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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Congo (Kinshasa): Human Rights (ASADHO)

Congo (Kinshasa): Human Rights (ASADHO)
Date distributed (ymd): 980607
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+ Summary Contents:
This posting contains a translation of a May 15 report by the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Congo/Kinshasa (ASADHO, former AZADHO) on the first year since the overthrow of the Mobutu dictatorship. It also contains an additional, unrelated, note on sources for current developments in the Ethiopia/Eritrea conflict.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Additional note to readers:

For current news on attempts to resolve the current conflict in the Horn of Africa between Ethiopia and Eritrea, see AfricaNews Online
( and The coverage includes latest Pan African News Agency (PANA) reports from the OAU meeting convening this week, as well as news from the Addis Tribune, the Embassy of Eritrea in Washington and other sources.

Regular updates (daily and weekly) on Central and Eastern Africa, including the Horn as well as Central Africa, are available from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Network by e-mail ( or on the Web (

The State of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
One Year after the Fall of the Mobutu Dictatorship

Statement by ASADHO(African Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Congo/Kinshasa)
on the First Anniversary of The New Regime

May 15, 1998

[Unofficial translation from French by APIC. The French-language original was distributed on-line by the Comitato di solidarieta' con il Congo-Kinshasa, E-mail:; Web:]

As the Democratic Republic of the Congo celebrates its first year anniversary since the fall of the Mobutu dictatorship in May 1997, the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Congo/Kinshasa, ASADHO (ex-AZADHO) finds that never in the last ten years of the history of this country have human rights violations been as rampant as they are today; that the democratization process to which the vast majority of the people are committed, after having extracted it from the previous regime at the price of sacrifices, has never been so threatened with a definitive end, that the country has never before been steered on such an uncertain course.

1. On taking charge of the state, the ADFL (Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire) said that it would restore respect for human rights, reestablish the power of the courts, and restore the trust between the population and the army. One year later, not only are none of these goals on the road to being achieved, but in some cases there is a strong impression that things are going backwards in relation to the Mobutu period.

Ethnic tensions are exacerbated, particularly in the Kivu provinces where anti-Tutsi sentiment has never been greater. Tensions there are driven by an uncertain government policy with respect to land problems, traditional power, nationality, and the armed groups that operate there.

The lack of effectiveness of government policy towards the armed groups in the region is shown by the fact that the recent interventions of the Armed Forces of the Congo (FAC) in the cities of Butembo and Beni, far from wiping out the armed groups, caused more civilian casualties in two months than the war waged by the ADFL between September 1996 and May 1997. Traditional leaders, academics, and civil servants accused of sympathizing with or belonging to undefined rebel groups are regularly arrested by security forces and the army and held for long periods of time without due process. Fifteen people, including two traditional chiefs and a university professor, are still in detention since their arrest several months ago. They are held in prisons in Kinshasa and Kananga, where they have reportedly been tortured.

Arbitrary arrests are multiplying, especially by the security services whose numbers are increasing and which function outside of any legal framework. Cases of torture, including flogging, are regularly reported in the security services detention centers. FAC soldiers often erect checkpoints on roads in the interior of the country in order to extort and to harass the population. Torture has also been noted at these checkpoints as well. For example, at a large mud puddle in Kikwit ironically called "Liberation Lake," soldiers throw out those who do not have the "right of passage" and force them to roll in the mud.

Arbitrariness is nearly complete. No law describes or delimits the powers of the national police, the National Information Agency (ANR), the Military Detection of "Anti-Patriotic" Activists (DEMIAP), the National Security Center (CNS), the Investigation and National Security Directorship (DESN), and other security services. The agents of these services therefore have wide powers to arrest, detain, and investigate, which are not limited by laws nor controlled by judicial authorities. Basic judicial guarantees do not apply when dealing with these services.

Thus, as it emerges from the recent interview by France Internationale (RFI) with the chief of state about the detention of two members of the "Ligue des Electeurs" by the ANR, agents arrest first and ask questions later. Offenses such as "plotting against the regime" or "collaborating with foreign powers," which were en vogue during the height of the Mobutu dictatorship in the 1970s, resurface in political trials worthy of stalinist purges, such as the one now in Lubumbashi.

The country is experiencing a state of emergency that is even more dangerous since it is legally undeclared. In one year, the new regime will have imprisoned more journalists and human rights activists than the Mobutu regime did in seven. The examples of ASADHO and the "Ligue des Electeurs" show that the government has a phobia of human rights organizations, which are systematically suspected of "plotting" against the regime. Even the slightest contact with a foreigner or a diplomat is considered sufficient proof of such a plot, and it is up to the accused human rights activist to prove his or her innocence. The head of a women's rights organization in Goma was arrested on May 8 this year for consulting with a representative of an American organization. By a "registration procedure" not provided for in law, the Minister of Justice granted himself the power to decide what human rights organizations are authorized. Thus he avoids following a 1965 law that stipulates exact criteria and a clear procedure for the formation and functioning of organizations.

