Comparative law and justice/Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Katiegc615 15:46, 18 September 2009 (UTC)

Basic Information[edit]

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is located in Africa. It is bordered by Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda [1]. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a total area of 905,354.735 square miles which, is roughly one-fourth the size of the United States [2].

Map of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

In the DRC, the climate varies considerably depending on which part of the country you are in. The DRC does straddle the equator so in this region the climate it very hot and humid. In the southern highlands of Congo the climate is much cooler and drier. Lastly, in the eastern highlands, the climate is also cooler but wetter than both the area near the equator and the southern highlands. The terrain is mostly made up of the large central basin which is a low-lying plateau and there are also mountains located in eastern Congo[3]. Also running through the DRC is the Congo River which is approximately 2,920 miles long. The Congo River is the second largest river in Africa with the Nile River being the first[4]. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a reported population of 68,692,542 people, the cities with the largest populations include Kinshasa (the capital) with 7.5 million people, Mbuji-Mayi with 2.5 million people and Lubumbashi with 1.7 million people[5]. Approximately, 46.9 % of the population ranges from ages 0-14, about 50.6% of the population ranges from ages 15-64 and only about 2.5% of the population is 65 years and over [6]. The Democratic Republic of the Congo has accounted for more than 200 African ethnic groups but the majority of the people are Bantu. The four largest tribes in the DRC are Mongo, Luba, Kongo and the Mangbetu-Azande which all make up about 45% of the population. The official language of the DRC is French but Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo and Tshiluba are also spoken in different areas of the DRC. There are several religions that are practiced in the DRC but the most prominent religion is Roman Catholic which, 50% of the population practices. Other religions include Protestant which, 20% of the population practices, Kimbanguist which, 10% of the population practices, Muslim which, 10% of the population practices and finally, 10% of the population practices other religions including indigenous beliefs[7].

The Democratic Republic of the Congo's Flag

Economic Development, Health, and Education[edit]

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, literacy is defined as someone 15 years of age and older that can read and write Kingwana, French, Lingala or Tshiluba. Only 67.2% of the total population is literate; 80.9% of the population that is literate are males and 54.1% are female[8]. In the DRC, 46% of the population completes primary school, 30% of the population completes secondary school, 3% of the population completes a university and 21% of the population completes no education[9].

The life expectancy rate at birth in the DRC for the total population is 54.36 years. For females, the life expectancy at birth is 56.2 years and for males it is 52.58 years. The total infant mortality rate is 81.21 deaths per 1,000 live births. The average death rate in the DRC is 11.63 deaths per 1,000 people. There are a number of infectious diseases that are prominent in the DRC that could contribute to such a high death rate and such a short life expectancy. First, the DRC is ranked 6th in the world for deaths resulting from HIV/AIDS. In 2003, there was an estimated 100,000 deaths. Other illnesses that people in the DRC are at a high risk for contracting are hepatitis A, food or waterborne diseases, malaria and typhoid fever[10].

Still trying to recover from years of civil war and instability the Democratic Republic of the Congo still has a weak economy. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is $11.59 billion. The GDP per capita is $300 which places it 228th in the world. The main industries in the DRC are mining, mineral processing, consumer products (textiles, cigarettes, footwear etc.), cement and commercial ship repair. The main exports for the country are diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, wood products, crude oil and coffee. The main imports for the DRC are foodstuffs, mining and other machinery, fuels and transport equipment [11].

Brief History[edit]

The Democratic Republic of the Congo was first populated about 10,000 years ago and was settled in by the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. by Bantus. In 1885, the DRC was first colonized by the Belgian King Leopold II and was named the Congo Free State. In 1907, the administration was shifted to the Belgian government and was renamed the Belgian Congo. After years of riots and disturbance from the people of the Belgian Congo they were finally granted their independence on June 30, 1960. One parliamentary elections took place, Joseph Kasavubu was elected as President and Patrice Lumumba was elected as Prime Minister. The country was then renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Soon after the elections took place the Democratic Republic of the Congo was plagued by social and political instability which caused the government to slowly crumble[12].

