Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Following a two-year delay, presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30, 2018; however, presidential elections were cancelled in Beni and Butembo, nominally due to an ongoing Ebola outbreak and security concerns, and in Yumbi because of intercommunal violence. Legislative and provincial elections in those regions were held in March. On January 10, the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) declared Felix Tshisekedi the winner of the December 2018 presidential election. His electoral victory was confirmed by the Constitutional Court on January 20, and he was inaugurated on January 24. The 2018 election was marred by irregularities and criticized by some observers, including the Council of Bishops, who said the results did not match those of their observation mission. Many international actors expressed concern over the CENI decision to deny accreditation to several international election observers and media representatives. Some persons questioned the final election results due to press reports of unverified data leaked from unnamed sources alleging opposition candidate Martin Fayulu received the most votes. The election aftermath was calm, with most citizens accepting the outcome. The January 24 inauguration of President Felix Tshisekedi was the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history. On August 26, the president’s Course for Change (CACH) political alliance entered into a power-sharing agreement to form a government with former president Joseph Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) political coalition, which won an absolute majority in the National Assembly. Under the agreement, Tshisekedi’s CACH took 35 percent of ministerial posts, while Kabila’s FCC took 65 percent.

The primary responsibility for law enforcement and public order lies with the Congolese National Police (PNC), which operates under the Ministry of the Interior. The National Intelligence Agency (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 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. The presidency oversees the Republican Guard (RG), and the Ministry of Interior oversees the Directorate General for Migration, which, together with the PNC, are responsible for border control. Civilian authorities did not always maintain control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests of journalists, censorship, internet blackouts, and criminal libel; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; some restrictions on citizens’ right to change their government through democratic means; serious acts of corruption by the government; trafficking in persons; violence against women and children due in substantial part to government negligence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities, members of national/ethnic/racial minorities, or indigenous people; and crimes involving violence or threat of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and forced labor, including by children.

Impunity for human rights violations and abuses was a problem. Despite the occurrence of some notable trials of military officials, authorities often did not investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.

Government security forces, as well as illegal armed groups (IAGS), continued to commit abuses, primarily in the east and the Kasai region. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and sexual and gender-based violence. IAGs also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and forced labor. The government took military action against some IAGs but had limited ability to investigate abuses and bring the accused to trial (see section 1.g.).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. 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 and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, and arrest. Provincial-level governments also prevented journalists from filming or covering some protests. Through June 30, the UNJHRO documented human rights abuses against at least 85 journalists. On May 3, President Tshisekedi was the first head of state from the country to take part in World Press Freedom Day in Kinshasa, declaring the government’s commitment to promote freedom of the press.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes intimidated, harassed, and detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, president, or SSF. On April 9, Radio Television Nsanga in Kasai Province was stormed by nine armed PNC officers on orders of the director of the local telecommunication authority. Journalists were ordered to abruptly interrupt broadcasting and leave the premises. The previous day agents from the telecommunication authority had asked the station to pay 338,000 Congolese francs ($200) in tax without explaining why. Plainclothes and uniformed security agents allegedly monitored political rallies and events.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications 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 in Kinshasa and in other major cities, 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 former 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 ($150) 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 85 cases of attacks on media from November 2018 to October and attributed 25 percent of these attacks to state security forces. JED reported the number of attacks on media decreased by approximately 30 percent from 2018. JED reported 16 cases of arrests of journalists, a 70 percent decline from the previous year, including several who remained in detention for more than the legal limit of 48 hours without being charged. JED reported 41 instances of authorities preventing the free flow of information, as well as 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.

