Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. Human rights groups reported torture and other mistreatment of persons arrested and taken into security force custody. There were reports that government officials employed inhuman or degrading treatment.
Prison authorities acknowledged that abuse might happen and go unreported as prisoners fear reprisals. Human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) sources reported mistreatment of detainees associated with the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) political party.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and unhealthy due to insufficient food, gross overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: Severe overcrowding continued in many prisons. For example, the prison at Man was estimated to be at 10 times the capacity prior to a transfer of 300 prisoners from Man. The central prison of Abidjan was built to hold approximately 1,500 prisoners but held 5,728. Reports from other prisons also indicated the number of inmates exceeded capacity. In at least one prison, the inmates slept packed head-to-toe on the floor.
Authorities held men and women in separate prison wings, held juveniles with adults in the same cells in some prisons, and usually held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. The children of female inmates often lived with their mothers in prison, although prisons accepted no responsibility for their care or feeding. Inmate mothers received help from local and international NGOs. There were generally no appropriate services for mentally ill inmates, and they were held together with the general prison population. A human rights NGO reported that prominent prisoners or those who had been politically active had slightly better living conditions than other prisoners.
According to prison authorities, 39 prisoners died during the year, all from natural causes.
Large prisons generally had doctors, while smaller prisons had nurses, but it was unclear whether prisoners had access to these medical professionals at all times. Prison authorities reported that two doctors spend the night at Abidjan’s main prison and were always available for urgent cases, but human rights groups alleged prisoners had to rely upon guards to allow them to see medical staff at night. Prisoners with health crises were supposed to be sent to health centers with doctors, and prison authorities claimed they approved medical evacuations of prisoners. Where the prison did not have a vehicle, the prison authorities in some prisons said they cooperated with the local gendarmes or emergency services for transportation to hospitals.
Critical health care for prisoners, however, was not always immediately available. Charities or religious organizations sometimes financed prisoners’ medical care. Prison pharmacies often provided medicine for diseases such as malaria, but not the more expensive medicines for illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension. In some cases prison pharmacists would write a prescription, and a family member would fill it. At one prison, authorities said the prison officials themselves would buy the medications at a local pharmacy out of the prison budget. The prison director also said some prison guards had nursing training and he authorized them to wake the doctor in the middle of the night if a prisoner needed urgent medical care. According to prison authorities, it was the Ministry of Health, not prison authorities, who decided which pharmaceuticals a prison pharmacy should receive.
Prison authorities reported difficulty in keeping mattresses free from pests in some prisons, leading authorities to remove the mattresses. Poor ventilation and high temperatures, exacerbated by overcrowding, were problems in some prisons. While potable water generally was available in prisons and detention centers, water shortages could occur due to disagreements among the prisoners about how to allocate it. When one city experienced water shortages, prison authorities had trucks bring in water.
Approximately 23 percent of the prison population was in preventive detention. According to human rights groups, physical abuse occurred, and conditions were inhuman in police and gendarmerie temporary detention facilities, with detainees in close proximity to extremely unsanitary toilets. The 48-hour limit for detention without charge was often ignored and renewed, with the average time being eight to nine days. Officials sometimes listed the date of detention as several days later than the actual date of arrest while conducting an investigation to conceal the length of time the prisoner was actually in temporary detention.
Wealthier prisoners reportedly could buy food and other amenities, as well as hire staff to wash and iron their clothes. The government allotted 400-450 CFA francs ($0.72-$0.81) per person per day for food rations, which was insufficient. The prison budgets generally did not increase with the number of prisoners, although prison authorities said funding followed prisoners who were transferred to alleviate overcrowding. Families routinely supplemented rations if they lived within proximity of the prison or detention center, bringing food from the outside during the four visiting days of the week.
Information on conditions at detention centers operated by the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST) was not readily available.
Administration: Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities, although there was no process for handling the complaints. Prison authorities had limited capacity to investigate and redress allegations of poor detention conditions, but NGOs reported that they improved hygiene and nutrition. Prison administrators continued to detain or release prisoners outside normal legal procedures.
Authorities generally permitted visitors in prisons on visiting days. Prisoners’ access to lawyers and families was allegedly nonexistent in detention centers operated by the DST.
In late November, five prison guards in Bouake became involved in a violent altercation with local university students. The incident, which involved local armed forces who joined the guards, stemmed from a dispute earlier in the day and ended with five students being shot, although authorities had not determined who fired the shots.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted the United Nations and local and international NGOs adequate access to prisons but not to detention centers run by the DST. Local human rights groups reported having access to prisons when they formally requested such in advance, although Amnesty International reported that its requests to visit prisons had not been approved since 2013, when it produced a critical report.