In the beginning of their independence the DRC experienced several events that caused instability within their government. these events include the death of Prime Minister Lumumba under mysterious circumstances, the mutiny of the army and Colonel Joseph Desire Mobutu took over the government and cedes it again to President Kasavubu. The unrest within the government continued until 1965. In 1965, Mobutu once again seized control of the DRC and declared himself the new President for the next 5 years. All the power fell into the hands of Motubu. In 1970, he was elected President when no other candidate ran against him. When Mobutu took office he began to implement changes immediately. He renamed the country the Republic of Zaire and in an effort to make the citizens of Zaire aware of their culture he made them adopt African names. Throughout the 1980's, Mobutu successfully continued to utilized a one-party system of rule but opposition groups began to mobilize. In an attempt to rid of these groups, Mobutu gained international attention and criticism.

Finally, 1989 Mobutu's power was diminished through a series of protest, endless criticism on his human right's practices and a plummeting economy. In 1990, Mobutu finally agreed to establish a multi-party system which would include elections and a constitution. In September 1991, when Mobutu withheld the details of his reform plans, soldiers began looting the capital in protest. In response, 2,000 French and Belgian Troops came into Kinshasa to evacuate 20,000 foreign representatives. In 1992, the Sovereign National Conference was held to discuss implementing a multi-party system; 2,000 representatives from a number of political parties attended the conference. Towards the end of 1992, Mobutu has managed to construct a competing government with his own prime minister but eventually in 1994, they we able to come to a compromise between the two governments. Presidential and legislative elections we consistently scheduled over the course of two years but were never actually held. In 1996, Zaire faced even more trouble, this time it was the result of the war and genocide taking place in nearby Rwanda. The conflict from Rwanda was entering Zaire. The Hutu militia forces from Rwanada began to flee to Congo once the Tutsi, whom which they were in conflict, took over the government power. in October1996, Rwanda troops made their way into Zaire with the goal of forcing Motubu out of office. This effort was led by Laurent-Desire Kabila. Finally, in May 1997, Mobutu left the country.

On May 17, 1997, Kabila made his way into Kinshasa and declared himself President. He quickly renamed Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and also centralized power around himself and the AFDL (Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation Congo-Zaire) Tension between Kabila and his foreign troops began to grow over the next year. Finally, in July 1998, Kabila demanded that all foreign troops evacuate the DRC but most of them refused. On August 2nd, the Rwandan troops turned to violence when they rebelled against the DRC. On August 4th, the Rwandan troops made their way to Bas-Congo with the intent of marching into Kinshasa and forcing Kabila out of office, and replacing him with the Rwandan-backed rebel group the RCD. This plan was intervened by the Angolan, Zimbabwean and Wambian troops on behalf of the DRC. After their plan was stopped the Rwandans and the RCD retreated to eastern DRC where they continued to fight the Congolese Army [13].

In February 1999, a rebel group was formed with support from ex-Mobutuists and backing from Uganda. This rebel group was known as the Mouvement pour la Liberation (MLC). This group was able to gain control over the northern part of the DRC. After this occurred the DRC was now divided into three parts which were all controlled by someone different. One area was controlled by Laurent Kabila, one by Rwanda and the third part was now controlled by Uganda and the MLC. In July, 1999, in an effort to end some violence occurring between the three areas a cease-fire was proposed by Lusaka, Zambia which, by the end of August, had been signed by all three areas. The cease-fire agreement was called the Lusaka Accord which not only asked for a cease-fire but also requested the withdrawal of foreign troops, the UN peacekeeping operation and an effort to launch an "Inter-Congolese Dialogue" which would help create a transitional government. Unfortunately, the requirements of the Lusaka Accord were never properly enforced and Laurent Kabila was known to have violated most of the agreement.