On March 20, Flavien Rusaki, a journalist and owner of the news outlet Tokundola, which broadcasts on several television stations in Kinshasa, was assaulted by activists from the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) political party outside its headquarters in Kinshasa. Rusaki was accompanying opposition figure Franck Diogo, who had just been released from prison following President Tshisekedi’s amnesty order, and was en route to UDPS party headquarters to show his support for the president. UDPS supporters accused Rusaki as a supporter of defeated presidential candidate Martin Fayulu and attacked him.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to intimidation and violence by the SSF. JED reported that on August 1, a FARDC soldier assaulted Frank Masunzu, a journalist for Radio Pole FM, in Masisi Territory of North Kivu Province, while trying to interview victims of alleged FARDC abuses.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the High Council for Audiovisual and Communications is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power.

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

On June 29, the government forced Radio Television by Satellite (RTVS1), a media company owned by opposition leader Adolphe Muzito, to shut down, allegedly for tax arrears after it broadcast a message encouraging participation in a banned protest. This was the first such instance of forced media closure since President Tshisekedi took office, and the timing was seen as deliberate. The government did not reestablish RTVS1’s signal until August 1. On September 4, JED reported approximately 30 media outlets were closed throughout the country.

Libel/Slander Laws: The national and provincial governments used criminal defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. On March 1, Radio Television Sarah journalist Steve Mwanyo Iwewe was sentenced by a provincial criminal court to 12 months in prison and a fine of 338,000 Congolese francs ($200) for insulting the governor of Equateur Province. Governor Bobo Boloko Bolumbu ordered Iwewe’s arrest on February 27 after he refused to stop filming a protest by employees of the local environmental department. Iwewe was freed on March 30 after successfully appealing his case. He reported that he was “brutally beaten by the governor’s bodyguards” during his arrest.

Local media reported that on August 1, Michel Tshiyoyo, a journalist for Radio Sozem in Kasai Central Province, was arrested over a social media post in which he discussed a dispute between two regional politicians. Martin Kubaya, the provincial governor, alleged the Facebook post was “hate speech.” On August 23, Tshiyoyo was sentenced to two years in prison. The Congolese National Press Union said Tshiyoyo had not committed any violations and called for his release. As of November he was still in prison.

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

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet.

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.

From December 31, 2018, to January 19, following national elections, the outgoing Kabila government suspended internet access. In December 2018 the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Congo demanded telecommunications companies restrict access for security reasons and to prevent the dissemination of unofficial results of the December 30 elections. Opposition and civil society groups accused the government of preventing them from sharing photographs of results following the vote tabulation, reporting and speaking out against electoral irregularities, and organizing demonstrations. On January 7, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression denounced the government’s action as unjustifiable and a flagrant violation of international law. The regulatory authority restored internet access on January 19, the day the Constitutional Court confirmed President Tshisekedi’s election win.

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, at times the Criminal Code of 1940 and Press Freedom Act of 1996 were used to restrict freedom of expression.

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

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but government authorities restricted this right and prevented those critical of the government from exercising their right to peaceful assembly, especially in Upper Uele, North Kivu, and Tanganyika Provinces. The law requires organizers of public events to notify local authorities in advance of the event. The government maintained 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. 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.

The United Nations reported an opening of democratic space, including the freedom to peacefully assemble, by the government following Tshisekedi’s inauguration. Local and regional governments, however, continued to prohibit and repress some demonstrations. According to MONUSCO there were 461 violations of democratic space as of June 30, a decrease from the 499 violations recorded during the same period in 2018. 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 May 10, in Goma, the PNC used excessive force to disperse members of civil society movement Lucha, during peaceful protests against reported poor service by telecommunications providers. Eight persons were taken to the hospital, including three individuals who were beaten to the point of losing consciousness.

On June 30, the country’s Independence Day, the PNC violently dispersed a peaceful demonstration of opposition coalition Lamuka supporters in Goma, North Kivu Province. During the dispersal a man was shot and died of his injuries the next day. On the same day, despite having no legal basis to do so, Kinshasa governor Gentiny Ngobila banned a planned march by Lamuka supporters in the city, citing the day’s symbolic nature in his decision. President Tshisekedi publicly supported the decision to ban all protests across the country on June 30. According to the United Nations, police fired tear gas to prevent the march, and antiriot police intercepted the group’s leader, Martin Fayulu. On June 24, a union of doctors and nurses held a rally in Kinshasa to protest nonpayment of back salaries. According to local media, PNC officers beat and fired tear gas at the protesters. The PNC claimed the assembly was illegal because the association had not received permission from the mayor’s office.