Improvements: In the main prison in Abidjan, a prisoners’ rights organization with international funding was working with prison authorities to build and equip a training center for cooking and hairdressing in the section for prisoners who are minors.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but both occurred. The DST and other authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, often without charge. They held many of these detainees briefly before releasing them or transferring them to prisons and other detention centers, but they detained others for lengthy periods. Generally, the limit of 48 hours pretrial detention by police was not enforced. Police detained citizens beyond 48 hours before releasing them or presenting them to a judge. There were several incidents of detention in undisclosed and unauthorized facilities.
Although detainees have the right to challenge in court the lawfulness of their detention and to obtain release if found to have been unlawfully detained, this rarely occurred. Most detainees were unaware of this right and had limited access to public defenders.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Police (under the Ministry of Interior and Security) and gendarmerie (under the Ministry of Defense) are responsible for law enforcement. The Coordination Center for Operational Decisions, a mixed unit of police, gendarmerie, and the Armed Forces of Cote d’Ivoire (FACI) personnel, assisted police in providing security in some large cities. The FACI (under the Ministry of Defense) is responsible for national defense. The DST (under the Ministry of Interior and Security) has responsibility for countering external threats. The national gendarmerie assumed control from the FACI for security functions on national roadways. FACI forces lacked adequate training and equipment and had a weak command and control structure. Corruption was endemic and impunity, including for allegations of rape and sexual assault, was widespread among the FACI and other security forces, such as police and gendarmerie.
In early January soldiers shot at a vehicle carrying a former rebel aligned with a ruling party minister, killing one person. Also in early January, 230 soldiers and gendarmes accused of misconduct, including desertion and breach of discipline, were removed from the army. Heavy gunfire erupted in January at two military bases in the country’s second-largest city, when soldiers reportedly demanded payment of bonuses and the departure of a security battalion in addition to training and promotions. In May, 2,168 soldiers of 2,211 soldiers, including three military officers, accepted payouts to retire. This was the second group of soldiers retired as part of a plan to cut costs and bring under control a military that launched two mutinies in 2017.
In August the government appointed a leader of a former rebel movement that controlled half of the country during the 2002 rebellion as the governor of Bouake, a central city home to previous unrest.
Dozos (traditional hunters) assumed an informal security role in some village communities, especially in the north and west, but they were less active than in the past and had no legal authority to arrest or detain. The government discouraged the dozos, whom most residents feared, from assuming security roles.
Military police and the military tribunal are responsible for investigating and prosecuting alleged internal abuses perpetrated by the security services.
Security forces failed at times to prevent or respond to societal violence, particularly during intercommunal clashes.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law allows investigative magistrates or the national prosecutor to order the detention of a suspect for 48 hours without bringing charges. Nevertheless, police often arrested individuals and held them without charge beyond the legal limit. In special cases, such as suspected actions against state security or drugs, the national prosecutor can authorize an additional 48-hour period of preventive custody. An investigating magistrate can request pretrial detention for up to four months at a time by submitting a written justification to the national prosecutor. First-time offenders charged with minor offenses may be held for a maximum of five days after their initial hearing before the investigative magistrate. Repeat minor offenders and those accused of felonies may be held for six and 18 months, respectively.
While the law provides for informing detainees promptly of the charges against them, this did not always occur, especially in cases concerning state security and involving the DST. In other cases magistrates could not verify whether detainees who were not charged had been released. A bail system exists but was used solely at the discretion of the trial judge. Authorities generally allowed detainees to have access to lawyers. In cases involving national security, authorities did not allow access to lawyers and family members. For other serious crimes, the government provided lawyers to those who could not afford them, but offenders charged with less serious offenses often had no lawyer. Attorneys often refused to accept indigent client cases they were asked to take because they reportedly had difficulty being reimbursed. Human rights observers reported multiple instances in which detainees were transferred to detention facilities outside their presiding judge’s jurisdiction, in violation of the law. Detained persons outside of Abidjan, where the vast majority of the country’s 600 attorneys reside, had particular difficulty obtaining legal representation.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law does not sanction arbitrary arrest, but authorities used the practice.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a major problem. According to government figures, as of September approximately one-third of all prison inmates in the country and almost half of the inmates at Abidjan’s central prison were in pretrial detention including 55 minors, with 20 more minors detained for oversight. In many cases the length of detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime. For example, some persons remained in pretrial detention for up to eight years. Inadequate staffing in the judicial ministry, judicial inefficiency, and lack of training contributed to lengthy pretrial detention. There were reports of pretrial detainees receiving convictions in their absence from court, with prison authorities claiming that their presence was not necessary, and sometimes detainees were not given sufficient notice and time to arrange transportation. Human rights groups reported mistreatment of detainees who were arrested and in custody of the DST before being sent to Abidjan’s main prison.
Amnesty: In August, President Ouattara announced an immediate amnesty for 800 prisoners held in connection with the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis, including several former cabinet members, military officers, and Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo.