On January 16, 2001, Laurent Kabila was assassinated and was replaced by his son Joseph. Joseph Kabila has made an effort to replace the negative policies his father had put in place.After Joseph took office, MONUC, the UN peacekeeping operation dispersed throughout the DRC in an effort to proceed with the "Inter-Congolese Dialogue" and to create a transitional government. Finally, in July 2002, Rwandan troops withdrew from the DRC and in May, 2003, the Ugandan troops followed. This finally gave Kabila control over a country that was no longer segmented. It was noted that MONUC was trying to assist with the creation of a transitional government. This began in October, 2001 but made little progress throughout the first few meetings. After a short break period the meetings began again on February 25, 2002 in South Africa. A variety of people attended these meetings including government representatives and rebel groups. Again, on April 19, 2002, the meetings came to a close with no agreement reached. The meetings picked up again in October,2002 where an agreement was finally reached. On December 17, 2002, all delegates signed the agreement and it was ratified by all parties on April 2, 2003. On that same day a transitional Constitution was adopted. Throughout this time of political transition, President Kabila worked to reform the economy with support from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and also made great progress with political reform[14].


Governance[edit]

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a civil law country which inherited its legal traditions from Belgium. Some rural parts of the country also still utilize customary or tribal law (mostly to deal with issues concerning marriage, divorce and property)[15]. Since its independence in 1960, the country has operated under numerous constitutions, transitional constitutions and constitutional amendments. The constitution the DRC currently operates under was voted on in December, 2005. It was approved by 84% of voters and was enacted on February 18, 2006[16]. The history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Constitution can only be described by detailing the many years of struggle and conflict the people faced to finally have a proper Constitution put in place. This is noted in the country's history above.

The DRC operates under three branches of government: the executive branch, the judicial branch and the legislative branch. The DRC government is also broken down into eleven provinces which includes the capital of Kinshasa. The Executive branch consists of the chief of state which is the President. Currently this position is held by President Joseph Kabila. He took office after the previous President (who was actually his father) was assassinated. Under the new constitution,the President is elected through a popular vote for a term of five years but after the five years the President is eligible for a second term. The requirements that must be fulfilled in order to become President are as follows: "must posses the nationality of Congolese origin", must be 30 years old, "must enjoy the fullness of his civil and political rights" and "does not lie in cases of exclusion provided by the electoral law"[17]. The executive branch also includes the head of the government which is the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President once he takes office. The third group of members of the executive branch is the cabinet which is made up of the Ministers of State. The Ministers of State are appointed by the President as well.

The judicial branch consists of a Constitutional Court, an Appeals Court (Cour de Cassation), a Council of State, High Military Court and civil and military courts and tribunals. Lastly, the Legislative branch consists of Parliament which is a bicameral legislature. The bicameral legislature includes the Senate which holds 108 seats and the National Assembly which holds 500 seats. The Senate is elected by provincial assemblies to serve a five-year term but in order to become a member of the Senate candidates must fulfill the same role requirements as the President[18]. The National Assembly is elected in a more complicated manner. The first 61 seats of the National Assembly are elected through a majority vote in single-member constituencies. The other 439 seats are elected by an open-list proportional-representation in multi-member constituencies. Members of the National Assembly are elected for a term of five years [19]. Candidates for the National Assembly must also fulfill the same role requirements as the President but can be at least 25 years of age[20].

In the DRC, laws are created by every member of the government. Bills are created and then submitted to the first notified Chamber. Members of the government have a right to propose amendments to the bills being deliberated. Any bill must be reviewed by both the Senate and the National Assembly and they must both be able to adopt identical versions of the bill. If there is a disagreement between the two Houses a joint comission of the two Houses is formed in order come up with a compromise of the provisions that are still under discussion. The bill put together by the joint commission is then submitted to both Houses to be reviewed. If the joint commission can not come up with a compromise or both Houses do not adopt the bill proposed by the joint commission the decision is then turned over to the National Assembly. The National Assembly can choose to adopt any version of the bill that they choose. Within six days of the adoption of the bill, the new law is given to the President to be put into effect. Within fifteen days of receiving the bill, the President can request that the National Assembly or the Senate reconsider the law itself or some of the articles of the law. The National Assembly and the Senate have the right to deny this request[21].


