kananga, and Goma. On October 13, government officials and the SSF blocked opposition leaders from organizing a political rally in Lubumbashi to highlight concerns regarding the electoral process. The SSF prevented opposition leaders from accessing a residence of the rally leader and fired live ammunition into the air while opposition members attempted to reach the planned rally point. From November 21 to election day on December 30, the JHRO recorded 16 election-related deaths. This included three deaths in Lubumbashi on December 11, one death in Tanganyika on December 12, one death in Mbuji-Mayi on December 13, one death in Kisangani on December 14, one death in Tshikapa on December 18, one death in Lubumbashi on December 19, six deaths in Tanganyika on December 27, one death in Beni on December 28, and one death in South Kivu province on election day on December 30.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Civil society organizations and NGOs are required to register with the government and may receive funds only through donations; they may not generate any revenue, even if it is not at a profit. The registration process is burdensome and very slow. Some groups, particularly within the LGBTI community, reported the government had denied their registration requests.

During an interactive dialogue with civil society in Kinshasa in March 2016, the minister of justice and human rights stated that only 63 of more than 21,000 NGOs in the country were formally registered. Many NGOs reported that, even when carefully following the registration process, it often took years to receive legal certification. Many interpreted registration difficulties as intentional government obstacles for impeding NGO activity.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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. Although CENI organized elections during the year, more than a million voters were disenfranchised by CENI’s decision to cancel elections in the Ebola-affected areas of Beni and Butembo in eastern DRC ostensibly for public health and security reasons. Elections were also canceled in the western town of Yumbi after intercommunal violence killed nearly 1,000 persons from December 16 to 18. Unknown numbers of voters were also disenfranchised on election day due to CENI’s failure to produce accurate voter lists or publicize the location of polling stations.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30 but widely criticized due to irregularities and a lack of transparency. Results were not announced by year’s end.

The government stated it accredited 270,000 domestic observers but denied accreditation to many international elections observers and media outlets. Election observers reported significant irregularities on election day due to delays opening some voting stations, confusion regarding the use of electronic voting machines, the location of polling stations, and the posting of voter lists.

On December 12, a fire at the CENI warehouse in Kinshasa allegedly destroyed approximately 8,000 voting machines and other voting materials needed to hold elections in Kinshasa. On December 20, the CENI announced elections would be delayed by seven days in order to replace the voting equipment destroyed in the fire. On December 26, CENI cancelled presidential elections in Beni and Butembo in North Kivu province citing risks of Ebola and insecurity and in Yumbi in Mai-Ndombe province due to recent intercommunal violence. CENI announced that legislative and provincial elections in those areas would be held in March 2019.

Gubernatorial elections took place in the provinces of Maniema and Kwango in March. However, the Supreme Court invalidated the Maniema gubernatorial election and the vice governor was appointed as acting governor.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Outgoing president Joseph Kabila’s Presidential Majority political alliance–which included his former party (the People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy), 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. On December 19, the Governor of Kinshasa prohibited presidential candidates from holding campaign activities in Kinshasa allegedly due to security concerns. The announcement, however, was widely believed to be politically motivated to suppress support for opposition candidates.

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, including the election campaign period, the SSF used force to prevent or disrupt opposition-organized events. On December 11, in Lubumbashi, PNC agents used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse violently opposition candidate Martin Fayulu from holding a campaign rally, resulting in deaths. The JHRO recorded 16 election-related deaths during the campaign period, from November 21 to election day on December 30. This included three deaths Lubumbashi on December 11, one death in Tanganyika on December 12, one death in Mbuji-Mayi on December 13, one death in Kisangani on December 14, one death in Tshikapa on December 18, one death in Lubumbashi on December 19, six deaths in Tanganyika on December 27, one death in Beni on December 28, and one death in South Kivu province on election day on December 30.

National Assembly president Aubin Minaku continued to prevent the opposition UDPS party from changing its representative to the CENI in violation of a December 2016 Agreement between the government and opposition parties.

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 if approved are then paid by the government.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Women held 9 percent of seats in the National Assembly (44 of 500) and 6 percent in the provincial assemblies (43 of 690). Five 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 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, 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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Corruption by officials at all levels as well as within state-owned enterprises continued to deprive state coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. NGOs and media reports during the year alleged irregularities in the public contract management process for the awarding of contracts related to the voter registration process. A September report by NGO The Sentry alleged corruption and self-enrichment by CENI officials in the awarding of a no-bid $150 million contract for electronic voting machines to be used in the December elections. Additional revenue losses were due to racketeering and exploitation of minerals in the east by the SSF, FARDC elements, and RMGs. Artisanal mining remained predominantly informal and illicit and strongly linked to armed groups and elements of the FARDC. Artisanal mining products, particularly gold, were smuggled into Uganda and Rwanda, often with the connivance of government officials. As of 2017 research by NGO International Peace Information Service estimated 44 percent of artisanal mine sites in the east were free of illegal control or taxation by the SSF or RMGs; 38 percent were under the control of elements of the FARDC; and the remainder was under the control of various armed groups. In 2014 the government launched a mechanism to standardize supply-chain processes across the Great Lakes Region for artisanally produced cassiterite (tin ore), wolframite (tungsten ore), and coltan (tantalum ore), the implementation of which continued. On June 12, the government publicly launched an artisanal gold traceability initiative but had not begun implementation by year’s end. The mining code of 2018 mandates membership in mining cooperatives for all artisanal miners, and requires accreditation to transform, transport, and conduct transactions in artisanal mining products.

In 2013 Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel estimated that the country lost $1.36 billion between 2010 and 2012 due to undervalued mining asset sales. In July the NGO Global Witness reported that more than $750 million in payments by mining companies to country’s tax agencies and state mining companies between 2013 and 2015 never reached the national treasury. In November the Carter Center reported 1.2 trillion Congolese francs ($750 million) in unaccounted for mining revenues earned by the parastatal Gecamines from 2011 to 2014. This constituted more than two-thirds of the 1.75 trillion Congolese francs ($1.1 billion) in mining revenues earned by Gecamines during this period. The Carter Center’s analysis of Gecamines contracts and finances found that the government could also not account for more than half a billion dollars in infrastructure loans from Chinese banks. The report documented how government officials circumvented the mining code and regulations governing state-owned enterprises to divert revenue and observed that suspicious financial transactions appeared to coincide with the country’s electoral cycles. In a public statement after the Carter Center’s report was released, Gecamines chief executive officer Albert Yuma claimed all revenues were accounted for and denied the allegations.

An UNGOE report published in June noted that armed groups and criminal networks, including DRC security officers, continued to derive illegal revenues through gold smuggling and illicit taxation. The UNGOE provided information that a significant portion of the gold traded by Uganda and Rwanda is sourced fraudulently from neighboring countries, including the DRC, and then exported to countries including the UAE. The UNGOE previously reported cases involving FARDC elements and RMGs in the exploitation and trade of gold in the country, including that of Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba, also known as Tango Four. According to the report, Amisi owned several gold dredges through a local gold mining company that benefited from FARDC protection. The UNGOE previously reported “almost all artisanally sourced gold in the DRC is exported illegally and underestimated in both value and volume.” The June UNGOE report also documented cases of fraud in the tagging and transport processes of various minerals in the east, noting that, while some projects are underway to strengthen the government’s technical capacity to detect fraud in the transport of minerals, the UNGOE believed structural measures were also needed to address the problem of corruption among agents responsible for tagging. In June the UNGOE reported several cases where FARDC officers violated the Tin Supply Chain Initiative traceability system by fraudulently tagging minerals. The group also found that some FARDC officers participated in the smuggling and illegal transportation of minerals. In September the Congolese Association for the Fight Against Corruption alleged Congolese citizens smuggled an estimated $30 million in gold to Hong Kong via Kenya.

A report published by the UNGOE in 2014 indicated that elements of the FARDC, local poachers, and armed groups remained involved in the illegal exploitation of and trade in wildlife products, including ivory (see section 1.g.).

In 2016 the government launched an initiative to boost the economy that included specific measures to fight tax evasion and enforce penalties against corrupt civil servants. In 2016 the prime minister established the Corruption and Ethics Monitoring Observatory (OSCEP) to monitor corruption in the civil service. OSCEP’s mandate includes generating a database of corruption-related activities as well as coordinating anticorruption activities among government agencies, including the antifraud brigades of the Customs Authority, the Ministry of Mines, the General Inspectorate of Finance, the Financial Intelligence Unit (CENAREF), and the Bureau of the Special Advisor of the Head of State in Charge of Good Governance. Although CENAREF undertook some anti-money-laundering activities, OSCEP remained largely inactive.

In an effort to combat corruption, the government continued a program to pay many civil servants and security forces in major cities by direct deposit, eliminating an important means of graft. Previously, the government utilized a cascading cash payment system, disbursing salaries to senior officials for payment to subordinate officials, who in turn paid their staffs.

The law criminalizes money laundering and terrorist financing. Limited resources and a weak judicial system hampered the ability of CENAREF to enforce regulations against money laundering. Local institutions and personnel lacked the training and capacity to enforce the law and its attendant regulations. Former minister of justice, Luzolo Bambi is the president’s special envoy to fight corruption and money laundering. On August 4, Bambi set out his renewed “battle against impunity” in a letter to the attorney general. In 2016 the president issued an executive ordinance granting Bambi’s office broad arrest authority. The arrest authority did not prove effective, since the special envoy lacked the personnel to make arrests, and for the most part remained limited to referring suspects to the court system for prosecution.

