Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Republic of the Congo

Political context

Originally scheduled for January 20, 2008, local and municipal elections were finally held on June 29, 2008, officially to address the technical and organisational failures recorded during the general elections held in June and August 2007.1 According to local NGOs,2 the process took place in a peaceful climate throughout the country but was marked by high abstention and experienced major malfunctions.3 NGOs primarily deplored the fact that the Government did not involve various stakeholders – in particular, opposition parties and organisations defending human rights and promoting the rule of law – in the preparation of the ballot. On December 1, 2008, the Government initiated a revision of electoral rolls, which continued until January 20, 2009 in preparation for the presidential election in July 2009. However, it is feared that, as in the municipal elections, defenders questioning the free and transparent nature of the elections continue to be harassed by the authorities.

The country also continued to face serious problems of corruption, in particular within the administration of justice, police services, and taxes and customs. However, positive steps were made with the creation in September 2007 of the Observatory for the Fight Against Corruption, Extortion and Fraud (Observatoire de lutte contre la corruption, la concussion et la fraude), an independent body with the responsibility to monitor and evaluate audits undertaken by public institutions in all public sectors, the implementation of the Government's plan of action in the fight against corruption, and governance reforms initiated by the Government. The nine members of this body come from the judiciary, the National Assembly, the Senate, the State General Inspectorate, trade unions, the private economic sector, the Ecumenical Council of Churches, civil society and the Executive Committee to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).4

Threats and assimilation of human rights defenders with political opponents

As in 2007, the National Commissioner of the Police, General Ndengue, continued to discredit the work of defenders by treating them as political opponents, accusing them of being in the pocket of foreign powers and tarnishing the image the country. For instance, on January 11, 2008, Mr. Roger Bouka Owoko, Executive Director of the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights (Observatoire congolais des droits de l'Homme – OCDH), was summoned to the Directorate-General of Police. This summoning followed the publication by OCDH, on January 8, 2008, of a press release sent to members of the Government, public institutions, and African and Western diplomatic missions in the Republic of the Congo. In this document, OCDH requested the postponement of local and municipal elections to allow for the establishment of a commission to organise truly independent elections and the update of electoral rolls through a special administrative census. The Directorate-General of the Police stated that the request for the postponement of elections by OCDH was a political demand which, according to them, was not the responsibility of a human rights NGO. They also made it clear to Mr. Bouka Owoko that when they provide evidence of "collusion" between OCDH, the opposition and foreign powers to destabilize Congo, "they will [shoulder their] responsibilities". Similarly, on October 3, 2008, the newspaper La Semaine africaine published an article highly virulent against OCDH. In this article, the spokesman for the command of the national police accused the organisation of networking with the French and U. S. intelligence services (Central Intelligence Agency – CIA) and threatened to apprehend those responsible for endangering State security. Furthermore, he asserted that the organisation "[was] not acting to defend human rights, but rather to serve as an instrument for the arsonists who find pleasure in seeing our country set ablaze". This article was published after a press luncheon held on September 19, 2008 by OCDH on the defence of the teachers' union and echoed another article published in the same newspaper on June 17, 2008, in which OCDH was accused of being funded by the CIA and Mr. Bouka Owoko was accused of having received in 2006 the French Republic prize for human rights from French intelligence services.

Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 20085

Names of human rights defenders / NGOsViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of issuance
Congolese Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), including Mr. Roger Bouka OwokoThreats / HarassmentUrgent Appeal COG 001/0108/OBS 006January 15, 2008
ThreatsUrgent Appeal COG 001/0108/OBS 006.1October 14, 2008

1 The elections had been boycotted by several opposition parties and marred by numerous irregularities. The presidential party, the Congolese Labour Party (Parti congolais du travail), thereby obtained the majority in Parliament.

2 See in particular Meeting for Peace and Human Rights (Rencontre pour la paix et les droits de l'Homme – RPDH) Press Release, July 4, 2008.

3 Incomplete voter lists, failures in the allocation of electoral materials to various polling districts, insufficient number or absence of ballot papers of several candidates, some voters having several voting cards, errors of the identities of voters, multiple entries, etc.

4 EITI was launched in 2003 in Johannesburg (South Africa) during the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and aims at increasing the transparency of revenues paid to the Government and/or its dismemberment by oil, gas and mining companies by providing to third parties a summary of payments. Congo was accepted as a candidate to EITI at a Board meeting in Accra held on February 22, 2008. The country must now have its candidacy validated by EITI by March 9, 2010.

5 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-ROM attached to this report.


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