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and although the judiciary generally was independent in ordinary criminal cases, the government did not respect judicial independence. The judiciary was inadequately resourced and inefficient. The continued lack of civilian indictments against pro-Ouattara elements for crimes during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis indicated the judiciary was subject to political and executive influence. There were also numerous reports of judicial corruption, and bribes often influenced rulings. By early December no magistrate or clerk had been disciplined or dismissed for corruption. On the other hand, magistrates who advocated independence or acted in a manner consistent with judicial independence were sometimes disciplined. For example, in July, two magistrates were dismissed from their jobs after they spoke out about the importance of independence in the judiciary, ethics, and “victor’s justice.” They fled the country following harassment by security forces.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right. Although the law provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals), the government did not always respect this requirement. In the past assize courts (special courts convened as needed to try criminal cases involving major crimes) rarely convened. Starting in 2015, however, they convened for one session per year in several cities to hear a backlog of cases. Defendants accused of felonies have the right to legal counsel at their own expense. Other defendants may also seek legal counsel. The judicial system provides for court-appointed attorneys, although only limited free legal assistance was available; the government had a small legal defense fund to pay members of the bar who agreed to represent the indigent. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may present their own witnesses or evidence and confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses. Lack of a witness protection mechanism was a problem. Defendants cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess guilt, although there were reports such abuse sometimes occurred. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, but courts may try defendants in their absence. Those convicted had access to appeals courts in Abidjan, Bouake, and Daloa, but higher courts rarely overturned verdicts.
Military tribunals did not try civilians or provide the same rights as civilian criminal courts. Although there are no appellate courts within the military court system, persons convicted by a military tribunal may petition the Supreme Court to order a retrial.
The relative scarcity of trained magistrates and lawyers resulted in limited access to effective judicial proceedings, particularly outside of major cities. In rural areas traditional institutions often administered justice at the village level, handling domestic disputes and minor land questions in accordance with customary law. Dispute resolution was by extended debate. There were no reported instances of physical punishment. The law specifically provides for a “grand mediator,” appointed by the president, to bridge traditional and modern methods of dispute resolution.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The government denied that there were political prisoners, although President Ouattara recognized in August there were prisoners indicted for “offenses connected to the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis,” a statement widely interpreted as recognition that political prisoners existed. In 2017 an Abidjan jury found Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo, not guilty of crimes against humanity stemming from the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis. She had been in custody since 2011. Although Simone Gbagbo was released from prison under the August amnesty, it was unclear who or how many other persons were released.
In March authorities arrested 18 supporters of an opposition alliance and detained them at Abidjan’s main prison.
In July a prominent imam was arrested and imprisoned on terrorism charges after criticizing the president for lack of progress in helping the poor and advocating for Muslim schools. Authorities released him after several weeks.
Some political parties and local human rights groups claimed members of former president Gbagbo’s opposition party FPI, detained on charges including economic crimes, armed robbery, looting, and embezzlement, were political prisoners, especially when charged for actions committed during the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis. A government-created platform to discuss detainees and other issues concerning the opposition did not meet during the year.
Authorities granted political prisoners the same protections as other prisoners, including access by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but the judiciary was subject to corruption, outside influence, and favoritism based on family and ethnic ties. Citizens may bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation, but they did so infrequently. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. The judiciary was slow and inefficient, and there were problems in enforcing domestic court orders.
In May local police destroyed homes, forcibly evicting a number of persons from a gentrifying neighborhood in Abidjan. Because residents had been informed by official notice that they had until July to move, most residents, including children and the elderly, were unprepared and without alternative lodging during the rainy season. The demolition disrupted the students’ exams and hindered the possibility for some to advance to the next grade.
In July, one person was killed and several others injured as police clashed with youths after more than 20,000 persons were evicted from their homes in an Abidjan neighborhood local authorities believed to be unsafe and illegally occupied, according to news reports. Human rights groups reported that due process was not followed.
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. The law requires warrants for security personnel to conduct searches, the prosecutor’s agreement to retain any evidence seized in a search, and the presence of witnesses in a search, which may take place at any time. Police sometimes used a general search warrant without a name or address. The FACI and DST arrested individuals without warrants.
Some leaders of opposition parties reported that authorities had frozen their bank accounts, although they were not on any international sanctions’ list and courts had not charged them with any offenses. It was unclear whether frozen bank accounts of those pardoned by the president in the August amnesty were reactivated. Human rights groups reported that the bank account of a minister’s opponent in the October municipal election was frozen.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted both. The National Press Authority, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, rebellion, and insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. In January Michel Gbagbo, son of former president Laurent Gbagbo, was charged with disclosing false information, stemming from comments he made to a news website in 2016, when he said 250 persons were still in prison following the 2010-11 political crisis.