Government authorities and wealthy individuals at times used antidefamation laws that carry criminal punishments, as well as other means of intimidation, to discourage media investigation of government corruption (see section 2.a.).

As in previous years, a significant portion of the country’s 2018 enacted budget (approximately 14 percent) consisted of off-budget and special account allocations that were not fully elaborated. These accounts facilitate graft by shielding receipts and disbursements from public scrutiny. Under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative standard of 2016, the DRC is required to disclose the allocation of revenues and expenditures from extractive companies. While awaiting the onset of the country’s first validation for compliance under this standard, preliminary assessments have revealed serious weaknesses.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president and ministers to disclose their assets to a government committee. The president and all ministers and vice ministers reportedly did so when they took office. The committee had yet to make this information public.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Elements of the SSF continued to kill, harass, beat, intimidate, and arbitrarily arrest and detain domestic human rights advocates and domestic NGO workers, particularly when the NGOs reported on or supported victims of abuses by the SSF or reported on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the east. In 2016 the government declined to renew the work permit of a Human Rights Watch researcher and revoked the visa of Congo Research Group director Jason Stearns, officially for reasons of “undesirability.” During the year the government declined to issue or renew visas for some international journalists and researchers. Representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the ANR met with domestic NGOs and sometimes responded to their inquiries.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated at times with investigations by the United Nations and other international bodies but was not consistent in doing so. For example, the government refused to grant the United Nations access to certain detention centers, particularly at military installations such as military intelligence headquarters, where political prisoners were often detained. In Kasai the government and the SSF provided MONUSCO limited access to suspected mass grave sites, including a site located inside the FARDC officers training school in Kananga, and impeded UN access to individuals arrested in connection with the killing of two UN experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. The government also blocked UNJHRO access to morgues, hospitals, and detention facilities during protests in January and February in Kinshasa.

In March 2017, UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan were killed in Kasai Central Province. Cell phone video footage showed the two being shot and Catalan later being decapitated by a group of militants. The UNGOE called the incident an assassination “in a premeditated setup under hitherto unclear circumstances” and stated the killings constituted “a deliberate attack against the UN Security Council, which is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.” The government accused members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia of killing the experts, and in June 2017 a trial began in Kananga of 18 defendants, 14 of whom, including several individuals who appeared in the video, remained at large. In October 2017 the trial was suspended but resumed in August. On December 6, a DRC Military Intelligence Colonel was arrested, one of four government officials implicated in the murders. In its 2017 annual report, the UNGOE wrote that the evidence it reviewed “does not yet allow the Group to attribute responsibility for the murder.” The available evidence does not preclude the involvement of different actors, however, such as (pro- or antigovernment) Kamuina Nsapu factions, other armed groups, as well as members of state security services. In May media reported the United Nations stated that the government “hampered” investigations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the National Commission on Human Rights made some progress, publishing reports on violence in Beni territory, protests during December 2017, January, and February, and the Kamuina Nsapu phenomenon in the Kasais. It also visited detention centers, followed up on complaints of human rights violations from civilians, and held a meeting on the right to demonstrate. It continued to lack sufficient funding for overhead costs or to have representation in all 26 provinces.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law on sexual violence criminalizes rape, but the offense was not always reported by victims and the law was not always enforced. Rape was common. The legal definition of rape does not include spousal rape. It also prohibits extrajudicial settlements (for example, a customary fine paid by the perpetrator to the family of the victim) and forced marriage, allows victims of sexual violence to waive appearance in court, and permits closed hearings to protect confidentiality. The minimum penalty prescribed for conviction of rape is a prison sentence of five years, and courts regularly imposed such sentences in rape convictions.

From January to August, the UNJHRO reported that at least 893 women and girls were victims of sexual and gender based violence. The UNJHRO stated that perpetrators were primarily armed groups followed by FARDC, police, and intelligence agents. The UNJHRO stated that RMGs, including the Raia Mutomboki, also targeted women and girls during the year. On April 15-19, the United Nations reported that at least 66 women and girls were victims of sexual violence, including rapes and gang rapes, by members of the Raia Mutomboki in the South Kivu provincial towns of Keba, Wameli, Kamungini, and Bimpanga. Implementation, including promulgation of the text of the amended family code adopted in 2016, had not begun by year’s end. As of November 19, the United Nations reported that the SSF killed 143 adult women and RMGs killed 111 women and girls.

The SSF, RMGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence (see section 1.g.). During the year the United Nations documented adult victims and 183 child victims, including one boy, of sexual violence in conflict. Crimes of sexual violence were sometimes committed as a tactic of war to punish civilians for having perceived allegiances to rival parties or groups. The crimes occurred largely in the conflict zones in North and South Kivu Province, but also throughout the country. The 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey(DHS) found that more than one in four women nationwide (27 percent) had experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives, up from 22 percent in 2007.

Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence. On July 26, the High Military Court of Bukavu upheld the December 2017 conviction of Frederic Batumuke, a provincial member of parliament, and 10 other persons for murder and crimes against humanity for the rape of 37 girls ranging in age from 18 months to 12 years. The same court also convicted and sentenced Colonel Bedi Mobuli (aka Colonel 106) to life in prison for crimes against humanity, including rape, sexual slavery, looting, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Most survivors of rape did not pursue formal legal action due to insufficient resources, lack of confidence in the justice system, family pressure, and fear of subjecting themselves to humiliation, reprisal, or both.

The law does not provide any specific penalty for domestic violence despite its prevalence. Although the law considers assault a crime, police rarely intervened in perceived domestic disputes. There were no reports of judicial authorities taking action in cases of domestic or spousal abuse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law describes FGM/C as a form of sexual violence, provides a sentence if convicted of two to five years in prison, and levies fines of up to 200,000 Congolese francs ($125); in case of death due to FGM/C, the sentence is life imprisonment.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including mutilation of children and use of children in combat in the Kasais, to harmful traditional and religious practices. The United Nations reported that Kamuina Nsapu militias often put children, particularly young girls, on the front lines of battle, believing they have powers that could protect them as well as other fighters. For example, it reported Kamuina Nsapu militias often believed young girls could trap bullets fired at them and fling them back at attackers. The Kamuina Nsapu also reportedly slashed children’s stomachs as part of an initiation ritual to see if they would survive and how the wound would heal.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. Legislation passed in 2006 prohibits sexual harassment with conviction carrying a minimum sentence of one year, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available in Appendix C.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. A 2015 women’s parity law provides women a number of protections. It permits women to participate in economic domains without approval of male relatives, provides for maternity care, disallows inequities linked to dowries, and specifies fines and other sanctions for those who discriminate or engage in gender-based abuse. Women, however, experienced economic discrimination.

According to UNICEF, many widows were unable to inherit their late husbands’ property because the law states that in event of a death in which there is no will, the husband’s children, including those born out of wedlock (provided that they were officially recognized by the father), rather than the widow, have precedence with regard to inheritance. Courts may sentence women found guilty of adultery to up to one year in prison, while adultery by men is punishable only if judged to have “an injurious quality.”

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for the acquisition of citizenship through birth within the country or from either parent being of an ethnic group documented as having been located in the country in 1960. The government registered 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. It was not, however, compulsory or tuition free, and the government inconsistently provided it across the provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries. These expenses, combined with the potential loss of income from their children’s labor while they attended class, rendered many parents unable or unwilling to enroll their children.

Primary and secondary school attendance rates for girls were lower than for boys due to financial, cultural, or security reasons, including early marriage and pregnancy for girls. Additionally, children in school were not particularly safe. Teachers subjected one in four children to corporal punishment and pressured one in five girls to exchange sexual favors for high grades.

Many of the schools in the east were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. The government used other schools as housing for IDPs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of RMG forcible recruitment of child soldiers.

Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by both the FARDC and RMGs. UNJRO documented 153 attacks on schools, including 118 in Ituri province, the majority that were committed in the context of interethnic conflict.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits all forms of child abuse, it regularly occurred.

The constitution prohibits parental abandonment of children accused of sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking “witchcraft” as a rationale. The law provides for the imprisonment of parents and other adults convicted of accusing children of witchcraft. Authorities did not implement the law.

Many churches conducted exorcisms of children accused of witchcraft. These exorcisms involved isolation, beating and whipping, starvation, and forced ingestion of purgatives. According to UNICEF some communities branded children with disabilities or speech impediments as witches. This practice sometimes resulted in parents’ abandoning their children.

Many children suffered abuse from militia groups that recruited children and believed they possessed magic powers. The armed group Bana Mura was reportedly responsible for taking women of childbearing age and enslaving them to give birth to children that would be raised in a different ethnic group. The United Nations reported that Kamuina Nsapu militants forced children to undergo a “baptism” ritual of a deep knife cut to the stomach. Those children who did not die of these wounds were reportedly recruited into the militia and used as combatants, often put on the front lines as “fetish keepers” due to their supposed powers. These practices resulted in the deaths of many children during the Kasai conflict in 2017.

