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Title:  Congo Human Rights Practices, 1995 
Author:  U.S. Department of State  
Date:  March 1996  




                                CONGO


The Republic of Congo continues to progress in its transition to 
democratic government.  Pascal Lissouba became the first President in 
1992; elections for the multiparty legislature followed in 1993.  The 
Government continued to build upon the stable foundation provided by the 
Libreville Peace Accords, which ended a period of violent civil unrest 
in 1993 and early 1994.  The Government also continued to devolve power 
to regions and municipalities.  The judiciary is independent.

The national police and gendarmerie maintain internal security.  The 
army and the border guard are responsible for external security but also 
have domestic security responsibilities.  While the civilian authorities 
generally maintain effective control of the security forces, some 
members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

Congo is a very poor country.  The economy depends heavily upon 
petroleum revenues and external capital, and the country has one of the 
highest per capita levels of debt in the world.  Annual per capita gross 
national product is $650; economic conditions began to stabilize in 
1995.  In the face of these difficulties, the Government made some 
progress in the implementation of structural adjustment measures and 
free market policies.

The Government's human rights record improved, although serious problems 
remain in certain areas.  Members of the security forces were implicated 
in instances of extrajudicial killing.  Security force members continued 
to use torture and rape and to abuse detainees.  Prison conditions 
remain deplorable, and there were isolated instances of criminality by 
members of the security forces and private militias.  Societal 
discrimination and violence against women are problems.  Exploitation of 
Pygmies in remote areas by Bantu farmers persisted.  Although the law 
contains strong worker rights provisions, on two separate occasions the 
Government challenged union efforts to protest economic conditions.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from:

   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killings

In June members of the security forces tortured to death a prisoner in a 
Pointe-Noire police station holding cell.  The chief of police was 
arrested upon allegations that he had ordered his agents to torture a 
detainee to extract a confession.  At year's end, the police officer 
remained under arrest and had not been brought to trial.

Members of the security forces and private militias continued to be 
implicated in increasing crime against civilians.  At least several 
deaths were related to this criminality.

The Government continued its efforts to curb abuses by the security 
forces.  It made progress in its plan to recreate the gendarmerie, which 
was dissolved 20 years ago; over 400 gendarmes completed training.  The 
integration of private militias into the formal security structure 
continued to be an important part of this process.

   b.   Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment

The Constitution prohibits the use of torture and "cruel, inhuman, or 
degrading" treatment.  However, there continued to be credible reports 
of torture and rape by members of the security forces.  Army, police, 
and customs officials continued to abuse detainees physically, both to 
extract information and as punishment.  The Government attempted to 
identify and punish the perpetrators of such abuses, including the head 
of a police station who was imprisoned following the torture death in 
June of a prisoner in a Pointe-Noire holding cell (see Section 1.a.).

Efforts to identify and prosecute those responsible for abuses in prior 
years continued with some success.  A Brazzaville court imposed death 
sentences upon five security force members convicted of murder, rape, 
and robbery.

Prison conditions are dire and life threatening.  The death rate and the 
incidence of disease and malnutrition are considerably higher than among 
the general population.  Buildings are dilapidated, security is lax, and 
food and medical care are inadequate.  Most prisons, built during French 
colonial rule, were not designed for long-term incarceration.  Dozens of 
prisoners are often kept in overcrowded cells for long periods of time, 
sleeping on the floor and subsisting on one meal per day.  Although men, 
women, and children are imprisoned in separate areas, rape and sexual 
abuse of women and children by guards and fellow prisoners is 
commonplace.  The Government endeavored to improve conditions in 
Brazzaville prison, but progress stalled with the death of a Catholic 
missionary who had been central to the effort.

   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile.  While 
the Code of Penal Procedure requires that a detainee be apprehended 
openly and have a lawyer present during initial questioning, police 
often ignored these requirements.  According to the Code, the 
prosecutor's office must issue warrants, and the authorities must bring 
detainees before a judge within 3 days and charge or release them within 
4 months.  The authorities often fail to enforce these requirements as 
well.

