Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents



Fundamental civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and press, peaceful assembly and association, and political rights, although nominally guaranteed to Zairians by the constitution, have been seriously infringed upon by the Mobutu regime. This deprivation has been compounded by the fact that the Zairian people have received very little information over the years concerning their civil and legal rights.

Several independent human rights organizations are active in Zaire, including the Voice of the Voiceless, the Zairian League for Human Rights, and the Zairian Association for the Defense of Human Rights. They are reported to operate freely, and generally have not been harassed by the government despite their critical reports documenting human rights abuses by the regime. Nevertheless, the Mobutu government has refused to permit governmental or private international human rights organizations to investigate cases of human rights abuses in Zaire. Complaints against the government have included political repression and imprisonment of the political opposition; curtailment of religious freedoms; intimidation, theft, killings, and other excesses by security forces; and inhumane treatment of prisoners. A 1991 report on human rights in Zaire by Amnesty International indicated that political imprisonment, security force violence, and other abuses were prevalent. The United States Department of State's 1991 publication on human rights practices reported that "Human rights in Zaire remained seriously restricted . . . . Zairians remained subject to arbitrary detention and physical mistreatment." According to that report, key sources of the problem include the authoritarian nature of the regime, the size of the security apparatus and its freedom of action, and pervasive and widespread corruption. The instruments of law and order are also the chief abusers of human rights, greatly diminishing their legitimacy. Another important factor is that although the armed forces receive their general authority from the central government, they are often not within its firm control, especially at the local level. Efforts by Mobutu to improve the human rights situation are typically in response to Western threats to diminish foreign economic or military aid and have generally been ineffective. This situation prevails despite the fact that Zaire is a signatory of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter of Human and People's Rights.

There had been some hope in the early 1990s that the human rights situation in Zaire would improve, following Mobutu's announcement in 1990 of political reforms, ostensibly intended to lead to a new constitution and multiparty elections. But in 1993 the political situation remained chaotic, with a beleaguered Mobutu clinging to power and continuing to repress dissent and block genuine progress toward political reform.

In March 1993, the United Nations Commission for Human Rights condemned Zaire's violations of human rights and basic freedoms. The commission's report cited in particular the widespread use of torture, inhuman conditions of detention, "disappearances," summary executions, and failure to ensure fair trials. It also deplored the regime's systematic and forceful repression of peaceful demonstrations and accused the regime of deliberately inciting ethnic violence in Shaba.

In September 1993, Amnesty International rated the human rights situation in Zaire as worse than it has been since the chaos following independence in 1960. In support of this assessment, it cited widespread deliberate violations of human rights by regional authorities loyal to Mobutu, ethnic murders in Nord-Kivu and Shaba instigated by government security personnel, the arrest and detention of the editor of an opposition newspaper, and the obstruction of transitional government meetings. Given the extent of random banditry throughout the country, Zaire in the early 1990s was a country in which lawlessness prevailed and human rights were systematically trampled.

*          *          *

Although no single book deals exclusively with Zaire's national security, several works serve as excellent sources of information on various aspects of national security. These include: The Rise and Decline of the Zairian State by Crawford Young and Thomas Turner; The Dialectics of Oppression in Zaire by Michael G. Schatzberg; and Thomas M. Callaghy's The State-Society Struggle: Zaire in Comparative Perspective. Several other studies recount aspects of Zaire's past national security environment, especially the immediate postindependence period. These include: The Congo Cables: The Cold War in Africa--From Eisenhower to Kennedy by Madeleine G. Kalb and Crawford Young's Conflict in the Congo. Also, annual editions of Africa Contemporary Record: Annual Survey and Documents provide useful information on recent developments within the armed forces as well as a detailed listing of military equipment. The Military Balance, published annually by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, also provides a detailed listing of military equipment, service strength, and military budgets. The magazine African Defence Journal provides a wealth of information about current developments in the Zairian armed forces. Current information on the internal security and police forces can be gleaned from George Thomas Kurian's World Encyclopedia of Police Forces and Penal Systems, as well as periodic and annual reports on human rights and judicial systems issued by Amnesty International, Africa Watch, and the United States Department of State. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1993

Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents