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Combined initial report submitted on 1 March 1994  (CEDAW/C/ZAR/1),
second periodic report submitted on 24 October 1996 (CEDAW/C/ZAR/2), and
third periodic report submitted on 2 July 1998 (CEDAW/C/COD/3)


The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), formerly Zaire, is frequently referred to as the “heart of Africa”  due to its strategic central location, its size as the third largest country in Africa, natural beauty and enormous natural and mineral resources.  Located in the Great Lakes region of Africa, the country currently has a population of 43 million, including approximately 500,000 refugees from Rwanda. The DRC’s ethnic make-up consists of over 200 ethnic groups.  French is the official language, although many African languages, including Kiswahili, Lingala, Tshiluba and Kikongo, are also spoken. [1]   Approximately 50 percent of the population practices Christianity (75 percent Roman Catholic); half the country practices traditional beliefs. [2]
Recent Political History
President Laurent-Desire Kabila seized power in May 1997 following a seven-month campaign against dictator Mobuto Sese Seko, who fled the country after over 30 years of viciously authoritarian rule.  Kabila had at that time the support of the ethnic Tutsis who previously had been denied nationality rights.
Despite hopes that Kabila would bring peace and stability and resolve the nationality status problems of the Tutsi minority, an insurgent rebellion of former supporters of Kabila erupted against him in August 1998.  The rebellion was initiated by the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), which was supported by Rwanda’s Tutsi government.  Ethnic Tutsis, who had supported Kabila in his campaign against Mobuto’s oppressive rule, asserted that Kabila had taken control of the country without resolving their nationality issues.  Neighboring Rwanda and Uganda intervened on the side of the Tutsis.  Kabila called the rebellion an invasion by Rwanda and Uganda, and the governments of Angola, Chad, Zimbabwe and Namibia intervened in support of Kabila.  The conflict has now enmeshed the entire Great Lakes region of East Africa. 
Lusaka Peace Accords
A peace treaty was signed in Lusaka, Zambia on 10 July 1999 by the leaders of the DRC, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Rwanda and Uganda, and, in August, by 50 leaders of the RCD.  The accords call for military disengagement in all participating countries, the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force, measures for national reconciliation, investigation of suspected perpetrators of genocide, and an end to all acts of violence against the civilian population. [3]   Many regional experts remain doubtful that the peace process will hold [4]

Human Rights, Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs),
and Freedom of Expression
The country (and entire region) has been embroiled in humanitarian crisis for over a year.  In July 1999, the Kabila government initiated a program to deport all of the 400,000 Tutsis, to Rwanda despite their Congolese citizenship. [5]   Refugees from neighboring countries also have been deported.  As of June 1999, the UNHCR reported that approximately 1,000 refugees were crossing the border from the DRC into Tanzania every day. [6]    UN observers and humanitarian workers have been forced to leave.  Innocent civilians, including women and children, are increasingly becoming the victims of the continuing conflict.
The UN Special Rapporteur
The Kabila government has refused to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, the joint mission established in accord with Commission resolution 1997/58 and the Investigative Team of the UN Secretary General established on 15 July 1997, in part to investigate allegations of massacres of Hutu refugees during the Kabila-led rebellion in 1996-1997. [7]    On 4  May 1998, the Special Rapporteur made a request to the Government of the DRC to allow him to visit the country in August 1998.  He never received a reply.
NGOs are subject to oppressive policies and government harassment. Many Congolese human rights workers have fled to Uganda, fearing persecution. [8] In April 1998, the government announced a new policy requiring NGOs to register with the Minister of Justice and to file copies of internal regulations and organizational structure.  A government commission reviews the registration of human rights NGOs to determine their “good standing.”  When this policy was put into effect, NGOs were given just three days to update materials on file at the Ministry of Justice.  Just 22 out of 132 NGOs were declared to be in good standing. [9] No information was available to IWRAW on women’s human rights groups in DRC.
Human rights groups have reported that the government has silenced all organizations that release news regarding human rights violations. [10] Reporters are often subjected to government harassment, imprisonment and threats of violence.  In July 1999, government authorities called on the independent press to stop criticizing President Kabila and members of his government, stating that “A reporter who cannot censor himself is a raving, dangerous animal at large.” [11]