Early and Forced Marriage: While the law prohibits marriage of boys and girls younger than age 18, many marriages of underage children took place. Bridewealth (dowry) payment made by a groom or his family to the relatives of the bride to ratify a marriage greatly contributed to underage marriage, as parents forcibly married daughters to collect bridewealth or to finance bridewealth for a son.

The constitution criminalizes forced marriage. Courts may sentence parents convicted of forcing a child to marry to up to 12 years’ hard labor and a fine of 92,500 Congolese francs ($58). The penalty doubles when the child is younger than age 15. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits prostitution by anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The 2009 Child Protection Code criminalized child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 800,000 to 1,000,000 Congolese francs ($500 to $625). From January through July, UNICEF assisted 2,694 children who were victims of sexual exploitation. Approximately half of these children (1,076 girls and 37 boys) were provided with a holistic response including psychosocial care, medical care, socioeconomic reintegration, and legal assistance. There were also reports that child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).

There was an increase in sexual violence against children and infants in Kavumu, South Kivu Province, during 2016 (see section 6). While targeted sexual violence against children decreased in the region following arrests and charges against some militia members responsible, many of the survivors continued to face stigmatization from their communities.

Child Soldiers: Armed groups recruited boys and girls (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, which remains the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support of any kind and only 3 percent received medical support. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 children lived on the streets, with the highest concentration in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and bringing misfortune to their families.

Since 2016 the conflict in the Kasais displaced more than 1.4 million persons, including many children who were kidnapped by militia members or otherwise separated from their families. The government was not equipped to deal with such large numbers of homeless children. The SSF abused and arbitrarily arrested street children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country had a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and provides specific government protection for them. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education. The law states that private, public, and semipublic companies may not discriminate against qualified candidates based on disability. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and other government services.

The law does not mandate access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no special provisions are required of educational facilities to accommodate their specific needs. Consequently, 90 percent of adults with disabilities do not achieve basic literacy. The Ministry of Education increased its special education outreach efforts but estimated it was educating fewer than 6,000 children with disabilities.

Disability groups reported extensive social stigmatization, including children with disabilities being expelled from their homes and accused of witchcraft. Families sometimes concealed their children with disabilities from officials to avoid being required to send them to school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Twa persons frequently faced severe societal discrimination and had little protection from government officials (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of societal discrimination and violence against foreign minority groups. For example, protesters attacked businesses owned by ethnic Chinese during the January protests.

Indigenous People

Estimates of the country’s indigenous population (Twa, Baka, Mbuti, Aka, and others believed to be the country’s original inhabitants) varied greatly, from 250,000 to two million. Societal discrimination against these groups was widespread, and the government did not effectively protect their civil and political rights. Most indigenous persons took no part in the political process, and many lived in remote areas. Fighting in the east between RMGs and the SSF, expansion by farmers, and increased trading and excavation activities caused displacement of some indigenous populations.

While the law stipulates that indigenous populations receive 10 percent of the profits gained from use of their land, this provision was not enforced. In some areas, surrounding tribes kidnapped and forced indigenous persons into slavery, sometimes resulting in ethnic conflict (see section 1.g.). Indigenous populations also reported high instances of rape by members of outside groups, which contributed to HIV/AIDS infections and other health complications.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While no law specifically prohibits consensual sexual conduct between same-sex adults, individuals engaging in public displays of same-sex sexual conduct, such as kissing, were sometimes subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which society rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. A local NGO reported that authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials, who committed abuses against LGBTI persons, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex remained a cultural taboo, and harassment by the SSF and judiciary occurred.

LGBTI individuals were subjected to harassment, stigmatization, and violence, including “corrective” rape. Some religious leaders, radio broadcasts, and political organizations played a key role in perpetrating discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, but social stigma continued.

The latest available DHS, which dates from 2013-14, captured a proxy indicator measuring the level of tolerance of respondents towards an HIV-positive person (either family member, businessperson, or teacher) and the necessity of hiding the HIV-positive status of a family member. A total of 72 percent of respondents said they were ready to take care of an HIV-positive parent, but only 47 expressed willingness to purchase produce from an HIV-positive seller. A total of 49 percent of respondents would accept having an HIV-positive teacher teach their children, and 26 percent said it would not be necessary to hide the HIV status of a family member. The study estimated a global tolerance level towards HIV-positive persons at 4 percent in women and 12 percent in men.

According to UNAIDS, the HIV prevalence rate of adults and children between 15 and 49 was 0.7 percent, and an estimated 390,000 persons of all ages in the country had HIV in 2017.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Discrimination against persons with albinism was widespread and limited their ability to marry and obtain employment, health care, and education. Families and communities frequently ostracized persons with albinism.

Longstanding ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. In the wake of an offensive against Mai Mai Yakutumba in South Kivu, the SSF targeted for arrest young men identified by tribal scarring as members of the Bemba community. This harassment by the SSF was given as a reason why several young men subsequently joined the Mai Mai group. Small-scale conflicts in the Rutshuru and Lubero territories of North Kivu conflict exacerbated longstanding tensions between Hutu, on the one hand, and the Kobo, Nyanga, and Nande ethnic communities, on the other hand. In January 2017 the Nande-affiliated Mai Mai Mazembe RMG attacked the town of Kibirizi, decapitating one Hutu, burning one woman to death, and burning 16 homes. In April 2017 intercommunity tensions between Tshokwe and Pende (accused of being affiliated with the Congolese security forces) and Luba and Lulua communities (accused of being Kamuina Nsapu militia sympathizers) turned violent, particularly in Kamonia territory, Kasai Province. In April 2017 Tshokwe youths armed with rifles and machetes killed at least 38 persons, including eight women and eight children, mainly of Lulua ethnicity, in several parts of the territory.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide all workers, including those in both the informal and formal sectors, except top government officials and SSF members, the right to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively. The law also provides for the right of most workers to conduct legal strikes, although by law police, army, and domestic workers may not strike. The law also prohibits directors in public and private enterprises from striking. The law gives administrative authorities the right to dissolve, suspend, or deregister trade union organizations. The law provides unions the right to conduct activities without interference, although it does not define specific acts of interference. In the private sector, a minimum of 10 employees is required to form a union within a business, and more than one union may be represented within a single business. Foreigners may not hold union office unless they have lived in the country for at least 20 years. Collective bargaining requires a minimum of 10 union committee members plus one employer representative. Union committee members report to the rest of the workforce. In the public sector, the government sets wages by decree after holding prior consultations with the unions. Certain subcategories of public employees, such as staff members of decentralized entities (towns, territories, and sectors) do not have the right to participate in the wage-setting consultations.

The union committee is required to notify the company’s management of a planned strike, but it does not need authorization to strike. The law stipulates unions and employers shall adhere to lengthy compulsory arbitration and appeal procedures before unions initiate a strike. Generally, the committee delivers a notice of strike to the employer. If the employer does not reply within 48 hours, the union may strike immediately. If the employer chooses to reply, negotiations, which may take up to three months, begin with a labor inspector and ultimately continue in the Peace Court. Sometimes employees provide minimum services during negotiations, but this is not a requirement. Unless unions notify employers of a planned strike, the law disallows striking workers from occupying the workplace during a strike, and an infraction of the rules on strikes may lead to incarceration of up to six months with compulsory prison labor.

The law prohibits discrimination against union employees and requires employers to reinstate workers dismissed for union activities, but the penalties for violations were not adequate to deter violations. The law considers those who have worked for a minimum of three contiguous months as “workers” and thereby protected by relevant labor law. Unless they are part of a union, most workers in agricultural activities and artisanal mining, domestic and migrant workers, and workers in export-processing zones were unfamiliar with their labor rights and did not often seek redress when employers breached applicable labor laws.

The government recognizes 12 private sector and public enterprise unions at the national level. The public administration sector has a history of organizing, and the government negotiates with sector representatives when they present grievances or go on strike. The public administration sector is divided among and represented by 15 different national unions, five of which represent the majority of the workers.

Workers exercised their right to strike. Employees of the Port and Transportation Authority, whose services are essential to maintain the country’s heavily import-based economy, went on strike twice during the year due to salary arrears. Other civil servants including doctors, nurses, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Budget personnel also went on strike repeatedly during the year due to salary issues. The most recent doctors’ strike was suspended in September; the nurses’ strike continued. Professors at the University of Kinshasa went on strike at least twice, most recently beginning October 8, to protest lack of payment of their salaries at an inflation-adjusted exchange rate. In other provinces, such as Kasai Oriental, the strike continued, albeit sporadically.

The government lacked the capacity to enforce the law effectively or to provide oversight. In small and medium-sized businesses, workers could not effectively exercise the right to strike. Due to lax enforcement of labor regulations, companies and shops could immediately replace any workers attempting to unionize, bargain collectively, or strike with contract workers to intimidate workers and prevent them from exercising their rights, despite workers’ legal protections. Antiunion discrimination was widespread, particularly in foreign-owned companies. In many instances during the year, to undermine unions’ collective bargaining efforts, companies refused to negotiate with unions but opted to negotiate individually with workers.

