Congo DRC FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 7 August 2017

Update: There have recently been a number of "disappearances" of journalists associated with the opposition, while publications critical of the government have been penalized for disturbing "public order". Others have been arrested on politically motivated charges while taking part in or supporting those engaged in non-violent protest or civil disobedience. Authorities have also begun to prohibit protests against the continued rule of Joseph Kabila, who has not stepped down despite the end of his term in November 2016. Some members of civil society are beginning to suspect that Kabila seeks to become a "president for life".

Introduction

Congolese civil society is comprised of a range of actors on the local, regional, and national levels. Most civil society organizations (CSOs) seek to advance the social and economic development of their communities, often through the provision of goods and services for the public interest. The individuals who participate in CSOs come from a variety of ethnic, religious, political and national movements, and include workers, students, women, and entrepreneurs.

Restrictions on the freedom of association existed in the colonial era and also under the Mobutu dictatorship from 1965 to 1997. As a result, civil society and social movements have faced difficulty in contributing to the democratization of the country and holding the government accountable for respecting human rights. Civil society today continues to operate in a complex social, economic, cultural, and political environment and struggles to ward off manipulation by various political forces, including the governing majority on the one side and the opposing minority on the other. The government has also increasingly cracked down on criticism, including through the forced "disappearance" of journalists, and blocked opposition protests.

Back to Top

At a Glance

Organizational Forms

Non-profit making organizations.

 
Registration Body Minster of Justice, after approval by ministry responsible for the organization’s activities.
Barriers to Entry Registration is two-tiered process for domestic organizations and a three-tiered process for foreign organizations.
Barriers to Activities Domestic organizations (ONGs) must conform to the government’s development stance. Foreign organizations must conclude “framework agreements” with relevant ministry.  
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Reports of "disappearances" or arrests of journalists and opposition figures critical of the government.
Barriers to International Contact No legal barriers.
Barriers to Resources No legal barriers.
Barriers to Assembly Request for permission required; authorization not given for “sensitive” assemblies; imprisonment in case of violation of law.

Back to Top

Key Indicators

Population 75,507,308 (2013 est.)
Capital Kinshasa
Type of Government Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth Total population: 56.14 years (Male: 54.66 years, Female: 57.66 years) (2013 est.)
Literacy Rate  Total population: 66.8% (Male: 76.9% %, Female: 57%) (2010 est.)
Religious Groups Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 20%, Kimbanguist 10%, Muslim 10%, other (includes syncretic sects and indigenous beliefs) 10%
Ethnic Groups Over 200 African ethnic groups of which the majority are Bantu; the four largest tribes – Mongo, Luba, Kongo (all Bantu), and the Mangbetu-Azande (Hamitic) – make up about 45% of the population
GDP per capita $400 (2012 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.

Back to Top

International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 176 (2015) 1 – 187
World Bank Rule of Law Index 3.8 (2014) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 11.8 (2014) 100 – 0
Transparency International 156 (2016) 1 – 175
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6 (2017)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
7 (2017) 178 – 1

Back to Top

Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1976
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 1976
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1976
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) Yes 2009
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1976
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1986
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (OP-CEDAW) Yes  2008
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1990
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No ---
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) No ---
Regional Treaties    
African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) Yes 1981
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child Yes 1992

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (French) guarantees the freedom of association, thus enabling the existence of civil society, through the following articles:

Article 37: The State guarantees freedom of association. The public authorities collaborate with associations that contribute to the social, economic, intellectual, moral, and spiritual development of the people and the education of female and male citizens. This collaboration can take the form of a subsidy. The law sets the modalities of exercising this freedom. 

Article 38: Freedom to form labor unions is recognized and guaranteed. All Congolese have the right to start labor unions or to join them freely, in the conditions set by law. 

TheConstitution also recognizes the freedom to express opinions and to demonstrate in accordance with the relevant laws, as follows:

Article 26: Freedom to demonstrate is guaranteed. Any demonstration on public roads or in the open imposes on the organizers a duty to inform the relevant administrative authority in writing.

Article 27: Every Congolese has the right to address, individually or collectively, a petition to the public authority, which responds within three months.  No one can be subject to incrimination in any form for having taken such an initiative. 

Article 39: The right to strike is recognized and guaranteed.  It is exercised in the conditions set by the law, which can forbid or limit its exercise in the areas of national defense and security or for any activity or any public service of vital interest for the nation.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national legislation and regulations governing Congolese civil society include the following:

  • The decree of July 19, 1926, on organizations of public utility due to private initiative;
  • The decree of March 24, 1956, on native cooperatives;
  • The decree of November 26, 1959, on institutions of public utility;
  • The law-decree of September 18, 1965 on non-profit associations;
  • Decree-law No. 195 of January 29, 1999, issuing regulation of non-profit associations and organizations of public utility;
  • Decree-Law No. 196 of January 29, 1999 on regulations for demonstrations and public meetings (French); and
  • Decree-law No. 004 of July 20, 2001, issuing general arrangements applicable to non-profit associations and organizations of public utility.

This last law – Decree-law No. 004 –regulates the functioning of associations and NGOs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today, including foreignNGOs.  The law, however, is not supported by implementing regulations.  Congolese NGOs have therefore requested that the government issuesuchregulations. Indeed, NGOs engaged in development complain that nobody is doing anythingto implement the law.

Other laws in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that may affect civil society include:

  • The Congolese Civil Code, Book 3;
  • Decree-law 196 (French) issuing regulations on demonstrations and public meetings, signed on 29/01/1999, published in the Official Journal of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in its special edition of February 1999, p. 33;
  • Law No. 001-2001 on Organization and Functioning of Political Parties and Groups of May 17, 2001;
  • Law No. 06/018 Of July 20, 2006, Amending And Supplementing The Decree Of January 30, 1940, Issuing Congolese Penal Code;
  • Law No. 06/019 Of July 20, 2006, Amending And Supplementing The Decree Of August 06, 1959, Issuing Congolese Penal Procedure Code;
  • Law No. 08/005 of June 10, 2008 (French) issuing public financing of political parties;
  • Law No. 09/001 of January 10, 2009, Issuing Protection of Children;
  • Law No. 08/011 of July 14, 2008, Issuing Protection of The Rights of Persons Living With HIV/Aids and Affected Persons; and
  • Law on the Signing of Public Contracts of 2013.

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

The Council of Ministers has voted on a draft Bill for amending the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This Bill has not yet been analyzed in Parliament. CSOs are monitoring the situation very closely.

A bill on the organization of public demonstrations has been passed by Parliament and is now with the President.

We are unaware of other pending legislative/regulatory initiatives affecting NGOs.  Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org

Back to Top

Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

Under Congolese law,the legal formis thenon-profit making organization, which is governed byDecree-law No. 004 of July 20, 2001. Under Decree-law No. 004, the non-profit making organization is one that does not engage in industrial or commercial operations, even incidentally, and does not seek to procure material gain for its members. (Article 1)  The types of non-profit making organizations include (1) a cultural, social, educational or economic organization; (2) a non-governmental organization ONG by abbreviation; and (3) a denominational organization. (Article 2)

Public Benefit Status

“Organizations of Public Interest” work not for material gain butonlyfor philanthropic, scientific, artistic or educational purposes. (Article 58) Any person wishing to create anOrganization of Public Interest must inform the Minister in charge of the sector of specific activities through a declaration. (Article 60)At least half of the administrators must be of Congolese nationality. (Article 62(3)) Within one year the Minister of Justice may grant legal personality to the Organization of Public Interest, following approval by the sectoral ministry. (Article 63) 

According to Article 39, “[t]he State grants to non-governmental organizations certain administrative and tax terms, especially: 

  1. Tax exemptions established by the legislation in effect; 
  2. Relief from import duties for goods and equipment connected to their mission; 
  3. Help in obtaining residence permits for foreigners and their families;
  4. The right to use radio equipment and frequency;
  5. Simplified clearance proceduresatthe Congolese Customs Office.”

The granting of terms of an administrative, technical, and financial nature is authorizedthrough an inter-ministerial order of the Ministry of Planning and Finance after prior approval from the relevant ministers concerned. (Article 39)

Organizations of Public Interest obtain the same benefits. (Article 67)


Barriers to Entry

Establishment requirements. The minimum number of “staff members working for the non-profit making organization cannot be less than seven.” (Article 6) The articles of association cannot contain any provisions “which are against the law, morality or public order.” (Article 7)

Registration procedures. Organizations seeking registration must undergo a two-tiered process, with legal personality granted by the Minister of Justice after a favorable opinion is received from the ministry responsible for the sector in which the organization is engaged. (Article 3)

The request for legal personality must be supported by documentation, including a list of all staff members; a declaration signed by all staff members; the articles of association; certificates of good conduct and morals for all staff members with administration or management of the organization; and a statement regarding the anticipated resources. (Article 4) In order to be registered with the Minister who has jurisdiction of the areas where the specified activity will take place, the organization must (1) conform to the provisions set out under Article 4; (2) be driven by humanitarian concerns; and (3) define within the articles the chosen areas of intervention within the national framework for economic, social and cultural development. (Article 36)

Requirements applicable to foreign organizations. No foreign organization can exercise its activities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo without the authorization of the President of the Republic given by decree and supported by the Minister of Justice. (Article 30) The request of authorization is sent to the Minster of Justice only after the foreign organization has received approval from the Minister with jurisdiction over the area where the activities are to be conducted. In short, foreign organizations require approval from three governmental authorities, including the President, in order to operate in the Congo.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Decree-law No. 004 places certain duties on non-governmental organizations, including the obligation to:

  • “take part in the notion and implementation of the basic policy of development” and “conform to the government’s stance on development when they intervene.” (Article 41)
  • “encourage the voluntary involvement of the core communities in defining and implementing development action plans which concern them.” (Article 43)
  • “inform the Minister of Planning about their development activities, projects for implementation and the financial resources they have raised in order to carry out these activities.” (Article 44)
  • “send their report on activities to the Minister of Planning who has jurisdiction over the area in which they are conducting their activities, for a physical evaluation.” (Article 45)
  • “work on a technical basis with the Minister of Planning and with the Ministers responsible for the specific area of intervention.” (Article 45)

In addition, in practice, certain organizations may be closely guided by one political movement or another. Certain political actors, including members of political parties, simultaneously lead certain non-profit associations. This situation creates difficulties in the practical life of organizations in Congo.

In December 2015, in Goma, the mayor suspended the CSO called LUCHA for lacking the correct legal administrative documents and operating in "total illegality" even though Congolese law permits people to peacefully protest without being registered. Activists from LUCHA had protested government massacres in the Beni region of the country and intended to deliver food to political prisoners.

Regarding foreign organizations, Article 37 of Decree-law No. 004 requires them to:  

  • have representation in the Democratic Republic of Congo;
  • conclude a framework agreement with the Ministry in charge of planning for the area;
  • produce a statement of good conduct and moral character for the expatriate staff  by the Embassy or Consulate of the
  • Democratic Republic of Congo in the country where the organization has its headquarters; and
  • employ staff that consists of at least 60% local persons.

In addition, foreign non-governmental organizations must “guarantee the training and promotion of nationals within the framework of their program with a view to favor the nationals being put in charge of projects.” (Article 42)

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There are no legal barriers on the ability of a non-profit association to criticize the government or to defend unpopular causes. In practice, however, certain government officials have expressed concern that such criticism constitutes an obstacle to government policies. There have also been new reports of "disappearances" of journalists who are associated with the political opposition since early 2014.

Critics of the government have also been arrested. In March 2014 the president of the Congo National Railway Company (SNCC) was arrested for leading a strike, despite the Constitutional protections for his action. In July 2014, another journalist was imprisoned for alleging that a Cardinal "sold out" to the "corrupt" government.

Barriers to International Contact

Congolese law does not impede organizations from contacting or working in partnership with foreign organizations or affiliating with any networks, including through the Internet.

Barriers to Resources

There are no legal barriers on the ability to seek and secure resources. About 75% of organizations in Congo receive funding from foreign sources.

Barriers to Assembly

Decree-law 196 of 1999 governs the holding of demonstrations and public meetings.

Request for Permission. According to Article 3 of Decree-law 196, to organize a public demonstration in Congo, it is necessary first to send a letter requesting authorization to the relevant authority, stating the nature of the demonstration and the route that the demonstrators will take. According to Article 6, the government must provide authorization within 3 to 5 days. Typically, assemblies and meetings using public roads require 3 days to process, while assemblies and meetings elsewhere in the public domain require 5 days. Decree-law 196 does not provide any recourse for organizers in case of the refusal of a request for a public assembly or meeting.

Responsibilities of Organizers and Participants. According to Article 258 of the Congolese Civil Code, Book 3, the organizers of demonstrations and public meetings are required to ensure the peaceful nature of their activity. According to Article 10 of Decree-law 196, participants in a public demonstration have the duty to follow the directives of the organizers concerning the route, time, and peaceful nature of the demonstration.  They also have an obligation to respect scrupulously public and private property, as well as the freedom of others, in accordance with the laws in force in the Congo.

Enforcement. In practice, the state forbids demonstrations that seek to address sensitive issues. For example, some political demonstrations requested by an opposition party were refused on the grounds of public safety. In addition, demonstrations are often forbidden when their content is deemed to have a ‘provocative’ or ‘subversive’ nature or pose a threat to the ruling party's hold on power. In 2014, when some cities, such as Kinshasa, Goma and Bukavu, held demonstrations to challenge the revision of the electoral law, the government cut the signal of some of the opposition's television channels, including the station of the Catholic Church, which belonged to a leader of the opposition. Also, in March 2015, Congo's national intelligence agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements, ANR) arrested about 30 pro-democracy activists in Kinshasa following a workshop to promote responsible youth engagement in the democratic process.

Excessive Force. In certain cases, the state has used excessive force to disperse demonstrators with recourse to live ammunition, instead of rubber bullets, and excessive tear gas, instead of water. In addition, there are different standards applied to freedom of assembly by the local authorities and security forces depending on the political affiliation of those organizing the protests and the region where they operate. For example, in September 2015, in Kinshasa, former MP Vano Kiboko was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for "inciting tribal hatred and spreading false rumors" after he denounced the security force's shooting of a woman engaged in a nonviolent protest. That same month, in Goma, North Kivu province, four members of the movement for change, Struggle (Lucha), were sentenced to six months' imprisonment for "inciting civil disobedience".

Criminal Sanctions. Article 9 of Decree-law 196 states: “Any person who shall have organized demonstrations or public meetings in violation of the stipulation of Article 4 of this Decree-Law will be subject to a fine of 3 to 5,000 Congolese francs and a prison sentence of 1 to 3 months or only one of these penalties, without prejudice to civil convictions for possible damage caused by the participants in the incriminated demonstration or meeting.” Article 10 of Decree-law 196 stipulates: “All illegal acts committed during demonstrations or public meetings are punished in accordance with the penal law.”

Bans. In 2016, the Mayor of Lubumbashi and the Special Commissioner of the National Government in the Province of Tanganyika issued a decree banning all public demonstrations involving NGOs or political parties.

Back to Top

Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Congo (May 6, 2009)
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes

None

U.S. State Department Congo
Fragile States Index Reports

Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index

IMF Country Reports Congo and the IMF (July 23, 2013)
International Commission of Jurists Congo
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library

Congo

Human Rights Watch

World Report 2015: Congo

Law Promulated by the President Currently there is no site or hyperlink pertaining to the rights of civil society in the DRC. However, the official website with all the laws promulgated by the President is availablt at: www.leganet.cd

Back to Top

News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Congo's Kabila and the Dictator's Dilemma (April 2017)
President Joseph Kabila of Congo shows no sign of stepping down. He reached the end of his constitutional two-term limit last year, but after months of delays for which Mr. Kabila blamed incomplete voter lists, one of his ministerial colleagues argued that presidential elections — estimated to cost $1.8 billion — are an expense Congo cannot afford. Mr. Kabila's dallying has led to consternation in Congo and around the world that he is violating Congo's constitution and setting himself up as a president for life. The Catholic Church is leading the scramble for peace in Congo, and it could still succeed. On New Year's Eve it negotiated an agreement between Mr. Kabila's party and opposition groups — including the popular presidential aspirant Moise Katumbi — that would install an opposition prime minister and calls for elections this year. The church-led agreement is a vast improvement from an earlier pact, negotiated by the African Union and the South African Development Community, which favored Mr. Kabila by excluding Mr. Katumbi and Congo's most senior opposition leader, Etienne Tshisekedi. But Mr. Kabila ignored the new agreement, and leading civil society groups fear he will refuse to leave.