On July 20, Kinshasa governor Ngobila banned all protests from July 22 to July 27 after the youth wing of President Tshisekedi’s UDPS political party announced plans to protest the candidacy of former minister of justice Alexis Thambwe Mwamba for the Senate presidency, and counter protests were organized by the youth wing of former president Kabila’s party.

In Kinshasa opposition parties were often allowed to hold political rallies. On February 2, Martin Fayulu, runner up in the December 2018 presidential election, held a rally with thousands of supporters in Kinshasa, where he called for peaceful resistance against what he described as a rigged election. Police did not intervene in the rally, and the event was covered on state television. On June 23, opposition politician Jean-Pierre Bemba held a large rally in Kinshasa to commemorate his return to the country after a self-imposed exile.

Similarly, when politician Moise Katumbi returned to Lubumbashi on May 22 after three years in exile, he was greeted by thousands of supporters. Katumbi faced difficulty, however, holding rallies in conflict-affected parts of the country (see section 3).

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 was burdensome and very slow. Some groups, particularly within the LGBTI community, reported the government had denied their registration requests. 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 https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government sometimes restricted these rights.

Several high-profile opposition figures were allowed to return to the country after years in self-imposed exile. In April the government annulled a prison sentence in absentia for politician Moise Katumbi, enabling him to safely return in May for the first time in three years. Similarly, Antipas Mbusa Nyamwisi, another opposition politician, was granted a passport in May, allowing him to return to the country after more than a year in exile.

In-country Movement: The SSF established barriers and checkpoints on roads and at airports and markets, both for security reasons and to track movement related to the Ebola outbreak. The SSF 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. IAGs engaged in similar activity in areas under their control, routinely extorting civilians at checkpoints and holding them for ransom.

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 FARDC soldiers and IAG 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. Officials accepted bribes to expedite passport issuance, and there were reports the price of fully biometric passports varied widely.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that, including individuals displaced for longer than 12 months, there were 4.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), including 2.7 million children, in the country. The government was unable to consistently protect or assist IDPs adequately but generally allowed domestic and international humanitarian organizations to do so. The government sometimes closed IDP camps without coordinating with the international humanitarian community. UNHCR and other international humanitarian organizations worked to close IDP sites where the security situation was relatively stable.

Conflict, insecurity, and poor infrastructure adversely affected humanitarian efforts to assist IDPs. UNHCR estimated that of the 350,000 IDPs displaced by intercommunal violence in Ituri in June, it had access to only 120,000 due to insecurity and inability to travel. 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 Maniema and Tanganyika Provinces. Intercommunal violence and fighting among armed groups in the east resulted in continued population displacement and increased humanitarian needs for IDPs and host communities. International organizations estimated 40 percent of displacements in the country were due to actions of the FARDC.

Due to the remote location, weak civilian authority, and insecurity 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. UNHCR representatives said that of the 350,000 Congolese, including 1,941 refugees, who were forcibly repatriated from Angola in October 2018 and were then displaced in the Kasai region, the majority had returned to their areas of origin.

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.

As of August 31, UNHCR reported 538,706 refugees in the country, primarily from seven adjacent countries, of whom 216,018 were from Rwanda. Of the refugees in the country, 63 percent were children.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Continuing conflict in North Kivu, Ituri, and Tanganyika Provinces harmed refugees and IDPs in the regions, with attacks often resulting in deaths and further displacement. UNHCR reported Rwandan refugees in the Masisi Territory of North Kivu were subject to cyclical displacement as a result of FARDC and IAG operations and were forced to relocate to South Kivu.

The government occasionally cooperated with 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 Bunia, Ituri Province, local authorities granted land for a new IDP site after UNHCR raised concerns the site hosting 11,000 IDPs near the city’s hospital during an Ebola outbreak was unfit.

In August the national government provided 422 million Congolese francs ($250,000) each to the governors of Kasai and Kasai Central to provide protection and transportation assistance to an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 returnees from Angola. Both governors worked with UNHCR, the World Food Program, Doctors Without Borders, and other international partners to facilitate the repatriation.

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 10,144 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: On July 5, the government signed a tripartite agreement with the Central African Republic (CAR) and UNHCR, allowing CAR refugees to return home. At least 4,000 CAR refugees expressed their intention to return home. In November, 396 refugees returned to CAR from the northern part of the country in the first repatriation convoy.

The country did not invoke 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. To implement the tripartite agreement from 2014, the National Commission on Refugees and UNHCR began in 2016 the process of biometrically registering Rwandan refugees who opted to remain in the country. Refugees received long-term, renewable permits to remain in the country. The program included a path to citizenship. Conflict impeded the process in North Kivu, where most of the refugees were located. UNHCR continued to support voluntary repatriation, and between January and August it assisted in repatriating 1,088 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.).

The country has a population of de facto stateless residents and persons at risk of statelessness, including persons of Sudanese origin living in the northeast, Mbororo pastoralists in the far north, forced returnees from Angola and former Angolan refugees, mixed-race persons who are denied naturalization, and Congolese citizens without civil documentation. There were no accurate estimates of this population’s size. The law does not discriminate in granting citizenship on the grounds of gender, religion, or disability; however, the naturalization process is cumbersome and requires parliamentary approval of individual citizenship applications. Persons whose names are not spelled according to local custom were often denied citizenship, as were individuals with lighter colored skin. Persons without national identification cards were sometimes arbitrarily arrested by the SSF.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Recent Elections: Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30, 2018, and drew criticism grounded in procedural transparency concerns. The CENI cancelled elections in Beni and Butembo in North Kivu Province, reportedly due to health concerns generated by the Ebola crisis, and in Yumbi in Mai Ndombe Province due to insecurity. Although the CENI organized legislative and provincial contests in those areas in March, more than one million voters were disenfranchised from the presidential contest.

On January 10, the CENI announced opposition candidate Tshisekedi won the presidential election, and in accordance with electoral law, on January 20, the Constitutional Court confirmed the CENI’s results. In a statement the council of bishops criticized the outcome, noting “the results of the presidential election as published by the CENI do not correspond to the data collected by our observation mission.”

Many international actors expressed concern over the CENI’s decision to deny accreditation to several international election observers and media representatives. Some persons questioned the final election results due to press reports of unverified data leaked from unnamed sources alleging opposition candidate Martin Fayulu received the most votes. The election aftermath was calm, with most citizens accepting the outcome. On January 24, Tshisekedi was sworn in as president, marking the first peaceful transfer of power since the country’s independence in 1960.

Tshisekedi’s UDPS political party won 32 seats in the National Assembly, whereas the FCC coalition won 335 seats of 500 seats total. Senatorial elections were held on March 15 through an indirect vote by provincial assemblies. On March 18, President Tshisekedi blocked incoming senators from taking their seats in response to widespread allegations provincial assembly members demanded bribes of tens of thousands of dollars for their votes. On March 29, Tshisekedi announced he was lifting the ban on seating the senators after public prosecutors claimed there was no evidence of electoral corruption.

Gubernatorial elections were held on April 10, resulting in Kabila’s FCC alliance winning 25 of 26 governorships and President Tshisekedi’s CACH coalition winning one seat. There were widespread accusations of corruption in opposition strongholds and resource-rich regions.

On June 10, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling invalidating the parliamentary elections of 24 opposition members, awarding their seats to members of the majority coalition. In response President Tshisekedi ordered the creation of a special investigation chamber. On July 3, the special chamber reinstated 10 of the 24 invalidated parliamentarians.

Political Parties and Political Participation: On August 26, President Tshisekedi’s CACH political alliance entered into a power-sharing agreement with former president Kabila’s FCC political alliance. Under the agreement, CACH received 35 percent of ministerial positions in the government, and the FCC took 65 percent. The FCC also enjoyed majority representation in judicial bodies.

State-run media, including television and radio stations, remained the largest sources of information for the public and government (see section 2.a.). There were reports of government intimidation of opposition members, such as denying opposition groups the right to assemble peacefully (see section 2.b.), limiting travel within or outside the country, targeting opposition leaders in politically motivated judicial actions, and exercising political influence in the distribution of media content.

The law recognizes opposition parties and provides them with “sacred” rights and obligations. Government authorities and the SSF, however, prevented opposition parties from holding public meetings, assemblies, and peaceful protests. The government and the SSF also limited opposition leaders’ freedom of movement. At various points during the year, including the election campaign period, the SSF used force to prevent or disrupt opposition-organized events.

Thousands in Lubumbashi welcomed home exiled opposition leader Moise Katumbi on May 22. On June 2, and again on June 10, however, the government prevented Katumbi from landing his plane in Goma, where he was scheduled to hold a political rally. Both times, the government cited “security reasons,” in denying the landing clearance.

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

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate, although some ethnic groups in the restive east claimed discrimination. Women held 10 percent of seats in the National Assembly (52 of 500) and 10 percent in the provincial assemblies (72 of 690). In April, Jeanine Mabunda was named president of the National Assembly, the second time a woman has held that position. Of 108 senators, 23 were women. Among the 66 government vice prime ministers, ministers, ministers of state, vice ministers, and minister delegates, 12 were women, an increase in the total number from that of the previous government (from 10 percent of 59 such positions to 17 percent of 65 such positions). Notably, Marie Tumba Nzeza became the second female foreign minister, and Elysee Munembwe Tamukumwe was named vice prime minister for planning. Some observers believed cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men.

Some groups, including indigenous persons, claimed they had no representation in the Senate, National Assembly, or provincial assemblies. Discrimination against indigenous groups continued in some areas, such as Equateur, East Kasai, and Upper Katanga Provinces, and contributed to their lack of political participation (see section 6).

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

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

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

From January to July, the UNJHRO reported at least 556 women and girls were victims of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict-affected areas. The UNJHRO stated perpetrators were primarily IAGs, followed by FARDC, police, and intelligence agents. In June there were 54 cases of sexual violence against women attributed to FDLR combatants. For example, the United Nations reported that on June 17, a woman in Nyiragongo Territory was attacked by eight FDLR combatants and raped while searching for firewood. As of July 31, the United Nations reported the SSF killed 49 women and IAGs killed 116 women.

The SSF, IAGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence (see section 1.g.). As of July 31, the United Nations documented 501 adult victims and 64 child victims of sexual violence in conflict. Crimes of sexual violence were sometimes committed as a tactic of war to punish civilians for having perceived allegiances to rival parties or groups. The crimes occurred largely in the conflict zones in North and South Kivu Provinces, but also throughout the country. The 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found more than one in four women nationwide (27 percent) had experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives, up from 22 percent in 2007.

The Panzi Hospital in Bukavu reported 700 cases of rape occurred near the border of Maniema and Tanganyika Provinces from March to June. Due to armed group activity, however, their planned joint fact-finding mission with the United Nations could not access the area.

In March the PNC launched a nationwide campaign, with support from MONUSCO, to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence by the SSF. On July 7, Colonel Jean Daniel Apanza, head of the military’s internal commission to combat sexual violence, reaffirmed the FARDC’s principle of “zero tolerance for cases of sexual violence.”

MONUSCO reported that, from March 1 to March 15, the military court in Kikwit Province convicted eight PNC agents and two FARDC soldiers of rape, with sentences ranging from three to 12 years in prison.

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

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

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

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including sexual violence against young girls, to harmful traditional and religious practices. Perpetrators allegedly targeted children because they believed harming children or having sex with virgins could protect against death in conflict.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a minimum sentence of one year, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.

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

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

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

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

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. During the year President Tshisekedi promised to make public primary education universally free. The government, however, was not able to consistently provide it in all provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries. These expenses, combined with the potential loss of income from their children’s labor while they attended class, rendered many parents unable or unwilling to enroll their children.

Primary and secondary school attendance rates for girls were lower than for boys due to financial, cultural, or security reasons, including early marriage and pregnancy for girls. Teachers pressured one in five girls to exchange sexual favors for high grades.

Many of the schools in the east were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by both the FARDC and IAGs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of IAG forcible recruitment of child soldiers.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits all forms of child abuse, it regularly occurred. The constitution prohibits parental abandonment of children accused of sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking “witchcraft” as a rationale. The law provides for the imprisonment of parents and other adults convicted of accusing children of witchcraft. Authorities did not implement the law.

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

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

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

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits prostitution by anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The law criminalizes child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 800,000 to 1,000,000 Congolese francs ($500 to $625). From January through June, UNICEF assisted 3,318 children (3,193 girls and 125 boys) who were victims of sexual exploitation. Most of these children were provided with a holistic response including psychosocial care, medical care, socioeconomic reintegration, and legal assistance.

There were also reports child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).

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

Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, which was the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans, children with disabilities, and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support of any kind and only 3 percent received medical support. The NGO Humanium estimated 70,000 children lived on the streets, with at least 35,000 in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and bringing misfortune to their families.

Between April and August 13, UNICEF registered 1,380 orphans who lost parents to the Ebola virus in the east. During the same period, 2,469 children were separated from their parents–either because they were isolated after being in contact with an Ebola-affected individual or because their parents were undergoing treatment.

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

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

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities and requires the state to promote their participation in national, provincial, and local institutions. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education. The law states private, public, and semipublic companies may not discriminate against qualified candidates based on disability. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and other government services.

As of November the law did not mandate access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities including access to health care, information, communication, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no special provisions are required of educational facilities to accommodate their specific needs. Consequently, 90 percent of adults with disabilities did not achieve basic literacy. The Ministry of Education increased its special education outreach efforts but estimated it was educating fewer than 6,000 children with disabilities.

Disability groups reported extensive social stigmatization, including children with disabilities being expelled from their homes and accused of witchcraft. Families sometimes concealed their children with disabilities due to shame. To address these issues, President Tshisekedi created a new Ministry of Social Affairs Charged with People Living with Disabilities and Other Vulnerable Persons, and a new minister, Irene Esambo Diata, was confirmed on September 6.

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

There were reports of societal discrimination and violence against foreign minority groups. For example, Chinese workers in Kasai Central Province were arbitrarily arrested in August on charges of “illegally staying,” after a spike in local tensions over tolls on the new road being constructed by a Chinese company.

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

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

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

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

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

LGBTI persons in South Kivu reported that in 2018 a coalition of revivalist churches in Bukavu published materials characterizing LGBTI persons as against the will of God. The publications contributed to a deteriorating environment for LGBTI rights in the area. Advocates reported arbitrary detentions, acts of physical violence, including beatings, being stripped naked, sexual abuse in public settings, and rape. In some cases LGBTI persons were forced by threats of violence to withdraw from schools and other public and community institutions.

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

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

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

Discrimination against persons with albinism was widespread and limited their ability to marry and obtain employment, health care, and education. Families and communities frequently ostracized persons with albinism. Civil society groups reported albinos were killed and their bodies disinterred and cut up for use in rituals meant to grant special power to anyone, from soccer teams to political campaigns, for example.

Longstanding ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. Throughout the first half of the year, Hutu populations in North Kivu were subject to forced displacement by both the SSF and IAGs operating in the area. In June intercommunal violence between Hema and Lendu groups in Ituri Province resulted in the deaths of 117 persons (see section 1.g.).

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