Democratic Republic of the Congo
CONGO, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE: Tier 2 Watch List
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a source, destination, and possibly a transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The majority of trafficking is internal and, while much of it is perpetrated by armed groups and rogue elements of government forces outside official control in the country’s unstable eastern provinces, incidents of trafficking likely occurred throughout all 11 provinces. Men and women working in unlicensed Congolese artisanal mines, many of whom began mining as children, are reported to be subjected to forced labor, including debt bondage, by mining bosses, other miners, family members, government officials, armed groups, and government forces. Many miners are forced to continue working to pay off constantly accumulating debts for cash advances, tools, food, and other provisions at undisclosed interest rates, and some miners inherit the debt of deceased family members. Some Congolese women are forcibly prostituted in brothels or informal camps, including in markets, bars, and bistros in mining areas, by loosely organized networks, gangs, and brothel operators. Congolese women and girls are subjected to forced marriage following kidnapping or rape, or are sold by family members for a dowry or relief of a debt, after which they are highly vulnerable to domestic servitude or sex trafficking. Congolese women and children migrate to several countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, where some are exploited in sex trafficking, domestic servitude, or forced labor in agriculture and diamond mines. Some members of Batwa, or pygmy groups, are subjected to conditions of forced labor, most commonly in agriculture, but also in mining and domestic service in remote areas of the DRC. Some Angolans enter the DRC illegally to work in Bas-Congo province and are vulnerable to forced labor.
Children are engaged in forced and exploitative labor in small-scale agriculture, informal mining, and other informal sectors throughout the country. Children are subjected to forced and exploitative labor in the illegal mining of diamonds, copper, gold, cobalt, ore, and tin, as well as the smuggling of minerals. Children living on the streets who engage in vending, portering, and unloading trucks are vulnerable to forced labor, including being used for illicit drug transactions, and many of the girls are exploited in sex trafficking. Local observers suspect homeless children known as chegues, acting as beggars and thieves on the streets of Kinshasa, are controlled by a third party. Children in domestic service work long hours, and some are subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation—conditions indicative of forced labor. Girls in Bas-Congo province are coerced into prostitution by family members or transported to Angola for exploitation in the sex trade. Children from the Republic of the Congo may transit through the DRC en route to Angola or South Africa, where they are subjected to domestic servitude.
During the year several indigenous and foreign armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), various local militias (Mai-Mai), Nyatura, Raia Mutomboki, Nduma Defence for Congo (NDC), Force for the Defense of Human Rights (FDDH), the Allied Democratic Forces, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), continued to abduct and forcibly recruit Congolese men, women, and children as young as 7 years old to bolster their ranks and labor as guards, porters, cleaners and cooks, combatants, messengers, and spies; women and girls were forced to marry and/or serve as sex slaves for members of the armed groups. Some, including children, were also forced to commit crimes for their captors, such as looting, extortion, and stealing.
In part due to weak command and control structures, some elements of the Congolese national army (FARDC) and security forces deviated from government policy and pressed men and women, including internally displaced persons, to carry supplies, equipment, and looted goods from mining villages. They used threats and coercion to force men and children to mine for minerals, turn over their mineral production, or pay illegal “taxes.” In addition, it was reported that, contrary to government policy, some FARDC commanders provided financial and logistical support, including arms and ammunition, for armed groups, such as FDLR and Mai Mai militia, which routinely engaged in human trafficking.
The UN reported at least 1,030 children were separated from armed groups in 2014; no cases of child recruitment by the FARDC were identified during the reporting period—a significant change from years of government use of child soldiers. The UN documented 241 cases of children who were both recruited and separated from armed groups in 2014, potentially including foreign children; 63 were from the FDLR, 32 from the Mai Mai Nyatura, 19 from the Raia Mutomboki, 16 from the LRA, and the remainder were from other Mai Mai groups. Most children were used in multiple capacities such as cook, porter, combatant, sex slave, or laborer.
Due to the ongoing conflict, more than 2.6 million people were displaced in the DRC, and displaced persons in Katanga, North Kivu, and South Kivu provinces remain particularly vulnerable to abduction, forced conscription, and sexual violence by armed groups and government forces. Poor infrastructure, limited anti-trafficking resources and expertise, and reports of corruption continued to impede official efforts to address trafficking.
