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Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Congo (ROC) is a presidential republic in which the constitution vests most decision-making authority and political power in the president and prime minister. In 2015 the Republic of the Congo adopted a new constitution that extended the maximum number of presidential terms and years to three terms of five years and provided complete immunity to former presidents. In 2016 the Constitutional Court proclaimed the incumbent, Denis Sassou N’Guesso, the winner of the 2016 presidential election, despite opposition and international criticisms of electoral irregularities. The government last held legislative and local elections in 2017, with legislative election irregularities sufficient to restrict the ability of citizens to choose their government. While the country has a multiparty political system, members of the president’s Congolese Labor Party (PCT) and its allies retained 68 percent of legislative seats, and PCT members occupied almost all senior government positions.

National police, gendarmes, and the military have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The national police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Interior. The gendarmerie reports to the Ministry of Defense and conducts domestic paramilitary and law enforcement activities. The army, navy, and air force, which also report to the Ministry of Defense, secure the country from external threat but also conduct limited domestic security activities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; infringement of citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; restrictions on the ability of citizens to change their government peacefully; corruption by government officials; violence against women and girls to which government negligence significantly contributed; trafficking in persons; and forced child labor, including the worst forms.

The government took limited steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, and official impunity was a problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately but feared reprisal. The constitution provides for freedom of expression in all forms of communication and prohibits censorship. The constitution, however, criminalizes speech that incites ethnic hatred, violence, or civil war and makes it punishable by no less than five years in prison. It also criminalizes any act or event that promotes racism or xenophobia.

Press and Media Freedom, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. Press and media outlets regularly published criticism and satire of the government and senior officials. Most citizens obtained their news from local retransmission of international media and local radio or television stations. There was greater space in electronic media for open discussion of government policy, including critical discussion. International radio broadcasts and satellite television services were available and encouraged discussions of public policy.

Violence and Harassment: There were unconfirmed reports of direct and indirect intimidation of journalists by the government, including telephone calls from official and anonymous persons warning journalists not to use footage of politically sensitive events, and pressure on news outlets not to run certain stories or footage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets were required to register with the Superior Council for Liberty of Communication (CSLC), an official regulatory body. Media outlets that violated council regulations were subject to financial sanctions or temporary shutdown. The president appoints the director of the council.

Many journalists and editors at larger circulation media outlets practiced self-censorship and promoted the editorial views of media owners. Newspapers published open letters written by government opponents.

There were no reports the government revoked journalists’ accreditations if their reporting reflected adversely on the government’s image. An international NGO reported that the CSLC threatened closure of the general news weekly Manager Horizon due to a series of reports it published about alleged embezzlement of public funds by the National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC). The CSLC summoned Manager Horizon’s editor for questioning on June 24 and August 8 and told him to produce hard evidence of the publication’s claims or refrain from further coverage. The editor received a formal warning notice to comply with the CSLC’s instructions on August 9. As of October 16, the newspaper remained in operation.

Libel/Slander Laws: The press law provides for monetary penalties and suspension of a publication’s permission to print for defamation and incitement to violence.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport.

d. Freedom of Movement

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government sometimes respected these rights.

Foreign Travel: The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. There were reports the government attempted to restrict foreign travel.

According to UN officials, the government did not allow the executive director of a prominent local NGO to leave the country on May 11 to participate in a UN-funded conference in June that included the Congolese minister of justice. The executive director could not provide required proof the NGO did not owe arrears to the Caisse Nationale de Securite Sociale (CNSS) on behalf of its employees before boarding his flight.