Sidelining political parties contributes to the lack of clarity in a democratization program that is decided unilaterally by the head of state. He is the only one who knows when and how the constituent assembly will be formed, and what its power and composition will be. The absence of a national debate on these matters is not favorable to the popular support and participation that is essential to the success of any democratization program. The recent statements by the head of state to Radio France International and the attacks against the headquarters of the UDPS and the FONUS [opposition parties] show that the measures taken against the political parties are not only directed toward their activities but towards their existence as such. Thus they put in question the political pluralism to which the people are committed. The theory that each political party has its own militia, which is used to justify these measures, is contradicted by the good-will enjoyed by other political parties. The UDPS/Kibassa, for example, benefitted from a police raid on the headquarters of the other UDPS.

Similarly, UFERI, the only political party widely known to have had its own militia, responsible, with Mobutu's army, for the massacre in Katanga of many people from Kasai and the deportation of more than a million, has not seen any of its leaders questioned about these facts. Its president, Kyungu Wa Kumwanza, even held a press conference before one of his former prisoners, Zahidi Ngoma, could hold his own.

The power and independence of the judicial authorities, which was already blighted under Mobutu, are today completely disregarded. The courts have not been asked to participate in regulating the transition from a dictatorial regime to one of law. The prosecution of officials of the former regime has been removed from the courts to be run directly by the executive in a way that is not transparent. The Office of Ill-Gotten Goods (l'Office des Biens Mal Acquis), an arm of the executive branch, far from satisfying the goals expected by public opinion, has in its turn appropriated goods of individuals and sometimes managed them in a scandalous fashion.

The only court particularly made use of by the new regime, the Count of Military Order, is an exceptional jurisdiction, which decides in each case if, according to its opinion, its powers are justified, making use of a theory of "state of war" which allows it to set aside the applicability of a law. It is this court, the decisions of which are not subject to appeal, which systematically finds guilty those detained by the security forces for their views.

Political trials, which were under the jurisdiction of the Court of State Security under the old regime, are now the responsibility of this Court of Military Order. The arrests made by the security agents are not submitted to judicial review; the judges, who have no authority over the police and security officers, further undermine the courts by refusing to protest the interference by the services into their realm of authority. In Mbuji-Mayi, agents of the ANR regularly arrest judges and lawyers; recently, a judge was locked in the trunk of a car to take him to jail. Protest came not from the state prosecutor responsible for the judge, but from a group of lawyers in Mbuji-Mayi. In Kinshasa, the Attorney General doesn't dare to question an ANR member who seized ASADHO correspondence without a warrant on March 15.

The fact that the new regime inherited an economic catastrophe in undeniable. The government's economic difficulties make it seem unreasonable in the short term to demand back every social and economic right. Nevertheless, ASADHO is convinced that the success of the program of national reconstruction depends in large part on popular support and participation as well as the support of the international community.

A process such as that of the provincial and national conferences, which were abruptly ended in January, had the potential to ensure such popular participation in the conception and the implementation of the reconstruction program. But a policy of restrictions against organizations of civil society, a climate where entrepreneurs are mistrusted, and the harassment of the rural populations by taxes and checkpoints, are far from guaranteeing such participation. At the same time, daily statements against foreign governments and international organizations and an excess of nationalist rhetoric does little but reinforce a climate of isolation and build a persecution complex. They are not conducive to encouraging aid that the government very much needs.

2. The African Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Congo/Kinshasa appeals to the Head of State and the government to take advantage of this anniversary to make significant changes in management of the country to bring it as close as possible to an open and democratic system and to guarantee the best chances for a state of law.

In particular, there is an urgent need to:

  • Prepare a dialogue and a permanent national consensus, notably by the release of the sixty or so political prisoners including human rights activists, journalists, and political leaders; by stopping all political trials under way or under preparation; and by inviting all political opinions and social forces to participate in the democratization process that should be relaunched.
  • Encourage popular participation at all phases of the national reconstruction program and consider that democratization and reconstruction are complementary and interdependent - one cannot succeed without the other.
  • Do away with the Court of Military Order, abolish crimes based on expression of opinions, reestablish the authority of the judges in all cases of detention, and hold the police, the ANR, and other security services accountable under the law.
  • Reestablish standard military court jurisdictions so that soldiers accused of violating human rights benefit from judicial protections that the Court of Military Order refuses to recognize.
  • Facilitate the speedy resolution of the conflicts in Kivu, by giving up the present military logic that has shown its limits more than five years ago, and substituting a political option that implies dialogue with all interested parties, including the "Mai-Mai" fighters, and order investigations in order to prosecute those responsible for the massacres against the civilian population of Butembo and Beni.

Kinshasa, May 15, 1998


This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups individuals.

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