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Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency.  The country has a multiparty system of government, but the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has remained in power since its creation in 1985.  In practice the president retains the power to control legislation.  On October 7, citizens reelected CPDM leader Paul Biya president, a position he has held since 1982.  The election was marked by irregularities, including intimidation of voters and representatives of candidates at polling sites, late posting of polling sites and voter lists, ballot stuffing, voters with multiple registrations, and alleged polling results manipulation.  On March 25, the country conducted the second senate elections in its history.  They were peaceful and considered generally free and fair.  In 2013 simultaneous legislative and municipal elections were held, and most observers considered them free and fair.  New legislative and municipal elections were expected to take place during the year; however, in consultation with the parliament and the constitutional council, President Biya extended the terms of office of parliamentarians and municipal councilors for 12 months, and general elections were expected to take place in fall 2019 or early 2020.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces, including police and gendarmerie.

The sociopolitical crisis that began in the Northwest and Southwest Regions in late 2016 over perceived marginalization developed into an armed conflict between government forces and separatist groups.  The conflict resulted in serious human rights violations and abuses by government forces and Anglophone separatists.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings by security forces as well as armed Anglophone separatists; forced disappearances by security forces, Boko Haram, and separatists; torture by security forces and Anglophone separatists; prolonged arbitrary detentions including of suspected Anglophone separatists by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; violence and harassment targeting journalists by government agents; periodic government restrictions on access to the internet; laws authorizing criminal libel; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers by the government; restrictions on political participation; violence against women, in part due to government inaction; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by Anglophone separatists, government-supported vigilance committees, and Boko Haram; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and criminalization of consensual same-sex relations; child labor, including forced child labor; and violations of workers’ rights.

Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses in the security forces and in the public service, it did not often make public these proceedings, and some offenders, including serial offenders, continued to act with impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of official duties.

In July, Human Rights Watch reported that, during government operations in 12 villages in the Northwest and Southwest Regions between January and April, government security forces shot and killed more than a dozen civilians, including at least seven persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities who had difficulty fleeing.  On May 25, in Menka-Pinyin, Santa Subdivision of the Northwest Region, elements of the Gendarmerie, the 51st Motorized Infantry Brigade, and the Special Operations Group of the National Police carried out a raid on a location believed to harbor Anglophone activists, killing 27 persons, according to official sources.  Security forces battling Anglophone secessionists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions allegedly killed two clerics.  Anglophone separatists attacked and killed several dozen civilians considered loyal to the central government and members of defense and security forces in these two regions.  According to the government’s Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Plan, as of June 11, the death toll attributed to separatists within defense and security forces was 84, including 32 members of defense forces, 42 gendarmes, seven policemen, two prison guards, and one Eco-guard, some of whom were mutilated or decapitated and their bodies exhibited on social media.  Civilian victims included the following:  the chief of Esukutan in Toko Subdivision of the Southwest Region, murdered on February 5; the divisional officer for Batibo in the

Northwest, abducted on February 11 and subsequently killed; and Ashu Thomas Nkongho, discipline master of the government bilingual high school in Kossala, Meme Division of the Southwest Region, killed on school premises on April 25.  Unidentified gunmen killed a local chief in a church and a priest, supposedly because of their alleged opposition to secession by the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued killing civilians, including members of vigilance committees, which were organized groups of local residents cooperating with government forces in the fight against Boko Haram, and members of defense and security forces in the Far North Region.  According to the L’Oeil du Sahel newspaper, as of June 30, at least 153 civilians and 12 members of defense and security forces had been killed in the attacks.

b. Disappearance

Government security forces were widely believed to be responsible for disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists, with reports of bodies dumped far from the site of killings to make identification difficult.  According to credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the government did not readily account for some of the activists arrested in connection with the Anglophone crisis.  Family members and friends of the detainees were frequently unaware of the missing individuals’ location in detention for a month or more.  For example, authorities held incommunicado Ayuk Sisiku Tabe, the “interim president” of the so-called Republic of Ambazonia, along with 46 other Anglophone separatists, from January 29 until late June when they were allowed to meet with their lawyers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

In an August 24 release, Ekombo Favien, vice president of human rights NGO

Frontline Fighters for Citizen Interests (FFCI), announced the disappearance of FFCI national president Franklin Mowha.  According to the release, Mowha arrived in Kumba, Southwest Region, on August 2 to monitor human rights abuses.  He was last seen leaving his hotel room on August 6.  Ekombo indicated that authorities had previously targeted Mowha on several occasions because of his human rights reporting.

Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped civilians, including women and children, during numerous attacks in the Far North Region.  According to L’Oeil du Sahel, as of June 30, at least 51 civilians had been victims of Boko Haram abductions, and some of them remained unaccounted for.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members beat, harassed, or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters.  Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated suspected separatists and detainees.

Amnesty International reported in July 2017 on the cases of 101 individuals whom security forces allegedly tortured between March 2013 and March 2017 in detention facilities run by the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) and the General Directorate of Counter Intelligence (DGRE).  While most of the cases documented involved persons arrested in 2014 and 2015 and allegedly tortured between 2014 and 2016, Amnesty International asserted that the practice continued into 2017.  It stated that torture took place at 20 sites, including four military bases, two intelligence centers, a private residence, and a school.  Specific sites named in the report included the BIR bases in Salak, Kousseri, and Kolofata in the Far North Region, and DGRE facilities in Yaounde.  As of October the government had not shared results of its internal investigations but claimed it had investigated some, if not all, of the allegations.

Human Rights Watch documented the case of 22-year-old Fredoline Afoni, a thirdyear student at the Technical University of Bambili whom security forces beat to death on January 29.  Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline was home near Kumbo in the Northwest Region when he received a telephone call requesting that he pick up luggage at a nearby junction.  Once at the location, persons dressed in civilian clothes forcefully took him away by truck.  A truck belonging to the gendarmerie subsequently drove through the same junction with Fredoline sitting in the back, naked and handcuffed, with signs of having been badly beaten.  Individuals reportedly appeared at a relative’s home and collected Fredoline’s laptop and cell phone.  Fredoline’s uncle subsequently discovered that he was in gendarmerie custody.  The uncle reportedly told Human Rights Watch that he discovered the victim’s naked and decaying corpse outside the local mortuary three days later.  After a postmortem examination, the medical professional who examined the body told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline died as a result of his beatings.

Social media diffused a video in June showing security force members at the

Cameroon Protestant College of Bali in the Northwest Region forcing two girls to crawl through the mud while referring to them as Ambazonian spies.  Media reports indicated that the gendarmes were arrested and placed in detention and were awaiting trial by the military tribunal, but there was no further information on the case.

Press reporting indicated there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government and separatists in Anglophone regions.  For example, there were credible reports that on July 3, during security operations in Bamenda, Northwest Region, first-class soldier Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim he called aside for a routine national identity check.  The soldier was arrested, although there was no further information on the case.

During the year the United Nations reported that it received five allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Cameroon deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  Three cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship, transactional sex), and three cases sexual abuse (rape), one of which involved minors.  Several allegations each referred to more than one alleged perpetrator, more than one victim, or both.  Investigations both by the United Nations and the government were pending.  Interim action by the United Nations was taken in one case.  Nine allegations reported previously were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions:  Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers.  Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as five times the intended capacity.  Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children.  Authorities often held detainees in pretrial detention and convicted prisoners together.  In many prisons toilets were nothing more than common pits.  In some cases women benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters.  Authorities claimed to hold sick persons separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.

According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915 but which held close to 30,000 inmates as of June.  For example, the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, was initially designed to accommodate 150 inmates.  Successive expansions raised the capacity to 500 inmates.  As of June 19, the prison held 1,600 inmates, more than two-thirds of whom had not been convicted of any crime.  A third of the inmates were awaiting trial, hearings had begun for another third, and one-third had been convicted.

The quality of food, access to potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate.  As a result illness was widespread.  Malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and diarrhea, were rampant.  The number of deaths associated with detention conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities was unknown.

Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems.  Corruption among prison personnel was reportedly widespread.  Visitors were at times forced to bribe wardens to be granted access to inmates.  Prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, cell phones, beds, and transfers to less crowded areas of the prisons.  Due to their inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences or after they had received court orders of release.

Administration:  Independent authorities often investigated credible allegations of mistreatment.  Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel; without authorization, they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates.  In addition visits to Boko Haram suspects were highly restricted.  Some detainees were held far from their families, reducing the possibility of visits.  Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religions without interference.