In January a local politician of Lebanese origin, “Sam l’Africain,” was released from Abidjan’s main central prison. He was arrested in March 2017 after proclaiming at a political rally that he, with an Ivoirian wife, was just as Ivoirian as President Ouattara, who has a French wife and had a parent from Burkina Faso. He was sentenced to six months in prison for insult and slander towards “people belonging to an ethnic group,” then fined and sentenced to another five years and revocation of his civic rights for fraud.
Press and Media Freedom: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. A law bans “detention of journalists in police custody, preventive detention, and imprisonment of journalists for offense committed by means of press or by others means of publication.” The law, however, provides “fines ranging from one million to three million CFA francs ($1,800 to $5,400) for anybody found guilty of committing offenses by means of press or by others means of publication.” Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published inflammatory editorials against the government or fabricated stories to defame political opponents. The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations. There were numerous independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by community radio stations, but the regulation authority allows community radio stations to run political programs if they employ professional journalists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. Journalists with the state-owned media regularly exercise self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government’s officials.
National Security: Libel deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by six months to five years in prison.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 44 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government sometimes restricted the freedom of peaceful assembly.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government did not always respect this right. The law requires groups that wish to hold demonstrations or rallies in stadiums or other enclosed spaces to submit a written notice to the Ministry of Interior three days before the proposed event. Numerous opposition political groups reported denials of their requests to hold political meetings and alleged inconsistent standards for granting public assembly permissions. In some instances public officials stated they could not provide for the safety of opposition groups attempting to organize both public and private meetings.
In May, 21 students protesting poor living conditions were arrested following a clash with police in Abidjan and released after several days. In September stone-throwing students affiliated with a student union clashed with police on the campus of Houphouet-Boigny University in Abidjan as they protested education fees. The students disrupted traffic throughout the city, and police forces fought back using tear gas and sound grenades.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law do not specifically provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation, but the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: There were impediments to internal travel. Security forces and unidentified groups erected and operated roadblocks, primarily along secondary roads outside of Abidjan. Although some roadblocks served legitimate security purposes, racketeering and extortion were common. FACI occupied some checkpoints at border crossings, but fewer than in previous years. Discrimination against perceived foreigners and descendants of Burkinabe migrants, including difficulty obtaining nationality and identity documentation, remained an obstacle to free movement of stateless persons and those at risk of statelessness in the country.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
Most IDPs were in the western and northeastern regions and in Abidjan and surrounding suburbs; no estimates of the total number of IDPs were available. Most IDPs were displaced due to the 2010-11 postelectoral crisis and evictions from illegally occupied protected forests in 2016. The 51,000 persons evicted in 2016 from Mont Peko National Park, where they had been living and farming illegally, continued to face problems of housing and food security in the surrounding areas where they had largely integrated into local communities. These were largely economic migrants, likely including many stateless persons.
The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention) commits the government to protect the rights and well-being of persons displaced by conflict, violence, disasters, or human rights abuses and provides a framework of durable solutions for IDPs. The government respected the principle of voluntary return but provided limited assistance to IDPs; the United Nations and international and local NGOs worked to fill the gaps. While many of those displaced returned to their areas of origin, difficult conditions, including lack of access to land, shelter, and security, prevented others’ return. Host communities had few resources to receive and assist IDPs, who often resorted to living in informal urban settlements.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The constitution and law provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
Durable Solutions: Refugee documents allowed refugees to move freely in the country, with refugees younger than age 14 included on their parents’ documents. Refugees also had access to naturalization, although UNHCR reported many refugees had been in the naturalization process for more than five years.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection for individuals who no longer qualified as refugees under the relevant UN conventions. Persons awaiting status determination received a letter, valid for three months, indicating they were awaiting a decision on their status. The letter provided for temporary stay and freedom of movement only. Holders of the letter did not qualify for refugee assistance such as access to education or health care.
Statelessness in the country was believed to be extensive, although precise statistics were not available. The government estimated there were more than 700,000 stateless persons (a figure that likely underestimated the true scope of the problem), as a result of administrative hurdles, difficulty verifying nationality, and discrimination. The government never registered many of the children of migrants born in the country, thus placing them at risk of statelessness. With birth registration as a requirement for citizenship, unregistered children who lacked birth certificates were at risk of statelessness. Five children of unknown parentage received nationality documents, but UNHCR estimated there were possibly as many as 300,000 abandoned children and foundlings, who because they could not prove their citizenship through their parents, as required under the law, were stateless. Stateless children were thus deprived as they grew up of the opportunity to attend high school, get a formal job, open a bank account, own land, travel freely, or vote. Stateless persons faced numerous significant additional difficulties, such as access to health services, ability to wed legally, receive inheritance, and enjoy political rights, as well as exposure to exploitation and arbitrary detention. Social stigma and general harassment can also accompany statelessness.