Congo authorities block opposition demonstration (November 2016)
Authorities blocked an opposition demonstration in the capital aimed at putting pressure on President Joseph Kabila to step down next month at the end of his mandate. The rally was banned and heavily armed security forces and large police trucks blocked off key streets. They also prevented activists approaching the house of veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, witnesses said..

Two Killed in Anti-government Protest in Eastern Congo (August 2016)
A civilian and a police officer were killed Wednesday in clashes in northeast Congo during a protest of the government's failure to stop massacres of civilians by rebel groups, according to police. The protests in the town of Beni added to tensions in Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of an election set for November in which the opposition has called for President Joseph Kabila to step down after his allotted two terms.

DRC expels US researcher for being part of an NGO that is "not properly registered" (April 2016)
Authorities in Kinshasa have expelled a US researcher specialising in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an official source said Friday. According to a diplomatic source, Jason Stearns, director of New York University's Congo Research Group, was sent by plane to Europe, from where he was expected to head to the United States. Stearns "deceived the immigration service" over his place of residence in Kinshasa, a senior Congolese official told AFP, adding that the researcher was invited to the DRC by "an NGO which is not properly registered" in the country. Stearns was quoted by Bloomberg news agency in an April 5 article about a person close to Congolese President Joseph Kabila whose name is mentioned in the "Panama Papers" leaks that revealed how the wealthy in many countries stashed their riches offshore.

Halt Crackdown on Peaceful Assembly (December 2015)
The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo should mark International Human Rights Day by releasing everyone detained for their political views or for participating in peaceful political activities. "Congolese officials' recent attempts to intimidate and silence peaceful activists and political opponents should end immediately," said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Pastor seeks help freeing brother in Congo (January 2015)
A United Methodist pastor in Iowa is trying to save the life his brother, who is imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And the pastor wants help from the church and the Obama administration. The Rev. Kiboko I. Kiboko says his brother, Vano Kiboko — a United Methodist evangelist and a former congressman in Congo — was arrested December 29, 2014 by the country's secret service. The arrest came after Vano Kiboko publicly denounced the shooting of a woman engaged in a nonviolent protest. Kiboko said his brother has been incarcerated for more than a month without a hearing.

AFEX condemns arrest of journalists covering civil society event in DRC (July 2015)
The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) is deeply appalled by recent acts of harassment and intimidation of journalists by Government authorities in the DRC. In particular, AFEX condemns the arrest and detention on March 15 of Erick Izami, a journalist with Antenne A, a private Congolese radio station. Erick was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) and detained for more two days without charge, contrary to Law, and was released on the evening of March 17. He was arrested while covering the launch of a new civil society group focusing on civil rights in Kinshasa.

Protesters Describe Beatings, Water Torture in Goma Crackdown (April 2015)
Congo's national intelligence agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements, ANR) arrested about 30 pro-democracy activists and others on March 15 in Kinshasa, the capital, following a workshop on Filimbi, a movement to promote responsible youth engagement in the democratic process. Another Filimbi activist was arrested on March 16. Three remain in detention without charge or access to legal counsel and without being brought before a judicial official. Police in Goma on April 7 arrested four others who were peacefully protesting the Kinshasa arrests. They are in Goma's central prison on charges of inciting disobedience to public authority.Security forces in Goma beat and otherwise mistreated demonstrators protesting government repression, including with water torture.

Shame and disgrace for a Cardinal who Sold Out to the Kabila Regime (July 2014) (French)

Le journal La Griffe suspendu pour diffusion d'informations pouvant nuire à l'ordre public (July 2014) (French)

Armed Group Targets Kinshasa, At Least 40 Dead (December 2013)

Outspoken Lawmaker Gets 3-Year Sentence - Freedom of Expression, Peaceful Assembly Under Attack (August 2013)

Back to Top

This report was prepared in coordination with:  Flory OKANDJUOKONGE, Attorney at Law, D.R.C.

.