As in 2017, authorities allowed NGOs to conduct formal education and other literacy programs in prisons.  At the principal prison in Edea, Littoral Region, the NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture sponsored a Literacy and Social Reintegration Center that provided primary and lower secondary education to inmates.  Because of the sociopolitical unrest in the Southwest Region, Human IS Right, a Buea-based civil society organization, and the NGO Operation Total Impact discontinued their formal education and reformation education program in the principal prisons in Buea and Kumba.  The central prison in Garoua, North Region, continued to run a full-cycle primary school.

Independent Monitoring:  Unlike in the previous year, the government restricted international humanitarian organizations’ access to prisoners in official prisons.

For example, as of June authorities had not allowed the ICRC access to its target prisons and detention centers.  On July 3, however, the ICRC was able to visit the 47 Anglophone separatists repatriated from Nigeria, and some of the detainees delivered messages through the organization to their families.  The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) and the Commissions for Justice and Peace of the Catholic archdioceses also conducted prison visits but were denied access to some detention centers.  In January NCHRF members visited prisons in Monatele in the Center Region; Bertoua, Doume, and AbongMbang in the East Region; and Maroua in the Far North Region.  The NCHRF reported that it did not have access to some prisons in Yaounde, including those hosting the 47 suspected separatists repatriated from Nigeria.  The NCHRF also alleged authorities did not grant access to a victim who was shot and admitted at the Yaounde Emergency Center.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the right to challenge the lawfulness in court of an arrest or detention.  The law states that, except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest shall disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason.  The law also provides that persons arrested on a warrant shall be brought immediately before the examining magistrate or the president of the trial court who issued the warrant, and that the accused persons shall be given reasonable access to contact their family, obtain legal advice, and arrange for their defense.  The law provides that any person who has been illegally detained by the police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation.  On several occasions the government did not respect these provisions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, DGRE, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Territorial Administration, and, to a lesser extent, presidential guard are responsible for internal security.  The Ministry of Defense–which includes the gendarmerie, army, and the army’s military security unit–reports to the Office of the Presidency, resulting in strong presidential control of security forces.  The army is responsible for external security, while the national police and gendarmerie have primary responsibility for law enforcement.  Historically the gendarmerie has responsibility in rural areas.  Increasingly in the Anglophone regions, responsibility for security in the rural areas is left to another security force, the BIR.  The BIR falls outside the purview of conventional forces.  The national police–which includes public security, judicial, territorial security, and frontier police–reports to the General Delegation of National Security (DGSN), which is under the direct authority of the presidency.  The government took some steps to hold police accountable for abuses of power.  Police remained ineffective, poorly trained, and corrupt.  Impunity continued to be a problem.

Civilian authorities maintained some control over the police and gendarmerie, and the government had some mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.  The DGSN and gendarmerie investigated reports of abuse and forwarded cases to the courts.  Lesser sanctions were handled internally.  The DGSN, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Justice stated that members of security forces were sanctioned during the year for committing abuses, but few details were known about investigations or any subsequent accountability.

The national gendarmerie and the army have special offices to investigate abuse.  The secretary of state for defense and the minister delegate at the presidency are in charge of prosecuting abusers.  The minister delegate of defense refers cases involving aggravated theft, criminal complicity, murder, and other major offenses to the military courts for trial.

In March authorities opened an investigation into the case of taxi driver Jean Nga Mvondo, who died a few hours after the Ngousso gendarmerie brigade in Yaounde released him from detention.  Pending the outcome of the investigation, on March 23, the secretary of state in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED) relieved the brigade commander of his duties.

As reported above, on July 24, the minister delegate for defense announced that the gendarmerie in Bamenda, Northwest Region, arrested first class soldier Mbita Arthur and referred him to the office of the Bamenda military court prosecutor.  The minister also promised to take disciplinary action against the soldier in accordance with the law.  Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim on July 23.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement.  The law provides that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate, although this often did not occur.  Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once.  This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought.  Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods.  The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command.  The law provides for access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both.  Contrary to the wide-reaching antiterror law, civilian law prohibits incommunicado detention, but it occurred, especially in connection with the sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone regions.  The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.  On August 8, Supreme Court Chief Judge Daniel Mekobe Sone commissioned the first members of the Compensation Commission for Illegal Detention, a body created to provide citizens with recourse if they believe they were wrongfully detained.

Arbitrary Arrest:  Police, gendarmes, BIR soldiers, and government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado.  “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued.  There were several reports by media and NGOs that police or gendarmes arrested persons without warrants on circumstantial evidence alone, often following instructions from influential persons to settle personal scores.  There were also credible reports that police or gendarmes arbitrarily arrested persons during neighborhood sweeps for criminals and stolen goods or arrested persons lacking national identification cards, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis and the fight against Boko Haram.

There were credible reports that authorities held some suspects in the Anglophone crisis for long periods without notifying them of the charges.  For example, authorities detained Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, the president of the Anglophone separatist movement, and 46 others incommunicado and without official charge for close to six months.  The suspects were arrested in Nigeria on January 5 and extradited to Cameroon on January 25.  Defense lawyers considered the arrest and extradition illegal and filed an application for immediate release with the Mfoundi High Court in Yaounde.  On August 30, the judge dismissed the application on procedural grounds.  The court eventually heard the case on November 1 and delivered a verdict denying the release of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and the nine other leaders of the Anglophone separatist movement on November 15.

Pretrial Detention:  The law provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court.  No comprehensive statistics were available on pretrial detainees.  According to prison authorities, as of June the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, housed approximately 1,600 inmates, two-thirds of whom were pretrial detainees and appellants.  Some pretrial detainees had been awaiting trial for more than two years.  The increase in pretrial prison populations was due in large part to mass arrests of Anglophone activists and persons accused of supporting Boko Haram, staff shortages, lengthy legal procedures, lost files, administrative and judicial bottlenecks, including procedural trial delays, corruption, negligence, and court fees.

The NGO Human IS Right documented the case of 24-year-old Beng Pascal Ngong, who was detained without judgement at the Buea Central Prison for more than 26 months.  Police arrested Beng in 2015 for allegedly not possessing a national identity card, an offense punishable with imprisonment from three to 12 months, a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($85 to $170), or both.  Following a habeas corpus request filed by the NGO Human IS Right, judicial authorities ultimately released Beng on March 21, after more than double the duration of the sentence he would have served had he been prosecuted and convicted.  Until his release Beng Pascal had never appeared before a judge.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law ostensibly provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary is under and often controlled by the president and, by proxy, the ruling party.  Individuals reportedly accused innocent persons of crimes, often due to political motivations, or caused trial delays to settle personal scores.  Authorities generally enforced court orders.

Musa Usman Ndamba, the national vice president of the Mbororo Social and

Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), was prosecuted for

“propagation of false information” and “false oath,” although he submitted strong evidence that he was not associated with the offense.  He continued to suffer judicial harassment by Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, a businessman and member of the central committee of the ruling CPDM, who pressured the court to continue to hear the case after various instances in which it had been dismissed.  On May 11, the Court of First Instance in Bamenda sentenced Usman Ndamba to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850) after more than 60 hearings that began in 2013.  Human rights defenders believed Danpullo used the judicial system to discourage Usman Ndamba from defending the rights of the minority Mbororo community of nomadic cattle herders.

Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.  The court system is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, which in turn is under the president.  The constitution designates the president as “first magistrate,” thus “chief” of the judiciary, making him the legal arbiter of any sanctions against the judiciary.  The constitution specifies the president is the guarantor of the legal system’s independence.  He appoints all judges, with the advice of the Higher Judicial Council.  While judges hearing a case are technically to be governed only by the law and their conscience as provided for by the constitution, in some matters they are subordinate to the minister of justice or to the minister in charge of military justice.  With approval from the minister of justice, the Special Criminal Court may drop charges against a defendant who offers to pay back the money he is accused of having embezzled, which essentially renders the act of corruption free of sanctions.

Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians for offenses including the following:  offenses committed by civilians in military establishments; offenses relating to acts of terrorism and other threats to the security of the state, including piracy; unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation and oil platforms; offenses relating to the purchase, importation, sale, production, distribution, or possession of military effects or insignia as defined by regulations in force; cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence; and crimes committed with firearms, including gang crimes, banditry, and highway robbery.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public hearing, without undue delay, in which the defendant is presumed innocent, but authorities did not always respect the law.  Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter.  Many pretrial suspects were treated as if they were already convicted, frequently held in the same quarters as convicted criminals, and denied visits.  Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram or Anglophone separatists.  When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint counsel at the public’s expense; however, the process was often burdensome and lengthy, and the quality of legal assistance was poor.  Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.  Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.  Defendants may appeal convictions.  In at least one case, authorities did not give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses and evidence to support his case.