Economic Situation
DRC is rich in natural resources, including diamonds, cobalt, gold and crude oil.  According to Western experts, the DRC is among three countries in the world that possess the most important strategic materials for the twenty-first century. [12]   The country has a hydroelectric complex that uses the resources of the Inga Dam.  The complex has the potential to “light up the whole of Africa, from Cairo to Capetown,” and currently provides electricity to the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The diamond market supply in DRC’s main diamond mining city, Mbuji-Mayi, has never been accurately assessed, but estimates range from U.S. $20-$30 million per month. [13]
Currently, only three percent of the country’s arable land is cultivated, and it has been estimated that, if mechanized agriculture were to be implemented, DRC could become the “breadbasket” of Africa.  DRC’s main crops include coffee, cocoa, cassava, maize, rice, plantain, cotton, sugar and tobacco, and women play a dominant role in farming and agricultural work. [14]
Despite the wealth of resources, the average annual income is just US $120, and the majority of DRC’s people are among the poorest on the continent. [15]   Kabila inherited thirty years of neglect and corruption, which had resulted in major infrastructure problems.  Transporting goods throughout the country has become increasingly problematic, and there is little full-time, paid employment available outside Kinshasa. [16]    





A draft constitution has been put on hold due to the current crisis.   It is not known whether or not there exists a definition of discrimination in the draft constitution.  The previous constitution prohibited discrimination based on ethnicity, sex, or religious affiliation. [17]



Despite legislative reforms, customary practices continue to impede women’s enjoyment of their human rights.  Polygyny is illegal, but still practiced.  Despite a 1987 revision of the Family Code, traditional values are used to deny women the right to inherit their husbands’ property, to control her own property, or to receive a property settlement during a divorce. [18]
The DRC’s tremendous ethnic, cultural and tribal diversity affects the variety of roles women are expected to play in the family and in society.  The kinship structure varies from matrilineal (in the Bandundu and Bas-Zaire regions), in which the mother’s brother has authority over her children, to patrilineal (in the Shaba and Kivu regions).  Regardless of whether or not a women lives in a matrilineal or patrilineal kinship structure, a man has “established authority over his wife, reinforcing patriarchal social relations. . . Such a traditional system requires that the authoritative allocation of resources be controlled by men.” [19]



The women of Zaire gained the right to vote in 1960.  The current political instability inhibits a clear examination of the level of women’s participation and representation in the government.  According to data gathered in 1996-1997, six percent of parliamentarians were women, and four percent of cabinet members were women. [20]





According to the Special Rapporteur’s 1999 report on the DRC, parents are still paying for what is supposed to be free education.  Overall,  it is estimated that not more than 15 families in every 1,000 have been able to send their children to school, due to the high fees.  This does not bode well for girls and women, who generally receive less education than men.   DRC ranks among 19 countries in which more than half (53 percent) of primary-school age girls are not in school.  Forty-two percent of students enrolled in primary education are girls, and 32 percent of students enrolled in secondary school are girls.  According to 1997 statistics, 60 percent of all women are literate, compared to 84 percent of men.  However, this figure is 22 percent higher than literacy rates for women in 1970. [21]




Women are expected to take a secondary role in society, including in the employment sector.  Primarily employed in the informal sector, women constitute the majority of agricultural laborers and small-scale traders.  Women commonly receive less pay for comparable work and rarely hold positions of authority or power.  For every 100 men working in professional and technical positions, there are twenty women employed in these areas, which ranks it among the bottom ten percent of countries worldwide.  For every 100 men working in administrative and managerial professions, there are just ten women working in similar positions. [22]



The war has had a devastating impact on Congolese women.  Fighting that broke out after the signing of the Lusaka peace treaty disrupted international efforts to provide health and humanitarian services.  Despite the fact that all sides had agreed to stop fighting from 8-20 August so UNICEF and WHO could vaccinate children against polio, fighting resumed and resulted in civilian deaths; hundreds of women and children were trapped in health centers where the vaccination campaign was taking place. [23]  
Maternal Health and Access to Family Planning
According to statistical information gathered in 1996, a woman in the DRC has a one in 18 chance of dying from pregnancy-related causes. [24]   Just nine percent of couples of childbearing age use contraceptives (compared to 21 percent in Rwanda, 15 percent in Zambia and 43 percent in Zimbabwe). [25]   Abortion is legal, with conditions.  Thirteen percent of the total births in the country are to teenage girls. [26]  
Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced on an estimated five percent of the population. [27]   Although not widespread compared to other countries in the region, FGM is most commonly practiced in isolated areas in the North. [28]   In June 1999, Health Minister Mashako Mamba acknowledged that FGM constitutes an infringement of the rights and freedom of young girls and women.  The government is publicly committed to developing a national action plan to end FGM and other practices that harm women’s health. [29]  
According to a recent study by gynecology Professor Yanga, approximately 59 percent of women claim to use traditional healing and medicine to treat genital infections.  Of these, 18.2 percent report experiencing complications. [30]
Although specific figures are not available on the HIV contraction rate of women in DRC, regional statistics indicate that girls contract the disease at younger ages than boys.  This age gap, when analyzed, is attributed to the fact that girls often become infected because they are forced to have sex with older men.  According to a September 1998 UNAIDS report, “Many girls may choose such relationships because they come with gifts, money or other favors attached.  But some will simply have been powerless to resist.” [31]   In the DRC, nearly one in three women stated that she had lost her virginity because she had been forced to have sex. [32]



