Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa) | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)

Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)

Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Trend Arrow: 

Congo Kinshasa received an upward trend arrow for signing a peace deal with the government of Rwanda that led to a withdrawl of Rwandan troops.


The signing of a peace agreement in July 2002 between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its main external adversary, Rwanda, raised hopes that real progess could be made in ending the four-year war. The agreement requires President Joseph Kabila's government to disarm the Rwandan Hutu militia, the Interahamwe, which was responsible for the massacre of about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994. The agreement also obliges Rwanda, which entered the DRC ostensibly to pursue Interahamwe, to withdraw its troops. The Rwandan government said nearly all of its 20,000 forces had withdrawn by November. Uganda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia were near completion of withdrawal of their troops. However, the United Nations said in a report in October 2002 that the initial motivations for the war have been replaced largely by economic interests. The armies of Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda have, the UN report said, established permanent paramilitary and criminal proxies in the DRC to control that country's trade in diamonds, gold, and other natural resources. Unless there is large-scale disarmament, the withdrawal of foreign troops could lead to more instability as rival militias and factions battle for control.

As the Belgian Congo, the vast area of Central Africa that is today the DRC was exploited with a brutality that was notable even by colonial standards. The country was a center for Cold War rivalries from Belgium's withdrawal in 1960 until well after Colonel Joseph Mobutu came to power with CIA backing in 1964. The pro-Western Mobutu was forgiven by Western governments for severe repression and financial excesses that made him one of the world's richest men and his countrymen among the world's poorest people. Domestic agitation for democratization forced Mobutu to open up the political process in 1990. In 1992, his Popular Revolutionary Movement, the sole legal party after 1965, and the Sacred Union of the Radical Opposition and Allied Civil Society, a coalition of 200 groups, joined scores of others in a national conference to establish the High Council of the Republic to oversee a democratic transition. Mobutu manipulated and delayed the transition.

Despite widespread domestic opposition to his rule, it was the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda that triggered Mobutu's demise, after he allowed Hutu Interahamwe fighters to base themselves in his country, which was then known as Zaire. Rwanda and Uganda easily tapped into popular hatred for Mobutu in their seven-month advance on Kinshasa. They installed Laurent Kabila, who at the time was a semi-retired guerrilla fighter, as the head of their rebellion and toppled the Mobutu regime in May 1997. Mobutu fled to Morocco and died of cancer a few months later. The new war erupted in late 1998 after Kabila fell out with those who had put him in power. Kabila was assassinated in January 2001. His son, Joseph, revived the 1999 Lusaka peace accord and furthered the consolidation of a cease-fire.

The war at some point has drawn forces from at least eight countries into the fighting--Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Sudan on the side of Kabila; and Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi on the part of the rebels. More than 4,000 UN troops are in the country to help monitor the ceasefire and troop withdrawals, but they have faced repeated obstacles in deploying in the east. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2002 recommended increasing the number of troops to 8,700. A voluntary disarmament program is to follow the deployment.

In December 2002, the Goma faction of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), various militia leaders, civil society representatives, and unarmed political opposition parties signed the first all-inclusive agreement to establish a government of national unity. Under the deal, Kabila will remain in office for the next two years until elections are held. Kabila would be assisted by four vice presidents, including representatives from the RCD, the MLC, the DRC government, and the unarmed opposition.

The conflict in the DRC has directly and indirectly claimed an estimated 2.5 million lives in the past four years, and more than 2 million people have been uprooted. Fighting in the northeast in December 2002 forced more than 130,000 people from their homes. Human rights abuses remained rampant across the country in 2002. Opposition supporters, journalists, and human rights workers are routinely arrested and harassed, and public demonstrations are suppressed. Rapes, unfair trials, and extrajudicial executions are also reported.

The October UN report said that peace agreements signed in Zambia, Angola, and South Africa were unlikely to lead to peace, in the short term, in the DRC. The report recommended imposing a financial and travel ban on 83 individuals and companies, including foreign businessmen; senior Congolese, Rwandan, Ugandan, and Zimbabwean military officers; and multinational firms from Africa, Europe, and the former Soviet Union. The report said that 85 multinational firms are in violation of guidelines established by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development governing corporate conduct in conflict zones.

