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RIC Query - Congo, Democratic Republic of [Kinshasa, former Zaire] (17 December 2002)

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Congo, Democratic Republic of [Kinshasa, former Zaire]



Response to Information Request Number:DRC03003.RIC
Date:December 17, 2002
Subject:Congo, Democratic Republic of [Kinshasa, former Zaire]: Information on the Special Presidential Division (DSP), Human Rights Violations Under Mobutu Regime Between 1970 and 1991, and the Role of DSP in Violations Against Luba People in the Shaba Region
From:INS Resource Information Center
Keywords:Congo, Democratic Republic of [Kinshasa, former Zaire] / Arbitrary detention / Disappearances / Discrimination based on ethnic origin / Ethnic cleansing / Ethnic minorities / Extrajudicial executions / Gross human rights violations / Paramilitary forces / Security forces




Please provide information on the Special Presidential Division (DSP, Division Speciale Presidentielle) in Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko and any human rights violations they may have been responsible for between 1970 and 1991, and any actions the DSP may have taken against the Luba ethnic group in the early 1990s.



The DSP was crucial to President Mobutu Sese Seko¿s maintenance of power in Zaire and this force was responsible for many serious human rights violations from its creation in the mid-1980s. The DSP does not appear to have played a major role in the repression against members of the Luba ethnic group in the early 1990s¿the major violations appear to have been carried out by a youth militia of the UFERI political party, the JUFERI (Jeunesses de l'Union des Fédéralistes et des Républicains Independents).


In his 1994 report on human rights in Zaire, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, Roberto Garretón, presented a sketch of the origin and role of the DSP as an important elite force and major defender of the Mobutu regime:

"The Special Presidential Division (DSP) was created in 1985 as the Special Presidential Brigade, and is headed by General Nzimbi Ngbale Kongo Wa Basa who is from the Equateur region and of Ngbandi origin. It is the most feared of all the forces. Although it consists of soldiers and has military discipline and structure, it is not part of the army. No figures on its exact size are available, although sources indicate that it consists of between 6,000 and 10,000 men and comprises foreign mercenaries. It is the force that is the best trained and equipped (an élite force), the best paid, obviously privileged and the only one that is paid on time. It is blamed for the worst abuses. Although its function is to ensure the security of the Head of State, it frequently participates in the suppression of peaceful demonstrations or disturbances, in many cases thousands of kilometres from where the President happens to be. It has been said to be responsible for abuses against refugees in the Goma zone. Very often it is confused with other military bodies" (UN 23 Dec. 1994).

A 1997 UN briefing on Zaire provides further information on the key role played by the DSP in defending the Mobutu regime:

"Although Mobutu came to power through an army coup, he maintained his power through the Israeli-trained Division Special Presidentielle (DSP) most of whom originate from his Nbandi tribe in Equateur. Relative to other military units DSP soldiers are well paid and better equipped, which has ensured their loyalty and superiority when called on to quell rebellions by other army units" (UN IRIN 27 Feb. 1997).

Further information on the DSP and its activities, particularly in relation to human rights violations, is provided in a 1995 article in the Journal of Humanitarian Assistance:

"The security services, the army and the Division Spéciale Présidentielle (DSP), act without any hierarchical control. The DSP does this as part of its job as the president's private militia, but in the absence of any control of it, it has been translated into the daily abuse of power against ordinary citizens. Countless violations of human rights, including summary executions, disappearances, torture, illegal imprisonment and politically-inspired persecution on a regional and ethnic basis by the security services continue to take place in Zaire. The army - which is hardly paid or controlled - is the most guilty of violating human rights, but so are the DSP, the well-paid elite troops under Mobutu's personal control" (Doom and Vlassenroot Nov. 1995).

The U.S. Department of State human rights report on Zaire for 1993 assigned responsibility for violations of human rights to the DSP:

"Mobutu has built up overlapping forces. The elite forces of the Civil Guard, headed by President Mobutu's brother-in-law, General Baramoto Kpama Kpata, and the Special Presidential Division (DSP), under his ethnic kinsman General Nzimbi Ngbale, remained generally loyal to the Chief of State. The DSP, in particular, was implicated in many human rights abuses during the year, yet the President took no action against its commander" (USDOS 31 Jan. 1994).