Rural women and men have distinct roles in the family, society and the economy in the DRC.  A large proportion of the country’s rural women perform agricultural work, and their work literally feeds the nation. [33]
The social context in which rural women of the DRC live varies depending on the geographical, tribal and cultural context, but several commonalties persist.  Men control the allocation of resources.  While women are responsible for at least half the labor hours in farm households, they may not have access to resources that would increase productivity, “with restrictions being placed on them by virtue of their gender and status in the household.” [34]   At the same time, women are expected to provide their own tools and supplies for performing agricultural work. [35]
In addition, husbands are needed to secure land and credit and to maintain respectability in the community.  According to a group of women farmers in the Kivu region, “We cannot do without our men because we need to be married in order to get land and to get our houses built.” [36]  
Women must receive permission from their husband to conduct virtually any legal transaction, including selling or renting real estate, opening a bank account, working, or applying for a passport. [37]  



Although the Family Code was revised in 1987 to permit a widow to inherit her husband’s property, control her own property, and to receive a property settlement in a divorce, women are routinely denied these rights.  Widows often lose all possessions, as well as their dependent children, to the deceased husband’s family.  Although human rights groups are trying to change this, there has been generally no government intervention in support of these efforts.  Women are denied custody of their children in divorce. [38]  



Domestic Violence
The government does not keep statistics on the extent of domestic violence against women, although it has been reported that violence is common.  The police rarely intervene in cases of domestic disputes. [39]
Rape in Prisons
According to the 1999 report of the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, complaints continue to be received about the rape of women and girls in detention. [40] In such situations, female prisoners have no legal recourse.  Since the insurgency against Kabila began, rape has been reportedly used as a tactic of warfare. [41]  
Women with who look Tutsi have been “harassed, arrested and plundered by soldiers.” [42]   In addition, during the ethnic fighting in Kivu, single women were considered by the government troops to be witches and cannibals.  Such prejudices led to cases of beating, torture and murder.  Five cases of such abuses had been reported as of February 1999.  Women also have been tortured for wearing pants and other clothing that is deemed to be unacceptable.  Some have been forced to work as domestic servants in the homes of rebel commanders. [43]  
The Democratic Republic of Congo was reviewed by the CEDAW Committee on an exceptional basis on 16 January 1997.  The special session was held as a result of a miscommunication about the initial reporting time. Following is a summary of concerns and recommendations that came out of the meeting: Concluding observations of the CEDAW Committee: A/52/38/Rev.1, paras. 344-351.
Concluding Observations/Comments:
·        Concern for women of the Democratic Republic of Congo in war-torn areas of the country, particularly in areas with high refugee populations.
·        Concern that the State Party oral report did not reflect the links between discrimination against women, gender-based violence and violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women.
·        Take immediate measures to ensure the physical and moral integrity of refugee and displaced women and of all women victims of armed conflict.
·        Provide information on how the armed conflict in Zaire has affected women, both in Zaire and refuges from other countries.
On 8 February, Mr. Roberto Garretón, Special Rapporteur on the Democratic Republic of Congo, issued a report on the human rights situation in the country in accordance with Commission resolution 1998.61.  E/CN.4/1999/31. 
Summary of Concerns, Comments and Recommendations Pertaining to Women’s Human Rights:
·        Concern about Government’s failure to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur.
·        Concern that, on 19 February 1998, the High Commissioner was promised that refugee problems in the DRC would be solved, yet nothing was done.  Refugee camps in the east have been closed, and the UNHCR is unable to protect those in the gravest danger.
·        Violations of the right to security of person.  It is not unusual for families to be evicted from there homes on ethnic lines, even if the title to the home is in their name.  Homes have been plundered, and many girls have been raped.
·        Concern over the lack of information about what measures are being taken “to the maximum amount of available resources” to ensure the right to health.  Before the closing of one refugee camp, sixty-four percent of the population were undernourished, forty-five percent seriously.  UNICEF reports that its efforts to assist 3,000 children between the ages of eight and fourteen whose lives were in danger were hampered by the authorities.
·        Concern that parents are still paying for what is in theory free education. 