The government put in place measures to resolve the status of certain stateless groups. These measures, however, were largely ineffective. Only 7,000 persons received Ivoirian nationality through a naturalization program that ended in January 2016, and a decision on an additional 123,810 cases was pending. In May the National Assembly created a working group, the Network of Ivoirian Members of Parliament for Migration, Refugees, and Stateless People, to address the issue of statelessness and recommend solutions. The government, in partnership with UNHCR, worked to identify stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.).
Conflicts continued in parts of eastern DRC, particularly in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika, Ituri, Upper Uele, Lower Uele, and provinces in the Kasai region (Kasai Central, Kasai, Kasai Oriental, Sankuru, and Lomami provinces). Foreign RMGs, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU), the National Forces of Liberation, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), as well as indigenous RMGs such as various Mai Mai (local militia) groups, Kamuina Nsapu, and the Bana Mura continued to perpetrate violence against civilians.
Conflict among armed groups caused significant population displacement and led to many human rights violations. In North Kivu, the Nduma Defense of Congo–Renewal (NDC-R), Mai Mai Mazembe, the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (ALPCS), the FDLR, as well as a host of smaller armed groups fought among themselves and caused significant population displacements as they fought over territory. In June the UN Group of Experts (UNGOE) reported that the SSF worked in coordination with armed groups, including by supplying materials, to foster conflict among armed groups in North Kivu. The UNGOE reported that FARDC and NDC-R commanders regularly conferred informally to discuss attacks on other armed groups. In July, however, the FARDC launched a significant offensive against the NDC-R.
By impeding humanitarian aid and development assistance in some areas, the fighting in the east exacerbated an already severe humanitarian crisis. There were credible reports that local authorities also impeded humanitarian assistance and used force to expel the populations in three internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Tanganyika Province, where thousands of persons were displaced by violence between the Twa and Luba communities. In Djugu territory in Ituri, the PNC and FARDC prevented humanitarian aid from accessing a significant percentage of the territory where a series of community attacks took place.
There were credible reports that the SSF and RMGs perpetrated serious human rights violations and abuses during internal conflicts. These RMGs included the ALPCS, the ADF, the FDLR, the Forces of the Patriotic Resistance of Ituri (FRPI), the LRA, various ethnic Hutu factions of Nyatura, the Nduma Defense of Congo, Raia Mutomboki, Kamuina Nsapu, Bana Mura, ethnic Tshokwe and Pende militias, several Burundian antigovernment militias, and the following Mai Mai groups, Mazembe, Charles Shetani, and William Yakutumba, among others. Bakata Katanga leader Gedeon Kyungu Mutunga, who in 2009 was convicted in a national court for crimes against humanity but escaped from prison in 2011, surrendered to the government in 2016 and remained under a form of government-supported house arrest as of year’s end instead of being returned to prison. The government took no steps to hold him accountable.
The United Nations reported that the Kamuina Nsapu militia, based in the central Kasai region, carried out targeted killings of members of the military, police, public officials, and civilians perceived to cooperate with them (see section 1.a.). On July 4, the OHCHR released a report on abuses in the Kasai region that accused the Kamuina Nsapu, the 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 an excessively violent response to conflict in the region, in particular the 2101st Regiment. 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.
Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura militias also committed serious human rights abuses against children (see section 6).
During the year attacks attributed to the ADF killed more than 200 civilians. On September 22, an attack attributed to the ADF in Beni killed 12 civilians and four soldiers and caused civil unrest that prevented aid workers from responding to a growing Ebola outbreak for several days.
The government took military action against several major RMGs, including establishing a new operational zone in the Kasai region to fight Kamuina Nsapu militias. Operational cooperation between MONUSCO and the government continued in the East but not in the Kasai region, where FARDC troops were accused of serious human rights abuses that a United Nations report stated could amount to crimes against humanity. MONUSCO and the FARDC cooperated against the FDLR, the ADF, and the FRPI during the year. In July, Nduma Defense of Congo leader Ntabo Ntaberi Cheka, charged with crimes related to the 2010 Walikale rapes, surrendered to MONUSCO forces and on August 5, was transferred to government custody. A military trial began for Cheka on November 27 for crimes against humanity to include rape, murder, looting, torture, and war crimes such as the recruitment of children. The trial was still underway as of year’s end.
There was widespread killing, rape, and displacement of civilians by ethnic militias. In Ituri a series of attacks by unidentified local militias against villages caused widespread displacement as the local population feared a return of ethnic conflict that had been largely dormant since 2007. More than 40 persons were killed, mostly in attacks by militias with machetes. Approximately 350,000 persons were displaced by the conflict, including an estimated 42,000 refugees who fled to Uganda. By July enough stability had returned to the area to allow some of the displaced to return.