Elections[edit]

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the voting age is 18 years of age. Voting is universal (everyone can vote) and compulsory which means everyone that is 18 years or older must vote[22]. On June 30, 2006, the first multi-party election in 46 years took place. At this time the people were able to vote for their new President, for the federal parliament and provincial parliaments. [23]. For this election there were over 25 million registered voters with a voter turnout of 70%. The voters chose from 33 candidates for the office of President and over 9,000 candidates for the 500 deputy seats in the National Assembly. Throughout the election there was some violence utilized as a way to intimidate voters and some technical difficulties but overall the election was a success[24]. Since the first multi-party election only took place in 2006, there is still very little detailed information on the topic.


Judicial Review[edit]

It is stated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Constitution that they practice judicial review. The judicial branch of government is a seperate entity from the legislative and executive branches. In the DRC, it is the Constitutional Court which is responsible to monitor the constitutionality of all laws and acts. Organic laws must be reviewed by the Constitutional court prior to their publication and the Rules of Procedure of the parliamentary chambers and the Congress, the Independent National Electoral Commission and the High Council of Audiovisual and Communications must be reviewed at sometime before they are put into effect. Any citizen of the DRC may bring a law to the attention of the Constitutional court in order to haves conformity to the constitution reviewed. In addition, the Constitutional court must interpret the Constitution for certain appeals at the request of certain government officials. Lastly, the Constitutional court can hear an action to declare that a law is unconstitutional under the following additional circumstances:

  • If the President of the Republic brings a law to the attention of the court within fifteen days of receiving the adopted law
  • If the Prime Minister brings a law to the attention of the court within fifteen days of receiving the adopted law
  • If the Senate President or the President of the National Assembly brings a law to the attention of the court within fifteen days of receiving the adopted law
  • If one-tenth of either the Senate or the National Assembly brings a law to the attention of the court within fifteen days of its final adoption[25].


Courts and Criminal Law[edit]

Currently, the court system in the DRC has six levels. The lowest level of the court system is the group of traditional leaders which are referred to as the chefs coutumiers. They are not officially part of the judicial system but they handle mediations and settlements for disputes. The next court in the system is the magistrates court which is the only court that has the authorization to conduct investigations. This is due to the fact that they are not joined with any of the departments that deal with public prosecutions. The magistrates also have jurisdiction over cases that were already decided upon by customary customary courts. The next highest court in the system is the Tribunal de Grande Instance which has a a wide range if jurisdictions and is also connected to a department of public prosecutions. The next court in the system is the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals is broken into two sections: the administrative and the judiciary. This court is also connected to a department of public prosecutions. The second highest court in the system is the state security court which has jurisdiction to decide on cases that pertain to the security of the state. The highest court in the judicial system is the Supreme Court which has three sections: administrative, legislation and judiciary. The Supreme Court is also connected to the department of public prosecutions.

Civil lawsuits are handled by the magistrate's court; the victim can file an action for punitive damages. In order for a plaintiff to file a civil suit they must have standing and they must also have a quality interest to act. This means that only people who were directly harmed by the action can file a lawsuit and that the plaintiff must have a material or moral benefit that will result from the civil claim. Also, in the DRC all criminal proceedings can be considered as a civil wrong but all civil proceedings must be put on hold until the criminal trial has been decided[26]. For more information on legal personnel and trial proceedings see below.


Punishment[edit]

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there are over 213 known prisons with a prison population of 30,000 which is including pre-trial detainees[27]. In addition to these facilities it has been confirmed that there are many other secret detention centers. With an extreme shortage of funds, food, medical facilities and personnel, conditions in these facilities remain harsh. There is also a major issue with overcrowding, brutality and corruption within the prisons. It has been reported that numerous prisoners have been tortured, beaten to death and starved. In fact, most prisoners only chance for survival is with resources provided to them by their family. This comes at a cost though. Many prison guards force family members to pay a bribe in order to deliver these resources. Prisoners may also have to pay a fee to receive the resources and to receive better treatment. In addition to the corruption and violence, conditions in the prisons are extremely unsanitary. There are no toilets provided for prisoners so they are forced to urinate and defecate on the floors of their cells. These conditions make infectious diseases widespread among prisoners including red diarrhea and tuberculosis.

In addition to serving a sentence in these conditions, many prisoners must also pay punitive damages to the victim. Any crime that has been committed can also be treated as a civil wrong which results in the payment of damages to anyone who has been affected by the crime committed[28]. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, corporal punishment has been banned as a from of punishment for any crime but can be utilized for discipline in any penal institution. It's use for punishment has also been banned in the school systems but has been legalized in the home as a proper punishment for parents to use on their children [29]. On the other hand, capital punishment is still widely used as a form of punishment. Capital punishment is issued to people who have committed aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, treason, spying, political and military offenses and genocide. There are currently 200 prisoners on death row including 10 juveniles. The methods used for capital punishment include shooting and hanging prisoners[30].

Since there are currently no crime statistics available for the DRC, accessing information on the punishments assessed for these crimes was also a challenge. There was also no information indicating that there are ethnic, gender, religious or other disparities in punishment. Lastly, there was no indication of what the country's justification for punishment is. Perhaps more information on punishment in the DRC will emerge in the future.

Legal Personnel[edit]

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it takes five years to complete a legal education which can only be pursued after completing secondary school. Most students who enroll into the legal program at Congolese universities are predominately between the ages of 17 to 21. For the first year, all students have a general curriculum they must complete but in the following years they have greater freedom to choose courses of their interest. During lectures, the Socratic method is not utilized. In fact, for most lectures there is interaction between professors and students; the material is taught in a more authoritative manner. After a student completes the first three years of their legal education they obtain a degrees which allows them to appear as a public defender in lower level courts. In most civil law countries law students are required to choose specialization based on whether they want to become a judge or a lawyer; this differs in the DRC. All students obtain a basic law degree which allows them to choose their career path after they complete their studies. It should be noted that although legal educations are now offered at private universities, the government will usually only consider candidates from state universities to be appointed as a judge)[31].

Since the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a civil law country, the courts utilize an inquisitorial system. In an inquisitorial system, the main focus is to discover facts about the case. A trial is more of a continuation of an investigation. The judge plays the key role in this system; they are the ones who ask all of the questions and examine witnesses. Lawyers, on the other hand, are there to present evidence to the judge on their clients behalf. After all parties have presented their evidence and the judge has completed their investigation the judge will then make the decision about the defendants guilt or innocence. Prior to this decision, the defendant is presumed to be innocent and the truth is discovered throughout the course of the trial[32]. In an inquisitorial system there is no role for a jury so they are not utilized[33].

Currently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, legal personnel are facing many obstacles. Very few cases are actually being held for many reasons. First, officials of the justice system receive very little pay if any at all. Also, many times, lawyers are not even given access to their clients which makes it very difficult to prepare for a case. Many times, lawyers are even threatened, tortured or killed by a number of the groups involved in the ongoing conflict. All of this is done in an effort to deter them and other legal personnel from pursuing their cases. When the legal personnel are unable to effectively do their job, it makes it very difficult to uphold a functional legal system[34].

Law Enforcement[edit]

When Mobutu took office in 1965, he made a number of changes to the operation of the police force in the DRC. As noted earlier, Mobutu's main concern was to gain extensive power in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It seemed as if his ultimate goal was to turn the DRC into a dictatorship and this was evident in the way he organized the police force. After declaring himself President of the DRC, Mobutu decided to combine all of the police forces into a single, centralized police force which was ultimately named the Gendarmarie Nationale and its operation was overlooked by the Department of Defense. Local police forces had minimal control over any police activity; almost all power was in the hands of the Gendarmarie Nationale. Also, local authorities such as mayor lost all power to enforce the law in their provinces as well. At this time, the Gendarmarie Nationale lacked proper funding and resources to carry out effective police work and training [35].