Despite collective agreements on union dues, employers often did not remit union dues or did so only partially.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Under the labor code, conviction of forced labor is punishable by a maximum of six months’ imprisonment, a fine, or both; conviction of forced child labor is punishable by one to three years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. The law also provides for a penalty of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment for the conviction of the enrollment or use of children younger than age 18 in the armed forces or police. Penalties for violations were an insufficient deterrent because the government did not effectively enforce the law.

In cases of nonpayment of requisite and applicable taxes, the law allows detention or the exaction of work for the purpose of national development (as a means of levying taxes). The government, however, did not invoke this provision.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were reports that forced labor, including forced child labor, regularly occurred throughout the country. Violations included bonded labor, domestic servitude, and slavery. In the artisanal (nonindustrial) mining sector, individuals took on debt from intermediaries and dealers to acquire food, supplies, and mining tools and equipment, often at high interest rates despite low wages. Miners who failed to provide sufficient ore to pay debt were at risk of becoming perennial debtors. The government continued to try to formalize the artisanal mining sector but did not attempt to regulate this practice. In the East RMGs continued to abduct and forcibly recruit men, women, and children to serve as laborers, porters, domestic laborers, and combatants (see section 1.g.). In eastern mining regions, there were reports that armed groups violently attacked mining communities and surrounding villages and held men, women, and children captive for trafficking, including forced labor and sexual exploitation. In North Kivu and South Kivu provinces, some members of FARDC units and RMGs taxed or, in some cases, controlled mining activities in gold, coltan, wolframite, and cassiterite mines.

Some police officers arrested individuals arbitrarily to extort money from them (see section 1.d.). There were reports of police forcing those who could not pay to work until they “earned” their freedom. In September an article in The Economist reported a study indicating that Kinshasa traffic police received 80 percent of their income from corruption.

The government did not effectively enforce laws prohibiting forced or compulsory labor and took no action against those who used forced labor and abducted civilians for forced labor. The government did not report any official forced labor investigations, and there were no prosecutions. Little if any information existed on the removal of victims from forced labor.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The child protection code and labor code set the minimum age for work at 16, and Ministerial Order No. 12 sets the minimum age for hazardous work at 18. The law also stipulates children may not work for more than four hours per day and restricts all minors from transporting heavy items. Penalties for conviction of violations for the worst forms of child labor, which are one to three years of imprisonment and fines as high as 20,000 Congolese francs ($13), were insufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor has responsibility for investigating child labor abuses but had no dedicated child labor inspection service. In 2016 the National Labor Committee adopted a new action plan to fight the worst forms of child labor; its implementation was scheduled to start during the year; however, implementation had not begun as of September due to lack of funds. Other government agencies responsible for combating child labor include the Ministry of Gender, Family, and Children; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Social Affairs; and National Committee to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labor. These agencies had no budgets for inspections and conducted no child labor investigations.

In March the governor of Lualaba Province in the Katanga region made a public announcement prohibiting children from participating in mining activities in two villages near the artisanal mines of Kasulu and Kipuki, encouraging the children to go to school instead. Children had been employed at the two sites to clean copper and cobalt ores, and haul sacks of minerals. It was unclear what impact the governor’s declaration had.

In August 2017 an interministerial committee, including the Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Mining, organized a national workshop at which Minister of State for Employment and Labor Lambert Matuku announced a strategy to eliminate child labor, including in the mining sector, by 2025. In September, Matuku repeated the same strategy at another workshop sponsored by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to fight child labor in the mining sector. No implementation had taken place by year’s end, however.

While criminal courts continued to hear child labor complaints, neither the courts nor other government agencies effectively enforced these laws. The government did not allocate relevant ministries and the National Committee to Combat the Worst Forms of Child Labor specific budgetary resources.

There was no effective systematic government effort to redirect child labor away from artisanal mines. The Ministry of Mines International Conference on the Great Lakes Region certificate-validation process prohibits artisanal mines with child labor from exporting, but the ministry had limited capacity to enforce this process.

The government did not undertake any measures to reinforce the capacities of the labor inspectors to prevent children younger than age 18 from engaging in hazardous work in mines. The 2018 mining code, which replaced the previous code of 2002, prohibits violations of child labor laws in the mining sector and imposes fines in cases of violations.

Child labor, including forced child labor, was a problem throughout the country (see section 7.b.). Child labor was most common in the informal sector, including in artisanal mining and subsistence agriculture. For their economic survival, families often encouraged children to work. According to the Ministry of Labor, children worked in mines and stone quarries and as child soldiers, water sellers, domestic workers, and entertainers in bars and restaurants. The commercial exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6).

Various mining sites, located principally in the eastern regions of North Kivu and Katanga, employed many child workers. Data on Katanga estimated that children younger than age 18 made up 40 percent of all workers in the region’s mines. According to a 2017 University of California-Berkley report, 13 percent of the mining labor force living in the mining communities of the copper cobalt belt were younger than age 18, a total of 4,714 children. Of these, 49 percent are 14 years old or younger. The working conditions for children at these mining sites were poor. Given the same status as adults, children worked without breaks and without any basic protective measures.

Children were also the victims of exploitation in the worst forms of child labor, many of them in agriculture, illicit activities, and domestic work. Children mined diamonds, gold, cobalt, coltan, wolframite, copper, and cassiterite under hazardous conditions. In the mining regions of Upper Katanga, Kasai Oriental, Kasai Central, North Kivu, and South Kivu provinces, children sifted, cleaned, sorted, transported heavy loads, and dug for minerals underground. In many areas of the country, children between ages five and 12 broke rocks to make gravel.

Parents often used children for dangerous and difficult agricultural labor. Families unable to support their children occasionally sent them to live with relatives who treated them as domestic slaves, subjecting them to physical and sexual abuse.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, language, or social status. The law does not specifically protect against discrimination based on religion, age, political opinion, national origin, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV-positive status. Additionally, no law specifically prohibits discrimination in employment of career public service members. The government did not effectively enforce relevant employment laws and penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6). Although the labor code stipulates men and women must receive equal pay for equivalent work, the government did not enforce this provision effectively. According to the ILO, women often received less pay in the private sector than did men doing the same job and rarely occupied positions of authority or high responsibility. Persons with disabilities, albinism, and certain ethnicities such as Twa faced discrimination in hiring and access to the worksites.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The government sets regional minimum wages for all workers in private enterprise, with the highest pay scales applied to the cities of Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. The prime minister decreed the new minimum daily wage would increase from 1,680 to 7,075 Congolese francs ($1.02 to $4.30) as of May 10, progressively, which would raise the minimum wage above the World Bank poverty level of $1.90 per day. This increase was scheduled in 25-percent installments, and the first two occurred in June and December. The National Labor Council, the country’s highest labor forum, is a tripartite organization formed by unions, government, and employers. According to the labor code, ordinary sessions of the National Labor Council should take place twice a year. The most recent session took place in October 2017.

In the public sector, the government sets wages annually by decree and permits unions to act only in an advisory capacity.

The law defines different standard workweeks, ranging from 45 to 72 hours, for various jobs and prescribes rest periods and premium pay for overtime. The law establishes no monitoring or enforcement mechanism, and employers in both the formal and informal sectors often did not respect these provisions. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime.

The National Labor Council met in 2017 and agreed to raise the minimum wage from 1,680 to 7,075 Congolese francs ($1.02 to $4.30) beginning January 1, 2018. The average monthly wage did not provide a living wage for a worker and family. Government salaries remained low, ranging from 65,000 to 95,000 Congolese francs ($41 to $59) per month (not including bonuses, which in some instances were considerably larger), and salary arrears became more frequent in both the civil service and public enterprises (parastatals). In August the government announced a raise of 20,000 Congolese francs ($13) per month, but workers had yet to receive the additional funds by year’s end. Many public-sector employees reported that they did not receive their annual bonuses. In 2012 the government began paying some civil servant salaries through the banking system in an effort to stop the practice in which supervisors created fake employees and skimmed off some of their subordinates’ salaries. The Budget Ministry stated that 75 percent of civil servants received their pay through the banking system, but some observers believed that figure was grossly inflated. For others the government delivered cash in large shipments for local authorities and supervisors to distribute.

The labor code specifies health and safety standards. The Ministry of Labor employed 200 labor inspectors, which was not sufficient to enforce consistent compliance with labor regulations. The government did not effectively enforce such standards in the informal sector, and enforcement was uneven in the formal sector. Major international mining companies effectively observed health and safety standards, and the Ministry of Mines validation process includes criteria on minimal safety standards. The law does not allow workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations without putting their employment in jeopardy. Approximately 90 percent of laborers worked in subsistence agriculture, informal commerce or mining, or other informal pursuits, where they often faced hazardous or exploitive working conditions.

In 2015 the international NGO International Peace and Information Services estimated there were approximately 300,000 artisanal miners in the East in the 2,000 identified mine sites. It was estimated there were likely an additional 1,000 mine sites that had not been identified.

Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Congo (ROC) is a presidential republic in which the constitution, promulgated in 2015, vests most decision-making authority and political power in the president and prime minister. In 2015 the Republic of the Congo adopted a new constitution, that extended previous maximum presidential term limits to three terms of five years, and provided complete immunity to former presidents. In April 2016 the Constitutional Court proclaimed the incumbent, Denis Sassou N’Guesso, winner of the March 2016 presidential election despite complaints of electoral irregularities. The government held the most recent legislative and local elections in July 2017. While the country has a multiparty political system, members of the president’s Congolese Labor Party (PCT) and its allies retained almost 90 percent of legislative seats, and PCT members occupied almost all senior government positions.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

During the year the country experienced significant positive changes regarding internal peace and security. In December 2017 the government and representatives of the Nsiloulou faction of the Ninja rebel militia group agreed to a ceasefire, thereby ending the conflict in the Pool region that had been ongoing since 2016. In June government and UN sources stated approximately 80-90 percent of the 161,000 persons displaced by the conflict had returned to their homes and villages.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; infringement of citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association; restrictions on the ability of citizens to change their government peacefully; corruption on the part of officials; violence against women, including rape, domestic violence, and child abuse; trafficking in persons; and child labor, including worst forms.

The government seldom took steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, and official impunity was a problem.

According to the United Nations, the security situation in the Pool region improved significantly. In contrast with 2017, reports of human rights abuses against civilians in the conflict zone committed either by government-controlled or rebel forces declined significantly as the security situation improved. The government did not take steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish perpetrators of human rights abuses committed during the Pool conflict by government-controlled or rebel forces in 2016 and 2017. In August the government, rebel leaders, and the United Nations Development Program announced a joint program to conduct disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) activities in the Pool region.

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 several reports on social media of the government or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings; however, for most such reports of killings besides those specified below, no independent confirmation was possible, leading to uncertainty regarding the frequency of the incidents and the total number of persons arbitrarily deprived of life.

Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report deaths resulting from abuse in prisons and pretrial detention centers (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.).

On July 23, 13 persons between the ages of 12 and 22 died in police custody in the Chacona police station in Brazzaville. Significant public backlash contributed to a shifting government narrative of the incident. The government’s public prosecutor originally announced that the deaths resulted from armed street violence between rival gangs. On July 26, however, the minister of interior admitted before Parliament that the young men died in unclear circumstances in police custody. In the days following the incident, the government announced it would launch an investigation into the incident, detained members of the police unit that worked at the Chacona police station, and paid families 2,000,000 Central African Francs each ($3,530). As of December 10, a judicial review was underway but not yet complete.

b. Disappearance

There were no new reports of politically motivated disappearances. There was no new information on the February 2017 disappearances of Nimi Ngoma Guedj, Akonga Hosny Normand, and Awambi Elmich, who were arrested and detained at the Poto-Poto 2 police jail facility.

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

The constitution prohibits torture, and the law contains a general prohibition against assault and battery, but there is no legal framework specifically banning torture under the criminal code. There were reports of cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

In January authorities released Dongui Christ, an activist, from custody. Authorities had accused Christ of spreading false information and disturbing the public order and subjected him to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment during his detention.

The United Nations reported that during the year it received two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from the Republic of the Congo deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). One case alleged sexual assault (rape), the other allegation reported sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships involving 13 peacekeepers and 11 victims). Investigations by both the UN and the ROC government were pending. Four allegations were reported in 2017, of which two were pending (and one was unsubstantiated). Ten allegations dating back to 2015 were pending. In 2017 a UN review of the deployment of uniformed personnel from the ROC in MINUSCA found that the nature and extent of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse pointed to systemic problems in command and control, leading the Republic of the Congo to withdraw its military personnel deployed in MINUSCA.

In June the government convicted three ROC military personnel accused of committing war crimes in the Central African Republic (CAR). A court sentenced the three military personnel to three years in prison before releasing them for time served. The armed forces reportedly imposed nonjudicial punishments on personnel accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in the CAR.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate sanitary conditions, gross overcrowding, and a severe deficit of medical and psychological care.

Physical Conditions: As of September the Brazzaville Prison, built in 1943 to accommodate 150 inmates, held more than 1,016, including 33 women and 17 minors. The Pointe-Noire Prison, built in 1934 to hold 75 inmates, held an estimated 325 persons. Police stations regularly housed individuals in their limited incarceration facilities beyond the maximum statutory holding period of 72 hours. In addition to these official prisons, the government’s intelligence and security services operated several secret detention centers and security prisons, which were inaccessible for inspection.

Authorities generally maintained separate areas within facilities for minors, women, and men in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. In Brazzaville, while these areas were separate, they were sometimes easily accessible with no locked entryways. In the other 10 prisons, authorities sometimes held juvenile detainees with adult prisoners.

Prison conditions for women were generally better than those for men. There was less crowding in the women’s cells than in those for men. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In Brazzaville, authorities housed and treated prisoners with illnesses in one area but allowed them to interact with other inmates.

In the Brazzaville Prison, conditions for wealthy or well connected prisoners generally were better than conditions for others.

There were several reported deaths resulting from abuse, neglect, and overcrowding in prisons and pretrial detention centers. As in 2017, a local NGO reported that figures on the number and causes of death while in custody were unavailable.

In Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, most inmates slept on the floor on cardboard or thin mattresses in small, overcrowded cells that exposed them to disease. The prisons lacked drainage and ventilation, and they had poorly maintained lighting with wiring protruding from the walls. Basic and emergency medical care was limited. Medical personnel at the Brazzaville Prison cited tuberculosis, dysentery, malaria, and HIV as the most common maladies affecting prisoners. Authorities did not provide specialized medical care to prisoners with HIV/AIDS, nor were HIV tests available in prisons. Authorities took pregnant women to hospitals to give birth, and authorities sometimes allowed them to breastfeed their infants in prison. Access to social services personnel was severely limited due to insufficient staffing, overcrowding, and stigmatization of those with mental health issues. Prisoners had weekly access to Christian religious services only. Prison authorities permitted outdoor exercise intermittently.

Prison inmates reportedly received, on average, two daily meals consisting of rice, bread, and fish or meat. The food provided in prisons did not meet minimum caloric or nutrition requirements; however, prison authorities usually permitted inmates’ families to supply them with additional food. Authorities permitted women to cook over small fires built on the ground in a shared recreational space. The Pointe-Noire Prison occasionally had running water. All of the prisons supplied potable water to inmates in buckets.

Administration: Prison rules provide for prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but officials did not respect this right. Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions brought to them by NGOs and detainees’ families.

Access to prisoners generally required a communication permit from a judge. The permit allowed visitors to spend five to 15 minutes with a prisoner, although authorities usually did not strictly enforce this limit. In most cases, visits took place either in a crowded open area or in a small room with one extended table where approximately 10 detainees sat at a time. A new permit is technically required for each visit, but families were often able to return for multiple visits on one permit. Since many prisoners’ families lived far away, visits often were infrequent because of the financial hardship of travel.

Independent Monitoring: The government provided domestic and international human rights groups with limited access to prisons and detention centers. Observers generally considered the primary local NGO focused on prison conditions independent; authorities, however, denied it access to the interior of several different prisons on multiple occasions throughout the year.

Throughout the year, human rights NGOs that monitored detention conditions requested letters of permission from the Ministry of Justice to visit prisons. Their repeated requests went unanswered.

Representatives of religiously affiliated charitable organizations visited prisons and detention centers for charitable work and religious counseling. Authorities granted diplomatic missions’ access to both prisons and police jails to provide consular assistance to their citizens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but local NGOs report arbitrary arrest continued to be a problem. The constitution and law provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or authority, but the government generally did not observe the law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces consist of police, the gendarmerie, and the military. Police and the gendarmerie are responsible for maintaining internal order, with police primarily operating in cities and the gendarmerie mainly in other areas. Military forces are responsible for territorial security, but some units also have domestic security responsibilities. For example, the specialized Republican Guard battalion provides protection for the president, government buildings, and diplomatic missions. The Ministry of Defense oversees the military and gendarmerie, and the Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization oversees the police.

A civilian police unit under the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization is responsible for patrolling the borders. Separately, a military police unit reports to the Ministry of Defense and is composed of military and police officers responsible for investigating professional misconduct by members of any of the security forces.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces; however, there were members of the security forces who acted independently of civilian authority, committed abuses, and engaged in malfeasance. The law charges both the military police and the Office of the Inspector General of Police with investigating reports of misconduct by security forces. The civilian justice system is responsible for conducting trials of military force members accused of crimes.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require that a duly authorized official issue warrants before making arrests, a person be apprehended openly, a lawyer be present during initial questioning, and detainees be brought before a judge within three days and either charged or released within four months. The government habitually violated these provisions. There is a bail system, but with 70 percent of the population living in poverty, most detainees could not afford to post bail. There is an option for provisional release, but officials usually denied these requests, even for detainees with serious medical conditions. Authorities sometimes informed detainees of charges against them at the time of arrest, but filing of formal charges often took at least one week. There were reports that authorities arrested detainees secretly and without judicial authorization and sometimes detained suspects incommunicado or put them under de facto house arrest. Police at times held persons for six months or longer before filing charges due to the political nature of the case or administrative errors. Observers attributed most administrative delays to lack of staff in the Ministry of Justice and the court system. Family members sometimes received prompt access to detainees but often only after payment of bribes. The law requires authorities to provide lawyers to indigent detainees facing criminal charges at government expense, but this usually did not occur.

