Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions
The Republic of the Congo is nominally a three-branch parliamentary democracy with a bicameral legislature, but in practice most of the decision making authority is vested in the executive branch. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso has been in power intermittently for almost 30 years. The next presidential elections are scheduled for July 2009. Parliamentary elections in June and August 2007 were marred by irregularities and widely viewed as poorly run and highly disorganized. The government's human rights record remained poor, although there were fewer documented abuses in 2008. Citizens' right to peacefully change their government was limited. In addition, the following serious problems were reported: killing of suspects by security forces; mob violence; security force beatings and other abuse of detainees, rapes, looting, solicitation of bribes, and theft; harassment and extortion of civilians by unidentified armed elements; poor prison conditions; official impunity; arbitrary arrest; lengthy pretrial detention; an ineffective and largely nonfunctioning judiciary; infringement of personal privacy rights; limits on freedoms of press and movement; official corruption and lack of transparency; discrimination and violence against women; trafficking in persons; ethnic discrimination, particularly against Pygmies; and child labor.
Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
The United States remains committed to promoting democratic principles, practices, values, and human rights in the country. One key U.S. priority is to promote better comprehension of democratic principles and the need for civic participation. Encouraging the government to conduct free and fair elections and to improve governance, especially in the area of transparency in accounting for oil revenues and other public funds, are also priorities. Another important area of focus is children's rights.
Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
Public diplomacy remains a key component of the United States' efforts to promote democratic principles and civic participation in the country. An American cultural center hosted approximately 2,000 Congolese visitors each month and provided English classes, reading materials, and computer access. Before it was closed, an American cultural center in Pointe Noire was similarly successful. The number of applicants for programs to visit the United States, as well as other educational programs, increased during 2008. Participation in these programs exposes persons to American culture and understanding of American democratic values. The United States also hosted workshops on gender equality, press freedom, and democratic processes. For example, 60 Congolese women participated in a seminar during International Women's Month, and an additional 60 in a special workshop on stopping violence against women.
In communications with the government, and in cooperation with the international community, the United States continues to stress the need for the government to conduct free and fair elections and to improve governance, particularly in the area of transparency in accounting for oil revenues and other public funds. The United States also supported local NGOs in presenting informational workshops on good governance; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance; human rights and the rights of individuals detained or arrested; and the rights of women and persons with disabilities. Greater military discipline, professionalism, and respect for human rights are also core objectives of U.S. interactions in civil-military dialogue and military training exchanges.
The United States works diligently with the United Nations International Children's Education Fund to promote children's rights. A proposed law to make trafficking in persons illegal and impose penalties for such actions has been closely monitored by the United States. A magistrate who benefited from a program to visit the United States has become an important ally in promoting children's issues and rights. The United States also supported poverty reduction campaigns in the form of housing projects and food security, with 140,000 school children receiving school lunches.