The Committee to Protect Journalists provided information in 1996 on the DSP¿s human right violations committed against journalists and media officials:

"Despite guarantees for freedom of expression in Zaire's constitution and the 1993 Transition Act, agents of President Mobutu Sese Seko's Special Presidential Division (DSP) and the Military Action and Intelligence Service (SARM) continue to intimidate, harass, detain, torture, and inflict grave human rights abuses on journalists and media officials. Harassment of the press has escalated, and the lack of protections for journalists combined with a weak, ineffectual judiciary provides journalists accused of press law violations with little legal recourse" (CPJ 1996).


There are many examples in media, human rights, and other reports, of grave human rights violations committed by the Special Presidential Division during Mobutu Sese Seko¿s dictatorship. These include:


"The DSP has continued to support the Mobutu regime internally, both protecting Mobutu and serving as his primary instrument of control. The DSP's violent attack on students in Lubumbashi in May 1990 is the most vivid manifestation of its support of Mobutu, but far from the only one. The DSP also was used to suppress both the September 1991 and the even more destructive February 1993 incidences of military looting--although in 1993 the DSP is widely reported to have engaged in considerable vandalism itself before quelling the unrest. Its suppression of the violence reportedly included summarily executing hundreds of military looters. In addition, the DSP is reputed to have ransacked the offices and blown up the presses of Elima, the leading opposition newspaper, in October 1991; to have put down a "coup attempt" after some military personnel took over the state-run television station in February 1992; to have interrupted numerous public demonstrations, shooting unarmed demonstrators randomly; and to have been deployed to Nord-Kivu in mid-1993 to stop ethnic violence widely believed to have been instigated by government and security officials in the first place. In all of its dealings with the populace, the DSP has been accused of using undue violence and torture. Its fearsomeness was demonstrated graphically in February 1993 when its members went on a punitive rampage after civilians killed one of its members" (LOC Dec. 1993).


"The elite Special Presidential Division¿ intervened during student protests at Lubumbashi University in May 1990, and some witnesses put the death toll among students at between 50 and 150" (CRS 18 Dec. 1996).


"[T]he house of the President of the Supreme Court, Balanda Mikwin Leliel, was attacked on three occasions by the DSP, causing the death of one of his neighbours. The judges of the Supreme Court also had to change residence. Since that date and up to the time when the present report was finalized, the Supreme Court building has been without electricity, and the judges have had to work in oppressive heat and only in daylight hours" (UN 23 Dec. 1994).

"In previous years, some judges were attacked by the police or suspended for failing to order the detention of journalists. This year, the Special Rapporteur knows only of the incident that occurred on 9 January 1994, when a DSP official expelled all the officers of the Kasavubu Bridge magistrates' court and took over the premises for himself. The judges had to transfer to Assossa and work in a bar" (UN Special Rapporteur 23 Dec. 1994).


"Zaire's defense minister and army chief of staff, Gen. Mahele Lieko Bokungo, was killed at Camp Tshatshi in the Zairean capital by members of the Special Presidential Division who accused him of being a traitor" (Andrew Maykuth Online 18 May 1997).

"Jean-Claude Bahai¿ was arrested in Kinshasa on 13 September 1992 by members of the Special Presidential Division after criticizing the Government's policies in a private conversation. He was taken to the Tshatshi camp, where he was allegedly stripped naked, showered with a high pressure hose, beaten with military belts, burned with hot metal and shaved with broken bottle glass. He was also said to have been whipped some three times each day. He was released three days later. Although he reported his ordeal to the authorities, no investigation or disciplinary action was reportedly carried out" (Univ. of Minnesota 1994).

"[Eight political, legal and human rights leaders associated with Prime Minister Tshisekedi] were reportedly arrested on 13 December 1992 at the Kinshasa airport while waiting for a French delegation whose members were active in the field of human rights. At the moment of the arrest they were allegedly beaten up by soldiers of the Special Presidential Division, then taken to the premises of the Civil Guard and from there transferred to the dungeons of the gendarmerie" (Univ. of Minnesota 1994).