Lawyers have free access to their imprisoned clients.  Over half of all 
persons in custody are pretrial detainees--70 percent at the central 
prison in Brazzaville.  The Ministry of Justice estimates that the 
average detention is less than 6 months.  The Penal Code provides 
defendants with the right of representation by lawyers of their choice.  
However, while the State must pay legal fees for the indigent, the 
authorities do not enforce these provisions in practice.

Political exile is not used.

   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and this is 
observed in practice.  The institutions are gradually being legally 
constituted and commencing operations.  The judicial system consists 
primarily of local courts, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court.  In 
rural areas, traditional courts continue to handle many local disputes, 
especially property and probate cases.  Many domestic disputes are 
adjudicated under traditional law and within the extended family.

Some cases never reach the court system, however.  For example, it is 
common practice for citizens to beat thieves caught in the act, 
sometimes to death.  In general, defendants are tried in a public court 
of law presided over by a state-appointed magistrate.  The defense has 
access to, and the right to counter, prosecution evidence and testimony.  
Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to appeal.  The 
judiciary is overburdened with a caseload that far exceeds its capacity 
to ensure fair, public trials.  However, there are credible reports of 
prisoners languishing in jail--sometimes for years--because of lost 
files, oversights, and bureaucratic inertia.  

Supreme Court justices are appointed for life; lower court justices may 
serve until age 65.  There were no known cases of termination or 
transfer of a judge for political reasons.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the privacy of homes as well as 
correspondence and telecommunications.  Official searches of private 
properties and communications require a warrant, but in practice 
warrants are not uniformly served.  There is a widespread belief that 
the Government continues to monitor telephones.

Section 2   Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press

The 1992 Constitution provides for freedom of expression and calls for 
the establishment of a special council to oversee private and electronic 
media and to safeguard speech and press freedoms.  The lower house of 
the National Assembly approved a press bill in September which defines 
the rights and responsibilities of journalists and which outlines the 
procedures to be followed to establish private radio and television 
broadcasting stations.  By year's end, the upper house had not acted on 
the bill.  If the bill is adopted, a special council will be 
established.

The Government, however, retains monopoly power over radio and 
television pending the establishment of private broadcast media.  While 
there were instances in which journalists from the moderately 
influential independent press were convicted of libel, the Government 
tolerated extreme criticism by private newspaper.

There were no known abridgements of academic freedom.

   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association.  In 
practice, any group wishing to hold a public assembly must inform the 
Minister of Interior, who reserves the right to forbid assemblies which 
in the Government's view threaten public order.  The Minister of the 
Interior, claiming a threat to public order, denied a request by one 
labor union to protest nonpayment of salaries and imposed a ban on 
demonstrations surrounding the National Day celebrations.  There are no 
restrictions on trade associations or professional bodies, and 
affiliation with international bodies is permitted.

   c.   Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 
respects this right in practice.

   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for the right of all citizens to circulate 
freely within Congo, and it specifically prohibits roadblocks and 
barriers.  Nonetheless, military forces, political militias, and 
opportunists sometimes hindered free movement with barricades--generally 
demanding money.

The National Conference Charter of Rights gives all citizens the right 
to travel abroad and return.  At year's end, Congo hosted some 13,500 
refugees, the majority of whom were Angolans from the Cabinda enclave.  
Refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for 
Refugees, the United Nations Development Program, and the Government and 
are allowed to work and to establish residency.  They may apply for 
citizenship after 10 years of continuous residence.  There were no known 
cases of forced repatriation or deportation of refugees.

Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government

The Constitution provides for popular election of the President and 
National Assembly.

The President was elected in 1992 and the National Assembly in 1993.  
The opposition disputed the legislative elections, claiming that the 
results were fraudulent.  Following the signing of the Libreville Peace 
Accords in January 1994, an international panel of jurists rejected all 
but 9 of 58 accusations of election fraud.  Runoff elections in 1995 
resolved seven of the nine disputed districts.  Two contests remain 
undecided.  In one case the candidate withdrew from the vote-counting, 
and in the other no agreement was reached on the electoral list.

