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Title: Zaire Human Rights Practices, 1995 Author: U.S. Department of State Date: March 1996 ZAIRE After 30 years of authoritarian rule, President Mobutu Sese Seko remains firmly in control of Zairian politics, despite his 5-year-old promise of democratic reform. Although a National Conference was convened in 1992, Mobutu later withdrew his support for its chosen Prime Minister, Etienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba, and appointed a former Tshisekedi ally, Faustin Birindwa, to lead the Government. Refusing to accept Mobutu's authority to remove him, Tshisekedi presided over a parallel government until June 1993 when both the Birindwa and Tshisekedi governments ceased to function. In mid-1994, Mobutu allies and opposition leaders negotiated an end to the political stalemate by combining elements of the two governments to create a transitional constitution (the Transitional Act) and a combined transitional parliament (the HCR-PT). In turn, the HCR- PT elected Kengo wa Dondo as its Prime Minister, although some elements of the opposition contest the legality of the election. With the opposition divided, the HCR-PT postponed national elections and voted itself a 24-month extension of the transition, which is now scheduled to conclude before July 1997. The President's authority continues to rest importantly on his control of key security forces, and the Kengo Government has little control over these forces. The Civil Guard and the 15,000-strong Special Presidential Division (DSP) forces remain under the tutelage of Mobutu loyalists generals Baramoto Kpama Kpata and Nzimbi Ngable, respectively. Both divisions are better disciplined and paid with more frequency than the regular armed forces and the gendarmerie. The Civil Guard, a police force trained to use police measures as well as methods to combat terrorism, to prevent fraud in customs collections, and to maintain order, is independent in structure but has been integrated into the armed forces. Nonetheless, members of all the security forces often prey on civilians, generally without official rebuke. Undisciplined soldiers continued to commit many criminal infractions, including robbery, extortion, and looting on a daily basis. Members of the security forces also committed numerous serious human rights abuses. Despite initial skepticism, there has been high praise for the performance of close to 1,500 DSP troops policing the Rwandan refugee camps for most of 1995. The modern sector of the economy has collapsed since 1991, and many parts of the country have returned to barter systems in lieu of monetary exchanges. Civil servants and military have gone without pay for periods of many months. Subsistence agriculture is the mainstay of the economy and permits the country to survive the lengthy crisis. Industry remains largely crippled. Lack of new investment, poor roads and other facilities, and corruption--which affects all segments of the economy-- have contributed to the decline, especially in the once highly profitable mining and minerals sector. Diamonds and offshore oil revenues constitute the country's major source of foreign currency. The Kengo Government made some headway in restructuring the financial sector--including halting the massive importation of illegally produced Zairian currency, which was a major impetus to wild inflation and currency depreciation in 1994--and slowing the decline in the value of the national currency in 1995. Also, the Government succeeded in presenting a national budget in December 1994 for the first time in 3 years. Amid a general atmosphere of economic and personal insecurity, the Government continued to tolerate and commit serious human rights abuses. Large scale military pillaging abated as the Government occasionally met military payrolls; however, with the President in ultimate control, the security forces continued to commit numerous human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detention. In general, the authorities permitted such acts with impunity. Prison conditions remain life threatening. Citizens have never been able to vote to change their government in multiparty elections. While there was some increase in freedom of expression, including a proliferation of independent newspapers, pro-Mobutu forces sought to limit freedom of speech and the press, and military and civilian security forces regularly detained or arrested journalists, editors, and even newspaper vendors. The authorities permitted some political demonstrations to proceed unhindered, but in many others the police intervened with threats, bullets, detentions, and, in one instance, with lethal force. The judicial system is not independent and continued to be plagued by corruption, lack of due process, and many other problems; it remained ineffective as a deterrent or corrective force to human rights abuses. Security forces continued to violate citizens' right to privacy. Ethnic conflict in eastern Zaire, exacerbated by the refugee influx from Rwanda and Burundi, resulted in many civilian deaths. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing Security forces, including police, committed many killings during the year. However, given the administrative and security breakdown throughout the country and the often anecdotal nature of the accounts of these killings, it was often difficult to determine whether political, monetary, personal, or law enforcement objectives motivated these security force killings. Reports often linked killings to random acts of robbery or extortion. For example, the local press in Kisangani reported that gendarmes killed as many as 50 people during armed robberies in 1 month. Only rarely did the authorities make inquiries into such incidents. In the east, ethnic conflict led to many deaths (see Section 1.g.). In July, in the most egregious example of extrajudicial killing, Civil Guards used lethal force to put down an unauthorized demonstration by the Unified Lumumbast Party (PALU) in Kinshasa. Human rights monitors, press reports, and the Kengo Government state that 4 protesters and 1 soldier died and that 54 others were seriously wounded. There were clear political objectives involved in the aftermath of the demonstration, when the military attacked the home of PALU leader Antoine Gizenga and raped and killed a member of his family. The military and the Government launched official inquiries into these incidents but failed to report any results by year's end. In January government troops used excessive force in repressing striking railroad workers, killing one person and wounding several others (see Section 6.a.). No one has been named responsible for the killing. In Shaba security forces also committed political and extrajudicial killings. Continuing a longstanding pattern of conflict between local military leaders and the Shaba-based party, the Union of Independent Republicans (UFERI), in March the Civil Guard targeted UFERI members and its youth wing on two separate occasions, killing three persons. In May uniformed forces disrupted a UFERI party rally, killing one protester and wounding four others by gunfire. The military acted on the orders of General Mosala and not of anyone in the civilian government in Shaba or in the Kengo Government. Both the then Shaba governor, Gabriel Kyungu, and General Mosala were subsequently removed from office in Shaba. In December Kyungu was briefly detained in Lubumbashi after a march by his party, UFERI, was banned by the acting governor. In several cases, notably in the country's interior, citizens responded to military aggression in kind, sometimes killing soldiers. In Kitwit, for example, residents lynched a soldier who had moments earlier murdered a civilian. In one instance, PALU activists murdered a soldier who was trying to block their demonstration. b. Disappearance There were several reports of disappearances; however, some of these instances may have been criminal, rather than political, in nature. Security forces regularly hold alleged suspects in secret detention for varying periods of time before acknowledging that they are actually in custody. The most frequent accounts of disappearances are those perpetrated by unidentified assailants who abduct, threaten, and often beat their victims before releasing them. Journalists and opposition party members claim that they are targets for such actions. Patrick Shotsha On'Oto, a youth leader who had been periodically harassed by uniformed personnel since participating in the 1992 Christian students' march, disappeared in April after giving a lecture on the role young people should play in elections. His whereabouts remained unknown at year's end. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Although the law forbids torture, security forces and prison officials regularly disregard this prohibition. They often beat prisoners in the process of arresting or interrogating them. Several released prisoners claim to have been struck, kicked, whipped, and suspended upside down for long periods of time. After being beaten while in military custody, a prisoner from Kinshasa's Camp Tshatshi was hospitalized for abdominal hemorrhaging. In April four of General Bosembo's security guards apprehended Dr. Muema Ngoy Toka, a member of the Democratic Social Christian Party (PDSC), and beat him severely before the general authorized his release. The authorities, including the judiciary, rarely investigate claims of torture, despite their prevalence. Conditions in most of Zaire's known 220 prisons and places of detention remain life threatening. The central Government does not assume responsibility for furnishing prisons with food or medical supplies. Prison facilities are grossly inadequate; living conditions are harsh and unsanitary, and prisoners are poorly treated. The system is marked by severe shortages of funds, medical facilities, food, and trained personnel. Overcrowding and corruption are widespread. Reports of prisoners being tortured, beaten to death, deprived of food and water, or dying of starvation are common. Many prisoners are wholly dependent on family and friends for their survival. Inmates at Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa sleep on the floor without bedding and have no access to sanitation, potable water, or adequate health care. Even in Makala's best-equipped ward, 114 white collar criminals share one latrine. Tuberculosis, red diarrhea, and other infectious diseases are rampant. Although authorities have not targeted women for abuse, rape does occur. Of the 45 women in Makala Prison in July, 6 were accompanied by children under the age of 5 years. Political prisoners are held in a separate ward and are allowed little, if any, contact with prison visitors. On December 27, the Minister of Justice issued an order prohibiting government officials and soldiers from imprisoning people in 25 of the 73 detention centers in the region of Kinshasa. The decision was based on a judicial commission's report that these 25 facilities were in "an advanced state of unhealthiness incompatible with human dignity." Makala Central Prison was not listed among the 25 prisons which should no longer be used. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), religious organizations, and a handful of local human rights organizations report that they have regular access to prisons nationwide. In some cases, however, the Government's unpublicized creation of unofficial detention sites circumvents their access. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile Under the law, serious offenses, punishable by more than 6 months' imprisonment, do not require a warrant for a suspect's arrest. Only a law enforcement officer with "judicial police officer" status is empowered to authorize arrest. This status is also vested in senior officers of each of the security services. The law instructs security forces to bring detainees to the police within 24 hours. The law also provides that detainees must be charged within 24 hours and be brought within 48 hours before a magistrate, who may authorize provisional detention for varying renewable periods. In practice, these provisions are rarely followed. Gendarmes and Civil Guards commonly detain civilians without any legal authority, and the security forces--especially those carrying out the President's directives or those of any other official with authority--use arbitrary arrests to intimidate outspoken opponents and journalists. The military and security are controlled by the President. Charges are rarely filed, obscuring the precise motive for political arrests. When the authorities actually do press charges, the claims are often trumped up or dredged out of the archives of colonial regulations. In February DSP forces arrested Bobo ye Mweni on questionable charges of diamond embezzlement. Credible reports indicate that the warrant for his arrest was signed by President Mobutu's son, Manda, who is not vested with such authority. In March DSP agents arrested Bobo's parents and sisters and held the family for several months. In the case of PALU leader Antoine Gizenga, the Government charged him with violating a 1959 colonial ordinance banning political demonstrations without a permit. In another highly publicized case, the authorities arrested two union leaders, Okitalombo Pena Ngongo and Mbelu Tshimanga, on spurious charges of defamation and denied them a preliminary hearing; they were held without trial for almost 2 months, and then released without charge. Political detainees are typically held incommunicado, with irregular or no access to legal counsel, sometimes held in unofficial detention sites. Opposition newspaper journalist Essolomwa Nkoy's detention of several days at the Tshatshi military camp for an article accusing top generals of corruption was characteristic of this kind of detention. In another politically motivated incident, police assaulted and detained acting UFERI party regional head Astrid Tshikung and others for several hours in June. Corrupt local officials often use detention as a means of extortion, arresting people on fabricated charges, releasing them only after payment of a "fine." In July civilian intelligence officers in Lubumbashi illegally detained an American human rights activist and a British citizen. The American was released 1 day later, but the British citizen spent 5 days in custody, while the officers attempted to extort $5,000 for his release. Of the 920 detainees accounted for in Makala Prison in July, more than 70 percent had yet to come before a judge, although many of them had spent as long as 2 years behind prison walls. The Transitional Act specifically forbids exile, and there were no known cases. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial Despite constitutional provisions, the judiciary is not independent of the executive branch, and the latter often manipulates it. Zaire's Civil and Criminal Codes are based on Belgian and customary law. The legal system includes lower courts, appellate courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of State Security. There is a system of separate military tribunals with an appeals structure that parallels that of civilian courts. Decisions from the military tribunals may be appealed to the Supreme Court. Charges of misconduct against senior government officials must be filed directly with the Supreme Court. The Transitional Act provides for the right to a speedy public trial, the presumption of innocence, and legal counsel at all stages of proceedings. Defendants have the right to appeal in all cases except those involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, which are adjudicated by the Court of State Security. The law provides for court-appointed counsel at state expense in capital cases, in all proceedings before the Supreme Court, and in other cases when requested by the court. In practice, the authorities frequently ignore these protections. Adherence to established legal procedures varies considerably, and fair public trial is rare, especially for critics of the Mobutu forces as in the case of the two Le Point editors (see Section 2.a.). Corruption is pervasive, particularly among magistrates who are poorly paid and poorly trained, and the entire judicial system is further hobbled by shortages of personnel, essential supplies, and infrastructure. Many defendants never meet their counsel or do so only after months of detention and interrogation. Most cases are heard only when the defendant or plaintiff pay all court costs, including salaries, a situation which encourages corruption. Judicial officials sent to remote areas in the country in some cases either refused to assume their posts or fled from them in ethnic purification campaigns, particularly in Maniema and Shaba. As a result, local authorities usurped judicial proceedings in some parts of the country. There are no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners in Zaire, but the trend of incarcerating people for their political views in 1995 was definitely downward compared to past years. On December 26, the authorities released Kabila Kakule, a translator at the National Library, who had been jailed for translating National Conference documents into national languages. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence Security forces routinely ignore the Transitional Act's provision for the inviolability of the home and of private correspondence. They ignore the requirement for a search warrant, entering and searching homes at will. In March gendarmes in Lilangi perpetrated a villagewide house-by-house pillage while detaining homeowners in the local prison. In April approximately 60 Civil Guards besieged the home of the suspended head of the national customs office in Kinshasa where they stole money and personal belongings. Security forces looted Antoine Gizenga's home following PALU's July 29 demonstration (see Section 1.a.). The threat of rape, sometimes perpetrated by uniformed persons, restricts the freedom of movement at night for women in some neighborhoods. Groups of citizens have implemented neighborhood watch programs, but women in many parts of Kinshasa do not leave their homes at night. The DSP has also been used to intimidate private businesses for the commercial gain of individuals. For example, the DSP intervened in a private commercial dispute between a foreign-owned company and a local competitor firm owned by one of Mobutu's closest associates. The Kengo Government strongly supports the contractual rights of foreign investors and has sought, unsuccessfully in most cases, to curtail arbitrary interference by elements of the military, as in this case. Uniformed personnel routinely interfere with daily economic activities, especially those that take place outside formal channels. Currency vendors are particularly at risk and remain subject to repeated robberies by uniformed assailants. In June soldiers in Kinshasa looted a makeshift market before burning it down and chasing sellers from the area. Citizens are free to join or refrain from participating in any political party. However, opposition party members often complain that they are followed or harassed by troops loyal to the President. Citizens widely assume that the Government monitors mail and telephone communications. g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts Ethnic clashes, notably in the Masisi area of eastern Zaire, led to many human rights abuses, despite the June deployment of Zairian troops to the region. In early July, 85 people were killed when fighting again erupted between the Banyarwanda, immigrants of Rwandan origin, and indigenous ethnic groups. The 1994 influx of refugees and former Rwandan soldiers aggravated the longstanding conflict between these Zairian groups. Also, ambiguities in Banyarwanda legal status, caused by conflicting laws that bestow and then revoke citizenship, further inflamed tensions, especially with the prospect of multiparty elections. In contrast, the situation improved in Shaba province when Governor Gabriel Kyungu wa Kumwanza's overt campaign against Kasains living in Shaba ended; he was suspended from office indefinitely in May. By July nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) and other donor agencies had resettled the last groups of displaced Kasains who had been forced to flee Shaba. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The Transitional Act provides for freedom of expression as a fundamental civil right. While the press and the public are able more openly to exercise freedom of expression than before the transition began in 1990, in practice the Government-- notably those elements loyal to the President--continues arbitrarily to intimidate, harass, and detain journalists and other media officials for publishing controversial pieces. Newspaper publishers are required to deposit copies of each issue with the Ministry of Information prior to publication. In December the Parliament passed a new press law after consultations with media representatives, but the President had not signed it by the end of the year, and it appeared he would send it back to Parliament for reconsideration. While the proposed law deals mainly with media administrative issues, it would also codify the law in libel cases and require journalists to reveal sources "when required by the law." In April the Attorney General ordered the arrest of two Le Point editors, Belmonde Magloire Missinhou and Mazangu Mbuilu, for publishing an article critical of the judiciary. They were held in preventive detention for 2 months and then sentenced to an additional 7 months in prison. They were released in December. Also in April, the authorities arrested a Kin-Matin journalist for his article denouncing the introduction of new currency denominations of 1,000 and 5,000 New Zaire notes. In some cases, government and military authorities target media reporters and officials for extortion purposes. The principal means of communication with the public are radio and television, both of which remain under presidential control. The Ministry of Information suspended four television reporters for refusing to broadcast a message for Mobutu's political party, the Popular Movement of the Revolution (MPR). In principle, academic freedom is provided for in the Transitional Act. However, in the past when teachers have organized to protest their salaries and working conditions, they have sometimes been met with repression. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Transitional Act upholds the right to assemble but subsumes the full exercise of this right to the maintenance of "public order." The Government requires all organizers to apply for permits which are granted or rejected at its discretion. In some cases, the Government uses the issuance of permits to discriminate against political opponents and has revived a 1959 colonial ordinance to justify banning public meetings. However, the Government did allow several groups, including the radical opposition, to hold several large gatherings, the last one on August 6, and on that occasion security forces displayed discipline. Nevertheless, in other instances security forces repressed unauthorized political and other demonstrations, sometimes violently (see Section 1.a.). In March, for example, when civil servants marched to protest 8 to 12 months of salary arrears, security forces arrested 34 protesters, detaining them for 7 days. While several reports of the July 29 killing of 14 PALU demonstrators by Civil Guard forces maintain that the PALU supporters were violent, throwing stones and killing a soldier, the military demonstrated again its inability to effect crowd control consistently without resort to excessive use of force. c. Freedom of Religion The Transitional Act provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this provision in practice, with the reservation that the expression of this right neither disturb public order nor contradict commonly held morals, There is no legally established or favored church or religion. A 1971 law regulating religious organizations grants civil servants the power to establish or dissolve religious groups. Although this law restricts the process for official recognition, officially recognized religions are free to establish places of worship and to train clergy. Most recognized churches have external ties, and foreign nationals are allowed to proselytize. The Government generally does not interfere with foreign missionaries. There has been no further known persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, who have been permitted to construct a headquarters in Kinshasa. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation The Transitional Act allows for freedom of movement, but the Government, and in particular the security forces acting independently, restrict this freedom. All citizens, refugees and permanent residents must carry identity cards. Security forces erect checkpoints on major roads to inspect vehicle papers, usually to extort money from travelers at airports, ferry ports, and roadblocks. In November Prime Minister Kengo dismissed 100 gendarmes accused of harassing motorists, although his efforts did little to curb the security forces' widespread extortion. Passports and exit permits are available in principle to all citizens but often at exorbitant cost from corrupt officials. Women must have the permission of their husbands to apply for a passport (see Section 5). Zaire continues to house some 750,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees along its densely populated eastern border. It cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who estimates that there are approximately 120,000 Burundi Hutu refugees located in the same area. Extreme regional insecurity prompted the United Nations and donor nations to request a neutral military presence in the camps. With no international response forthcoming, they authorized in December 1994 a contingent of Zairian special forces to take on the task. At year's end, the second contingent of 1,500 Zairian Camp Security Contingent troops from the Special Presidential Division continued to perform their duty well, and, according to the UNHCR and other U.N. agencies, the security situation has improved, although serious obstacles remained. Cross-border violence has rendered the overall refugee security situation even more unstable, and refugees are subject to extortion, robbery, and sexual abuse. There have been abuses by both the former Rwandan military and civilian refugees in the camps. The Kengo Government agreed to remove intimidators in the refugee camps in late December. In a July visit to the region, Prime Minister Kengo announced that the refugees in the Kivu provinces must return home. On August 19, the Zairian army started forced repatriation of Rwandan and Burundian Hutu refugees declaring that Zaire was bearing the weight of the presence of these refugees on its territory and that the Government of Rwanda had done nothing to create conditions inside Rwanda to allow the refugees to return to their homes. Following a commitment from the UNHCR to reinvigorate organized voluntary repatriation, the Government suspended forced repatriation on August 24 but stated that Zaire retains the right to resume forced expulsions if the UNHCR fails to make sufficient progress through voluntary repatriation. More than 14,000 Rwandan and Burundian refugees had been forcibly repatriated prior to the August suspension. In November, after again threatening to expel refugees by December 31, the Government agreed to allow refugees to remain, provided regional efforts were made to facilitate their return. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government The Transitional Act mandates the right of citizens to change their government, but Zairians have never been able to exercise this right and vote in multiparty elections. President Mobutu continued to impede democratic progress by exercising control over key parts of the state apparatus, especially the military, and by coopting factions of the political opposition, often with spurious promises. In the process, the President exacerbated party maneuvering and political posturing in the Transitional Parliament (HCR-PT) and stimulated Tshisekedi's and the radical opposition's intransigence in Parliament. Already by July the divided HCR-PT had extended its own mandate and postponed elections for 2 more years. Despite these impediments, the Parliament passed implementing legislation establishing a National Electoral Commission (NEC) to conduct a nationwide census, register voters, publish a list of candidates, and supervise eventual elections. On January 1, 1996, the HCR-PT broke the deadlock over the question of the NEC membership. Initially, the President refused to sign legislation aimed at decentralizing government and reorganizing provincial civil affairs. The HCR-PT sent another version of the legislation to the President in late November, and he signed it on December 20. There is no official discrimination against the participation of women or minorities in politics. However, there are few women in senior positions in the Government or in political parties. At the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Minister of Health and Family, Mrs. Florentine Fwani Eyenga, cited the low level of political participation of women in Zaire as a major problem. Only a few women are in the 728- member Transitional Parliament. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights While the Government rarely responds to human rights accusations, it permits a number of effective nongovernmental human rights organizations to operate, including the Zairian Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AZADHO) and the Voice of the Voiceless (VSV). Both organizations investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases, largely without government restriction. The Government acknowledged AZADHO's 1994 report of human rights abuses, although it quibbled with the group's figures. However, the security forces continued occasionally to harass and intimidate human rights monitors. In April military security forces apprehended and intimidated one of AZADHO's secretaries. In July, in two separate incidents, security agents harassed members of another Kinshasa-based human rights group. The Government permits international organizations to visit and discuss abuses; the ICRC is allowed to visit prisons on a regular basis. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The Transitional Act forbids discrimination based on ethnicity, sex, or religious affiliation, but the Government has made little headway in advancing these provisions. Societal discrimination remains an obstacle to the advancement of certain groups, particularly women and the Pygmy (Batwa) ethnic group. Women Domestic violence against women, including rape, is believed to be common, but, there are no known government or NGO statistics on the extent of this violence. Rape is a crime in Zaire, but the press rarely prints articles about "a rape" or violence toward women or children. When the press reports on a rape, it is generally as a consequence of some other crime, but rarely because of the act of rape itself. Rarely are the police involved in domestic disputes, and local NGO's dealing with women's issues state that they have not heard of any court cases in 1995 in Kinshasa involving rape or spousal abuse. Despite constitutional provisions, women are relegated to a secondary role in society. They remain the primary agricultural laborers, small- scale traders, and vendors and are exclusively responsible for childrearing. In the nontraditional sector, women commonly receive less pay for comparable work. Only rarely do they occupy positions of authority or high responsibility. They also tend to receive less education than men. Women are required by law to obtain their spouse's permission before engaging in routine legal transactions, such as selling or renting real estate, opening a bank account, accepting employment, or applying for a passport (see Section 2.d.). A 1987 revision of the Family Code permits a widow to inherit her husband's property, to control her own property, and to receive a property settlement in the event of divorce. In practice, women are repeatedly denied these rights. Widows are commonly stripped of all possessions--as well as their dependent children--by the deceased husband's family. Human rights groups and church organizations are working to combat this custom, but there is generally no government intervention or legal recourse. Women also are denied custody of their children in divorce cases, but they retain the right to visit them. Polygyny is practiced although it is illegal. Children resulting from polygynous unions are legally recognized, but only the first wife is legally recognized as a spouse. Children Government spending on children's programs is nearly nonexistent. Most schools, for example, only function in areas where parents have formed cooperatives to pay teachers' salaries. There are no documented cases in which security forces or others target children for specific abuse, although children suffer from the same conditions of generalized social disorder and widespread disregard for human rights that affect society as a whole. These conditions sometimes render parents unable to meet their children's basic human needs. Female genital mutilation, which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is not widespread, but it is practiced on young girls among isolated groups in the north. People With Disabilities The law does not mandate accessibility to buildings or government services for the disabled. Special schools, many with missionary staff, use private funds and limited public support to provide education and vocational training to blind and physically disabled students. Indigenous people Societal discrimination continues against Zaire's Pygmy (Batwa) population of between 6,000 and 10,000. Although citizens, Pygmies living in remote areas take no part in the political process. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities Zaire's population of about 40 million includes over 200 separate ethnic groups. Four indigenous languages have national status. French is the language of government, commerce, and education. Members of President Mobutu's Ngbandi ethnic group are disproportionately represented at the highest levels of the military and intelligence services. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association The Transitional Act and other legislation permit all workers except magistrates and military personnel to form and join trade unions. Before 1990, the law required all trade unions to affiliate with the National Union of Zairian Workers (UNTZA), the single legally recognized labor confederation which formed part of Mobutu's MPR party. When political pluralism was permitted in April 1990, the UNTZA disaffiliated itself from the MPR and reorganized under new leadership chosen through elections deemed fair by outside observers. Although the UNTZA remains the largest union organization, almost 100 other independent labor unions are now registered with the Labor Ministry. Some of these are affiliated with political parties or associated with a single industry or geographic area. The Government recognizes the right to strike; however, legal strikes rarely occur since the law requires prior resort to lengthy mandatory arbitration and appeal procedures. Labor unions have not been able to defend effectively the rights of workers in the deteriorating economic environment. In January government troops repressed striking railroad workers, killing one and wounding several others (see Section 1.a.). In March the authorities arrested and detained for 7 days 31 civil servants and 3 organizers during a demonstration in protest of months of salary arrears. Many civil servants have remained on strike since then. General strikes, often called by political parties and not necessarily organized by unions, do occur despite their illegality. The law prohibits employers or the Government from retaliating against strikers, but it is rarely enforced. In November the International Labor Organization Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) cited Zaire for serious violations of the principles of freedom of association on the basis of complaints arising from events between mid-1993 and March 1995. The CFA expressed "deep concern" about "arrests, detentions, and torture of trade unionists, acts of repression against demonstrators, the hampering of trade union activities, and acts of antiunion discrimination, including the dismissal of officials, prohibition of union meetings in the health services, refusal to register trade unions, creation of trade unions by the authorities, and the Government's refusal to negotiate with representative trade unions." The CFA regretted the Government's failure to respond to these allegations and called on it to make restitution where possible and to desist from such actions in the future. Unions may affiliate with international bodies. The UNTZA participates in the Organization of African Trade Union Unity, and the Central Union of Zaire is affiliated with the World Confederation of Labor. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The law provides for the right to bargain collectively, and an agreement between the UNTZA and the employers association provided for wages and prices to be negotiated jointly each year under minimal government supervision. This system, which functioned until 1991, broke down as a result of the rapid depreciation of the currency. While collective bargaining still exists in theory, continuing hyperinflation has encouraged a return to pay rates individually arranged between employers and employees. The collapse of the formal economy has also resulted in a decline in the influence of unions, a tendency to ignore existing labor regulations, and a buyer's market for labor. The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination, although this regulation is not strongly enforced by the Ministry of Labor. The law also requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. In the public sector, the Government sets wages by decree; public sector unions act only in an informal advisory capacity. There are no export processing zones. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor The law prohibits forced labor, and such labor is not practiced. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The legal minimum age for employment is 18 years. Employers may legally hire minors 14 years of age and older with the consent of a parent or guardian, but those under 16 years may work a maximum of 4 hours per day; youth between 16 and 18 years may work up to 8 hours. Employment of children of all ages is common in the informal economic sector and in subsistence agriculture. Neither the Ministry of Labor, which is responsible for enforcement, nor the labor unions make an effort to enforce child labor laws. Larger enterprises do not commonly exploit child labor. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work Most citizens are engaged in subsistence agriculture or commerce outside the formal wage sector. The minimum wage, last adjusted by government decree in 1990, is irrelevant due to rapid inflation. Most workers rely on the extended family and informal economic activity to survive. The maximum legal workweek (excluding voluntary overtime) is 48 hours. One 24-hour rest period is required every 7 days. The Labor Code specifies health and safety standards, and, while the Ministry of Labor is officially charged with enforcing these standards, its efforts to do so remained insufficient. There are no provisions in the Labor Code permitting workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without penalty. (###)
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