The penal code states authorities may hold a detainee for a maximum of 48 to 72 hours in a police jail before an attorney general reviews the case. Thereafter, authorities must decide to release or to transfer the individual to a prison for pretrial detention. Authorities generally did not observe the 72-hour maximum and frequently held detainees for several weeks before an attorney general freed or transferred them to a prison to await trial. The criminal code states that a defendant or accused person may apply for provisional release at any point during his or her detention, from either an investigating judge or a trial court, depending on the type of case. The law states that provisional release should generally be granted, provided that the judicial investigation is sufficiently advanced, that the accused does not pose a risk of subornation of witnesses, and does not pose a threat of disturbance to public order caused by the offense initially alleged; however, this law was not respected in practice.

Arbitrary Arrest: Reports suggest that arbitrary and false arrests continued to occur.

In November 2017 plain-clothes members of the security forces arrested Steve Bagne Batongo, a lawyer, in Brazzaville. Authorities arrested Bagne in his law office in violation of Article 53 of Congolese Law 026-92 on the Organization of Professional Lawyers. Authorities held Bagne in custody without charge longer than the 72 hours allowed under Article 48 of the penal code. In January authorities released Bagne from detention without trial.

Prostitution is legal. Under the law procuring (arranging the prostitution of another for financial gain) and sex trafficking are illegal. In November, the Brazzaville police arrested a Cameroonian national accused of procuring prostitution. In December, the Ministry of Women’s Promotion conducted job training for 20 former female prostitutes to encourage them to pursue other types of employment. There were unconfirmed reports that police arrested prostitutes, including gay men, for alleged illegal activity.

Pretrial Detention: The penal code sets a maximum of four months in pretrial detention. Under the law pretrial detention is extendable for two additional months with judicial approval. The penal code is not clear whether the two-month extension is renewable. Judges often renewed the two-month extension of pretrial detainees. Between 60 and 75 percent of detainees in the prisons were pretrial detainees. Prison authorities stated the average provisional detention for noncriminal cases lasted one to three months and for criminal cases at least 12 months. Human rights activists, however, stated the average was much longer, commonly exceeding a year, and sometimes exceeding the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

For example, in November 2015 authorities arrested British citizen Paulin Makaya, president of the opposition United for Congo Party, for “incitement to public disorder” for organizing and participating in an unauthorized demonstration in October 2015 against the constitutional referendum. Makaya remained in pretrial detention for two years and eight months under the charge of disturbing public order. On March 18, authorities charged Makaya with inciting disorderly conduct. His trial took place in July, and the court sentenced Makaya to one year in jail and eligible for release based on time served as of September 15. The government released Makaya on September 17.

Lengthy pretrial detentions were due to the judicial system’s lack of capacity, and a lack of political will to address the issue. The penal code defines three levels of crime: misdemeanors (punishable by less than one year in prison), the delicts (punishable by one to five years in prison), and felonies (punishable by more than five years in prison). Criminal courts try misdemeanor and delict cases regularly. The judicial system, however, suffered from a serious backlog of felony cases. By law criminal courts must hear felony cases four times per year. Due to a lack of funding, no felony cases took place from 2014 until March. Authorities held in pretrial detention those accused of felonies for the duration of this period. From March to May, criminal courts held felony sessions throughout the country. Brazzaville’s criminal court heard 132 felony cases.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest, arbitrary detention, and false arrest and provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or authority. If an investigating judge determines a detainee to be innocent, his or her release is promptly ordered, and he or she is entitled to file suit with the Administrative Court. The government, however, generally did not observe this law. Local human rights NGOs reported numerous occasions when officials denied detainees in Brazzaville the right to challenge their detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law are the framework for an independent judiciary. High caseload, lack of financial resources, political influence, and corruption remained problematic. Authorities generally abided by court orders; however, judges did not always issue direct court orders against accused authorities.

In rural areas traditional courts continued to handle many local disputes, particularly property, inheritance, and witchcraft cases, and domestic conflicts that could not be resolved within the family.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial presided over by an independent judiciary, but authorities did not always respect this right. In 2011, the Ministry of Justice began to decentralize the trial process. Appeals courts existed in five departments–Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, Dolisie, Owando, and Ouesso–and each had authority to try felony cases brought within its jurisdiction.

Under the law all defendants must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary and have a right to a fair and public trial in all criminal cases and felony cases. Defendants in all criminal trials have the right to be present at their trials and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, although this did not always occur. The law obligates the government to provide legal assistance to any indigent defendant facing serious criminal charges, but such legal assistance was not always available because the government did not generally pay for public defenders.

Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to confront or question accusers and witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens, and the government generally abided by these provisions, except in highly politicized cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year, authorities released numerous prisoners and detainees. According to local NGOs, approximately 70 persons remained in detention for political reasons. On June 26, authorities released 81 supporters of the leader of the Ninja militia, Pasteur Ntumi to solidify the December 23 ceasefire agreement signed between the government and rebel forces.

In December 2017 authorities released an American citizen who served 20 months of prison time for political reasons.

Former presidential candidates Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Andre Okombi Salissa remained in jail as of November 14. On October 19, however, authorities released senior members of their staff including Jean Ngouabi, Jacques Banagandzala, Anatole Limbongo Ngoka, Christine Moyen, Dieudonne Dhird, and Raymond Ebonga.

The government permitted limited access to political prisoners by international human rights and humanitarian organizations and diplomatic missions.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary heard felony court cases from March to May for the first time since September 2014. Brazzaville’s felony court tried 132 pending cases.

Civil courts continued to review cases on a regular basis throughout the year. Civil courts experienced long delays, although shorter than felony courts. Individuals may file a lawsuit in court on civil matters related to human rights, including seeking damages for or cessation of a human rights violation. The public, however, generally lacked confidence in the judicial system’s ability to address human rights problems.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions; the government, however, did not always respect these prohibitions.

There were reports government authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, monitored private movements, and employed informer systems.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately but risked reprisal. The constitution provides for freedom of expression in all forms of communication and prohibits censorship. The constitution, however, criminalizes speech that incites ethnic hatred, violence, or civil war and makes it punishable by no less than five years in prison. It also criminalizes any act or event that promotes racism or xenophobia.

Press and Media Freedom: Press and media outlets regularly published criticism and satire of the government and senior officials. Most citizens obtained their news from local retransmission of international media and local radio or television stations. There was greater space in electronic media for open discussion of government policy, including critical discussion. International radio broadcasts and satellite television services were available and encouraged discussions of public policy.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of direct and indirect intimidation of journalists by the government. For example, in June Fortunat Ngoualali, a 36-year-old journalist for VoxTV, was held in police custody for four days for publishing a readout of a closed-door meeting of the ruling Congolese Labor Party (PCT) on social media.

In July authorities released Ghys Fortune Dombe Bemba, a journalist arrested in January 2017 for publishing a manifesto by rebel leader Frederic Bintsamou a.k.a. Pastor Ntumi. Dombe Bemba’s release fulfilled a key demand of the Ninja militia that was identified in the December 23 cease-fire agreement ending the Pool region conflict.

Additional reports of alleged intimidation included the following: police use of nonlethal force against journalists attempting to report on sensitive events, telephone calls from official and anonymous persons warning journalists not to use footage of politically sensitive events, and pressure on news outlets not to run certain stories or footage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets were required to register with the Superior Council for Liberty of Communication (CSLC), an official regulatory body. Media outlets that violated council regulations were subject to financial sanctions or temporary shutdown. The president appoints the director of the council.

Many journalists and editors at larger circulation media outlets practiced self-censorship and promoted the editorial views of media owners. Newspapers published open letters written by government opponents.

There were no reports that the government revoked journalists’ accreditations if their reporting reflected adversely on the government’s image. The CSLC suspended the operations and circulation of at least two newspapers during the year. The CSLC suspended “Le Nouveau Regard” in July and “Le Troubador” in September. The CSLC accused both newspapers of printing information that was untrue or unverified. Several journalists have expressed a fear of termination from their positions for reporting on politically sensitive topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press law provides for monetary penalties and suspension of a publication’s permission to print for defamation and incitement to violence.

National Security: There were no reports of government actions to restrict foreign media criticism during the reporting period.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were reports government authorities monitored private digital communications without appropriate legal authority, including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private. Government officials often corresponded with opposition or diaspora figures using social media accounts encouraging online discourse of major current events.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8.6 percent of individuals used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

Self-censorship was common in academia and at cultural events, especially in universities, where there was little room for public discourse on politically sensitive topics. Many university-level professors held second jobs as close advisors to government officials, possibly influencing their intellectual independence.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government often did not respect this right.

The government required all groups that wished to hold public assemblies to seek authorization from the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization and appropriate local officials. Both the ministry and local officials sometimes withheld authorization for meetings they claimed might threaten public order. They also created unnecessary obstacles to gaining authorization and called police to disperse meetings they claimed had not received proper authorization.