By law all citizens are eligible for a national passport. The government, however, lacked the capacity to produce passports in sufficient numbers to meet demand and prioritized providing passports to those individuals who could demonstrate imminent need to travel or who had strong government connections. Obtaining a passport was a time consuming and difficult process for most persons.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. UNHCR conducted training sessions on international protection with representatives from law enforcement, the immigration service, the judiciary, and local police during the year. Authorities arrested 81 refugees between January and August on suspicion of criminal offenses including rape, false documentation, poaching, and breach of public order. Although refugees had equal access to community health centers and hospitals, there were reports of refugees receiving discriminatory treatment at some hospitals, including insults by medical personnel and long waiting times for treatment without regard to priority relative to their medical conditions.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees but not asylum seekers. There are no laws recognizing asylum seekers nor any laws implementing the protections afforded in the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which the government is a signatory. According to UNHCR the country hosted approximately 43,500 refugees, 13,825 asylum seekers, and 11,728 other persons of concern during the year. From January to July, UNHCR facilitated the voluntary repatriation of more than 1,797 CAR refugees from Congo to the CAR.

The National Refugee Assistance Committee (CNAR), a joint committee under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, handled applications for refugee status. The CNAR received most of its operating budget from UNHCR.

According to UNHCR the CNAR eligibility board processed 200 asylum cases between June and July, granting refugee status to none of the cases. As of July 1, CNAR placed 11 cases on hold pending further processing and denied 189.

Beginning in December 2018 the country saw an influx to the districts of Makotipoko and Bouemba of persons fleeing violence in the DRC. UNHCR registered 8,452 refugees and an estimated 10,000 more sought asylum. According to UNHCR, as of August 30, the country hosted 19,831 CAR refugees and asylum seekers.

In 2015 the government stopped granting prima facie status to refugees fleeing from the CAR. During the year UNHCR registered 3,645 CAR asylum seekers. With the support of UNHCR, the CNAR adopted an expedited procedure to process asylum requests. As of August the government registered 1,490 asylum-seeking families from the CAR.

Employment: The law does not address employment for refugees, but various government decrees prohibit foreigners, including refugees, from practicing small trade activities and working in the public transportation sector.

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR-funded primary schooling was accessible to most refugees. During the academic year, primary schools enrolled 2,945 refugee children, including 1,419 girls. Authorities severely limited access to secondary and vocational education for refugees. Most secondary education teachers at such schools were refugees who volunteered to teach or received payment from parents of refugee children.

Durable Solutions: As of September the country hosted 12,436 former Rwandan refugees. Former Rwandan refugees may obtain permanent status in Congo if they apply for a Rwandan passport. Many former Rwandan refugees in Congo feared deportation if they received a passport, despite the assurances of local authorities and UNHCR this would not be the case. The government did not deport any former Rwandan refugees as of October.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not apply the anticorruption law evenly, however, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The government prosecuted one low-level official for corruption during the year.

Corruption: Local and international organizations regularly accused government officials, including the president, his family, and senior ministers of corruption. The accusations generally alleged officials divert revenues from their official portfolios into private, overseas accounts before officially declaring the remaining revenues.

In September international media reported the government of San Marino seized 19 million euros from 36 bank accounts belonging to President Sassou Nguesso and members of his family. The funds were seized from deposits made between 2006 and 2011.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution mandates elected and senior appointed officials disclose their financial interests before taking office and upon leaving office. Failure to do so constitutes legal grounds for dismissal from a senior position. The constitution does not require that financial disclosure statements be made public.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups occasionally faced government restrictions during their investigations and when publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not cooperative with or responsive to international or domestic human rights groups. Some domestic human rights groups did not report on specific incidents due to fear of reprisal by the government.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies during the year. For example, the government hosted major international conferences, partnered with resident UN agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance, and consulted regularly with the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Central Africa, focusing on regional peace, security, and environmental issues.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government-sponsored Human Rights Commission (HRC) is the government human rights watchdog and is responsible for addressing public concerns about human rights problems. The HRC had little effectiveness or independence; it did not undertake any activities directly responding to human rights problems during the year.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity. The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable laws. The government did not provide adequate inspections or remediation. There are no penalties for violations.

The law allows workers to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, with the exception of members of the security forces and other services “essential for protecting the general interest.” The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference.

Workers have the right to strike, provided they have exhausted all lengthy and complex conciliation and nonbinding arbitration procedures and given seven business days’ notice. Participation in an unlawful strike constitutes serious misconduct and can result in criminal prosecution and forced prison labor. The law requires the continuation of a minimum service in all public services as essential to protect the general interest.

There have been employers who used hiring practices, such as subcontracting and short-term contracts, to circumvent laws prohibiting antiunion discrimination.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor unless imposed pursuant to a criminal penalty lawfully mandated by a court. The law, however, allows authorities to requisition persons to work in the public interest and permits imprisonment if they refuse. The government practiced forced prison labor, including of prisoners held for political offenses.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, occurred (see section 7.c.), including in agriculture. In previous years NGOs in Bambama, Sibiti, and Dolisie reported the majority Bantu population forced adult indigenous persons to harvest manioc and other crops with limited or no pay and under the threat of physical abuse or death. Some reports suggested some servitude might be hereditary. Beginning in October, the government conducted an awareness campaign with a focus on government officials, NGOs, and members of the indigenous communities to inform key stakeholders about amendments intended to improve the legal regime governing the rights of indigenous persons in the country.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Under the law employers may not hire children under age 16, even as apprentices, without a waiver from the minister of national education. Minimum age protections, however, do not extend to children under the age of 18 who engage in hazardous work, but who do so without an employment contract. The law criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children, as well as forced labor, trafficking, and all forms of slavery. In June the government adopted a comprehensive antitrafficking law making all forms of human trafficking illegal. The law prohibits child soldiering and forced recruitment for child soldiering but does not set a minimum age for voluntary enlistment into the military service.

The law includes specific ranges of penalties for violators of the worst forms of child labor. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The government did not provide adequate staff, and labor inspections were not conducted in some parts of the country, especially in rural areas where child labor was prevalent. Existing penalties for the worst forms of child labor may not be severe enough to serve as deterrents because they are not commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes. Child labor was a problem, particularly in the informal sector. Internal child trafficking brought children from rural areas to urban centers for forced labor in domestic work and market vending. Children also engaged in agricultural work and the catching and smoking of fish. NGOs working with indigenous communities reported children were forced to work in fields for low or no wages harvesting manioc under the threat of physical abuse or death. Children from West Africa worked in forced domestic servitude for West African families in Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville. Children also engaged in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation and forced recruitment for armed conflict.

See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on family background, ethnicity, social condition, age, political or philosophical beliefs, gender, religion, region of origin within the country, place of residence in the country, language, HIV-positive status, or disability. The law does not specifically protect persons from discrimination based on national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation or gender identity, or having communicable diseases other than HIV.

In July the government adopted six decrees on the Protection and Promotion of Indigenous Peoples. These decrees created an interministerial committee for the monitoring and evaluation of indigenous rights, protection of cultural property, the status of certain civil measures, and promotion of education, literacy, and basic social services. The government enforced these laws. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Workers in the public sector are accorded a national minimum wage, which exceeds the poverty line. The minimum wage for private sector employees exceeds the poverty line. No official minimum wage exists in the agricultural or informal sectors. The government enforced the minimum wage law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The labor law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for overtime pay for hours worked in excess of the 40-hour limit. Labor law does not limit the maximum number of hours one can work per week, although it does call for a minimum of 24 hours without work per week. The law provides for 10 paid holidays per year and 15 weeks of maternity leave.

The Ministry of Labor sets health and safety regulations that correspond with international standards. While health and safety regulations require biannual Ministry of Labor inspections of businesses, businesses reported the visits occurred much less frequently. The Ministry of Labor employed an insufficient number of inspectors to enforce the law. Inspectors only conducted inspections in the formal sector. The size of the inspectorate was not sufficient to enforce compliance with labor law.

Workers have no specific right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment. NGOs reported safety violations commonly occurred in commercial fishing, logging, quarries, and at private construction sites.

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