In August the High Court for Mfoundi in Yaounde allegedly released a person suspected of trafficking in persons who had been in pretrial detention since 2016.  The victim, Lilian Mbeng Ebangha, returned from Kuwait in 2015 and filed a lawsuit against her alleged trafficker, a pastor of Shiloh Liberation Ministries International.  After preliminary investigations the case was sent to trial in 2016 and thereafter had more than 20 adjournments.  Each time a hearing was scheduled in Yaounde, Ebangha travelled from Douala to attend.  The alleged offender was released in August or September, but it was unconfirmed whether there was a court decision on the matter.  The victim stated that her trafficker had called her to inform her of his release.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of newly identified political prisoners or detainees, and no statistics were available on the number of political prisoners.  Previously reported political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities.

Some were allegedly held at DGRE facilities and at the principal prisons in Yaounde.  The government did not permit access to such persons on a regular basis, or at all, depending on the case.

Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention.  In May 2016 the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 20 years.  In June 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision qualifying Marafa’s detention “a violation of international laws” and asked the government to immediately free and compensate him for damages suffered.  The United Nations noted there were multiple irregularities in the judicial procedure.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options, however, involved lengthy delays.  Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies.  There were no reports that the government had failed to comply with civil case court decisions pertaining to human rights.  A number of labor rights-related cases involving government entities were ongoing as of the end of August.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government continued to compensate relocated families over the past few years in connection with infrastructure projects, including the Kribi Sea Port and the Yaounde-Douala highway projects.  There were no reported developments in the cases of corrupt officials who had misappropriated money the government had earmarked for compensation previously.  There was no report of intentional targeting of particular groups for discriminatory treatment.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction for the “higher interests of the state,” and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.

The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime.  Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without warrant whenever they wished.

An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred.

Police and gendarmes sometimes sealed off a neighborhood, systematically searched homes, arrested persons, sometimes arbitrarily, and seized suspicious or illegal articles.  For example, in the early hours of July 10, police and gendarmes conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the neighborhoods of Ndobo at Bonaberi in the Douala IV Subdivision, Littoral Region, arrested dozens of individuals, and detained those found in possession of, or consuming, narcotics.  On July 26, police conducted a similar operation in the neighborhood of Biyem Assi in Yaounde 6 Subdivision.  They searched houses, requested residents to produce receipts for appliances found in their possession and in some cases confiscating those for which the occupants could not produce receipts, and arrested dozens of individuals.  In both cases security forces detained citizens without national identity cards until their identities could be established.  The areas in question have a high concentration of Anglophones, and most of the individuals arrested in the July 10 and 26 incidents were Anglophones.  Anecdotal reports suggested that with the protracted insecurity in some regions, authorities often forcefully accessed private communications and personal data by exploiting the telephones and computer devices of targeted individuals, during both cordon-andsearch and regular identity-control operations.

On September 28 police and gendarmes conducted raids in various neighborhoods in Yaounde.  Police raided neighborhoods with heavy Anglophone populations, setting up temporary checkpoints and requesting citizens to provide identification.  Some individuals were required to enter a security vehicle and were brought to local police stations, where their identities were verified once more before being released.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively and often used it to settle political scores.  The penal code identifies different offenses as corruption, including influence peddling, involvement in a prohibited employment, and nondeclaration of conflict of interest.  Reporting of corruption is encouraged through exempting whistleblowers from criminal proceedings.  Corruption in official examinations is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, fines up to two million CFA francs ($3,400), or both.  During the year the National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC) instituted a toll-free number to encourage citizens to denounce acts of corruption of which they were victims or witnesses.  In addition there were a number of organizations under a common platform known as the National Platform of Cameroonian Civil Society Organizations, which under the 2018 Finance Law was provided a budget of 150 million CFA francs ($255,000).  The funds were to permit the organization to monitor the implementation of projects by government entities to confirm that resources disbursed are used appropriately.  Nevertheless, corruption remained pervasive at all levels of government.  The judiciary was not always free to independently investigate and prosecute corruption cases.

Corruption:  The government continued Operation Sparrow Hawk, which was launched in 2006 to fight corruption, including embezzlement of public funds.  As in the previous year, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) opened new corruption cases and issued verdicts on some pending cases.  On May 4, the SCC placed Emmanuel Lebou, Hamadou Haman, and Aïssatou Boullo Bouba in pretrial detention at Yaounde Central Prison.  Authorities accused the three officials from the ministries of finance and communication of fraudulent manipulation of government payrolls, including payments of fictitious salaries and other allowances, which resulted in losses worth hundreds of millions of CFA francs (several thousand dollars).  In August the SCC delivered its verdict in the prosecution case against Doumana Louis Roger, the former transport delegate for the Northwest Region, and Ayafor Mefor Quita Fozo, a contractor with the Ministry of Transport.  They were under prosecution since 2016 for misappropriating fiscal revenues at the Northwest Regional Delegation of Transport in Bamenda.  The accused were sentenced to 15 and 10 years in prison, respectively, and were required to pay jointly more than 156 million CFA ($265,000) to the public treasury.

Financial Disclosure:  The constitution requires senior government officials, including members of the cabinet, to declare their assets, but a law passed to implement this provision had itself never been implemented.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases.  Overturning an earlier decision not to allow them back in the country, the government issued visas to allow Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch personnel to return to present their reports on human rights abuses to the government and to hear its views.  As in previous years, however, government officials impeded the effectiveness of many local human rights NGOs by harassing their members, limiting access to prisoners, refusing to share information, and threatening violence against NGO personnel.  Human rights defenders and activists received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email.  The government took no action to investigate or prevent such occurrences.  The government criticized reports from international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Crisis Group, accusing them of publishing baseless accusations with the intention of discrediting the government and military.  Despite these restrictions, numerous independent domestic human rights NGOs continued operations to the best of their ability, although many reported that government threats and intimidation limited their ability to operate in the country.

There were several reports of intimidation, threats, and attacks aimed at human rights activists, including members of the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC), Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme (NDH), the Mandela Center, and Front Line Fighters for Citizens’ Interests (FFCI), among others.  FFCI executive president Franklin Mowha was reported missing as of August 6 while he was on a business trip to the Southwest Region.  FFCI officials and Mowha’s family members alleged that authorities were informed but failed to investigate the case.  As of late October, his family members did not have any information concerning his whereabouts and feared he might have been killed.

Government Human Rights Bodies:  The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) is an independent, government-funded institution for consultation, monitoring, evaluation, dialogue, concerted action, promotion, and protection of human rights.  The NCHRF was established by a 1990 presidential decree and was subsequently given more powers following the passage of a 2004 law.  The NCHRF, however, is limited to making recommendations to competent authorities and can take no action itself.  The commission publishes yearly reports on the human rights environment and may engage in research, provide education, coordinate actions with NGOs, and visit prisons and detention sites.  NGOs, civil society, and the general population considered the NCHRF dedicated and effective, albeit inadequately resourced and with insufficient ability effectively to hold human rights violators to account.  Its budget was far smaller than that of most other agencies with comparable status, such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission and Election Cameroon.

The National Assembly’s Constitutional Laws, Human Rights and Freedoms, Justice, Legislation, Regulations, and Administration Committee was adequately resourced and reviewed the constitutionality of proposed legislation, but it was not an effective check on the ruling party’s initiatives.  The parliament generally failed to address the Anglophone crisis, resulting in a protest by opposition Social Democratic Front representatives during the March ordinary session of parliament.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence:  The law criminalizes rape of men and women and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists.  Police and courts, however, rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report them.  The law does not address spousal rape.

The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C):  The law protects the bodily integrity of persons, and the 2016 penal code prohibits genital mutilation of all persons.  Whoever mutilates the genitals of another person is subject to a prison sentence of from 10 to 20 years, or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes or the practice causes death.  FMG/C remained a problem, but its prevalence remained low.  As in the previous year, children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.

According to the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, the government fully adopted a UN General Assembly resolution on the intensification of the global action aimed at eliminating FGM/C.  For more than 10 years, the government has carried out initiatives to end FGM/C.  These include granting support for the socioeconomic reconversion of male and female excision practitioners and creating local committees to fight against the phenomenon in areas of high prevalence, such as the Southwest and Northern Regions.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices:  Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the husband, including the marital home.  To protect women better, including widows, the government included provisions in the 2016 penal code outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse.

Sexual Harassment:  The law prohibits sexual harassment.  Offenders can be imprisoned for periods of six months to one year and may be fined between 100,000 and one million CFA francs ($170 and $1,700).  If the victim is a minor, the penalty can be between one to three years in prison.  If the offender is the victim’s teacher, they may be sentenced to between three and five years in prison.  Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread, and there were no reports that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment.

