Country report and updates: Congo, Democratic Republic of

Last revision: 09 Jul 1998
09 Jul 1998

In 1997 the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL), led by Kabila, overthrew the regime of Mobutu, which had lasted for more than 30 years. All former Zairian armed forces were disbanded and the troops of Kabila became the Congolese Armed Forces (FAC). [6]

1 Conscription

conscription exists

The present conscription situation is not certain. Art. 30 of the 1964 constitution states: "All Zairians who become 18 are liable for military service; this may be replaced by a civilian service on conditions set out by law."

However, under the Mobutu regime conscription was apparently not enforced. [2] [3]

The Kabila regime has planned the introduction of a national service for all, aiming at a national army of 600,000 troops, despite the fact that they clearly cannot be payed. [9]

According to Jeune Afrique, Kabila introduced national service, which was called the training programme of the 'builders of the nation' (Programme d'encadrement des bâtisseurs de la nation). [8]

It is unclear what the legal basis of the introduced national service is.

military service

By constitution, all 18-year-old (men and women) are liable for service. [3] [5]

In March 1998, a first centre for the national service started off with 300 agents giving military instruction, national ideology lessons and agricultural training to 2,000 youth. Thirty-three identical centres are foreseen, aimed to train nearly 50,000. According to a military commander, the national service is set up to give a chance to all uneducated, unemployed child soldiers recruited by the AFDL. Kabila announced in May 1997 that transformation from a heterogeneous coalition of rebel forces to a structured national army was the aim of the national service programme. [8]

This means that those initially called up will most likely be soldiers from the AFDL and the former Zairian armed forces, if only for financial reasons. The 'builders of the nation' will not receive any payment, but have to live off their own produce. The government will not be able to keep paying the AFDL soldiers their USD 100 pay per month, so a transfer to the national service programma will be a budgetary necessity. [8]

postponement and exemption

No information about this is available.


There is little information about recruiting methods. The FAC have been recruited from troops of the AFDL, which was made up of the Peoples' Revolution Party (PRP) of Kabila, the Zairian Revolutionary Liberation Movement (MRLZ), the National Resistance Council for Democracy (CNRD) and the Peoples' Democratic Alliance (ADP). All these forces have been recruiting thousands of child soldiers. There are no known reports of forced recruitment.

In March 1998 there was the case of a 13-year-old 'soldier' who was court-martialled and sentenced to death, after he had shot a Red Cross employee. [7]

It is not known how the recruitment for national service will take place.

2 Conscientious objection

According to the UN Commision on Human Rights report in 1985, conscientious objector status was recognised, although only certain conscript categories could be exempted. The report mentions that some youth were engaged in semi-obligatory development projects. [2]

As conscription has not been enforced under the Mobutu-regime, it is unlikely that the provision for conscientious objection has been used.

The legal basis of the provision for conscientious objection is not known, nor is it known whether the legal provision is still in force.

3 Draft evasion and desertion


Desertion is punishable under chapter I, section III of the Code of Military Justice. Penalties given are described as penal servitude (servitude pénale), which may be imprisonment as well as forced labour in a camp.

Desertion in the country is punishable by 2 months to 10 years' penal servitude in peacetime; up to life-long penal servitude or even the death penalty in wartime, during a state of emergency, or during a police operation to maintain public order (art. 410).

If two desert together, this is considered desertion with conspiracy and may be punished by 2 to 20 years' penal servitude in peacetime; up to life-long penal servitude or even the death penalty in wartime (art. 411).

Desertion abroad is punishable by 6 months to 10 years' penal servitude in peacetime; up to life-long penal servitude or even the death penalty in wartime (arts. 416-418).

In aggravating circumstances, such as desertion during active service, desertion with the taking of arms or desertion with conspiracy, the punishment may be from 3 to 10 years' penal servitude (art. 417).

Desertion and running over to another armed group is punishable by 10 to 20 years' penal servitude in peacetime, and execution in wartime (art. 419).

Desertion in front of the enemy will be punished by execution. This also applies to civilians who form part of a military unit (arts. 420-422).


No information available.

5 History

Before achieving independence in 1959 there was no conscription, but youth were press-ganged to enlist in the armed forces. Up to 1965, when Mobutu came to power, enlistment was voluntary. Volunteers had to sign up for 7 years. [1]

6 Annual statistics

The former Zairian Armed Forces were 60,000 strong, but there were many other armed forces, amongst others the 15,000 strong Civil Guard, the 10,000 strong Special Presidential Division, and the 30,000 strong Gendarmerie. [8] [4]

The Congo Liberation Army (AFDL) that overthrew the former Zairian armed forces comprised 20,000 to 40,000 troops - not even 0.1 percent of the population. [6]

The FAC - into which the AFDL was transformed - are 60,000 strong. [8]

According to UNICEF, the FAC comprise between 15,000 and 20,000 child soldiers. The government says there are 6,000 child soldiers. [7]

Every year 435,000 men reach the age of 18. [6]


[1] Prasad, D., T. Smythe 1968. Conscription: a world survey, compulsory military service and resistance to it. War Resisters' International, London. [2] Eide, A., C. Mubanga-Chipoya 1985 Conscientious objection to military service, report prepared in pursuance of resolutions 14 (XXXIV) and 1982/30 of the Sub-Commission of Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. United Nations, New York. [3] Brett, R. & M. McCallin 1996. Children, the invisible soldiers. Rädda Barnen, Stockholm, Sweden. [4] La Lettre no. 625-626 (Spécial Zaire), 7 February 1996. [5] UN Commission on Human Rights 1997. The question of conscientious objection to military service, report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to Commission resolution 1995/83. United Nations, Geneva. [6] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London, UK. [7] NRC Handelsblad (Dutch newspaper), 30 March 1998. [8] Spitzer, Sébastien 1998. 'Kabila assimile ses militaires', in: Jeune Afrique no. 1946, 28 April 1998. [9] Misser, François 1998. 'Het land loopt mank', in: KNACK (Belgian weekly), 27 May 1998.

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