Human trafficking in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (December 2010)
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically conditions of forced labor and forced prostitution. The majority of this trafficking is internal, and much of it is perpetrated by armed groups and government forces outside government control within the country's unstable eastern provinces. A significant number of unlicensed Congolese artisanal miners – men and boys – are exploited in situations of debt bondage by businessmen and supply dealers from whom they acquire cash advances, tools, food, and other provisions at inflated prices, and to whom they must sell the mined minerals at prices below the market value. The miners are forced to continue to work to repay constantly accumulating debts that are virtually impossible to repay. In North Kivu, South Kivu, and Katanga provinces, armed groups and Congolese national army (FARDC) troops reportedly use threats and coercion to force men and children to mine for minerals. A number of policemen in eastern DRC reportedly arrested people arbitrarily in order to extort money from them; those who could not pay were forced to work until they had "earned" their freedom. Congolese girls are forced into prostitution in tent- or hut-based brothels or informal camps – including in markets and mining areas – by loosely organized networks, gangs, and madams. Congolese women and children are exploited internally in conditions of involuntary domestic servitude and taken, in smaller numbers, to Angola, South Africa, Republic of the Congo, and European nations for commercial sexual exploitation. Some members of Batwa, or pygmy groups, are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude in agriculture, mining, and domestic work in eastern DRC.
Indigenous and foreign armed militia groups, notably, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Patriotes Résistants Congolais (PARECO), various local militia (Mai-Mai), the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), continued to abduct and forcibly recruit Congolese men, women, and children to serve as laborers, porters, domestics, combatants, and in sexual servitude. In 2009, the LRA continued operations in areas in and near the DRC's Orientale Province, violently abducting more than 1,700 Congolese citizens, including children; some of these abductees were later taken to southern Sudan or the Central African Republic. Likewise, abducted Sudanese and Central African citizens experienced conditions of forced labor and sexual servitude at the hands of the LRA after being forcibly taken to the DRC.
In 2009, the FARDC resumed recruitment, at times through force, of children for use as combatants, escorts, and porters, a practice which observers believed to have ended by 2008. From November 2008 to October 2009, 623 confirmed cases of unlawful child soldier recruitment were attributed to the FARDC, 75 percent of which were attributable to ex-CNDP (National Congress for the Defense of the People, a former Congolese rebel group) elements absorbed into the FARDC in 2009. In April 2009, for example, 100 children, ages 13 to 15, were recruited by the FARDC along the Bunyakiri-Hombo axis. An unspecified number of children recruited by the CNDP during past reporting periods remain within integrated FARDC units. In addition, FARDC elements pressed hundreds of civilians, including children, into forced labor to carry ammunition, supplies, and looted goods, to fetch water and firewood, to serve as guides, or to construct military facilities and temporary huts. Those who resisted were sometimes killed; others died under the weight of their heavy loads.
The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not show evidence of progress in prosecuting and punishing labor or sex trafficking offenders, including members of its own armed forces; providing protective services for the vast majority of trafficking victims; or raising public awareness of human trafficking. In addition, the government's anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts decreased during the reporting period. Elements of the national army perpetrated severe human trafficking abuses during the year, including forcibly recruiting hundreds of children and using local populations to perform forced labor; some army commanders blocked efforts to remove children from their units. Furthermore, a number of FARDC commanders accused of child soldiering and forced labor abuses in previous reporting periods remained in leadership positions within the army and were not investigated, disciplined in any way, or brought to trial. Therefore, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is placed on Tier 3. The government continued to lack sufficient financial, technical, and human resources to effectively address trafficking crimes and provide basic levels of security and social services in most parts of the country. The military lacked the capacity to demobilize armed groups or adequately prevent the trafficking violations committed by members of its own forces. The country's criminal and military justice systems, including the police, courts, and prisons were practically nonexistent; there were few functioning courts or secure prisons in the country. Some advances, however, were noted during the reporting period in demobilizing children from fighting factions, including from the national army, and in sensitizing military officials about the illegality of committing forced labor abuses.
U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons placed the country in "Tier 3" in 2017.
The government made little progress in investigating or prosecuting suspected trafficking offenders during the reporting period. The government's judicial writ did not cover many areas of the country where human trafficking occurs, and it remained hamstrung by a critical shortage of magistrates, clerks, and lawyers. Corrupt officials allegedly embezzled meager financial resources from government agencies responsible for combating human trafficking, further disabling the government from pursuing training, capacity building, or victim assistance. In February and March 2010, the government recruited 2,000 new magistrates, who will be appointed and receive training during the upcoming reporting period. Existing laws do not prohibit all forms of labor trafficking; however, the July 2006 sexual violence statute, Law 6/018, specifically prohibits sexual slavery, sex trafficking, child and forced prostitution, and pimping, prescribing penalties for these offenses of 10 to 20 years' imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for rape. The Child Protection Code (Law 09/001) which criminalizes and prescribes penalties of five to 20 years' imprisonment for child slavery and trafficking, child commercial sexual exploitation, and the enlistment of children into the armed forces – was published in May 2009. However, it remains unimplemented and without the necessary budget. During the reporting period, child protection police in Bukavu arrested a Congolese woman for allegedly tricking a 13-year-old Congolese girl into accompanying her to Burundi, where she intended to force the girl into prostitution; police transmitted her dossier to the Bukavu court for prosecution in February 2010. The status of the March 2009 case involving the arrest of a Bukavu nightclub owner for allegedly prostituting 10 girls and seven boys in his facility is unknown; the nightclub has reopened. In June 2009, a military tribunal in Kisangani convicted five Mai-Mai members of, among other things, crimes against humanity; these defendants were also initially charged with, but not convicted of, perpetrating acts of forced labor against local populations. Bedi Mubuli Engangela (a.k.a. Colonel 106), a former Mai-Mai commander suspected of insurrection and war crimes, including the conscription of children, appeared before a military tribunal in early 2010 and remains in detention at Malaka Prison in Kinshasa; the court awaits the conclusion of the investigation before setting a trial date.
Unlike in previous reporting periods, the government neither brought charges against nor prosecuted any individual suspected of conscripting or using child soldiers. In November 2009, the UN Group of Experts on the DRC published the names of 21 current FARDC commanders alleged to have committed human rights abuses; 13 are implicated in the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and three are alleged to have obtained or maintained the forced labor of local populations. Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Pierre Biyoyo, formerly of the Mudundu-40 armed group and the first person convicted by Congolese courts of conscripting children, has not been re-apprehended since his escape from prison in June 2006 and is currently serving as the Commander of FARDC's Sector 3 of the Amani Leo campaign in Walungu, South Kivu. "Captain Gaston", an armed group commander allegedly responsible for the mid-2006 murder of an NGO child protection advocate, remained at large in Kitshanga, North Kivu, during the reporting period; his January 2007 arrest warrant has not been executed and, after being promoted by the FARDC to the rank of Major, he is leading a FARDC battalion between Ngungu and Karuba.
The government assisted in the identification and demobilization of child soldiers during the reporting period, but offered minimal protection to other types of trafficking victims; NGOs provided nearly all of the shelter, legal, medical, and psychological services available to trafficking victims. The government lacked procedures for proactively identifying victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups or referring victims to protective services. Under the National Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Plan, all ex-combatants, including child soldiers, pass through a common process during which they disarm and receive information about military and civilian reintegration options. During this process, the National Demobilization Agency (UEPN-DDR), in cooperation with the UN Mission to the DRC (MONUC), separated and transported any identified children to NGO-run centers for temporary housing and vocational training; 2,816 children were demobilized from armed groups, including the FARDC, through this process in 2009. With the assistance of FARDC commanders, a local NGO demobilized 119 children from FARDC units in South Kivu during the first quarter of 2010; while some of these child soldiers were part of FARDC forces that were fighting in North Kivu in 2008, most of the children originated from former armed groups that had integrated into the FARDC. While the FARDC high command was generally supportive of MONUC's efforts to remove children from its forces during the reporting period, it lacked sufficient command and control to compel many FARDC commanders to comply with standing orders to release their child soldiers, or to prevent ground troops from recruiting additional children or subjecting local populations to forced labor. Certain FARDC commanders actively blocked efforts by MONUC to separate children from their ranks and some FARDC elements continued to harass, arrest, and physically mistreat children formerly associated with armed groups, including potential trafficking victims. In March 2010, a local NGO trained over 200 FARDC officers on the rights and protection of children in South Kivu; they also educated police, local authorities, and local youth throughout the province on child rights and international and national legislation related to trafficking between January and April 2010.
Although the national government did not address forced labor in the mining sector, provincial Ministries of Education in Orientale, Kasai Oriental, and Katanga coordinated with NGOs to reintegrate children working in mines into the formal education system. Katanga's provincial Ministry of Interior continued to provide funding for the Kasapa residential "welcome center" in Lubumbashi to provide street children, including trafficking victims, with protective services and educational programming; it is unknown whether this center provided protective services to trafficking victims in 2009. Government officials recognized the growing problem of child prostitution in the DRC, though authorities have yet to take concrete action against it. The government did not show evidence of encouraging victims to assist in investigations against their traffickers. It offered no legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution; there are, however, few foreign trafficking victims within the DRC, and the government has consistently allowed for the safe repatriation of foreign child soldiers in cooperation with MONUC.
While the government initiated awareness-raising efforts against human rights abuses, including forced labor, committed by its own forces during the year, it made no significant efforts to prevent other forms of human trafficking. The Ministry of Human Rights drafted, but did not disseminate, a document on the country's current trafficking situation, including challenges to addressing it and recommendations for action. In July 2009, the FARDC's Goma headquarters issued a press statement reminding all soldiers and commanders of their duty to protect the civilian population and noted "zero tolerance" for human rights abuses, specifically citing the crime of forced labor, among others. The notice warned commanders that they would be held accountable for actions committed by troops under their command; this notice was not enforced with concrete law enforcement action. In April 2010, Major Andoga, of the 1331th Battalion, conducted a sensitization campaign on human rights violations and the military's zero tolerance policy in both Kinshasa and the eastern provinces. Although the National Ministry of Labor is responsible for investigating forced child labor and it employs 150 inspectors nationwide, the ministry did not conduct any forced child labor investigations in 2009; inspectors often lacked means of transport or resources to carry out their work. The provincial Ministry of Labor in Katanga participated in a tripartite dialogue with unions and mining companies on the effect of the financial crisis on youth labor; the dialogue achieved no meaningful outcomes. Newly established provisional Worst Forms of Child Labor Committees in Katanga, Kasai Orientale, and Orientale (Ituri District) provinces – composed of staff from various provincial ministries and community members – developed annual work plans for 2010. With UNICEF funding, the members of the Katanga committee researched, drafted, and printed a brochure on its mandate that was distributed to local authorities, religious and traditional leaders, and community organizations as part of an awareness-raising campaign. The Kasai Orientale committee met with the governor and provincial assembly, after which the governor committed the provincial government to fighting child labor and establishing secondary schools. The government did not take any known measures during the reporting period to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts.
- "Democratic Republic of the Congo". Trafficking in Persons Report 2010. U.S. Department of State (June 14, 2010). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- "Trafficking in Persons Report 2017: Tier Placements". www.state.gov. Retrieved 2017-12-01.