Local NGOs and political groups reported restrictions on freedom of assembly throughout the year. For example, in May security forces arrested 23 activists from the political youth activist movement Ras-le-Bol (“enough is enough”), including coordinator Frank Nzila, for “association with criminals and participation in an unauthorized demonstration” following their demonstration in Pointe-Noire on May 7 calling on the government to release political prisoners. In July the government released Ras-le-Bol’s members from custody. Ras-le-Bol’s members also reported numerous direct threats from police to stop their activities, and police harassment targeting their families and friends to ascertain their whereabouts.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government sometimes respected this right. Political, social, or economic groups or associations were required to register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Authorities sometimes subjected registration to political influence. According to a local NGO, groups that spoke openly against the government encountered overt or veiled threats and found the registration process more time consuming.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Nevertheless, irregularities restricting this ability occurred during the most recent legislative elections, in 2017, and in previous elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: During the 2017 legislative and local elections, international observers conducted two rounds of electoral observation. Some opposition parties boycotted the vote. Most observers reported that polling stations and electoral officials conducted their business professionally and had the tools necessary to conduct two parallel and concurrent elections for legislative and local races. Civil society and political party representation inside of polling stations was robust and critical in dispute resolution. Observers, however, reported the heavy presence of security forces both outside and inside polling stations.

The 2017 elections gave the PCT and its allies control of 102 of 151 or 68 percent of seats. According to government figures, turnout was 44.44 percent; international observers in Brazzaville, however, indicated participation was lower.

International electoral observers reported examples of fraud that likely benefitted candidates of the PCT and its allies in both rounds. For example, during the first round of voting on July 16, international observers witnessed ballot box stuffing after the close of voting and before vote counts at the Foyer Social voting station in the Poto-Poto neighborhood of Brazzaville. During the second round of voting on July 30, international observers witnessed busloads of soldiers at the CEG De La Paix voting station in the Moungali neighborhood of Brazzaville. Local residents inside and outside the voting station claimed that soldiers who lacked appropriate documentation had voted in the CEG De La Paix voting station, compromising the election results.

The Constitutional Court declared incumbent President Denis Sassou N’Guesso the winner of the March 2016 presidential election in the first round with 60.29 percent of the vote. The court cited a 68.92 percent voter turnout among the more than two million eligible voters, with a 100 percent voter turnout in at least three regions.

On presidential election day, international observers witnessed a number of irregularities including: incorrect voter lists; inconsistency in ballot boxes; prefilled voting tally sheets for voter stations in Brazzaville; polling officials allowing and encouraging underage and multiple voting, and instructing voters to vote only for the incumbent; polling stations opening late and without adequate supplies; polling officials refusing entry to accredited international observers; paying voters to vote for certain candidates; lack of uniform enforcement of voter identification requirements; polling officials, at separate locations, loyal to either the incumbent president or opposition candidates blocking entry to voters supporting opposing candidates; ruling party loyalists impersonating representatives of other candidates; not posting final vote tally sheets on the exterior wall of polling stations as required; burning ballots after the polling station count; and prohibiting observation at regional and national vote compilation centers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties and civil society groups faced restrictions on their ability to participate in the political and electoral process. In June the Ministry of Interior published a law on the creation of political parties that confers recognition on 55 of 200 existing parties. According to the government, the remaining political parties did not meet requirements including nationwide representation.

In the previous electoral cycle, political groups experienced restrictions on their ability to participate in the political process including delays registering their organizations or candidates and accessing public campaign funds. Some political opposition supporters faced intimidation and security restrictions on attending their rallies or trying to vote, according to numerous eyewitness and media accounts. Attempts to impede criticism of the government through intimidation, arrests, and routine disruption of political meetings remained common. Authorities continued to detain opposition figures (see section 1.e., political prisoners and detainees).

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit women’s or minority groups’ political participation as voters or candidates. Observers suggested cultural constraints might limit the number of women in government. Sexual harassment discouraged women’s participation in political activities. There were 14 women in the 72-seat senate and 15 women in the 151-seat national assembly. There were eight women in the 35-member cabinet appointed in August 2017.

In 2014 the president signed a law requiring that women make up 30 percent of each party’s slate of candidates for local or legislative elections. The 2015 constitution granted parity for women in political positions and mandated the creation of a national advisory council for women, but it did not specify whether the promotion of parity related to pay, benefits, appointment to political positions, or other issues.

The political process excludes many indigenous persons. Reasons included their isolation in remote areas, lack of registration, cultural barriers, and stigmatization by the majority Bantu population (see section 6). For example, a local government official reported that during the October 2015 referendum, the voting booth in Sibiti, a rural city with many indigenous persons, was open for only 30 minutes, from 7:30-8:00 a.m. Because indigenous communities in outer villages must travel several hours to reach Sibiti, no one reportedly voted.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, despite the president’s calls for an end to corruption in his annual address to the nation during the year and his inauguration speech in 2016.

There was a widespread perception of corruption throughout government, including misuse of revenues from the oil and forestry sectors. Some local and international organizations claimed some government officials, through bribes or other fraud, regularly diverted revenues from these sectors into private overseas accounts before officially declaring the remaining revenues.

Corruption: In his annual New Year’s address to the nation, the president pledged to make anticorruption efforts a priority of his government during the year. The National Commission on the Fight against Corruption, Bribery, and Fraud accused several government officials during the year of corruption. In August the national commission issued a report that detailed investigations conducted during the first four months of the year. The report accused one minister of misusing public funds earmarked for staff training, and embezzlement of funds from a construction project. The national commission sent its report to the public prosecutor for potential legal action. As of November investigations were ongoing. The minister denied all of the findings in the report.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution mandates that senior elected or appointed officials disclose their financial interests and holdings both before taking office and upon leaving office. Failure to do so is legal grounds for dismissal from a senior position. According to the constitution, the Constitutional Court is responsible for enforcing financial disclosure; however, authorities did not enforce this provision. No financial disclosure statements were publicly available during the year.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups occasionally operated without government restriction during their investigations and when publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not cooperative with and responsive to international or domestic human rights groups. Some domestic human rights groups did not report on specific incidents due to fear of reprisal by the government.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies during the year. For example, the government hosted major international conferences, partnered with resident United Nations agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance, and consulted regularly with the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Central Africa focused on regional peace, security, and environmental issues.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government-sponsored Human Rights Commission (HRC) is the government human rights watchdog and is responsible for addressing public concerns about human rights problems. The HRC did not undertake any activities directly responding to human rights problems during the year. As in 2017 its headquarters building remained vacant.

Human Rights and Humanitarian Law are included in Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) Professional Military Education (PME). Military Academy cadets are required to complete courses in both Public Law and Humanitarian International Law. PME for lieutenants (Officer Basic Course), captains (Captains Career Course), and majors (Staff College) directly incorporates a course in Humanitarian International Law. Within the Ministry of Defense, a committee supervises the implementation of the human rights and humanitarian law curriculum for all PME levels from the military academy through Military Staff College.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal in the country. The law prescribes unspecified monetary fines based on the severity of the crime and jail time of between 10 and 20 years in prison for violators. According to a local women’s group, however, penalties actually imposed for rape ranged from as few as several months’ imprisonment to rarely more than three years. NGOs and women’s advocacy groups reported rape, especially spousal rape, was common.

Domestic violence against women, including rape and beatings, was widespread but rarely reported. For example, in one case a woman reported domestic violence by her partner to an NGO, but declined to lodge an official criminal complaint with authorities for fear of reprisal from the former partner or his family. The NGO assisted the victim in her civil complaint seeking monetary support for herself and her children, which the court awarded. There were no specific provisions in the law outlawing spousal battery other than general statutes prohibiting assault.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Generally, the penalty is two to five years in prison. In particularly egregious cases, the penalty may equal the 10-year prison sentence maximum for rape. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Both customary marriage and family laws and civil laws enacted by the government govern the rights of women, children, and extended families. Adultery is illegal for both women and men, although the penalty differs. Under civil law the husband can receive only a fine for adultery, while the wife can receive a prison sentence. Polygyny is legal, while polyandry is not.

Women experienced discrimination in divorce settlements, specifically regarding property and financial assets. National law considers men the head of the household, unless the father becomes incapacitated or abandons the family. The law dictates that in the absence of an agreement between spouses, men shall choose the residence of the family.

Women experienced economic discrimination with respect to employment, credit, equal pay, and owning or managing businesses.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship from their parents. Birth within the territory of the country does not automatically confer citizenship, although exceptions exist for children born of missing or stateless parents, or children born of foreign parents, at least one of whom was also born in the country. The government does not require registration of births; it is up to parents to request birth registration for a child. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Education is compulsory, tuition-free, and universal until age 16, but families are required to pay for books, uniforms, and health insurance fees. Most indigenous children could not attend school because they did not have birth certificates or could not afford the 1,200 CFA francs ($2.12) per month insurance fee. Boys were five times more likely than girls to go to high school and four times more likely than girls in high school to go to a university.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported child abuse was prevalent, but not commonly reported to authorities.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits child marriage, and the legal age for marriage is 18 years for women and 21 for men. Underage marriage is possible with a judge’s permission and with the permission of both sets of parents; the law does not specify a minimum age in such a case. Many couples nevertheless engaged in an informal common-law marriage not legally recognized. For additional information, see Appendix C.

There was no government program focused on preventing early or forced marriage. The penalty for forced marriage between an adult and child is a prison sentence of three months to two years and a fine of 150,000 to 1.5 million CFA francs ($265 to $2,650).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: A child protection code provides penalties for crimes against children such as trafficking, pornography, neglect, and abuse. Penalties for these crimes range from forced labor to fines of up to 10 million CFA francs ($17,667) and prison sentences of several years. The penalty for child pornography includes a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine up to 500,000 CFA francs ($883). The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The maximum penalty for sex with a minor is five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10 million CFA francs ($17,667). A lack of specificity in the child protection code was an obstacle to successful prosecution.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish community. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action is the lead ministry responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. There are no laws, however, mandating access for persons with disabilities. The government provides separate schools for students with hearing disabilities in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. The government mainstreamed children with vision disabilities and children with physical disabilities in regular public schools.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity. There were no episodes of regional or ethnic violence reported during the year. The perception of regional and ethnic bias was most acute in the upper echelons of government wherein a large portion of the general officer corps consisted of individuals from the northern departments.

Indigenous People

According to UNICEF and local NGOs, indigenous peoples throughout the country, in both remote and urban areas, remained marginalized. Many indigenous people, known locally as Pygmies, lacked access to gainful employment, health services, housing, and education, in part due to their geographic isolation and different cultural norms. The geographic isolation of some indigenous groups limited their ability to influence government decisions affecting their interests or vote. Other indigenous communities living in more urban areas understood the concept of political participation but feared harassment by members of the Bantu population for participation and lacked access to transportation to voting booths.

According to a local NGO, indigenous communities living among majority Bantu populations often lived in substandard housing on the perimeters of villages. During the year embassy officers received unconfirmed reports of violence between Bantus and Pygmies as well as reports of violence within the indigenous communities themselves. The NGO reported that Bantus often forced indigenous people to work in their fields for little to no pay and refused to purchase food from indigenous vendors. A law enforcement official reported that high rates of alcoholism within the indigenous community contributed to high rates of violence, poverty, and incest. A government official reported that indigenous women and girls suffered from gender-based violence, and teenage pregnancy among indigenous girls was common. Bantu men often impregnated indigenous girls and later denied paternity, offering no child support. Indigenous women suffered from a disproportionate rate of fistulas resulting from unattended childbirth and rape.

A 2011 law provides special status and recognition for indigenous populations. Additionally, the constitution stipulates the state shall provide promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. The government did not implement these laws.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There is no law that specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The penal code prescribes imprisonment of three months to two years and a fine for those who commit a “public outrage against decency.” The law prescribes a punishment of six months to three years and a fine for anyone who “commits a shameless act or an act against nature with an individual of the same sex under the age of 21.” Authorities did not invoke the law to arrest or prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons. On occasion, however, police officers harassed gay men and claimed the law prohibited same-sex sexual activity to elicit a small bribe.

There were no known cases of violence against LGBTI individuals during the year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Public opinion polls conducted by the World Bank in 2012 showed significant societal discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS. The law provides penalties for unlawful divulgence of medical records by practitioners, negligence in treatment by healthcare professionals, family abandonment, and unwarranted termination of employment. Civil society organizations advocating for the rights of persons with HIV/AIDS were fairly well organized and sought fair treatment, especially regarding employment.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, with the exception of members of the security forces and other services “essential for protecting the general interest,” including members of the armed forces, police, gendarmerie, and some personnel at ports and airports. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference.

Workers have the right to strike, provided they have exhausted all lengthy and complex conciliation and nonbinding arbitration procedures and given seven (7) business days’ due notice. Participation in an unlawful strike constitutes serious misconduct and can result in criminal prosecution. The law requires the continuation of a minimum service in all public services as essential to protect the general interest. A minimum service requirement binds workers in essential services to a limit on the length of time they may strike. The employer determines the extent of the minimum service without negotiating with the parties to the dispute. It is gross misconduct to refuse to take part in providing the minimum service during strikes. Multiple legal strikes occurred in the education sector, including students and educators, among hospital workers, and oil sector workers.

The law provides for the right to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. There are no penalties for violations.

The government and employers occasionally violated the unions’ right to collective bargaining and freedom of association. Most unions were reportedly weak and subject to government influence due to corruption. As a result, in cases where demonstrations would run counter to the government’s interest, the government persuaded union leaders to prevent workers from demonstrating.

There were reports employers used hiring practices such as subcontracting and short-term contracts to circumvent laws prohibiting antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor unless imposed pursuant to a criminal penalty lawfully mandated by a court. The law, however, allows authorities to requisition people to work in the public interest and provides for their possible imprisonment if they refuse.

The government took steps to prevent and eliminate forced labor, but only relating to trafficked persons. Beginning in 2012, the government worked with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and a foreign partner to initiate a three-year program to train personnel and draft complete trafficking-in-persons legislation that would include both adults and children. The bill continued to await cabinet and parliamentary review before promulgation.

The indigenous population, known locally as Pygmies, was especially vulnerable to forced labor in the agricultural sector. According to a local NGO, members of the indigenous communities often incurred significant debts. According to a local NGO, members of the indigenous communities receive extremely low wages or no pay to erase the incurred debts. Reports suggested that some servitude might be hereditary. This scenario often left members of the indigenous community impoverished.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

According to the law, children under age 16 may not be employed, even as apprentices, without a waiver from the minister of national education. The law prohibits the following crimes against all children up to age 18: forced labor, trafficking and all forms of slavery; child soldiering and forced recruitment for child soldiering; prostitution; the use, procuring, or offering of a child for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances; and the use of children by an adult for illegal activities.

The law includes specific ranges of penalties for violators of the worst forms of child labor. The maximum penalties for many of the most serious violations are 1.16 million CFA francs ($2,050) or five years in prison. According to a local antihuman-trafficking NGO and representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action, the lack of capacity to prosecute offenders in the judicial system rendered penalties ineffective as a deterrent. Violators did not fear prosecution.

The Ministry of Labor, which is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, concentrated its limited resources on the formal wage sector. Data on the number of children removed from child labor were not available, although the ministry reported authorities aided an NGO’s efforts to rescue 16 children from trafficking. International aid groups reported little change in child labor conditions.

Although there are laws and policies designed to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, child labor was a problem in the informal sector. According to government sources, foreign-born children travel to Congo to work in housekeeping, market vending, agricultural and fishing work with financial remuneration sent back to their parents in their country of origin. Local NGOs report that child victims experienced harsh treatment, long work hours, and almost no access to education or health services. Additionally, they received little or no remuneration for their work. There were no official government statistics on general child labor.

Children as young as six, especially indigenous children in rural areas, often worked long hours in the fields harvesting cassava and carrying heavy loads of firewood. A local authority reported that this was culturally acceptable, although not officially legal.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on family background, ethnicity, social condition, age, political or philosophical beliefs, gender, religion, region of origin within the country, place of residence in the country, language, HIV-positive status, or disability. The constitution and law do not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons based on national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, or having communicable diseases other than HIV.

The government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. Labor law does not specifically reiterate these antidiscrimination provisions. Discrimination in employment and occupation sometimes occurred with respect to women, refugees, and indigenous people. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender and stipulates women have the right to equal pay for equal work. Most women worked in the informal sector and thus had little or no access to employment benefits. In rural areas, women’s education and wage levels are lower than in urban areas with most work focused on family farming, small-scale commerce, and child-rearing.

Persons with disabilities and indigenous groups faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage was 90,000 CFA francs ($159) per month in the formal sector, which exceeds the poverty line. There was no official minimum wage for the agricultural and other informal sectors. High urban prices and dependent extended families obliged many workers, including teachers and health-care workers, to seek secondary employment, mainly in the informal sector where the law did not apply.

The law provides for a standard workweek of seven hours per day with a one-hour lunch break, five days a week. There was no legal limit on the number of hours worked per week, and the law provides for paid annual holidays and four months of maternity leave. The law stipulates overtime pay for all work in excess of regular working hours. For public-sector workers, this is 35 hours per week. In private companies, overtime is any work beyond the business’ normal working hours (usually 40 to 42 hours per week). There is no legal prohibition of excessive compulsory overtime. Overtime is subject to agreement between employer and employee. Employers generally observed these standards, and employers usually paid workers in cash for overtime work. The penalty for violating wage laws ranges from 10,000-20,000 CFA francs ($17.70-$35.40) when the violation occurs the first time, and 20,000-36,000 CFA francs ($35.40-$63.60) for subsequent violations. A lack of enforcement rendered the penalties ineffective, and the penalties themselves were not sufficient to deter violations. According to the Inspector General of Labor, there were no penalties issued during the year for wage law violations.

Health and safety regulations are set by the Ministry of Labor, and they are in line with international standards. Although health and safety regulations require biannual visits to businesses by inspectors from the Ministry of Labor, such visits occurred much less frequently, and enforcement of findings was uneven. The Ministry of Labor employed 12 full-time inspectors responsible only for inspecting the formal sector, which was insufficient to enforce compliance with labor laws. Unions generally were vigilant in calling attention to dangerous working conditions; however, the observance of safety standards often was lax in both the private and public sectors. Workers have no specific right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. There were no exceptions for foreign or migrant workers. According to NGOs, labor violations were common in commercial fishing and logging operations, rock quarries, and private construction sites. Authorities did not effectively protect employees in these situations.

Human Rights Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select A Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future