Coercion in Population Control:  There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination:  The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men; in practice, however, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men.  Although local government officials including mayors claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions.  The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owing or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.  Although women and men have equal employment rights, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility.  Furthermore, anecdotal reports suggest some gender discrimination occurred in places of employment, especially in the private sector.

Children

Birth Registration:  Children derive citizenship through their parents, and the responsibility to register birth falls upon parents.  Many births go unregistered because children are not always born in health facilities, and many parents face challenges in reaching local government offices.

Education:  The law provides for tuition-free compulsory primary education but does not set an age limit.  The law punishes any parent with sufficient means who refuses to send his or her child to school with a fine between 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85 and $850).  The punishment is imprisonment from one to two years in cases in which the offense is repeated.  Children were generally expected to complete primary education at age 12.  Secondary school students had to pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books.  This rendered secondary education unaffordable for many children.

During the year numerous separatist attacks on the education sector in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, including arson attacks on school facilities and physical assaults on administrative staff, faculty and students, disrupted the normal operation of schools.  Many students and teachers were absent during the 2017-18 school year.  According to estimates by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 42,500 children were still out of school as of May.

In June, UNICEF reported that at least 58 schools in the Northwest and Southwest

Regions had been damaged since the beginning of the crisis in 2016.  Human Rights Watch documented 19 threats or attacks on schools and 10 threats or attacks on education personnel.

In September individuals believed to be Anglophone separatists perpetrated a series of attacks aimed at disrupting the start of the 2018-19 school year in certain localities of the Northwest and Southwest Regions.  During the night of September 1, the headmaster of the Bamali primary school in Ngoketunjia Division in the Northwest Region was killed.  On September 3, separatists abducted six students from the Presbyterian Girls Secondary School in Bafut, Mezam Division in the Northwest Region, along with their principal.  They later released the students and principal, who had been subjected to torture.  On September 4, a dozen individuals stormed a high school in Kumbo, Bui Division, in the Northwest Region and vandalized the administrative building, forcing teachers and students to run for safety.  On the same day, St Joseph’s Secondary School in Fako Division in the Southwest Region was attacked.

Child Abuse:  The law prohibits various forms of child abuse, including but not limited to assault, indecency, kidnapping, forced labor, rape, sexual harassment, and cloud on parentage, which refers to a situation where one parent refuses to disclose the identity of the other parent to the child.  Penalties for the offenses range from 10,000 CFA francs ($17) for forced labor to imprisonment for life in the case of assault leading to death or grievous harm.  Despite these legal provisions, child abuse remained a problem.  Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and at school.  In addition Boko Haram continued to abduct children and used them as suicide bombers.  Press reports cited cases of child rape and the kidnapping of children for ransom.  In its April 20 edition, Mutation Daily reported that Reseau National des Associations de Tantines (RENATA), an association working with girls who have become mothers due to early pregnancy, had received 18 reports of sexual abuse of minors since January.

Early and Forced Marriage:  The minimum legal age for marriage is 18.  Despite the law, according to UNICEF’s March 2018 child marriage data, 31 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18, and of these, 10 percent were married before they turned 15.  The law punishes anyone who compels an individual to marry with imprisonment of from five to 10 years, and with fines between 25,000 and one million CFA francs ($42.50 to $1,700).  By law mitigating circumstances may result in a reduction in punishment, but the final penalty may not be less than a two-year prison sentence.  The court may also take custody from parents who give away their underage children in marriage.  Despite these legal provisions, a number of families reportedly tried to marry off their girls before age 18.  To tackle the issue, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Family (MINPROFF) organized sensitization campaigns to warn of the problems of early and forced marriages.  MINPROFF conducted these campaigns nationally around major commemorative days, such as the International Day of the Girl Child and International Women’s Day.  At the local level, MINPROFF established women’s empowerment centers in most divisions where grassroots sensitization activities took place.

Sexual Exploitation of Children:  The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography.  A conviction, however, requires proof of a threat, fraud, deception, force, or other forms of coercion.  Penalties include imprisonment of between 10 and 20 years and a fine of between 100,000 and 10 million CFA francs ($170 to $17,000).  The law does not specifically provide a minimum age for consensual sex.  According to anecdotal reports, children younger than age 18 were exploited in commercial sex, especially by restaurant and bar promoters, although no statistics were available.

Child Soldiers:  The government did not recruit or use child soldiers, but government-affiliated civil defense forces employed child soldiers.  Boko Haram continued to use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets.  There were also some reports that Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and Northwest Regions used children to combat government defense and security forces.  In presenting the government humanitarian emergency action plan in July, the prime minister stated that separatists were recruiting children into their ranks and forcing them to fight after consuming drugs and undergoing cultlike rituals.

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities:  There were no reports of infanticide of children with disabilities.  According to human rights activists and media outlets, including newspapers Le Messager, Mutations, and Nouvelle Expression, local residents found the head of a decapitated child in a garbage bin on August 27 in the Yaounde neighborhood of Mvog Ebanda, commonly known as “Eleveur.”  Investigations led to the identification of the mother of the child as the perpetrator of the crime.

Displaced Children:  Many displaced children continued to live on the streets of major urban centers, although the trend was in decline as a result of stringent security measures and the amended penal code that criminalizes vagrancy.  According to the International Organization for Migration, approximately 65 percent of IDPs in Far North Region were children younger than 18.  These children faced many challenges, including limited access to school, health, and protection.  In addition thousands of children were negatively impacted by the humanitarian crisis in the Northwest and Southwest.  These children faced significant violations of their rights by armed forces and nonstate armed actors alike.  The government had not established structures to ensure that internally displaced children were protected from forceful recruitment by nonstate armed groups and terrorist organizations.

International Child Abductions:  The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague

Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  See the

Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/InternationalParentalChildAbduction/forproviders/legalreportsanddata.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community was very small, and there were no known reports of antiSemitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution protects the rights of all persons, including persons with disabilities.  A 2010 law provides additional protection to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities.  The protections under the law cover access to education and vocational training, employment, health services, information and cultural activities, communications, buildings, sports and leisure, transportation, housing, and other state services.  Public education is tuition-free for persons with disabilities and children born of parents with disabilities.  Initial vocational training, medical treatment, and employment must be provided “when possible,” and public assistance “when needed.”  The government did not enforce all these provisions effectively in the past.  On July 26, the prime minister issued a decree spelling out a framework for implementing the 2010 law.

There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetrating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities during the reporting period.  The majority of children with disabilities attended school with nondisabled peers.  The government introduced inclusive education in many schools and reviewed the curriculum of teacher training colleges to include training in inclusive education skills.  Other children with disabilities continued to attend specialized schools such as the Bulu Blind Center in Buea and the Yaounde Special School for Hearing Impaired Children (ESEDA).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population consists of more than 275 ethnic groups.  Members of the president’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group from the South Region held many key positions and were disproportionately represented in the government, state-owned businesses, and security forces.

Indigenous People

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Baka, including Bakola and Bagyeli, resided primarily in (and were the earliest known inhabitants of) the forested areas of the South and East Regions.  The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group.  Logging companies continued to destroy their naturally forested land without compensation.  Other ethnic groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices.  The government continued long-standing efforts to provide birth certificates and national identity cards to Baka.  Most Baka did not have these documents, and efforts to reach them were impeded by the difficulty in accessing their homes deep in the forest.

There were credible reports from NGOs that the Mbororo, itinerant pastoralists living mostly in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, were subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Consensual same-sex sexual activity, including between adults, is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence lasting between six months and five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($34 to $340).

LGBTI rights organizations such as the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS

(CAMFAIDS), Humanity First Cameroon, Alternatives Cameroon, National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTI Persons and Their Defenders, and others reported several arrests of LGBTI persons.  LGBTI individuals received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email, including of “corrective” rape, but authorities did not investigate allegations of harassment.  Civil society members stated there were also cases where LGBTI individuals underwent corrective rape, sometimes through the facilitation of the victim’s own family.  Police were generally unresponsive to requests to increase protection for lawyers who received threats because they represented LGBTI persons.  Both police and civilians reportedly continued to extort money from presumed LGBTI individuals by threatening to expose them.

The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care.  The constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens.  In practice, however, security forces sometimes harassed persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants.  This practice and the fear it generated in turn restricted access to HIV/AIDS services.  Anecdotal reports also suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.