[1] Valentine Udoh James, Ed., Women and Sustainable Development in Africa (Westport, Connecticut:  Praeger, 1995), 70.

[2] “Democratic Republic of Congo: Review,” Janet Matthews Information Services, July 1999, Nexis, 11 September 1999.

[3] “NCN Special Summary of Lusaka Peace Accord,” MetroNet Afrique, available at http://www.marekinc.com/NCNSpecialLusaka99.htm, accessed 29 July 1999.

[4] “Rebels Split, Suspicions Mark First Anniversary of DRC Uprising,” clari.net e-mail message, 4 August 1999.

[5] Bienvenu Mundala and Jean Baptiste Kayigamba, “Congo-Rights: Campaign Launched to Rid Congo of Ethnic Tutsis,” Inter Press Service, 13 July 1999, Nexis, 25 July 1999.

[6] “Congo-1,000 Refugees Per Day Flee to Tanzania June 30/BBV,” Information Access Company, 30 June 1999, Nexis, 17 August 1999.

[7] “No Democratization Progress-Garreton,” UN Integrated Regional Information Network, 9 September 1999, available at http://www.africanews.org/central/congo-kinshasa/stories/, accessed 14 September 1999.

[8] “Ibid.

[9] U.S. Department of State, Democratic Republic of Congo Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998 (Washington, D.C., Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 26, 1999).

[10] “DR Congo: NGO Accuses Rebels of Censoring Human Rights Reports,” British Broadcasting Corporation, 29 July 1999, Nexis, 30 July 1999.

[11] Bienvenu Mundala, “Media-Congo: Stop Criticizing Kabila ‘Or Else,’ Journalists Told,” Inter Press Service, 4 July 1999, Nexis, 15 August 1999.

[12] Ruth Nabakwe, “Congo is the Heart, Granary of Africa,” Panafrican News Agency, 14 September 1999, available at http://www.africanews.org/central/congo-kinshawa/stories, accessed 15 September 1999.

[13] Lisa Santoro, “Congo Lives with Uneasy Cease-Fire,” Christian Science Monitor, 4 August 1999, clari.net news group.

[14] Valentine Udoh James, 67.

[15] “Democratic Republic of Congo: Country Profile,” Janet Matthews Information Service, July 1999, Nexis, 10 September 1999.

[16] Ibid.

[17] U.S. Department of State.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Valentine Udoh James, 70.

[20] Naomi Left and Ann D. Levine, Where Women Stand (New York: Random House, 1997), p. 488.

[21] Ibid., 491.

[22] Ibid., 491.

[23] “Fighting Mars Humanitarian Activities in Congo, U.N. Says,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 16 August 1999, Nexis, 17 August 1999.

[24] Naomi Left and Ann D. Levine, 491.

[25] Ibid., 505.

[26] Ibid., 505.

[27] Ibid., 509.

[28] U.S. Department of State.

[29] Panafrican News Agency, “Congo Kinshasa; Health Minister Condemns Genital Mutilation,: Africa News Service, 24 June 1999, Nexis, 25 July 1999.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Aids in Africa,” UNAIDS Fact Sheet, available at http://www.unaids.org/unaids/fact/saepep98.htm, accessed 20 September 1999.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Valentine Udoh James, 72.

[34] Ibid., 67.

[35] Ibid., 72.

[36] Ibid., 67.

[37] Naomi Left and Ann D. Levine, 86.

[38] U.S. Department of State

[39] Ibid.

[40] The United Nations.  Economic and Social Council, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, submitted by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Roberto Garretón, in accordance with Commission resolution 1998/61 (The United Nations: Economic and Social Council, 8 February 1999): 35-36,  available at: www.unhchr.ch/Huridocda/Huridoca.nsf, accessed 7 December 1999.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.



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