Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a nominally centralized republic with a population of approximately 66 million. International observers judged as credible the 2006 presidential and National Assembly elections and presidential runoff. Persistent conflict in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu and Orientale, as well as renewed clashes in the western province of Bas-Congo, had a negative effect on security and human rights in 2008. In all areas of the country, the government's human rights record remained poor, and security forces acted with impunity, committing serious abuses, including unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, rape, and arbitrary arrests and detention. Other serious problems included harsh and life-threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities; prolonged pretrial detention; lack of an independent and effective judiciary; and arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home. Security forces recruited and retained child soldiers and compelled forced labor by adults and children. Members of the security forces also continued to abuse and threaten journalists, contributing to a decline in freedom of the press. Government corruption remained pervasive. Security forces at times harassed local human rights advocates and UN human rights investigators.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The United States is committed to working with the government and international partners to reestablish peace and security, deter conflict abuses, and restore state authority in the country's eastern provinces. As a vital part of this effort, U.S. democracy promotion priorities in the country, incorporating those of NGOs and international partners, are: the establishment of the rule of law and the primacy of human rights; the creation of a system of checks and balances between branches of government, the implementation of decentralization reform, and the delivery of public services; the encouragement of civic participation; and continued support for electoral processes. The U.S. Government supports justice sector development to combat impunity and increase access to legal services with assistance to both military and civilian courts, legal aid, and legislative reform.

U.S. assistance targets national and provincial legislatures, as well as provincial and municipal authorities. It encourages civic engagement through civil society organizations, university student groups, and media to monitor government activity, boost civic and voter participation, and lobby for community-based interests. U.S. officials use public appearances, such as assistance project inaugurations and U.S.-funded training programs, to highlight American democratic principles and values. The U.S. Embassy also conducts outreach events and media messaging across the range of U.S. goals.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The United States continues to provide training and other support to key government institutions, such as the National Assembly, provincial assemblies, provincial ministries and courts, the Independent Electoral Commission, and new judicial structures, as well as to journalists. U.S. funding also assists initiatives to improve draft legislation on judicial reform, decentralization, elections management, and the national budget. Funding also goes to local efforts to facilitate dialogue between civil society, students, and elected officials.

U.S.-sponsored public diplomacy efforts continue to support democracy promotion. For example, public diplomacy outreach programs brought together groups of students from three universities to promote nonviolent advocacy skills. The programs also promoted interaction between local government leaders to support decentralization and highlight best practices in local governance. A U.S.-sponsored workshop linked the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the importance of the rule of law. In addition, the U.S. Government funded legislators, judges, journalists, human rights activists, and local government officials to travel to the United States to meet with American counterparts. Participants learned about key aspects of U.S. democracy, such as federalism, the legislative process and judicial system, and the relationship between elected officials, constituents, and civil society. U.S. efforts to advance press freedom included training for radio producers to boost their ability to create locally owned programs. The U.S. Government funded a new television program called Together, Let's Do It showcasing efforts by local youth to bring about change in their communities; key episodes examined sexual exploitation of female students by their professors, the rights of persons with disabilities, and child abuse. A U.S.-sponsored event offered morning-after analysis of the U.S. presidential election, which generated considerable interest, and featured a Web chat, a radio show, and listener interaction.

Reform of the justice sector and promotion of accountability for human rights abuse remain major challenges. For this reason the United States continues to support the establishment of mobile courts to bring essential judicial services to remote areas of the provinces of Equateur, Maniema, and South Kivu. The legislation establishing the DRC High Council of Magistrates, drafted with assistance from the U.S. Government, was signed into law in 2008. The law to establish a constitutional court was reviewed with U.S. assistance and passed from the National Assembly to the Senate. To strengthen civil society and further support the establishment of the rule of law, the U.S. Government supports anticorruption initiatives through debates and roundtables involving government officials and civil society representatives. The United States also provided human rights training for judges and police and helped organize forums on human rights for activists and government officials. Also, U.S.-sponsored workshops and lectures trained journalists and university students in human rights reporting and established a national network of human rights reporters.

The U.S. diplomatic presence in North Kivu Province, in addition to several high-level visits to the region by senior U.S. diplomats, facilitated increased monitoring of the human rights situation in the country and contributed to the rapprochement between the DRC and Rwanda in December 2008. The U.S. Government funded programs in 2008 to continue providing protection and assistance to victims of human rights abuses and to facilitate conflict resolution. A program in South Kivu assisted in the election of local and regional councils to administer small reconstruction grants, building trust and confidence between communities and local governments and promoting the democratic governance principles of accountability, transparency, and participation. Another U.S.-funded program utilized community-based radio theater to mediate conflict and encourage dialogue in vulnerable communities in the DRC's eastern provinces. A new effort to determine the prevalence of and legal and social responses to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) began in South Kivu with U.S. support. Assistance from the United States also contributed to providing care for victims of SGBV. For example, a U.S.-funded local NGO in Orientale Province continues to provide transport to a medical center and physical and psychological aid services to victims of SGBV, as well as legal assistance to victims. In North Kivu Province, U.S. funding provided free legal assistance, psychological counseling, and infectious disease screening to victims of sex crimes and trained justice sector professionals in applying the 2006 law targeting SGBV. The United States continues to fund a program to prevent the worst forms of child labor and to reintegrate war-affected children, including child soldiers.