In an April 25 release, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights

Defenders, in partnership with the World Organization against Torture and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), denounced the arrest and arbitrary detention of five staff members of the association Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest (AJO).  AJO promoted the rights of LGBTI persons with HIV and sex workers in the West Region.  According to the release, men in civilian clothing from the territorial police, on April 20, arrested the executive director and two other members of AJO, including a care worker, as they were leaving the organization’s premises.  On April 21, two additional care workers from the organization were arrested at their places of residence.  Police did not have warrants and took the five members of AJO to the Dschang central police station, where they experienced poor detention conditions on charges related to consensual same-sex conduct.  In connection with this incident, 18 other men were arrested.  For the first time in many years, authorities in the West Region introduced the prospect of forced anal exams for the 23 arrestees.  The men were ordered to undergo such exams, but after intense advocacy by the lawyer representing the men, together with diplomatic pressure, the matter was dropped.  The men did not have access to their lawyers until April 24.

In a midterm report covering the period from January to May, Alternatives Cameroon recorded 64 cases of violence against LGBTI individuals, including three cases of arbitrary detention, 30 cases of psychological violence, one case of sexual violence, 18 cases of physical violence, and 12 cases of blackmail and extortion.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons afflicted with HIV or AIDS often suffered social discrimination and were isolated from their families and society due to social stigma and lack of education on the disease.

As in the previous year, while there were no specific cases of discrimination to highlight in employment, anecdotal reports indicated some discrimination occurred with respect to HIV status, especially in the private sector.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Several cases of vigilante action and other attacks were reported during the year.  Several arson attacks were recorded, involving the destruction of both public and private property.  On January 21, in Nkambe, in the Donga and Mantung Division of Northwest Region, unidentified men set the dormitory section of St Rita’s Secondary School on fire after the management defied the school boycott called for by separatists in the Anglophone regions.

On April 28, on the outskirts of Muyuka, Southwest Region, three gunmen on motorbikes shot and killed Sophie Mandengue Maloba, a pregnant schoolteacher.  The incident occurred three days after a similar attack on a school in Kumba took place where assailants riding motorcycles shot and killed the discipline master of the government bilingual high school and chopped off three fingers of a student.

The October presidential election triggered a wave of ethnic-tinged hate speech on social media after Cameroon Renaissance Movement candidate Maurice Kamto prematurely announced he won the election.  These attacks mostly split along tribal lines, with Kamto’s Bamileke and President Biya’s Beti ethnic groups the primary targets.

The law provides for sentences of between two and 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 5,000 and 100,000 CFA francs ($8.50 and $170) for witchcraft.  There were no reported arrests or trials for alleged witchcraft reported during the year.

Central African Republic

Executive Summary

The Central African Republic (CAR) is a presidential republic. Voters elected Faustin-Archange Touadera president in a February 2016 run-off. Despite reports of irregularities, international observers reported the February 2016 presidential and legislative elections were free and fair. The 2016 constitution established a bicameral parliament, with a directly elected National Assembly and an indirectly elected Senate. The National Assembly convened in May 2016. Elections for the Senate had not taken place by year’s end.

Civilian authorities’ control over the security forces continued to improve, but remained weak. State authority beyond the capital improved over the last year with the deployment of prefects and security services, in particular, in the western part of the country; armed groups, however, still controlled significant swaths of territory throughout the country and acted as de facto governing institutions, taxing local populations, providing security services, and appointing armed group members to leadership roles.

Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings, forced disappearance, and sexual violence, including rape by ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups;[1] arbitrary detention; delays in holding criminal sessions in the judicial system, resulting in prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, particularly in cities not controlled by the government and in illegal detention facilities not operated by the government; seizure and destruction of property and use of excessive and indiscriminate force in internal armed conflict by armed groups; restrictions on freedom of movement; widespread corruption; lack of prosecution and accountability in cases of violence against women and children, including sexual violence and rape; criminalization of same-sex conduct; forced labor, including forced child labor; and use of child soldiers by armed groups.

The government started to take steps to investigate and prosecute officials in the security forces and in the government for alleged human rights violations. A climate of impunity, however, and a lack of access to legal services remained. There were allegations that United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) peacekeepers sexually abused children and sexually exploited adults. The United Nations investigated alleged perpetrators and the number of reported incidents decreased over previous years (see section 1.c.).

Intercommunal violence and targeted attacks on civilians by armed groups escalated during the year. Armed groups perpetrated serious abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during the internal conflicts. Both ex-Seleka and the Anti-balaka committed unlawful killings, torture and other mistreatment, abductions, sexual assaults, looting, and destruction of property.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. There were, however, several reports that armed groups committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in which government agents were implicated, according to reports by MINUSCA.

Armed rebel groups, particularly members of the various factions of ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka, killed civilians, especially persons suspected of being members or sympathizers of opposing parties in the conflict (see section 1.g.). The killings, often reprisals in nature, included summary executions and deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

In May members of an armed group killed 26 persons and wounded more than 200 others in an attack on the Notre Dame Church of Fatima in the sixth district of Bangui. Separate confrontations on May 14 and 15 between the Union for Peace (UPC) and Anti-balaka elements in Bambari resulted in 32 dead and 23 wounded civilians and armed group members. Clashes among rival groups in Bangui’s PK5 neighborhood on May 23 resulted in deaths of 12 civilians.

There were numerous killings of civilians by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group that operated in eastern regions of the country, and other armed groups including the Anti-balaka, Reclamation, Return, and Rehabilitation (3R), Revolution and Justice (RJ), the Patriotic Movement for the Central African Republic (MPC), UPC, the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), and the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) (see section 1.g.).

According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Invisible Children, the LRA perpetrated at least 22 attacks on civilians in the Mbomou Uele border region in January. Five civilians were killed and 26 abducted. In February the LRA reportedly committed 30 attacks, killing at least 15 civilians and abducting 25 others.

The 3R, MPC, UPC, FPRC, and Anti-balaka groups participated in ethnic killings related to cattle theft (see section 6).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were reports that forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, and other armed groups were responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Those abducted included police and civilians (see section 1.g.).

There were many reports of disappearances committed by the LRA for the purposes of recruitment and extortion (see section 1.g.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the law prohibits torture and specifies punishment for those found guilty of physical abuse, there were reports from NGOs that soldiers of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), gendarmes, and police were responsible for torture.

In February the Central Office for the Repression of Banditry (OCRB) in Damala assaulted a 40-year-old woman after she came to plead for the release of her son who had been arrested following the theft of a motorcycle. A medical report documented the woman’s injuries.

There were reports of impunity for inhuman treatment, including torture, according to credible NGO sources, and abuse and rape of civilians, that resulted in deaths by forces from the ex-Seleka, Anti-balaka, LRA, and other armed groups (see section 1.g.).

The United Nations reported that it received eight allegations between January and August of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers that were deployed to MINUSCA. These allegations involved peacekeepers from Cameroon, Morocco, Niger, and Burundi. Of the eight allegations, seven involved minors and all were pending investigations by the United Nations or the troop contributing country.

According to the United Nations, three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against MINUSCA peacekeepers from Mauritania reported in 2017 were pending. Two cases alleged sexual abuse (sexual assault or rape), involving minors. In both cases the United Nations repatriated the peacekeepers in question. The other case alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship). Investigations by the Mauritanian government were pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) independent expert and international NGOs, detention conditions in prisons did not generally meet international norms and were often inhuman.

MINUSCA detained and transferred to government custody several medium and high-level armed group members.

Physical Conditions: The government operated three prisons in or near Bangui: Ngaragba Central Prison, its high-security Camp de Roux annex for men, and the Bimbo Women’s Prison. A combination of international peacekeepers, FACA, prison officers trained by MINUSCA and the Ministry of Justice, and judicial police guarded both men’s and women’s prisons. Six prisons were operational outside the Bangui area: Bouar, Berberati, Bimbo, Bossangoa, Bambari, and Mbaiki. In other locations including Bossembele and Boda, police or gendarmes kept prisoners in custody. Most prisons were extremely overcrowded. Necessities, such as food, clothing, and medicine, were inadequate and were often confiscated by prison officials. Prisons lacked basic sanitation and ventilation, electricity, basic and emergency medical care, and sufficient access to potable water. Diseases were pervasive in all prisons. Official statistics regarding the number of deaths in prison were not available. Conditions were life threatening and substantially below international standards. The national budget did not include adequate funds for food for prison inmates.

Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and failed to separate prisoners by gender. In Bangui, however, prisoners were separated by gender. Smaller prisons in cities such as Bouar, Mbaiki, Berberati, and Bossangoa segregated male from female prisoners, but conditions were substantially below international standards. Female prisoners were placed in facilities without ventilation or electricity. All detainees, including pregnant women, slept on thin straw mats on concrete floors.

There were no detention centers or separate cells in adult prisons for juvenile offenders. The Ngaragba Prison reported 32 juveniles held there. The accusations ranged from murder to witchcraft and petty crimes. Police and gendarmes held individuals beyond the statutory limits for detention before imposing formal charges.