The Constitution divides power between the presidency and a government 
headed by a Prime Minister and formed with the approval of the National 
Assembly.  The Constitution provides for 5-year terms of office for the 
President and National Assembly Deputies, all elected by universal 
suffrage, and 6-year terms for senators, who are chosen by local 
councils.  International monitors observed the last several rounds of 
legislative elections and have found them to be free and fair.

The President sought to create a representative government by appointing 
members of each geographical region in the Cabinet.  Women occupy 4 of 
the 28 cabinet posts.  There are no legal restrictions on representation 
by women or minority populations, although indigenous Pygmies living in 
remote regions are largely excluded from the political process (see 
Section 5).

Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Several local human rights organizations remained active and operated 
without restriction.  These included the National Committee on Human 
Rights, the Congolese Human Rights League, and the Committee of the 
Congolese Association of Women Lawyers.  All freely criticized 
government human rights violations as well as abusive and discriminatory 
aspects of some traditional local customs.

The Government permits international nongovernmental human rights 
organizations to operate freely.  Several visited in 1995.

Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status

The Constitution specifically forbids such discrimination, but it 
persists in fact, particularly against women and Pygmies.

   Women

Violence against women occurs frequently and is reportedly on the rise 
due to worsening economic conditions.  Rapes occur with increased 
frequency, according to press reports and women's groups.  Wife beatings 
are handled within the extended family.  Only in extreme instances of 
abuse do the police intervene or do the courts prosecute these cases.  
The general population and the media largely ignore the issue of 
violence against women.

The Constitution guarantees the equality of all citizens, specifically 
prohibits discrimination based on sex, and specifically endorses the 
right of women to earn equal pay for equal work.  In practice, 
discrimination against women is widespread.

Marriage and family laws overtly discriminate against women.  For 
example, adultery is illegal for women but not for men.  Polygyny is 
legal; polyandry is not.  While the Legal Code provides that 30 percent 
of an inheritance goes to the wife, in practice the wife generally loses 
all rights to the property.

Women in rural areas are especially disadvantaged in terms of education 
and wage employment and are confined largely to family farm work, petty 
commerce, and childrearing responsibilities.

While inequities persist in salaries, employment opportunities, and 
access to education, educated women are making some limited progress in 
professional employment.  The government Ministry for the Integration of 
Women into Development is working with a number of nongovernmental 
organizations to educate women as to their rights and to reform the 
legal code.

   Children

The Constitution states that the Government must protect children in 
accordance with international conventions.  Child labor is illegal, and 
education is mandatory until age 16.  In practice, limited state 
resources prevent public action toward achievement of these objectives, 
particularly in rural areas.

   People with Disabilities

The Constitution provides for "specific measures of protection in 
relation to their needs."  In practice this means very little, although 
the Government has provided special education to some disabled students 
and hand-powered tricycles to some polio victims.  The ministry charged 
with the welfare of the disabled has severe financial constraints.  The 
country has not implemented laws mandating access for people with 
disabilities.

   Indigenous People

The Constitution provides the same rights for Pygmies, an ethnic 
minority numbering approximately 7,000 and living primarily in the 
northern forest regions, as it does for other citizens.  In practice--in 
a society where Bantu Congolese predominate in every respect--they do 
not enjoy equal treatment.  Pygmy workers are generally underpaid for 
their work relative to others, with compensation often being in the form 
of clothing, food, or other goods instead of wages.  This practice has 
its roots in the ancestral tradition of Pygmy slavery maintained by 
Bantus.  Pygmies are no longer denied access to public education, 
health, or other basic services, nor denied the right to own property.  
Pygmies have been traditionally excluded from the political process, and 
they have little ability to influence government decisions affecting 
their interests.

