U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Congo
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Congo, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa35c.html [accessed 21 December 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
REPUBLIC OF CONGOThe Republic of Congo's transition to democratic government ended in October, when the country's first democratically elected president, Pascal Lissouba was ousted by the former (1979-91) military strongman and president Denis Sassou-Nguesso. Lissouba was elected in 1992 after 28 years of one-party rule, and elections for a multiparty legislature were held in 1993. However, on June 5 violent clashes broke out when government troops surrounded Sassou-Nguesso's Brazzaville home, in what appeared to be an attempt to eliminate his political faction. The Government claimed that the action was a police operation aimed at arresting criminal suspects. The violence evolved into a civil war in the capital. There were also clashes in the north, including the cities of Impfondo, Ouesso, Owando, and, briefly at the end of the war, in Pointe Noire. The fighting resulted in the postponement of the presidential elections scheduled for July and August. The newly established Constitutional Council decreed that President Lissouba should remain in office beyond the expiration of his term and until elections could be held, but Sassou-Nguesso rejected the extension of Lissouba's term. In October Sassou-Nguesso forces defeated government and militia troops loyal to President Lissouba, and established a new Government. Shortly thereafter, the Sassou Government suspended the constitution. Several hundred Angolan troops intervened to assist Sassou-Nguesso forces in Brazzaville; more Angolan troops entered the country from the south and occupied the port city of Pointe Noire. Angolan troops also participated in operations in the south, between Pointe Noire and Brazzaville. Sassou-Nguesso announced the formation of a Government with 33 members, with Sassou as President and Defense Minister. There is no Prime Minister. The judiciary is overburdened, underfinanced, and at times subject to corruption and government interference. The distinction between the functions of the police and the military forces is not clearly drawn. The national police and gendarmerie have primary responsibility for internal security. The army and border guard are responsible for external security and some domestic security matters. In addition each of the major political leaders had a private militia. During the fighting in Brazzaville, there was no civilian control of these militias. Under other circumstances, civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. However, some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses even before the outbreak of civil war. During and after the fighting, the regular military forces, and especially the militias, were responsible for many human rights abuses. In the first half of the year, the Government continued to make modest progress in economic liberalization and privatization. The economy is heavily dependent on revenues from petroleum exports and on external assistance. Per capita Gross Domestic Product was estimated at $600 per year for 1996. Economic activity in the capital, however, was severely disrupted by the fighting. The civil war did not significantly affect the oil industry, which operates offshore. Prior to the outbreak of the civil war, the Government's human rights record was uneven, with improvements in some areas but deterioration in others. Security forces committed killings and continued to use severe beatings and abuse to extract confessions and as punishment. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. During the fighting, government forces killed individuals because of their ethnicity and also beat and detained individuals for that reason. Government troops also persecuted foreigners. Prison conditions remain life threatening. Lengthy pretrial detention is a problem. The judiciary is overburdened, lacks resources, suffers from corruption, and is subject to political influence. Societal discrimination and violence against women are serious problems. Minority Pygmies face severe discrimination and exploitation. Citizens sometimes resort to vigilante justice, killing those presumed to be thieves and "sorcerers." Once the civil war began, government soldiers and the militias that supported them, as well as the opposition militias against which they fought, engaged in widespread extortion and harassment of civilians. Opposition militias killed, beat, and detained persons because of their ethnicity. Both sides, particularly the Government, targeted densely populated areas with heavy shells and rockets. Soldiers and militias engaged in heavy looting throughout the capital, causing great property damage. As a result of the violence, thousands of persons, most of them civilians, were killed in Brazzaville, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.