Human Rights, Nongovernmental
and Freedom of Expression
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
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
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
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.
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.
are subject to oppressive policies and government harassment. Many Congolese human rights workers have fled
to Uganda, fearing persecution.
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
No information was available to IWRAW on women’s
human rights groups in DRC.
rights groups have reported that the government has silenced
all organizations that release news regarding human rights
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
STATUS OF WOMEN IN DRC UNDER
SPECIFIC CEDAW ARTICLES:
CONVENTION ARTICLE 1: DEFINITION
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.
CONVENTION ARTICLE 5: SEX
ROLES AND STEREOTYPING
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.
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.”
CONVENTION ARTICLE 7: POLITICAL
AND PUBLIC LIFE
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.
CONVENTION ARTICLE 10: EDUCATION
to the Special Rapporteur’s 1999 report on the DRC, parents
are still paying for what is supposed to be free education.
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.
CONVENTION ARTICLE 11: EMPLOYMENT
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.
CONVENTION ARTICLE 12: ACCESS
TO HEALTH CARE
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
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.
Maternal Health and Access
to Family Planning
to statistical information gathered in 1996, a woman in the
DRC has a one in 18 chance of dying from pregnancy-related
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).
Abortion is legal, with conditions. Thirteen percent of the total births in the
country are to teenage girls.
Female Genital Mutilation
genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced on an estimated five
percent of the population.
Although not widespread compared to other countries
in the region, FGM is most commonly practiced in isolated
areas in the North.
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.
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.
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
In the DRC, nearly one in three women stated
that she had lost her virginity because she had been forced
to have sex.
CONVENTION ARTICLE 14: 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.
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
At the same time, women are expected to provide
their own tools and supplies for performing agricultural work.
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.”
CONVENTION ARTICLE 15: EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW
IN CIVIL MATTERS
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.
ARTICLE 16: MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
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
GENERAL RECOMMENDATION NO.
19: VIOLENCE AGAINST
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
Rape in Prisons
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.
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.
with who look Tutsi have been “harassed, arrested and plundered
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.
PREVIOUS REVIEW BY CEDAW:
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.