On March 27, the UN Security Council extended MONUSCO’s mandate for 12 months and renewed the intervention brigade to neutralize armed groups. The mandate prioritized protection of civilians and support to the implementation of the December 2016 Agreement with a focus on supporting the electoral process. As of September MONUSCO consisted of approximately 16,940 peacekeepers, military observers, and police.
Killings: From January to June, the United Nations reported RMGs killed 386 civilians, an increase of 43 deaths compared with the same period in 2017. The FRPI was responsible for 177 killings, all in Irumu territory of Ituri province and largely during ambushes and attacks against villages targeting civilians. Mai Mai groups summarily executed 33 civilians in North Kivu province, and the Gumino RMG in High Plateau area of South Kivu summarily executed at least 25 civilians, including six women.
According to the United Nations, at least 890 persons were killed during communal violence from December 16 to 18 in Yumbi, Mai-Ndombe Province, following a dispute regarding the burial ground for a deceased local leader. The violence included widespread burning and pillaging of villages. As many as 16,000 persons were displaced and thousands fled the violence by crossing the Congo River into the Republic of Congo.
Abductions: UN agencies and NGOs reported that RMGs abducted individuals, generally to serve as porters or guides or to demand ransom for them. From January through August, the United Nations reported that RMGs abducted 1,726 persons, including 330 women. The NDC was the greatest perpetrator of abductions; 364 persons were abducted from January through August. Victims of kidnappings by unknown assailants or suspected RMGs in North Kivu province reported they were detained outside or in unknown locations for days, stripped of their clothes and belongings, tortured, and then abandoned. Observers noted a marked reduction in LRA abductions during the year compared with 2017.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: UN agencies and NGOs reported the SSF arrested, illegally detained, raped, and tortured 662 civilians, including 68 women, through August 31 in conflict-affected areas.
RMGs committed abuses in rural areas of North Kivu, South Kivu, the Kasai provinces, and the former provinces of Katanga and Orientale, including killing, raping, and torturing civilians. The ADF launched numerous attacks during the year that killed civilians, FARDC, and MONUSCO peacekeepers. On September 22, the ADF launched an attack in Beni, North Kivu Province, killing at least 18 persons.
RMG members raped men, women, and minors as part of the violence among and between them and the FARDC. Statistics on rape, including rape of men, were not available. On May 21, in Bijombo in South Kivu province, a 45-year-old woman and two girls ages 16 and 17 were raped by FARDC. The victims were searching for their belongings after having run away from their village. On July 2, in Kananga of Kasai Central province, two girls ages 15 and 17 and two women were raped by approximately 10 armed men, among whom at least one was recognized as a police officer.
Child Soldiers: The MONUSCO Child Protection Section (CPS) reported RMGs released at least 2,253 children from their ranks during the year. MONUSCO CPS previously reported nearly 37 percent of child recruits were younger than 15 years of age when recruited, which could constitute a war crime. This represented a 40 percent increase in overall recruitment and a 13 percent increase in children younger than age 15 compared with the same period in 2016. UNICEF assisted the children through a number of NGOs. From January through September, children were separated from various RMGs including Nyatura (661), Mai Mai Mazembe (505), Kamuina Nsapu (242), Raia Mutomboki (168), the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda-Abacunguzi Combattant Forces (166), ADF (80), Nduma Defense of Congo/Renove/Guidon (74), the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo/Janvier (71), and other groups (106). Most of the children were separated in North Kivu followed by the Kasai region.
According to the United Nations, children made up approximately 50-70 percent of Kamuina Nsapu militia ranks, including those used as fighters and human shields. The United Nations reported Kamuina Nsapu leaders drugged children and then slashed them across their stomachs and shoulders as part of their initiation ritual to test whether they would have protective powers against bullets. Children died as a result of this initiation process due to the deep incisions from spears and sticks.
The SSF continued to arrest and detain children for their association with armed groups. On May 26, media reported that 13 minors were released from Kananga central prison in Kasai province. Some children reported having been held for weeks at other remote facilities before being transferred to Kananga.
A presidential advisor on sexual violence and child recruitment, appointed in 2014, raised awareness of the problems of sexual violence throughout the country and encouraged efforts to remove child soldiers from the SSF and provide services to victims. On February 14, a FARDC unit deployed in Djugu territory of Ituri Province reportedly used four boys, ages 14 to 16, as porters and water fetchers. All four boys were released the following day. The United Nations reported that from January through September FARDC were involved in 27 cases of killing and maiming children. The United Nations also reported that the FARDC had a proxy relationship with the NDC-R, which recruited and used children during the year. The government cooperated with international organizations to eliminate recruitment and remove children from the SSF and RMGs including the NDC-R. During the year NDC-R leader Guidon Shimeray Mwissa signed a pledge and in November committed to a roadmap to remove all children from his ranks and prevent any further child recruitment. In February the United Nations sanctioned Guidon for, among other things, his use of child soldiers. The United Nations and several civil society actors indicated that all child soldiers were released from the NDC-R and that Guidon was abiding by his pledge not to recruit children.
