Democratic Republic of Congo


Summary of human rights concerns

  • Armed conflict and violence continued in 2021 resulting in the loss of thousands of lives, large-scale displacement, and widespread sexual violence.
  • Although at least 10 cases of crimes under international law were prosecuted by military courts, impunity stayed widespread. Economic, social, and humanitarian crises persisted, exacerbated by Covid-19 and other outbreaks.
  • Arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions are prevalent across the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Prison conditions remained inhumane.
  • Rallies and protests organized by opposition parties or civil society deemed to be critical of the government were often banned or violently suppressed.
  • Human rights defenders and journalists continued to be targeted with attacks and threats. At least three journalists were killed.
  • Mining projects led to serious pollution with a considerable human rights impact.
  • Children’s education was interrupted by teachers’ strikes over poor pay and working conditions.

Overview of Government

The political system in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been incapacitated in recent years by the manipulation of the electoral process by political leaders. Citizens are unable to freely exercise basic civil liberties, and corruption is endemic. Physical security has been weakened by violence and human rights abuses committed by government forces, armed rebel groups, and militias in many areas of the country.

Conflicts arose over the elections planned for 2023, particularly about the organization, functioning, and leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission. In July 2021, President Félix Tshisekedi changed the membership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), allotting seats for citizen groups, the ruling coalition, and the opposition. Citizen groups denounced this move as an attempt to secure control of the body (ruling coalition members can outnumber civil society representatives) and, consequently, influence elections.

In May, Tshisekedi declared a “state of siege” in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which replaced civilian authorities with military personnel, to combat armed groups and return the violence-affected areas to central government control. The state of siege was extended through the year. Rather than a decrease in the levels of violence and displaced persons caused by the conflict with militia groups, they reached record highs during the state of siege.

Unlawful attacks and killings

Indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations, looting and destruction of homes and crops, and attacks on infrastructure continued particularly in the east and south. Some of these acts constituted war crimes.

In North Kivu and Ituri provinces, attacks and other violations and abuses against civilians by armed groups and government forces increased by 10% between May 2021 and November 2021 according to the UN. At least 1,137 civilians were unlawfully killed in the two provinces between May 6, 2021 (when the state of siege was declared) and November 15, 2021. In South Kivu province, the long-lasting conflict involving local and foreign armed groups claimed at least 70 civilian lives and forced thousands to flee their villages, according to the UN. The Congolese army committed human rights violations against civilians, including unlawful killings, rape, looting, and destruction of homes, on a par with the armed groups it was deployed to fight.

Sexual and gender-based violence

Conflict-related sexual violence remained widespread, especially in the provinces of North and South Kivu, Ituri, Tanganyika, and Kasaï-Central, despite some encouraging efforts by the authorities to hold perpetrators to account. According to the UN, between January and September, at least 1,100 women were raped in North Kivu and Ituri alone.

Lack of humanitarian assistance

Five million people remained internally displaced at the end of the year, 1.5 million of whom were forced to leave their homes to flee from violence in 2021 alone, according to the UN. Most of them lived in dire conditions without access to humanitarian assistance.

According to the UN, over 19.6 million people were in dire need of humanitarian assistance, half of whom were children. More than 26 million people faced high levels of acute food insecurity.


Most perpetrators of crimes under international law, including rape and other gender-based violence, enjoyed impunity. There was some progress, however, with at least 10 cases of serious crimes prosecuted. At least 80 army and police officers were prosecuted in North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Tanganyika, and Kasaï provinces for serious crimes including sexual violence.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

Arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions continued throughout DRC, particularly in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, where the state of siege gave excessive powers to the army and police and the military justice system. The security forces arrested and detained hundreds of civilians without due process, many for non-criminal acts such as debt or land disputes.

Freedom of assembly

Bans or other suppression of, peaceful demonstrations were common once again. The authorities frequently banned rallies and protests organized by opposition leaders and activists, trade unions, and civil society groups, while security forces violently suppressed those that went ahead.

Human rights defenders

Dozens of pro-democracy and anti-corruption activists, environmental activists, trade union leaders, and Indigenous peoples’ rights defenders were arbitrarily detained, harassed, and even sentenced by courts following unfair trials.

Freedom of expression

At least three journalists were killed during the state of siege period in North Kivu and Ituri, apparently in connection with their reporting, according to the journalists’ rights organization Journaliste En Danger. At least 11 journalists were arbitrarily detained while doing their jobs. At least 106 others faced detentions, threats, assault, and—a more than two-fold increase over reported abuses in 2020.