The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government took significant steps to hold accountable officials complicit in trafficking through its conviction of FARDC and police officials for sex slavery. The government also arrested armed group commanders for child recruitment. In addition to continued efforts to implement the UN-backed action plan to end FARDC abuses against children, including child soldiering, and cooperate with international organizations to ensure screening, identification, and transfer of child soldiers separated from armed groups to social service organizations, all evidence appeared to indicate the government ceased its recruitment and use of child soldiers during the year. Despite these measures to address trafficking abuses perpetrated by officials, the government reported negligible efforts to address labor and sex trafficking crimes implicating or affecting the general public, by prosecuting traffickers, identifying victims, providing protection services, or referring them to NGO care.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO:
Develop a legislative proposal to comprehensively address all forms of trafficking, including forced labor of adults; continue to use existing legislation to investigate and prosecute military and law enforcement personnel and commanders of armed groups accused of unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, the use of local populations to perform forced labor, or sex trafficking; in partnership with civil society take steps to expand the availability and provision of comprehensive services to victims of forced labor and sex trafficking; adopt an action plan to combat all forms of trafficking; in partnership with local or international organizations, provide training to law enforcement and judicial officials on the laws available to prosecute trafficking cases and victim-centered procedures in investigation and prosecution; take steps to raise awareness about all forms of human trafficking among the general population; develop procedures for proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as women in prostitution, street children, and men, women, and children in artisanal mining and their subsequent referral to care; continue measures to end the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by FARDC members; and continue to ensure the identification, removal, demobilization, and appropriate care for all children associated with armed groups.
The government demonstrated progress in investigating, prosecuting, and convicting military and police officials for sexual slavery and arresting and charging commanders of armed groups for the recruitment and use of child soldiers, but it made no progress in addressing trafficking crimes beyond those perpetrated by officials. The July 2006 sexual violence statute (Law 6/018) specifically prohibits sexual slavery, sex trafficking, child and forced prostitution and prescribes penalties for these offenses ranging from five to 20 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Contrary to international law, adult forced labor is not criminalized although indentured servitude is prohibited by the Constitution. The Child Protection Code (Law 09/001) prohibits all forms of forced child labor and child prostitution, and prescribes penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment for sexual slavery. Cases of forced child labor, debt bondage, and child commercial sexual exploitation have penalties of one to three years’ imprisonment, which are not sufficiently stringent for the serious nature of the crime. The enlistment of children into the armed forces and the police has penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment, but the code cannot be fully implemented because necessary decrees from several ministries reportedly continue to be lacking.
The government’s ability to enforce its laws does not extend to many areas of the country where trafficking occurs. In addition, awareness of the various forms of trafficking among law enforcement is limited and judges, prosecutors, and investigators often lacked adequate training and resources to conduct investigations and try cases. The government reported continuing investigations initiated in the previous year involving cases of transnational sex trafficking of Congolese women to Lebanon and Kuwait; however, they did not result in prosecutions or convictions during the reporting period. The government’s efforts to investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking crimes implicating or affecting the general public appeared negligible, as all reported law enforcement action initiated in 2014 involved officials or abuses within the FARDC.
Impunity for trafficking crimes by the security forces remained a challenge; nonetheless, the government convicted two high-ranking FARDC officers for sexual slavery and several other crimes and prosecuted a Congolese National Police (PNC) officer for abducting and subjecting a 13-year-old girl to sexual slavery. Punishment for one FARDC officer was 10 years’ imprisonment; sentencing for the other convicted offenders remained pending or the information was not available. In addition, the FARDC arrested and detained at least two commanders of armed groups for recruitment and use of child soldiers; two other commanders of armed groups arrested in the previous reporting period remained in detention for similar charges. Bosco Ntaganda, the former commander of the armed group M23 and formerly a FARDC commander, remained in detention and awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court for trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including conscription of children and using them to fight and for sexual slavery; the court is considering holding the trial in the DRC. In 2014, the government trained approximately 1,514 FARDC soldiers and 183 PNC officers on issues related to child recruitment and child protection. The government did not provide specialized training to officials on combating other forms of trafficking, but the Congolese National Police and other DRC law enforcement agencies received training in human trafficking from international donors.