The black market in the DRC has largely replaced the formal (business) economy. Most people live marginal lives as subsistence farmers despite the country's vast resources. Agreements with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have led to the pledge of more than $1.7 billion in assistance, which was expected to begin flowing to the government at the end of 2002. Economic reforms are under way, and growth is expected in 2002. Inflation has dropped dramatically.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The people of the DRC have never been able to choose or change their government through democratic and peaceful means. There are no elected representatives in the entire country. Mobutu Sese Seko's successive unopposed presidential victories and legislative polls were little more than political theater. Infrastructure and institutions to support a free and fair election are almost entirely absent.

At least 400 political parties registered after their 1990 legalization, but they were later banned under Laurent Kabila. Restrictions on political parties were eased in May 2001, but opposition members are routinely harassed and prevented from holding press conferences.

Despite guarantees of independence, in practice the judiciary is subject to corruption and manipulation. The civil judiciary is largely dysfunctional. Military courts, such as the Court of Military Order, deliver harsh sentences to civilians for questionable security and political convictions. President Joseph Kabila has promised to limit the powers of the Court of Military Order, which is to try 135 people accused of involvement in the assasination of his father, Laurent Kabila. Many of the suspects are likely to face the death penalty. Defendants have no automatic right of appeal to a higher court; many lack counsel, are held incommunicado, and can be subjected to torture. Long periods of pretrial detention are common in prisons in which poor diet and medical care can be life threatening.

Serious human rights abuses by Kabila's armed forces and rebel soldiers continued in 2002, although most abuses were reported in rebel-held areas of the east. Violations included extrajudicial execution, torture, rape, beating, and arbitrary detention. Ethnically-based killings by both government and rebel forces have been reported.

Numerous nongovernmental organizations, including human rights groups, operate despite intimidation and arrest. New York-based Human Rights Watch protested the detention of N'sii Luanda Shandwe, of the Committee for the Observance of Human Rights, who had been detained for more than four months by September 2002, apparently for hosting a former political detainee at his home. He was charged with treason and for sheltering criminals and faces trial before the Court of Military Order. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to death.

Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are sharply limited by decree. Statutes provide for freedom of the press, but the government continued to sharply restrict the work of journalists. Church radio networks, as well as several local and community-based broadcasters (many are affiliated with political groups or military factions), are growing, but the state-controlled broadcasting network reaches the largest numbers of citizens. The UN broadcaster, Radio Okapi, has expanded its coverage of the country to include several local languages. At least 30 independent newspapers are published regularly in Kinshasa, but they are not widely circulated beyond the city. Independent journalists are frequently threatened, arrested, or attacked. Common accusations include "relaying intelligence to the enemy," "discouraging the population of soldiers," and "divulging state secrets or defense secrets."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in September 2002 protested the imprisonment and sentencing of two Kinshasa-based journalists, Raymond Kabala and Delly Bonsange, of the independent newspaper Alerte Plus. Kabala said he was tortured in jail. CPJ said the journalists were detained in July and later convicted of "harmful accusation" and "falsification of a public document" after an article appeared that said the minister of public order and security, Mwenze Kongolo, had allegedly been poisoned. The newspaper printed a correction the next day. Kabala and Bonsange were each sentenced to between 6 to 12 months in jail and fined between $100,000 and $200,000. Several other journalists were detained across the country in 2002 and held in life-threatening conditions.

Freedom of religion is respected in practice, although religious groups must register with the government to be recognized. Members of the Roman Catholic Church in rebel-held areas face intimidation. Ethnic tension is rife in the east. Fighting in northeast Ituri province in 2002 left hundreds of civilians dead and thousands displaced. A senior UN official warned of ethnic hatred in the east and said the country could face "a massacre of horrific proportions" if the problem is not adequately addressed. Ethnic societal discrimination is practiced widely among the country's 200 ethnic groups.

Despite constitutional protections, women face de facto discrimination, especially in rural areas. They also enjoy fewer employment and educational opportunities than men and often do not receive equal pay for equal work. Violence against women, including rape and forced sexual slavery, has soared since the onset of armed conflict in 1996. Children faced forced conscription by all sides in the conflict, although the government appeared to be scaling back this practice.

More than 100 new independent unions registered after the end of one-party rule in 1990. Previously, all unions had to affiliate themselves with a confederation that was part of the ruling party. Some unions are affiliated with political parties, and labor leaders and activists have faced harassment. There is little union activity, owing to the breakdown of the country's formal (business) economy.