Administration: MINUSCA is extensively involved in the administration of prisons. MINUSCA personnel staffed the prisons in Bangui, Boura, and Bambari. Prison detainees have the right to submit complaints of mistreatment, but victims rarely exercised this option due to the lack of a functioning formal complaint mechanism and fear of retaliation from prison officials. Authorities seldom initiated investigations of abuse in prisons.

Prisons were consistently underfunded with insufficient operating resources for the care of prisoners. There were reports that complainants paid police or gendarmes fees for their complaints to be heard. Additionally, prison guards and administrators were accused of charging prisoners, prisoners’ family members, and other visitors unofficial fees.

Independent Monitoring: In January, February, and July, the government permitted monitoring by UNHCR independent experts and international donors. The government also permitted monitoring by the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council Independent Expert on Human Rights in the CAR.

Improvements: In April the government and agencies of the United Nations launched a nationwide recruitment of 300 new prison officers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government sometimes observed these requirements.

The judicial system had gradually expanded its presence beyond Bangui to other cities, notably Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, and Mbaiki. There were, however, reports of arbitrary detention and lengthy pretrial detention. Ongoing challenges included a lack of affordable legal representation and an unresponsive judiciary system.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Police and gendarmes have responsibility for enforcing law and maintaining order. Prior to the conflict, police and gendarmes maintained limited or no presence in many areas. During the violence that commenced in 2013, police and gendarmes were targeted by Seleka forces, prompting their withdrawal from the interior. Since 2014 the police and gendarmerie have gradually increased their presence in several previously vacated towns. Deployed officers, however, remained poorly trained, under resourced and supplied with poorly functioning arms and insufficient ammunition for their tasks. Local commanding officers purchased necessities and office supplies with their own funds.

Impunity remained persistent throughout the country. Contributing factors included poorly trained officials, inadequate staffing, and insufficient resources. Additionally, claims of corruption among top government officials, delayed receipt of salaries for law enforcement and judiciary employees, and threats from local armed groups if officials arrested or investigated members persisted.

MINUSCA’s uniformed force of 11,846 military personnel, police officers, and military observers were tasked to protect the civilian population from physical violence within its capabilities and areas of deployment. MINUSCA’s 1,896 police officers were authorized to make arrests and transfer persons to national authorities.

In March the CAR internal security forces launched their first training program since 2009 for new police and gendarme recruits. The program had 250 police recruits, 60 of whom were women, and 250 gendarmes, 56 of whom were women.

The Mixed Unit for Rapid Intervention and Repression of Sexual Violence against Women and Children (UMIRR) arrested three police officers from the OCRB for torturing a woman (see section 1.c.).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. The law, however, stipulates that authorities must inform detainees of their charges and present them before a magistrate within 72 hours. This period is renewable once, for a total of 144 hours. The only exceptions are suspects involving national security. Authorities often did not respect these deadlines, in part due to poor recordkeeping, inefficient and slow judicial procedures, and insufficient number of judges.

Authorities sometimes followed legal procedures in cases managed by gendarmes or local police. Many detainees could not afford a lawyer. Although the law provides that a lawyer be provided for those unable to pay in felony cases where a sentence of 10 years or more could be imposed, lawyers are not provided for nonfelony cases. Remuneration for state-provided attorneys was 5,000 CFA francs ($8.85) per case, which deterred many lawyers from taking such cases. Led by the CAR bar association, defense lawyers protested and went on strike for higher remuneration, and the government negotiated an increased rate. For individuals detained by ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka and placed in illegal detention centers, legal procedures were not followed and access to lawyers was not provided.

Prosecution of persons subject to sanctions by the UN Sanctions Committee seldom occurred.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Arbitrary arrest was a serious problem, however, and some ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka groups arbitrarily targeted and detained individuals.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was a serious problem; specific reliable data was not available.

Although recordkeeping of arrests and detentions was poor, the slow investigation and processing of a case was the primary cause of pretrial detention. The judicial police force charged with investigating cases was poorly trained, understaffed, and had few resources, resulting in poorly processed cases with little physical evidence. The court system did not hold the constitutionally mandated two criminal sessions per year. The judges resisted holding sessions out of security concerns and insisted on receiving stipends beyond their salaries.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Although the law provides detainees the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in court, in practice, many detainees were not able to exercise this right due to a lack of affordable legal services and an unresponsive justice system.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, there was a lack of independence between the judiciary and political actors. In 2013 the Seleka destroyed court buildings and records throughout the country, leaving the judicial system barely functional. In March 2017 the president issued a decree that appointed eight members to the Constitutional Court, four of whom, including the president of the court, were women. The courts in Bangui and some other major cities, notably Bouar, Berberati, Bossangoa, Mbaiki, Boda, and Bimbo, resumed operation, but the deployment of magistrates and administrators outside Bangui was limited. Many judges were unwilling to leave Bangui, citing security concerns, the inability to receive their salaries while in provincial cities, and the lack of office spaces and housing.

Corruption was a serious problem at all levels. Courts suffered from inefficient administration, understaffing, shortages of trained personnel, salary arrears, and lack of resources. Authorities, particularly those of high rank, did not always respect court orders.

In May the National Assembly adopted the rules of procedure and evidence for the Special Criminal Court (SCC); the SCC officially launched investigations in October. The SCC was established by law in 2015 in the domestic judicial system, which operates with both domestic and international participation and support. The SCC has jurisdiction over serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Operations of the Courts of Appeals for criminal courts in two of the country’s three judicial districts, Western district based in Bouar and Central district based in Bangui, held criminal sessions during the year. The Bouar criminal session adjudicated 65 cases involving 108 individuals, with 20 accused appearing in court and 88 convicted in absentia. In December 2017 the criminal session in Bangui adjudicated 27 criminal cases, and the July-August session adjudicated 26 cases. Fifteen cases went to trial and 11 were retained for the next criminal session.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The penal code presumes defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials are public, and defendants have the right to be present and consult a public defender. Criminal trials use juries. The law obliges the government to provide counsel for indigent defendants; this process delayed trial proceedings due to the state’s limited resources. Defendants have the right to question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and file appeals. The government sometimes complied with these requirements. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary) from the moment charged through all appeals, to receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Authorities however, seldom respected these rights.

With the assistance of MINUSCA and international donors, the government began the process of establishing the SCC, which is tasked to investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations. It has a focus on conflict-related and gender-based crimes. The internationally nominated chief prosecutor for the court took office in May 2017. More than a dozen international and national positions within the court, including judges, prosecutors, and clerks, were filled.

Criminal hearings resumed in Bouar and in Kaga-Bandoro.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary in civil matters, but citizens had limited access to courts in order to file lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. In 2015 the civil courts resumed operations with regular sessions. There is no system for protecting victims and witnesses from intimidation and insecurity. Consequently, victims, who often lived side-by-side with perpetrators, were reluctant to testify against perpetrators because there was no guarantee of their safety and a credible judicial process.

In January the Criminal Court of Bangui found former Anti-balaka leader Rodrigue Ngaibona, also known as “Andilo,” guilty of five counts of criminal acts including assassinations, aggravated theft, criminal conspiracy, illegal possession of weapons, and theft. He was sentenced to life in prison with forced labor.

The court found another armed group leader, Ahmad Tidjani, and 10 members of the former Seleka guilty of criminal conspiracy, possession of weapons of war, undermining the internal security of the State and rebellion.

Several civil courts were operational in Bangui and other prefectures in the western region.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits searches of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. In March 2017 President Touadera issued a decree appointing members of the High Authority for Good Governance, an independent body mandated by the constitution. It is charged with protecting the rights of minorities and the handicapped, and with ensuring the equitable distribution of natural resource revenues, among other roles.

Corruption and nepotism have long been pervasive in all branches of government, and addressing public-sector corruption was difficult given limited government capacity.

Corruption: Few cases of corruption were brought to trial or exposed with strong evidence in the media; there were, however, widespread rumors and anecdotal stories of pervasive corruption. A report by the NGO Collaborative for Development Action Collaborative Learning Projects utilizing firsthand testimony highlighted the extensive nature of corruption in the criminal justice system, where “extortion/bribery, sexual favors, favoritism, and political interference distort every aspect of the criminal justice system.”

Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires senior members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches at the beginning of their terms to declare publicly their personal assets and income for scrutiny by the constitutional court. The constitution specifies that the law determine sanctions for noncompliance. Declarations are public. The constitution requires ministers to declare their assets upon departing government but is not explicit on what constitutes assets or income.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights abuses and violations. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

In August the national Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration, and Repatriation Consultative Committee (CC) launched a pilot disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration project in Bangui. The goal was to disarm 560 armed group members. Thirteen of the 14 recognized armed groups represented on the committee participated in the pilot program. According to the CC, in September 240 armed group members disarmed and enlisted in the FACA. An additional 198 members were disarmed and in training to reintegrate into their communities.

Government Human Rights Bodies: In April 2017 President Touadera signed into law an act establishing an independent National Commission on Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties. The commission expected to have the authority to investigate complaints, including the power to call witnesses and subpoena documents.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape, although it does not specifically prohibit spousal rape. Rape is punishable by imprisonment with hard labor, but the law does not specify a minimum sentence. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Although the law does not specifically mention spousal abuse, it prohibits violence against any person and provides for penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Domestic violence against women was common, although there are laws and instrument prohibiting violence against women. The government took no known action to punish perpetrators.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C of women and girls, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($176 to $1,760), depending on the severity of the case.

Nearly one quarter of girls and women have been subjected to FGM/C in the country, with variations according to ethnicity and region. Approximately half of girls were cut between the ages of 10 and 14. Both the prevalence of FGM/C and support for the practice declined sharply over time.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in the areas controlled by armed groups, and sexual harassment was common. The law prescribes no specific penalties for the crime.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The formal law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a number of discriminatory customary laws often prevailed. Women’s statutory inheritance rights often were not respected, particularly in rural areas. Women experienced economic and social discrimination. Customary law does not consider single, divorced, or widowed women, including those with children, to be heads of households. By law men and women are entitled to family subsidies from the government, but several women’s groups complained about lack of access to these payments for women.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the national territory or from one or both parents. Birth registration could be difficult and less likely to occur in regions with little government presence. Parents did not always register births immediately. Unregistered children faced restrictions on access to education and other social services. The courts issued more than 7,000 birth certificates. They were not delivered, however, because court clerks demanded payment for printing the certificates. The lack of routine birth registration also posed long-term problems.

Education: Education is compulsory from six to 15 years of age. Tuition is free, but students have to pay for items such as books and supplies and for transportation. Human Rights Watch documented the continued occupation of schools for military purposes, such as for barracks or bases. Further, it documented that abuses by fighters in and around schools threatened the safety of students and teachers, and impeded children’s ability to learn. In 2015 according to UNICEF, 38 percent of schools were attacked or looted during the crisis, and one-third of school-age children did not go to school. Girls did not have equal access to primary or secondary education. Few Ba’aka, the earliest known inhabitants of the forests in the south, attended primary school. There was no significant government assistance for efforts to increase Ba’aka enrollment.

According to an NGO nationwide survey during the year, between 78 and 88 percent of schools were open. According to the United Nations, an estimated 10,000 children were prevented from attending school during the year, mostly due to schools being occupied by armed groups.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes parental abuse of children younger than age 15. Nevertheless, child abuse and neglect were widespread, although rarely acknowledged. The government did not take steps to address child abuse.

In March a Central African military colonel imprisoned and brutally abused his nine-year-old daughter for two years. The colonel remained free despite criminal charges being filed against him.

Domestic abuse, rape, and sexual slavery of women and girls by armed groups threatened their security, and sexual violence was increasingly used as a deliberate tool of warfare. Attackers enjoyed broad impunity. Constitutional guarantees of women’s rights were rarely enforced, especially in rural areas. Sexual abuses by UN peacekeeping forces had been documented, but many instances had not been investigated or prosecuted.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 18 as the minimum age for civil marriage. The practice of early marriage was more common in the Muslim community. There were reports during the year of forced marriages of young girls to ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka members. The government did not take steps to address forced marriage. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There are no statutory rape or child pornography laws to protect minors. The family code prescribes penalties for the commercial exploitation of children, including imprisonment and financial penalties. The minimum age of sexual consent is 18, but it was rarely observed. A legal aid center in Bimbo for sexual and gender-based crimes reported cases involving minor victims.

For example, a man raped his four-year-old niece. The child was under medical treatment. UMIRR was investigating the case while the uncle remained in jail.

Armed groups committed sexual violence against children and used girls as sex slaves (see sections 1.g. and 2.d.).

For example, during the year, NGOs reported the LRA continued to target and abduct children. Abducted girls often were kept as sex slaves.

Child Soldiers: Child soldiering was a problem (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Armed conflict resulted in forced displacement, with the number of persons fleeing in search of protection fluctuating based on local conditions.

The country’s instability had a disproportionate effect on children, who accounted for 60 percent of IDPs. Access to government services was limited for all children, but displacement reduced it further. Nevertheless, according to a humanitarian NGO, an estimated 140,000 displaced and vulnerable children participated in psychosocial activities, armed groups released 3,000 children, and approximately 3,500 survivors of sexual violence received comprehensive support.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no significant Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with both mental and physical disabilities but does not specify other forms of disabilities. It requires that in any company employing 25 or more persons, at least 5 percent of staff must consist of sufficiently qualified persons with disabilities, if they are available. The law states that at least 10 percent of newly recruited civil service personnel should be persons with disabilities. There are no legislated or mandated accessibility provisions for persons with disabilities.

The government did not enact programs to ensure access to buildings, information, and communications. The Ministry of Labor, of Employment and Social Protection’s Labor Inspectorate has responsibility for protecting children with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Violence by unidentified persons, bandits, and other armed groups against the Mbororo, primarily nomadic pastoralists, was a problem. Their cattle wealth made them attractive targets, and they continued to suffer disproportionately from civil disorder in the North. Additionally, since many citizens viewed them as inherently foreign due to their transnational migratory patterns, the Mbororo faced occasional discrimination with regard to government services and protections. In recent years the Mbororo have begun arming themselves against attacks from farmers who objected to the presence of the Mbororo’s grazing cattle. Several of the ensuing altercations resulted in deaths.

Social networks were increasingly used to incite hatred against persons of other ethnicities. The High Commission on Communications initiated a campaign to combat hate speech on social networks.

Indigenous People

Discrimination continued against the nomadic pastoralist Mbororo minority, as well as the forest-dwelling Ba’aka. The independent High Authority for Good Governance, whose members were appointed in March 2017, is tasked with protecting the rights of minorities and the handicapped, although its efficacy has yet to be proven.

Discrimination against the Ba’aka, who constituted 1 to 2 percent of the population, remained a problem. The Ba’aka continued to have little influence in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the exploitation of natural resources. Forest-dwelling Ba’aka, in particular, experienced social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the government did little to prevent.

The Ba’aka, including children, were often coerced into agricultural, domestic, and other types of labor. They were considered slaves by members of other local ethnic groups, and even when they were remunerated for labor, their wages were far below those prescribed by the labor code and lower than wages paid to members of other groups.

Refugees International reported the Ba’aka were effectively “second-class citizens,” perceived as barbaric and subhuman and excluded from mainstream society.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity. The penalty for “public expression of love” between persons of the same sex is imprisonment for six months to two years or a fine of between 150,000 and 600,000 CFA francs ($265 and $1,060). When one of the participants is a child, the adult could be sentenced to two to five years’ imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 to 800,000 CFA francs ($176 and $1,413); there were no reports police arrested or detained persons under these provisions.

While official discrimination based on sexual orientation occurred, there were no reports the government targeted LGBTI persons. Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was entrenched due to a high degree of cultural stigmatization. There were no reports of LGBTI persons targeted for acts of violence, although the absence of reports could reflect cultural biases and stigma attached to being an LGBTI individual. There were no known organizations advocating for or working on behalf of LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Persons with HIV/AIDS were subjected to discrimination and stigma, and many individuals with HIV/AIDS did not disclose their status due to social stigma.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Violent conflict and instability in the country had a religious cast. Many, but not all, members of the ex-Seleka and its factions were Muslim, having originated in neighboring countries or in the remote Muslim north, a region former governments often neglected.

During the worst of the crisis, some Christian communities formed anti-Seleka militias that targeted Muslim communities, presumably for their association with the Seleka. The Catholic archbishop of Bangui, local priests, and an imam continued working with communities to defuse tensions by making radio broadcasts urging members of their religious communities to call for tolerance and restraint. Local leaders, including the bishop of Bossangoa, and internationally based academics warned against casting the conflict in religious terms and thus fueling its escalation along religious lines.

Ethnic killings often related to transhumance movements occurred. The major groups playing a role in the transhumance movements were social groups centering on ethnic identity. These included Muslim Fulani/Peuhl herders, Muslim farming communities, and Christian/animist farming communities. These ethnic groups committed preemptive and reactionary killings in protection of perceived or real threats to their property (cattle herds or farms). Initial killings generated reprisal killings and counter killings.