ADF continued to kidnap children and use them as combatants.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Fighting between the FARDC and RMGs as well as among RMGs continued to displace populations and limit humanitarian access, particularly in the Kasai provinces; Rutshuru, Masisi, Walikale, Lubero, Beni, and Nyiragongo territories in North Kivu Province; South Kivu Province; and Tanganyika Province.
In North Kivu, South Kivu, East Kasai, and Upper Katanga provinces, RMGs and FARDC soldiers continued to illegally tax, exploit, and trade natural resources for revenue and power. The FARDC executed unarmed children who were suspected of belonging to the Kamuina Nsapu armed group. Clandestine trade in minerals and other natural resources facilitated the purchase of weapons and reduced government revenues. The natural resources most exploited were gold, cassiterite (tin ore), coltan (tantalum ore), and wolframite (tungsten ore) but also included wildlife products, timber, charcoal, and fish.
According to media and civil society, the LRA trafficked in elephant ivory from Garamba National Park to finance its operations, likely by smuggling ivory through the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the disputed Kafia Kingi region controlled by Sudan, to link with illicit networks transferring these goods to China.
The illegal trade in minerals was both a symptom and a cause of weak governance. It financed the SSF and RMGs, and sometimes generated revenue for traditional authorities and local and provincial governments. With enhanced government regulation encouraged by global advocacy efforts and donor support, the mining of cassiterite, coltan, and wolframite resulted in a small but increasing amount of legal conflict-free export from North and South Kivu, Upper Katanga, and Maniema provinces. The year also saw the first small shipment of conflict-free gold from DRC. The SSF and RMGs continued to control, extort, and threaten remote mining areas in North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Maniema, the Kasai region, and Haut Katanga provinces.
The law prohibits the FARDC and RMGs from engaging in mineral trade, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Criminal involvement by FARDC units and RMGs included protection rackets, extortion, and theft. For example, in March UNGOE documented an attempt by FARDC officers to steal 2,860 pounds of coltan. The UNGOE also received credible information that state security officials participated in gold smuggling and illegal mining operations. There were unsubstantiated reports government officials were involved in illegal gold mining.
The UNGOE reported that several RMGs and elements of the FARDC profited from illegal trade and exploitation in the minerals sector (see section 7.b.). The UNGOE reported that a large part of the gold that was sourced (claimed to be) from Rwanda and Uganda was obtained fraudulently in neighboring countries, including the DRC. For example, it documented a smuggling operation of illegally sourced gold that was ultimately sold in Uganda and the United Arab Emirates.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
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.
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.
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/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government sometimes restricted these rights.
The government occasionally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. In August and September, authorities forcibly closed three IDP camps in Tanganyika Province despite repeated concerns expressed by humanitarian agencies.
In 2016 the country sent one of several delegations from African nations, UNHCR, and the African Union that, after seven years of negotiations, reached an agreement on steps to end the protracted Rwandan refugee situation by the end of 2017. Between January and August, more than 2,460 Rwandans voluntarily repatriated from the country. As of August 31, UNHCR estimated there were 217,766 Rwandan refugees in the country.
In August the government allegedly took steps to prevent political opposition leader Moise Katumbi from returning to the country and registering himself as a presidential candidate. The government allegedly failed to provide landing clearance for his private plane and then closed the land border with Zambia to prevent him from crossing the border by road. The government denied these allegations.
In November 2017 the Directorate General of Migration confiscated the passport of opposition UDPS party secretary general Jean Marc Kabund Kabund at Kinshasa’s airport and prevented him from leaving the country. As of September 22, Kabund did not have a passport, although human rights lawyer Georges Kapiamba received his passport in March after it was similarly confiscated in November 2017.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Continuing conflict in North Kivu, Ituri, and Tanganyika provinces harmed refugees and IDPs in the region, with attacks often resulting in deaths and further displacement. In August the government forcibly closed three IDP camps in Tanganyika Province, displacing approximately 24,000 IDPs, and denied the humanitarian community access to the sites during and subsequent to their closure. The armed conflict sometimes exacerbated ethnic tensions and clashes among communities and displaced groups.
In-country Movement: The SSF and RMGs established barriers and checkpoints on roads and at airports and markets, ostensibly for security reasons, and routinely harassed and extorted money from civilians for supposed violations, sometimes detaining them until they or a relative paid. The government required travelers to submit to control procedures at airports and ports during domestic travel and when entering and leaving towns.
Local authorities continued to collect illegal taxes and fees for boats to travel on many parts of the Congo River. There also were widespread reports that FARDC soldiers and RMG combatants extorted fees from persons taking goods to market or traveling between towns (see section 1.g.).
The SSF sometimes required travelers to present travel orders from an employer or government official, although the law does not require such documentation. The SSF often detained and sometimes exacted bribes from individuals traveling without orders.
Foreign Travel: Because of inadequate administrative systems, passport issuance was irregular. As of January only fully biometric DRC passports were recognized. Officials accepted bribes to expedite passport issuance, and there were reports the price of fully biometric passports varied widely. There were also credible reports that the government refused to issue passports to civil society activists and opposition members critical of the government. On September 25, ACAJ director Georges Kapiamba reported that he was able to travel after his passport was confiscated in 2017.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
In November the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that there were 1.37 million IDPs in the country. This was a reduction of 3 million IDPs from the previous year. This reduced number stemmed from agreement between OCHA and the government to change the way in which IDPs were defined. Under this new formula, individuals displaced for more than 12 months were no longer counted as IDPs. The government was unable to protect or assist IDPs adequately but generally allowed domestic and international humanitarian organizations to do so. UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations worked to close IDP sites where the security situation was relatively stable.
Conflict, insecurity, poor infrastructure and a change in government policy adversely affected humanitarian efforts to assist IDPs. From August to September, the government forcibly closed three IDP camps in Tanganyika province, displacing approximately 24,000 persons. Population displacements continued throughout the year, particularly in the east. Many areas continued to experience insecurity, such as North Kivu’s Beni Territory, Ituri province, South Kivu’s Fizi Territory, and Tanganyika Province. Intercommunal violence and fighting among armed groups in the East resulted in continued population displacement and increased humanitarian needs for IDPs and host communities.
Due to the remote location of the Kasai region, humanitarian access was difficult, and IDPs lived in poor conditions without adequate shelter or protection. Women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, including gang rape. In October and November, an Angolan government policy led to the return of nearly 400,000 Congolese to Kongo Central, Kwango, Kasai Central, Kasai Oriental and Lualaba provinces. Included among the returnees were more than 2,000 refouled Congolese refugees, most of whom intended to remain in DRC.
Combatants and other civilians abused IDPs. Abuses included killings, sexual exploitation of women and children (including rape), abduction, forced conscription, looting, illegal taxation, and general harassment.
More than one million IDPs returned to their areas of origin in 2017 according to UNHCR. This included 491,000 returnees in Kasai-Central, 270,000 in North Kivu, 154,000 in Tanganyika, 121,000 each in Lomami and South Kivu, and 45,000 each in Maniema and Ituri. In the Kasai provinces, UNHCR reported that more than one million IDPs started to return to their homes in 2017, but continued insecurity, abuses by the SSF and RMGs, as well as thorough destruction of homes impeded returns. UNHCR considered most of the returnees to be living in extremely precarious conditions.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
As of August 31, UNHCR reported 536,271 refugees in the country from seven adjacent countries, of which approximately 218,000 were from Rwanda.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a rudimentary system for providing protection to refugees. The system granted refugee and asylum status and provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
As of August 31, there were 3,546 asylum seekers in the country. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers with welfare and safety needs. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes by allowing their entry into the country and facilitating immigration processing. In establishing security mechanisms, government authorities did not treat refugees differently than citizens.
Durable Solutions: Through the application of the cessation clauses of the 1951 Convention and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention, Angolans who fled the Angolan civil war (which ended in 2002) ceased to be refugees in 2012. In 2014 UNHCR launched the final assisted voluntary repatriation of former Angolan refugees. From January through September 2015, 3,916 Angolans returned home; another 21,290 Angolans in Kinshasa, Kongo Central, and Upper Katanga provinces awaited return. UNHCR helped another 18,638 Angolan refugees to file for local integration in 2015, including paying for their residency permits. As of June, 494 Angolan refugees remained in the country.
The country has not invoked the cessation clause effective in 2013 for Rwandan refugees who fled Rwanda before the end of 1998. In 2016 the government joined other refugee-hosting countries and UNHCR to commit to facilitating repatriation of Rwandans from countries of asylum through December 31. To implement the tripartite agreement from 2014, the National Commission on Refugees (CNR) and UNHCR began in 2016 the process of biometrically registering Rwandan refugees. The FDLR impeded the process in North Kivu, where most of the refugees were located. UNHCR and the CNR suspended biometric registration following FDLR attacks on UNHCR-supported registration teams in 2016, during which the teams lost all of their data. An effort during the year registered 42,000 Rwandan refugees in South Kivu. UNHCR continued to support voluntary repatriation and between January and April it assisted in repatriating 1,347 Rwandan refugees.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an undetermined number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees (see section 1.g.).