In 1997, after the death of President Mobutu, President Kabila attempted to establish an entirely new police force. With the help of the South African government, Kabila was trying to create a police force that differed greatly from the one Mobutu had in place. Although this was the intention of President Kabila, there is little information indicating that the police force was actually reformed. In fact, from the time Kabila took office until 2006 when the new Constitution was implemented, the police force was characterized by corruption, unwarranted violence and arrests, unbearable detention tactics and the torture of citizens. In addition to the police force, there were three intelligence agencies in place. The Agence Nationale de Renseignements (ANR) which was used for principal national security. They were in charge of carrying out many of the functions of the police force. The second intelligence agency in place was the Service d'Action et de Renseignements (SARM) which was utilized for military intelligence. The third intelligence group is characterized as a more ambiguous group; its actual purpose and affiliation is unknown. They are known as the "Les Hiboux" and they have been known to be involved with various kidnappings and terrorist acts[36]. This police force could be appropriately described as centralized and multiple, uncoordinated[37]. Appropriate actions are currently underway in an attempt to reform this type of police force.

Since 2006, in an effort to effectively reform the police force in the DRC many other countries and organizations have stepped in to assist the government with training. The United Nations through MONUC has taken on vast amounts of training with the Congolese police force hoping to stabilize this nation. In addition to training a civilian police force, the United Nations has organized the help of other countries including the United States, South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania which have assisted the effort with additional training, assistance with the integration of national police forces and financial resources. Currently the police force is operating under a combination of the military control and assistance from the United Nations. Since the DRC's independence from Belgium the education has also vastly improved. There are now institutions that prepare individuals for careers in police work as well as a police academy which is located in Kisangani[38]. Steps in the right direction are being taken in order to create some sense of stability and security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hopefully, information will soon be released explaining their success. Since the reformation of the police force began recently, there is still very little detailed information about the structure of the police force and how officers are selected and trained.

Crime Rates and Public Opinion[edit]

After five years of a violent and devastating civil war,the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are still facing a considerable amount of violence and torture and have access to very few rights. This results from an unstable government and a number of armed rebel groups trying to establish control. Everyday the people of Congo face brutal rape (watch a video about this), torture, unlawful killings, the disappearance of family and friends, unwarranted arrests and detention in harsh and life-threatening conditions. The people of Congo maintain very little hope since very little is being done to protect them from these horrors. In fact, the government has made little effort to punish the rebel groups who are responsible for this chaos. The government itself is unstable and plagued by corruption which exacerbates the already devastating conditions. The only effort the government has made is to suppress the voice of the people by restricting their rights to press, assembly and movement; the government is working to ensure that the people remain terrified to ignite change [39].

In addition to crimes resulting from the aftermath of the civil war, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is also one of Africa's largest producers of marijuana. Although the marijuana is mostly produced for domestic consumption, it easily produced in large quantities due to inadequate shipping regulations. Traffickers are able to ship materials and their product into the Congo with ease[40].

Another crime that is commonplace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is human trafficking. Men, women and children are trafficked in and out of the DRC for purposes including sex exploitation and forced labor. Most of the human trafficking is organized by the armed rebel groups which, is beyond the control of the government. For the Human Trafficking Watchlist, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is listed as a Tier 2[41]. The reason for this is that the DRC has neglected to show any evidence that they have increased their efforts to stop the human trafficking that is occurring within the country. Battling human trafficking in the DRC is a difficult task to accomplish since it is a challenge for the government to even convict or imprison the individuals responsible for these crimes. In addition to this roadblock, the government lacks appropriate financial, technical and human resources to tackle a problem of this size. Not only does this provide little reassurance that human trafficking will be put to an end, but, it also illustrates what little sense of security the people of the DRC have in their lives[42].

Although the crimes described above frequently occur in the DRC, there are currently no valid crime statistics available at this time. The Democratic Republic of the Congo does not report their crime statistics to any international organizations. Unfortunately, there is also no information available on the public opinion of crime in the Democratic Republic of the Congo either.

Rights[edit]

Family Law[edit]

When handling matters that fall under the category of family law, the Congolese Civil Code is applied. The Congolese Civil Code is divided into three different books: the first book deals with the family code, the second book deals with property law and the third book deals with the law of obligations. Both the first and the third book deal with family law. The first book pertains to cases that relate to marriage settlements, wills and gifts [43].