"¿ after the Government of E. Tshisekedi took office, the Prime Minister, his Cabinet and his special advisers were subjected to constant surveillance, and at times harassment and bullying, from the military and especially members of the special presidential division (Division Spéciale Présidentielle - DSP), which generally remains loyal to President Mobutu. Detachments of DSP and paramilitary groups generally known as "owls" (Hiboux) circulating in unmarked vehicles have arbitrarily arrested opponents of the President, kidnapped them, extorted money, ransacked their homes, etc. It is submitted that anyone who openly supports the process of democratic reform in Zaire lives in constant insecurity, especially in Kinshasa" (Univ. of Minnesota 25 Mar. 1996).

"In some incidents, government soldiers collaborated with armed groups. For example, in July [1996] members of the Division Spéciale Présidentielle, Special Presidential Division, and Hunde armed groups attacked five Hutu villages in Bwito county, Rutshuru district. Several hundred civilians were reportedly killed" (AI 1997).


As pressure for democratization increased in Zaire in the early 1990s, Mobutu and regional politicians linked to his regime manipulated resentments against Luba residents of the Shaba region in order to weaken and undercut democratic opponents of Mobutu¿particularly Etienne Tshisekedi, a Luba from Kasai who was prime minister in 1992-93¿and to force Luba residents from the Shaba region. The JUFERI (Jeunesses de l'Union des Fédéralistes et des Républicains Independents), the youth wing of the UFERI party, played a major role in the attacks against Luba residents of Shaba and in the eviction of hundreds of thousands from the region. Little evidence has been found in media, human rights, and other reports, of significant, direct involvement of the DSP in human rights violations committed against the Luba people in Shaba.


The Shaba (Katanga) region of Zaire is rich in copper, cobalt and zinc and had a population of five million in 1992, of whom about 1.5 million came from Kasai. According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) study:

"The Belgian colonizers had regarded the Luba as hard-workers and high achievers, bringing thousands into Shaba to fill positions as skilled workers and clerks. In subsequent generations, many Luba rose to high positions in mining, industry, commerce, and education; but their success gave rise to jealousy among the native Lunda in Shaba as economic hardship mounted" (CRS 18 Dec. 1996).

As pressure for an opening up of the political system increased at the beginning of the 1990s:

"[A] popular opposition politician, Kyungu wa Kumwanza, allied himself with one of the most notorious politicians of the Second Republic, Nguz Karl-i-Bond. When Nguz broke ranks with the opposition to become prime minister in 1991, Kyungu became governor of Shaba. Taking a direct, populist approach, Kyungu went to the people with the message that Shabans must take back what is theirs--in other words, drive out the people of the neighboring region of Kasai, who, admittedly, occupied most of the prestigious positions in the major regional enterprises" (USIP Jan. 1997).

"Kyungu justified his alliance with Mobutu as one of pure convenience¿ The administration adopted an explicit policy of regional cleansing. Following the model used by Mobutu during the Second Republic, Kyungu's party--the UFERI--established a militant and partly militarized youth wing, the JUFERI. The JUFERI increasingly took up policing functions at state institutions. Although not paid for their services, members of the JUFERI expected to receive the jobs of departing Kasaians" (USIP Jan. 1997).

"The first outbreaks of violence occurred in late 1991, soon after Kyungu became governor. But immediately after Etienne Tshisekedi became prime minister in August 1992, the violence took on an entirely different scale and direction. Massive gangs of youth attacked Kasaians and forced them out of their homes. These gangs, whose attacks were systematic and well organized, appeared as if out of nowhere, accompanied by drugs and fetishes" (USIP Jan. 1997).

Other reports document the central role played by JUFERI in the attacks against Luba residents. A 1997 Human Rights Watch report stated:

"[Kyungu¿s] movement included organized youth bands, the Jeunesse of the UFERI or "JUFERI," who were mobilized to harass and, eventually expel Kasaiens from their homes. At the time, his policies jibed well with Kinshasa and President Mobutu, who was fighting off the opposition movement led by Etienne Tshisikedi, himself from Kasai. When Tshisikedi was named prime minister by the National Sovereign Conference in August 1992, what had been the harassment of Kasaiens became a mass expulsion. More than 200,000 Kasaiens were eventually terrorized into fleeing cities and villages across the region in a chilling parallel to the former Yugoslavia's "ethnic cleansing"." (HRW Apr. 1997)

Bill Berkeley in an article in the Atlantic Monthly also highlighted the role of the JUFERI mobs in attacks against the Luba:

