JURIST >> WORLD LAW >> Democratic Republic of the Congo 

Constitution, Government & Legislation | Courts & Judgments | Human Rights
map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

The Democratic Republic of the Congo [formerly Zaire] is currently divided into territories controlled by the Government and several rebel factions.

On January 16, 2001 Congolese President Laurent Desire Kabila, whose Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL) overthrew the authoritarian regime of Mobutu Sese Seko by armed force in 1997, was assassinated by one of his guards. On January 26, the Government installed his son Joseph Kabila as president. Joseph Kabila ruled by decree, and the Government continued to operate without a constitution.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The DR Congo civil judiciary, including lower courts, appellate courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of State Security, is largely dysfunctional; military tribunals organized since August 1997 have tried nearly all recent cases and have sentenced civilians as well as military personnel to death after summary trials.

Civil and criminal codes are based on Belgian and customary law. The legal code provides for the right to a speedy public trial, the presumption of innocence, and legal counsel at all stages of proceedings; however, the Government did not respect these rights in practice. Defendants have the right to appeal in all cases except those involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, all of which are adjudicated in theory by the Court of State Security, and except those cases adjudicated by the special military tribunals, whose jurisdiction is ill defined. The law provides for court-appointed counsel at state expense in capital cases, in all proceedings before the Supreme Court, and in other cases when requested by the court. In practice the Government did not respect fully these provisions.

Military courts, which are headed by a military judge and apply military law inherited from Belgium, try military and civilian defendants as directed by the Government, and tried nearly all cases during 2001. There is no appeals process in the military courts, and the accused do not have a right to legal counsel, although counsel may be provided at the discretion of the military judge. The Government tried to ensure that most defendants were provided with legal counsel during the year. Sentencing guidelines also were inherited from Belgian military law; however, in practice military courts have broad discretion to go outside of these sentencing guidelines. Military courts, which are located in all military installations and in most urban areas, may be open to the public at the discretion of the military judge. The Government claimed that its use of military courts rather than civilian courts was a result of the ongoing war in the country.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The DR Congo Government's human rights record remained poor in 2001, and it continued to commit numerous, serious abuses; however, there were improvements in several areas. Citizens do not have the right to change their government peacefully. Following the assassination of President Laurent Kabila, the Government immediately arrested and summarily executed 11 persons suspected of involvement. Security forces were responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, beatings, rape, and other abuses; however, there were fewer reported cases than in previous years. In general security forces committed these abuses with impunity. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening. Security forces continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain citizens; however, the number of such cases decreased. Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem, and dozens of suspects remained in detention without formal charges filed, without any evidence presented against them, and without an opportunity to defend themselves in court. Citizens often were denied fair public trials. The special military tribunal tried some civilians for political offenses, although most cases were related to the Kabila assassination or to alleged coup plotting against the Joseph Kabila Government. The military courts did not execute any civilians during the year; however, due process frequently was disregarded. The judiciary remained subject to executive influence and continued to be underfunded, inefficient, and corrupt. It largely was ineffective as either a deterrent to human rights abuses or as a corrective force. Security forces violated citizens' rights to privacy. Forcible conscription of adults and children continued in both government-controlled and rebel-controlled territories, despite promises by both sides to end the practice. Government and rebel security forces continued to use excessive force and committed violations of international law in the war; however, there were no reports that government aircraft bombed civilian populated areas in rebel-held territory.

Harassment of journalists, human rights activists, and opposition politicians decreased. Several journalists were tortured during the year; however, there were fewer reported cases than in previous years. Although a large number of private newspapers published criticism of the Government, the Government continued to restrict freedom of speech and of the press by harassing, arresting, and detaining newspaper editors and journalists, and by seizing individual issues of publications; however, the Government reduced its restrictions on private radio broadcasting. The Government restricted freedom of assembly and association, used excessive force to disperse demonstrations, and on several occasions prevented political party press conferences. The Government continued to ban some political party activities; however, in May revised the law to allow legally registered parties to operate freely. The Government committed some abuses against religious entities. The Government continued to restrict freedom of movement and continued to require exit visas; however, the Government decreased some travel restrictions. The war continued to cause large numbers of internally displaced persons (IDP's). The Government also harassed and imprisoned members of opposition parties and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). The Government allowed humanitarian organizations better access to areas under its control.

Violence against women was a problem and rarely was punished, and rape persisted as a widespread act of war, especially in the eastern provinces. Discrimination against women was widespread and common. Female genital mutilation (FGM) persisted among isolated populations in the north. Child prostitution was a problem. Discrimination against indigenous Pygmies was pervasive. Violence and discrimination against members of the Tutsi ethnic minority continued; however, the Government protected many Tutsis who were at risk. On occasion tension between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups in the area of Bunia, Orientale Province, flared into violence that resulted in hundreds of deaths. The Government restricted worker rights. The Government arrested labor leaders during public sector strikes and allowed private employers to refuse to recognize unions. The Government forcibly conscripted adults and children during the year, although the Government made efforts to demobilize some child soldiers. Child labor, including use of child soldiers, remained a problem. Mob violence resulted in killings and injuries. The country is a source for trafficked women and children.

There were numerous reports that Mai Mai groups fighting on the side of the Government committed serious abuses, including many killings, rapes, torture, kidnapings, and the arbitrary arrest and detention of civilians.

The human rights situation in rebel-held areas of the country was extremely poor. The majority of abuses were committed in rebel-held areas, and rebel forces committed numerous, serious abuses with impunity against civilians living in territories under their control, including deliberate, large-scale killings, disappearances, torture, rape, dismemberment, extortion, robbery, arbitrary arrests and detention, harassment of human rights workers and journalists, and forcible recruitment of child soldiers. In particular RCD/Goma and Rwandan units committed mass killings allegedly in reprisal for Mai Mai attacks against RCD or Rwandan forces. There were no reports that armed bands of Rwandan Hutus posing as Interahamwe fighters committed abuses. In previous years, the Rwandan army allegedly recruited these groups to demonstrate the need for a continued Rwandan military presence in the areas they controlled. Rebel organizations restricted freedom of speech, assembly, and association in areas under their control, and respect for freedom of religion continued to be poor. There were attacks against local and international NGO's in rebel-held areas, and some NGO personnel were killed. There also were many deaths due to interethnic mob violence in areas held by rebel forces.

Source: U.S. Department of State