Decades of mismanagement, combined with the withdrawal of international cooperation and a protracted war, have seriously affected the health system in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the health status of the population. As part of a Belgian development cooperation programme, we conducted a study in Kinshasa and Bukavu in April-May 2004 on how a rights-based approach could contribute to an effective and appropriate response to the sexual and reproductive health needs of Congolese adolescents. Access to condom information and supplies was studied in this context. A qualitative methodology was used, consisting of focus group discussions with adolescents and interviews with peer education programme officers. These programmes were supposed to be based on the recognition of adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights and the so-called ABC approach (abstinence, be faithful, condom use). We found, however, that sociocultural barriers and strict obedience to Vatican doctrine prevented adolescents from receiving accurate and comprehensive sexuality education and that condom supplies were blocked by peer education programme officers. The promotion of adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights is the responsibility of States, but the international community, non-governmental and faith-based organisations and donors play an essential role in assisting States in this respect and should never act in violation of adolescents' rights.