"Then, employing a tactic long used by Mobutu, Kyungu established the JUFERI, a youth brigade in his party, as a vigilante force. Mostly unemployed, illiterate thugs from rural villages, the JUFERI provided a violent accompaniment to Kyungu's menacing radio broadcasts. Attacks on Kasaian homes in rural towns and villages began in late 1991. By April of last year the JUFERI, sometimes backed by mobs of other Katangese, were systematically expelling Kasaians from their homes. Witnesses said the JUFERI were sometimes supplied with gasoline to set houses afire and with beer and marijuana to stoke their aggression. Some Kasaians fought back. The proverbial cycle of violence was set in motion" (Berkeley Aug. 1993).


While it is clear from all the major reports found on the events in Shaba that the Mobutu regime was involved in helping to generate and manipulate events in the region, the reports of the role of state soldiers and police in the attacks against the Luba in Shaba point more to their lack of action to stop the attacks than to their having played a major role in the human rights violations. In Berkeley¿s account, for example:

"Soldiers and the police, who might be expected to intervene if Mobutu ordered them to do so, appear in accounts of the violence only intermittently, most often as criminals engaged in thefts and assaults that provoke reprisals, which merely reinforce the cycle of violence¿" (Berkeley, Aug. 1993).

"The UFERI mayor of Kolwozi, P. Anschaire Moji A Kapasu, told me that the authorities had done "everything possible" to stop the violence. I asked if anyone had been arrested and prosecuted. He looked at me with a blank expression, as if the idea had never occurred to him. "It's difficult in the mass of people to know who struck who," he said. "You would have to arrest the whole population. C'est difficile"." (Berkeley, Aug. 1993)

Similarly, the USIP report found: ¿In Likasi, where the worst violence occurred, soldiers made what appears to have been a sincere effort to suppress the gangs, but they lacked the means and the logistical support. Those troops that did have the capabilities to act effectively--the DSP and the Civil Guard--never arrived¿ (USIP Jan. 1997).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Amnesty International (AI). 1997. AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT 1997, ¿Zaire.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 12 December 2002).

Andrew Maykuth Online. 18 May 1997. ¿Rebels end Mobutu reign in Zaire: Capital is jubilant; Kabila leads government.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 15 December 2002).

Berkeley, Bill. August 1993. ATLANTIC MONTHLY, ¿Zaire: An African Horror Story.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 12 December 2002).

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). 1996. ¿Country Summary: Zaire.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 12 December 2002).

Congressional Research Service (CRS). 18 December 1996. ¿CRS Issue Brief, 96037: Zaire.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 12 December 2002).

Doom, Prof. Dr. Ruddy, and Koen Vlassenroot. November 1995. THE JOURNAL OF HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE, ¿Early Warning and Conflict Prevention: Minerva's Wisdom?¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 12 December 2002).

Human Rights Watch (HRW). April 1997. ZAIRE: TRANSITION, WAR AND HUMAN RIGHTS. [Internet] URL: (Accessed 12 December 2002).

Library of Congress (LOC). December 1993. ZAIRE: A COUNTRY STUDY, "Chapter 5, National Security: Armed Forces Mission and Organization¿Army". [Internet] URL: (Accessed 12 December 2002).

United Nations, Department of Humanitarian Affairs, Integrated Regional Information Network (UN IRIN). 27 February 1997. ¿Zaire: IRIN Briefing, Part II, 02/27/97.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 12 December 2002).

United Nations, Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights (UN). 23 December 1994. REPORT ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN ZAIRE, PREPARED BY THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR, MR. ROBERTO GARRETON, IN ACCORDANCE WITH COMMISSION RESOLUTION 1994/87. [Internet] URL: (Accessed 12 December 2002).

United States, Department of State (USDOS). 31 January 1994. COUNTRY REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 1993, "Zaire." [Internet] URL: gopher:// (Accessed 12 December 2002).

United States Institute for Peace (USIP). January 1997. ¿Zaire: Predicament and Prospects,¿ A Report to the Minority Rights Group (USA) by J. C. Willame et al. [Internet] URL: (Accessed 12 December 2002).


University of Minnesota, Human Rights Library. 25 March 1996. ¿Katombe L. Tshishimbi v. Zaire.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 15 December 2002).

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