Several journalists were threatened or intimidated by government agents, political leaders, and members of armed groups. At least three media outlets were arbitrarily banned. Most human rights violations against media outlets and journalists were not prosecuted.

Inhumane detention conditions

According to local human rights groups, at least 220 people died in detention due to overcrowding, poor conditions and healthcare, and lack of food, among other factors which could amount to torture or other ill-treatment by the state. Some prisons and detention centers held up to 500% over their intended capacity, due to the failures within the criminal justice system, especially in North Kivu and Ituri where the military courts with limited access and staffing, were given criminal jurisdiction over civilians under the state of siege.

Environmental degradation

In August, there was extensive pollution to the Tshikapa and Kasaï rivers and their tributaries in southern DRC, which, according to the Congolese government, was caused by a spillage upstream from a diamond mining and processing company based in northern Angola. The DRC government said the disaster led to at least 40 deaths, hundreds of cases of severe diarrhea, and wiped-out aquatic life. A joint DRC/Angolan investigation into the causes and environmental consequences was announced by the DRC authorities, but no updates about its progress or possible reparations, or guarantees of measures to avoid similar catastrophes in the future have been provided by the government.

Right to health

The Covid-19 death toll peaked between July and August 2021, with the emergence of the Delta variant causing an exponential increase in deaths in several cities. Although a batch of 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses was received through the COVAX initiative in March 2021, 1.3 million were returned and redistributed to other African countries due to vaccine hesitancy and poor planning The DRC received an additional 2 million doses between May and October 2021. By the end of 2021, only 131,000 people representing 0.1% of the population were fully vaccinated.

The DRC’s 13th Ebola outbreak was declared in North Kivu in October 2021. Despite efforts by the government and the international community to prevent outbreaks, other epidemics, including malaria, cholera, measles, and bubonic fever claimed thousands of lives nationwide, especially among the young. Health workers continued to work without adequate or regular salaries, prompting demonstrations that were often violently dispersed by the police. Nurses and doctors countrywide went on strike for several months to demand better working conditions, pay, and recognition of their professional status.

Right to education

Implementation of President Tshisekedi’s flagship free primary education program was severely undermined at the start of the school year in October 2021 when teachers went on strike for better salaries and working conditions, including inadequately equipped school buildings and overcrowded classrooms or lack of classrooms. Teachers and thousands of students demonstrated in the streets to protest school conditions, late salary payments, and inequality of resources which favored urban over rural schools.

Democratic Republic of Congo Newroom

August 2, 2022 • Press Release

Amnesty International USA Statement on the US Secretary of State Trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda

In response to United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s announced trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, Kate Hixon, Africa Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA, said:

May 9, 2022 • Report

One year on, ‘State of Siege’ used as a tool to crush dissent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

A State of Siege, which is similar to a state of emergency, enforced in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) authorities since May 2021 has been used as a tool to crush dissent, with two human rights activists killed by security forces and dozens of activists arbitrarily detained on trumped-up charges, Amnesty International said today in a new briefing.

November 14, 2017 • Report

Time to Recharge

Major electronics and electric vehicle companies are still not doing enough to stop human rights abuses entering their cobalt supply chains, almost two years after an Amnesty International investigation exposed how batteries used in their products could be linked to child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the organization said today.

February 18, 2016 • Report

Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

January 15, 2016 • Report

This is What We Die For: Human Rights Abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Power the Global Trade in Cobalt

Major electronics brands, including Apple, Samsung and Sony, are failing to do basic checks to ensure that cobalt mined by child laborers has not been used in their products, said Amnesty International and Afrewatch in a report published today.

July 1, 2015 • Report

Operation Mbata ya Bakolo: mass expulsions of foreign nationals in the Republic of Congo

Police violence, persecution, arbitrary detentions and rape amid a security operation to deport tens of thousands of DR Congo nationals from Congo-Brazzaville last year were part of widespread attacks that could amount to crimes against humanity, Amnesty International said in a new report.

February 25, 2015 • Report

State of the World 2014/2015

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.

June 20, 2013 • Report

Profits and loss: Mining and human rights in Katanga, Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has some of the world's most important mineral reserves. For more than a decade the extraction of these resources has been linked to conflict, human rights abuses and corruption.

May 17, 2013 • Report

Annual Report: Democratic Republic of Congo 2013

Democratic Republic of the Congo Head of state Joseph Kabila Head of government Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon The already precarious security situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) …

June 11, 2012 • Report

“If You Resist, We’ll Shoot You”: The Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Case for an Effective Arms Trade Treaty

Arms supplies from the US and others are fueling killings and mass rapes in the DRC, underscoring the need for a global Arms Trade Treaty.