One of the aspects of family law is the adoption process. The information that was available on adoption outlined the procedures for adopting a child from the Congo. The first step to this process is obtaining consent for the adoption to take place. Either the biological parents or other family members must give their consent. If the child has no family, the court will determine whether or not to consent to the adoption. If the child is 15 years of age or older, they must consent to the adoption on their own. The second step of the adoption process is the hearing. The prospective adoptive parents must request a hearing at the Tribunal Court in the part of the Congo where the child is from. At the hearing, the people who trying to adopt the child must provide their birth certificates, the child's birth certificate and proof that the child's family has been notified about the adoption and the hearing. The prospective parents and the child (if they are over the age of 10) must attend the hearing. After the hearing is completed the courts will take the time to determine whether or not all the conditions for the adoption have been met and all of the proper documentation has been done correctly. The final part of the adoption process is the judgment. During this part of the process the court will make a final judgment on the adoption. Throughout the judgment other issues will be decided as well. These include the date of the final adoption, the child's new name (which will incorporate the adoptive family's name) and issues regarding citizenship of the child. The decisions about citizenship will be decided by the adoptive parents or by the adoptee if they are 18 years or older. After all of this has been decided, the final judgment must be registered at the city hall by the adoptive parents. If it is not registered within 1 month of the judgment the adoption will no longer be legal[44].

Another aspect of family law is marriage. According to the DRC's constitution, all citizens have the right to form unions freely. The right to freedom of association is recognized. Also, every citizen has the right to marry and start a family with a person from the opposite sex that they choose. Also, according to the constitution, raising and caring for a child is placed in to the hands of the parents but under the supervision of the government. Parents have a duty to care for their children and protect them from harm[45].

Unfortunately, there was limited information on family law in the DRC. There was no available information on divorce or on rights regarding inheritance. Also, there was no information indicating whether or not juveniles and the elderly are treated differently than others by the legal system.

Social Inequality[edit]

The rights of both women and children are protected in the DRC's Constitution with statements such as "Governments have an obligation to protect children in difficult situations and bring before justice the perpetrators and accomplices in acts of violence against children" and " Governments shall ensure the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and protect and promote their rights. They take measures against all forms of violence to women in public life and private life"[46]. Even though their rights are stated here in the constitution that are rarely if ever honored. Women and children consistently face inhumane and unequal treatment. They are the targets of numerous acts of violence, forced labor and kidnappings. For a more detailed description of the inequalities women and children face in the DRC please see below.

Human Rights[edit]

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, very little is done by the government to uphold the fundamental rights of their citizens. In the constitution it states that there are a number of rights that cannot be denied to individual even if the country is under seige or in a state of emergency. These rights include:

  • "the right to life;
  • the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment;
  • the prohibition of slavery and servitude;
  • the principle of legality of crimes and punishments;
  • rights of defense and the right of appeal;
  • the prohibition of imprisonment for debt;
  • freedom of thought, conscience and religion"[47].

Although the constitution is supposed to ensure these rights, they are consistently ignored and violated. In fact, since the outbreak of the civil war in 1996, the violence has continued and escalated; much of this conflict is fueled by ethnic tensions. In the past few years human rights violations have been commonplace in the DRC. The groups involved in the ongoing conflict have been responsible for the violations; they have used a variety of sadistic acts to gain control over various groups of people. Some of the most horrific acts utilized include: killing civilians, forced recruitment of child soldiers (watch a video about this),rape, torture, cannibalism, and demolishing entire villages. It has been estimated by the U.N. that in addition to the 3 million civilians that have perished since 1998, another 5,000 civilians have died between July 2002 and May 2003, due to the ongoing violence that is occurring. The unlawful killings that have occurred have been linked to both the Congolese army and government-backed militias as well as the rebel groups. Torture and other atrocities have been attributed to both sides of the conflict. The government and military has been known to torture their prisoners using a variety of methods including whipping, burning prisoners with cigarettes and beating them with belts and metal tubes[48]. Throughout the conflict, the women and children of the DRC have been the most persecuted. Women and children are highly targeted for means of human trafficking. The DRC is on the Tier 2 Watch List for human trafficking; they have received this rating due to their lack of effort to put an end to this issue. Women and children are frequently kidnapped and brought to various parts of the country or shipped elsewhere for sexual slavery and forced labor[49]. Little progress has been made and human trafficking continues to be one of the prevalent issues in the DRC.

