Congo : a widespread practice of torture and arbitrary detentions

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Since January 2016, AEDH has been coordinating the implementation of the MANDAT project (Mobilise and Animate the efforts of civilians in the fight against Arbitrary Detention and Torture in the Republic of the Congo) in collaboration with the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights and with support from the European Union. Our partner has been recently awarded the Human Rights Prize of the French Republic. Meeting with its coordinator Tresor Chardon Nzila.

AEDH : What was the political situation in the Congo on the eve of the elections?

Tresor Chardon Nzila : It has been deteriorating since April 2014, when those in power expressed their intention to amend the Constitution. That initiative felt like a real will of the Head of State to stay in power. It all happened very fast, the coup was orchestrated at the expenses of a bloody repression and fundamental rights violations. The presidential term limit was removed. The outgoing President had been voted in as candidate by the party in power to be his own successor.

The President of the Republic decided to shorten his term and to call for early elections. The first round was set for the 20 March 2016. For me, the calendar is unrealistic, because the conditions for a credible and free election are not there. In a serious state, the National Commission would be in charge of organising the elections and setting the electoral calendar in full knowledge of the situation.

The Congolese people thought that after the referendum, the political situation would calm down. Quite the contrary, it deteriorated and it is becoming increasingly worrying.

AEDH : In that context, what are the repercussionson human rights ?

TCN : This deterioration of the political situation is not without consequences on individual and collective rights and freedoms. Now, the noose is tightening around the political opponents. The situation is marked by intimidations against journalists, kidnappings, arrests and arbitrary detentions of opponents, seizing of the public media by the power in place…The elections have always been a time of turmoil in the Congo. The risk of a totalitarian drift is real, human rights are in danger.

AEDH : What does OCDH do ?

TCN : The democratic deficit is blatant in our country. In that context, the OCDH ensures an independent and objective watch and alert for the national and international opinion on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The OCDH’s work pushes toward a specific focus of the international community on the Congo (European Union, African Union, Francophonie, UN…). As usual, the OCDH provides a broad support for victims of human rights violations.

AEDH : OCDH and AEDH collaborate in the MANDAT project. Where do torture and illegal detentions stand?

TCN : The Republic of the Congo has signed the United Nations Convention against Torture. This Convention entered into force on 29 August 2003. Since then, the incorporation into national law has not been carried out, which makes its application impossible. Nobody can be sanctioned for an offence which has not been defined with penalties that have not been provided for. Besides, the Republic of the Congo is also party to several international instruments protecting human rights. It has a legislation that prohibits arbitrary arrests and detentions.

In practice, arbitrary arrests and detentions are numerous in the Congo, and torture is systematically carried out by the police forces during arrests, interrogations and detentions. These acts of torture have caused the death of detainees many times. The presumed authors have total impunity. Justice, the guardian of civil rights and liberties, is under the influence of the ‘powerful’. Magistrates cannot apply the law and cannot order arrests or prosecutions.

AEDH: How is OCDH engaged in this project?

TCN : The OCDH wants to influence the amendment of the Penal Code and the penal procedure in order to incorporate the issue of torture. A contributing document has been prepared with the definition, the repression and the prevention of the crime of torture. The OCDH also wants to reduce arbitrary arrests and detentions through the development of training for police officers, magistrates and journalists. Each actor has a role to play. In summary, OCDH wants to contribute to the improvement of the practice to make public forces become more respectful of human rights. Finally, victims will receive assistance from OCDH.

 

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