Section 6    Worker Rights

   a.   The Right of Association

Both the Constitution and the Labor Code affirm the right to associate 
freely, allowing no restriction on the formation of trade unions.  
Nearly all workers in the formal (wage) sector are union members, and 
unions have made efforts to organize informal sectors such as 
agricultural and retail.  The Constitution prohibits members of the 
security forces from forming unions or striking.

Unions are free to strike but must file a letter of intent with the 
Ministry of Labor beforehand, thereby starting a process of arbitration.  
In theory, a strike may not take place until both parties have submitted 
to a process of nonbinding arbitration under the auspices of a regional 
labor inspector from the Labor Ministry.  The letter of intent must 
include the strike date, at which time the strike may legally begin even 
if arbitration is not complete.  Employers have the right to fire 
workers if they give no advance notification of a strike.  In practice, 
the Ministry seldom enforces this aspect of the Labor Code, and workers 
have initiated many strikes without prior attempts to resolve disputes 
through arbitration.

In January and February, civil servants protested wage cuts and delays 
in salary payments in strikes conducted in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire.  
The Government temporarily detained the leaders of the opposition Union 
Confederation of Congolese Workers (CSTC) for inciting violence.  In 
July the Government evicted the CSTC from a government-owned office and 
confiscated the union's papers.  After an unsuccessful attempt to 
prevent one CSTC demonstration in August, the Government forcibly 
prevented a second demonstration (see Section 2.b.).

In March the president of the taxi and cabdriver union in Brazzaville 
was detained briefly upon allegations that a strike was illegal.  The 
strike was called to protest the conduct of traffic police and to demand 
road repairs.

Unions are free to join or form new federations or confederations.  
There are six independent union confederations, all formally recognized 
by the State.  They are dependent on the voluntary contributions of 
their membership.  

Unions are free to affiliate with international trade unions.  Some 
trade unions have signed cooperative accords with other African, 
European, and American trade union organizations.

   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Under the Constitution, employers are prohibited from discriminating 
against employees who exercise their constitutional right to organize 
and join a union.  There were no reported firings for union activities.

With union attention absorbed by economic problems, and the Government 
in the midst of structural adjustment efforts, the National Assembly did 
not complete deliberations on a revision of the Labor Code.  Under the 
current Labor Code many benefits are legally mandated, and industry-
specific wage scales ("conventions") are to be determined by negotiated 
agreement between union representatives, employers, and the Ministry of 
Labor.  In many sectors, the Code is not strictly followed, and unions 
may negotiate freely, either independently or in cooperation with other 
unions, federations, or confederations.

There are no export processing zones.

   c.   Prohibition on Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there was no evidence 
of its practice in the formal economy.  There were, however, allegations 
that Pygmies experienced exploitation (see Section 5).

   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Constitution prohibits children under the age of 16 from working.  
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws but 
concentrates its efforts only on the formal wage sector.  Young children 
continued to work on small family subsistence farms in rural areas and 
in the informal sector in cities without government intervention.

   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government sets a minimum wage about $47 (cfa 23,500) per month, a 
level which the Government claims allows for "human dignity."  However, 
high urban prices and dependent extended families oblige many workers to 
seek opportunities beyond their main employment or to practice 
subsistence agriculture.  This was particularly true for government 
workers, who were forced to cope with salary backlogs of several months 
and a 27.5 percent cut in salary.  In those trades still subject to 
conventions (see Section 6.b.), the negotiated minimum wages were 
without exception considerably higher than the legal minimum.

The Constitution provides for not only reasonable pay, but also paid 
holidays, periodic paid vacation, and legal limits on allowable hours of 
work.  The Labor Code stipulates that overtime must be paid for all work 
in excess of 40 hours per week and that regular days of leisure must be 
granted by employers.  Although health and safety regulations require 
twice yearly visits by enforcement officers from the Ministry of Labor, 
in practice such inspections occur on a much less regular basis.  There 
is no specific regulation granting workers the right to remove 
themselves from hazardous situations without jeopardy to continued 
employment, but unions were generally vigilant in calling attention to 
such situations. 

(###)

[end of document]

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