In addition to the use of women and children as products in the human trafficking ring mostly run by the rebels, women and young girls must face terros of the most widely used weapon of war by the government and the rebel groups:sexual violence[50]. Throughout the DRC, the use of rape as a weapon of war is widespread. Women are being targeted all over the DRC and are being used as a means to tear apart entire communities. The most frequent attacks on women of the Congo include: individual rapes, gang rapes, sexual abuse, genital mutilation and rape combined with death. Many times, a woman's family members are tied up and are forced to watch these devastating acts of violence. Many women have reported that armed groups will circle a village and rape women in public. The age of victims has ranged from four months old to eighty-four years old; with these armed groups there are no limits. As a result of the sexual violence many women have to endure, they are not only severely psychologically and physically harmed but also face consequences within their village and community. Due to cultural beliefs, many victims of sexual violence and their families face a great deal of shame and humiliation. A single act of rape can shatter an entire community. Both rape victims and children that are conceived as a result of rape are often rejected by their families and communities. Rape is being utilized by both government and rebel groups as a way to assert power over others. Sexual violence is also being used to gain access to resources and valuable assets such as diamonds, gold, livestock and crops. Women live in fear of becoming a victim of sexual violence and the women who have already lived through this horror are now left to provide for themselves in a community that makes it very difficult for them to do so[51].

As if children were not facing enough with the struggle to even survive, many children are often kidnapped and forced to join rebel groups. They are subjected to poor treatment, sexual violence, violent initiations, hard labor, torture and rigorous training. These children are also given drugs and alcohol in an effort to break them down psychologically to make it easier for them to commit acts of violence against others. Many of these child soldiers have been forced to watch or commit the murder of their family and friends, to commit murder and to commit rape.

Human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo do not end at the numerous acts of violence the people are faced with every day. In addition to facing countless acts of abuse, very few of these abuses have actually been investigated or prosecuted. In the areas of the country that is still controlled by the government, the judicial systems remains "underfunded, inefficient, ineffective, and subject to corruption and executive influence[52]. In many cases, lawyers are not even allowed to consult with their clients and are given no time at all to even prepare any kind of defense. Many of the lawyers in the DRC are threatened, kidnapped and tortured in an effort to keep anyone from even attempting to bring a case to court. If a victim is lucky enough to get their case into the judicial system, most of the time they will have to pay a judge a bride in order for it to be heard. In rebel territory, it is difficult to say if their is even a functioning judicial system at all. Many of the courts are no longer operating due to the fact that most of the court personnel fled the area during the conflict. In fact, the rebel groups are known for carrying out unwarranted arrests, detentions and executions as a means of maintaining control over the people in the area. Having the right to fair trial is yet another right the civilians of the DRC are consistently denied. It is said that the lack of an effective judicial system adds to the fueling conflict. Knowing that there will be not repercussions for their actions gives no reason for either parties to put an end to their malicious behavior. The international community has taken action in an effort to deal with the numerous crimes and human rights violations of the past. They are attempting to utilize a better judicial system in order to prevent these crimes from occurring and will also be punishing those who already took part in a variety of crimes. Without giving these criminals the punishments they deserve it will be difficult for the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ever really move forward from this conflict[53].

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Other Resources[edit]

World Focus. "Rape as a Weapon of War in DR Congo". 16 December 2008. Online video clip. YouTube. Accessed on 6 October 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkaCbX3PEHA. This video discusses the ongoing issue in the DRC of sexual violence being utilized as a weapon of war in an attempt to gain control and destroy entire villages.


Witness. "A Duty to Protect: Justice for Child Soldiers in the D.R.C.". 13 December 2007. Online video clip. YouTube. Accessed on 18 November 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIWIQ4Wt4o8. This video shows the struggle child soldiers face in the D.R.C. and discusses the issues surrounding various efforts to assist these child soldiers.