Although the government assisted in the identification and demobilization of child soldiers, there was no information as to what services, if any, the sex trafficking victims received. The government did not report the number of victims of sex trafficking identified and it did not identify any victims of forced labor. The government lacked procedures for proactively identifying victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as children living and working on the streets, women in prostitution, and men, women, and children working in artisanal mining, and for subsequently referring victims to protective services. Other than specialized services for former child soldiers, NGOs continued to provide the limited shelter, legal, medical, and psychological services available to trafficking victims. An NGO working with trafficking victims in eastern DRC reported providing assistance to 66 victims of forced labor and/or sex trafficking during the last three months of 2014.
The government continued to cooperate with UN and NGO child protection partners to implement the 2013 National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Plan (DDR III), through which male and female child soldiers identified during screening after an armed group surrenders are transferred immediately to UNICEF for processing and services. During this process, the National Demobilization Agency, in cooperation with United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and UNICEF, continued to separate and transport identified children to NGO-run centers for temporary housing, care, and vocational training prior to returning them to their home communities when it was deemed safe for reintegration. Reintegrated child soldiers remained vulnerable to re-recruitment, as adequate rehabilitation services did not exist for children suffering the most severe psychological trauma, stigmatization may interfere with community reintegration, and several armed groups continued to recruit children. In 2014, the FARDC released 121 children as young as 8 years old, who had been arrested, detained, and sometimes mistreated, including with beatings and deprivation of food and medical care, because of their alleged association with armed groups. Reports also indicate some children were used by security forces to gather intelligence and several children died from diseases or starvation while detained in the FARDC’s Kotakoli Camp.
In cases of sexual violence, the government reported military justice courts sometimes protect the identity of the victim from the defendant and the public. While trafficking victims could file cases against their traffickers in civil courts, there is no evidence any have done so; the public widely viewed civil courts as corrupt and believed outcomes were determined based on the relative financial means of the parties to the lawsuit. The government has consistently allowed for the safe repatriation of foreign child soldiers in cooperation with MONUSCO. No other foreign victims of other forms of trafficking were identified in the DRC in 2014.
Despite lacking an overarching strategy or coordination mechanism, the government made efforts to prevent human trafficking by security officials; however the government failed to raise awareness of trafficking in persons—including sex trafficking and forced labor crimes—among the general population. In 2014, the government demonstrated continued progress in implementing key instruments intended to address the use of child soldiers by the government, including the UN-backed action plan, signed in October 2012, to end recruitment and use of child soldiers and the 2013 directives imposing severe sanctions against FARDC members found guilty of any of the six grave violations against children during armed conflict, including child soldiering. The joint technical working group overseeing implementation of the UN-backed plan held 12 meetings during the year, established technical working groups in three provinces (North Kivu, South Kivu, and Orientale), and the President appointed a personal representative to lead work against sexual violence and child recruitment. UN partners assisting with implementation of the plan reported awareness of the directives among FARDC commanding officers increased, the recruitment of children by the FARDC significantly decreased, and access of UNICEF and other child protection personnel to troops, training facilities, and recruitment sites for screening and separation as child soldiers continued to improve. Government cooperation with the UN and other child protection actors resulted in the identification of more than 300 underage applicants who were prevented from joining the FARDC. In addition, the Mines Ministry, in cooperation with representatives of the PNC, international organizations, private industry, and civil society, piloted a program to provide baseline certification indicating minerals from artisanal mines are conflict-free, including free of child labor and not controlled by criminal Congolese army elements or armed groups. Through this process, during the reporting period more than 100 mines received a “green” or positive rating following the baseline assessment; however, the program does not include protocols for identifying, referring, or assisting adult or child victims of forced labor removed from inspected mining sites.
The government did not increase efforts to establish the identity of local populations, and low rates of birth registration continued to contribute to individuals’ vulnerability to trafficking. The National Ministry of Labor, responsible for inspecting worksites for child labor, remained understaffed and did not identify any cases of forced child labor in 2014. Inspectors had limited presence outside Kinshasa and often lacked transportation or resources to carry out their work. The government took no measures during the reporting period to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel.