Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Republic of the Congo

Political context

Parliamentary elections held in the summer of 2007 were boycotted by several opposition parties and marred by numerous irregularities during the poll. As a result, it was logical that the presidential party of Mr. Denis Sassou Nguesso, the Congolese Labour Party (Parti congolais du travail) again obtained a majority in Parliament. According to the conclusions of the election observation mission led by the Coordinating Electoral Support Group (Coordination d'appui au processus électoral), a platform bringing together members of Congolese civil society, the provisions of the Electoral Code were not respected. The independence of the National Election Organisation Commission (Commission nationale d'organisation des élections – CONEL), which was rather belatedly set up, was put into question and the President of CONEL himself recognised that there had been problems in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire.1

The country is still faced with serious problems of corruption. In June 2007, an Anti-Corruption Observatory (Observatoire de lutte contre la corruption) was created to monitor and assess the implementation of anti-corruption measures and reforms especially in the oil, mining and forestry sectors. This body was to include nine members from the Government, civil society and the private sector. However, defenders who report cases of corruption remain vulnerable to threats and reprisals by the authorities.

Campaign to discredit NGOs linked to the case of the "Beach" disappearances

In 2007, the legal and political repercussions of the case of the "Beach"2 disappearances and the work of the NGOs on behalf of victims' families – primarily the Congolese Human Rights Observatory (Observatoire congolais des droits de l'Homme – OCDH) – have again made the latter targets of the authorities, which have instituted campaigns to discredit them. Indeed, for several years, the authorities and the media under their control have likened the actions of OCDH and the Collective of the Families of Missing Persons (Collectif des familles de disparus) in the case of the Beach disappearances to antipatriotic actions of destabilisation. For example, at the time of the request for authorisation to commemorate the Beach victims in November 2007, the Minister of Communication described this initiative as "an attempt to resume civil war in the Congo". Furthermore, on January 10, 2007, following the French Court of Appeal's decision to reopen legal proceedings in France in the "Beach" missing persons case, President Sassou Nguesso, during an interview on national television, threatened the initiators of the procedure with reprisals. On January 16, 2007, the Citizens' Force Association (Association force citoyenne), created by the Ministry of Communication, also protested in front of the French Embassy. A newspaper close to the Government further described Mr. Marcel Touanga, Chairman of the Association of the Parents' of People Arrested at the Beach and Missing (Association des parents des personnes arrêtées au Beach et portées disparues), and parent of one of the Beach victims of enforced disappearance, who lives in exile in France, as "either a weeping father or a father greedy for money or power".

The Government also made use of a pro-Government organisation, the National Association for the Defence of Migrants and Women (Association nationale pour la défense des migrants et des femmes – ANEDEM-F), to denigrate OCDH activities during the 42nd Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) in Brazzaville in November 2007 and to cast doubt on the number of missing persons mentioned in the organisations' reports. In addition, the Ministry of Security and Public Order used the argument of the risk of disturbing public order to ban the commemoration of the missing people of Beach by NGOs and victims' families, which should have taken place on November 13, 2007 in marge of the ACHPR, though it had been authorised by the Prefect of Brazzaville.

Defenders threatened and accused of tarnishing the country's image

Defenders were attacked on several occasions by the authorities in 2007 because of their activities, the publication of reports and press releases referring to human rights violations in the country. As an example, following a press release on July 17, 2007 reporting discrimination against indigenous pygmy minorities, a State representative described OCDH members as "irresponsible people seeking the sensational". These accusations doubled in virulence when, according to the authorities, reports affected the country's image. Thus, at the beginning of the year, national police chief Colonel Ndengue gave instructions to forbid Mr. Christian Mounzeo and Mr. Brice Makosso, Coordinators of the "Publish What You Pay" Coalition (Coalition "publiez ce que vous payez"), which demands the transparent management of revenue from the extractive industries, from leaving the country. Similarly, on December 4, 2007, following the publication of articles on corruption in the forestry sector, the representative of the Forestry Economy Ministry attacked Congolese NGOs, accusing them of being "manipulated by international organisations to tarnish the country's image".

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See Report of the Congolese Human Rights Observatory (Observatoire congolais des droits de l'Homme – OCDH), Contentieux électoral : Silence complice et prolongement de la mascarade par la cour constitutionnelle, October 19, 2007.

2 In December 1998, because of the civil war, several hundreds of thousands of people fled the battles and the violence committed by armed groups in the Congolese capital. Most of these displaced persons went to the Pool, a tropical forest zone to the south of Brazzaville, whilst others crossed the river and took refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Between May 5 and 14, 1999 large scale disappearance of people returning to Brazzaville via the river port at Beach was organised by the Congolese authorities after the signing of a tripartite agreement between the DRC, the Republic of the Congo and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (HCR) defining a humanitarian corridor designed to guarantee their safety. However, on their arrival in Brazzaville, they were arrested for interrogation by public agents, separated from their relatives and executed. Over 50 people disappeared on May 5, 199 and over 200 on May 14, 1999. Investigations established that over 300 people disappeared in this case.


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