According to the UNHCR independent expert, there were numerous credible reports that “persons accused of witchcraft were detained, tortured, or killed by individuals or members of armed groups, particularly in the west of the country.”

The law outlawed the practice of witchcraft. According to the UNHCR independent expert, there were numerous credible reports that “persons accused of witchcraft were detained, tortured, or killed by individuals or members of armed groups, particularly in the west of the country.”

In April civil society members organized a conference bringing together anthropologists and legal experts to discuss witchcraft. Participants highlighted the misuse of this law by accusers, notably against women. Nevertheless, in May three persons accused of witchcraft were killed in Ndolobo, near Mbaïki.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a nominally centralized constitutional republic. Voters popularly elect the president and the lower house of parliament (National Assembly). Under the constitution, President Joseph Kabila’s second and final term in office expired in 2016. The government, however, failed to organize elections in 2016 in accordance with constitutional deadlines, and the president remained in office. In 2016 the government and opposition parties agreed to a power-sharing arrangement that paved the way for elections, the release of political prisoners, and an end to politically motivated prosecutions. The government failed to implement the agreement as written, however, and in November 2017 it scheduled presidential, legislative, and provincial elections for December 23, 2018. In August the president announced that he would abide by his constitutionally mandated term limit and not seek an illegal third term. Presidential, legislative, and provincial elections were held on December 30; however, presidential elections were canceled in Beni, Butembo, and Yumbi with those legislative and provincial elections postponed to March 2019. President Kabila did not run as a candidate and announced he would hand power over to the winner, which would mark the first civilian transfer of power resulting from elections. Results of the elections were still pending at year’s end.

Civilian authorities did not always maintain control over the security forces.

Armed conflict in eastern DRC and parts of the Kasai regions exacerbated an already precarious human rights situation.

Human rights issues included unlawful killings by government and armed groups; forced disappearances and abductions by government and armed groups; torture by government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home; threats against and harassment of journalists, censorship, internet blackouts, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; delayed elections and restrictions on citizens right to change their government through democratic means; corruption and a lack of transparency at all levels of government; violence against women and children, caused in part by government inaction, negligence; unlawful recruitment of child soldiers; crimes involving violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and persons with disabilities or members of other minority groups; trafficking in persons, including forced labor, including by children; and violations of worker rights.

Despite the occurrence of some notable trials against military officials, authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Government security forces, as well as rebel and militia groups (RMGs) continued to commit abuses, primarily in the east and the central Kasai region. These abuses included unlawful killings, disappearances, torture, destruction of government and private property, and sexual and gender based violence. RMGs also recruited, abducted, and retained child soldiers and compelled forced labor. The government took military action against some RMGs but had limited ability to investigate abuses and bring the accused to trial (see section 1.g.).

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

The state security forces (SSF) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings in operations against RMGs in the east and in the Kasai region (see section 1.g.). According to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights (UNJHRO), security forces were responsible for 389 extrajudicial killings across the country as of year’s end. Many of these extrajudicial killings occurred in the Kasais, where the SSF fought Kamuina Nsapu and other antigovernment militias. RMGs were responsible for at least 780 summary executions.

On January 21 and February 25, security forces used lethal and disproportionate force to disrupt protests led by Roman Catholic and some Protestant church leaders in support of credible elections and implementation of the December 2016 Agreement. During the two days of protests, UN observers and others witnessed members of the Republican Guard and other members of security forces fire directly at protesters, resulting in seven deaths on January 21 and two on February 25. Among those killed on January 21 was Therese Kapangala, a 24-year-old studying to become a nun, who was shot and killed outside her church in a Catholic parish in Kinshasa. During protests organized by the Catholic Lay Committee on February 25, state security forces killed two persons, including local human rights activist Rossy Mukendi Tshimanga, who was shot by a rubber bullet inside a church compound. From August 3 to 7, the SSF used tear gas and live bullets to disperse protests, resulting in the deaths of three persons, including two children, and the injury of at least two persons by police.

In March a joint report by the UN human rights office in Kinshasa (JHRO) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) covering January 2017 through January stated that the SSF used illegal, systematic, and disproportionate force against protesters, resulting in 47 civilian deaths. On November 12 and 15, police were responsible for the deaths of two students who were protesting against a teachers’ strike at the University of Kinshasa.

On July 4, the OHCHR released a report on abuses in the Kasais region that accused RMGs Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura and the SSF of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Based on interviews with 524 persons, the experts’ report accused the military of cooperation with Bana Mura militia and an excessively violent response to conflict in the region, particularly the 2101st Regiment that was redeployed to Kananga from North Kivu in 2007 when it was part of the Fifth Integrated Brigade. The report estimated that the conflict, which was most violent in 2017, resulted in “thousands of deaths and a disastrous human rights situation” and displaced 1.4 million persons. Among other incidents, the report documented an SSF attack in May 2017 in Tshikulu that resulted in the summary execution of at least 79 civilians, including at least 19 children. On September 15, a regional civil society development network in the Kasai region released a report stating that in March 2017 the SSF killed 264 civilians in the village of Nganza during antimilitia operations.

RMGs committed arbitrary and unlawful killings throughout the year (see section 1.g.). Numerous armed groups recruited and used children as soldiers and human shields and targeted the SSF, members of the government, and others.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributable to the SSF during the year. Authorities often refused to acknowledge the detention of suspects and in several cases detained suspects in unofficial facilities, including on military bases and in detention facilities operated by the National Intelligence Agency (ANR). The whereabouts of some civil society activists and civilians arrested by the SSF remained unknown for long periods.

RMGs kidnapped numerous persons, generally for forced labor, military service, or sexual slavery. Many of these victims disappeared (see section 1.g.). In July the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) confirmed that 66 persons were previously kidnapped in Kasai Province by the Bana Mura, a RMG supported by the government, and used as sexual slaves. The kidnapped included two women, 49 girls, and 15 boys who had been in captivity since as early as April 2017. The government denied the findings, claiming the information was false.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law criminalizes torture, but there were credible reports that the SSF continued to torture civilians, particularly detainees and prisoners. In November the British nongovernmental organization (NGO) Freedom from Torture reported that torture was widespread both inside and outside conflict zones in DRC. It had accumulated witness testimony of almost 900 cases of torture from DRC, including 74 cases from 2013 to 2018. The report states, “Torture is used predominantly as a form of punishment for political and human rights activism, and as a deterrent against future involvement.” Throughout the year activists circulated videos of police beating unarmed and nonviolent protestors.

As of October 10, the United Nations reported that it had received 15 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against military, police, and civilian personnel deployed with MONUSCO during the year. Of these cases, 11 involved allegations of an exploitative relationship; three involved allegations of transactional sex; two involved the alleged rape of a child, and one involved sexual assault. As of October 10, all investigations were pending. The United Nations also reported that Bangladeshi peacekeepers were involved in sexual exploitation and abuse while deployed in MONUSCO from 2015 to 2017. The peacekeepers in question were repatriated by the United Nations, and investigations by Bangladeshi government were pending at the end of the year.

The United Nations reported that during the year it received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against a peacekeeper from the DRC while he was deployed in United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central Africa Republic. The case alleged rape of a minor. Investigations by both the United Nations and the DRC were still pending as of year’s end. Twenty-six allegations reported prior to 2018 remained pending, in many cases awaiting additional information by the DRC. The cases included 17 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of minors.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in most prisons throughout the country worsened during the year, aggravating the already harsh and life threatening conditions due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. Even harsher conditions prevailed in small detention centers run by the ANR, Republican Guard (RG), or other security forces, which often detained prisoners for lengthy pretrial periods without access to family or legal counsel. Some civil society activists arrested in Kinshasa were reportedly held in an underground cell operated by the RG at a military camp.

Physical Conditions: Serious threats to life and health were widespread and included violence (particularly rape); food shortages; and inadequate potable water, sanitation, ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and medical care. Poor ventilation subjected detainees to extreme heat. Central prison facilities were severely overcrowded, with an estimated occupancy rate of 200 percent of capacity. For example, Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, which was constructed in 1958 to house 1,500 prisoners, held as many as 8,500 inmates during the year. In September, Radio Okapi reported there were 7,400 inmates at Makala. Authorities generally confined men and women in separate areas but often held juveniles with adults. Women were sometimes imprisoned with their children. In July local NGO Rural Action for Development reported that 13 infants suffered from malnutrition and other diseases due to poor conditions while held with their mothers in Munzenze Prison in Goma. Authorities rarely separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners.

Because inmates had inadequate supplies of food and little access to water, many relied exclusively on relatives, NGOs, and church groups to bring them sustenance. The United Nations reported 223 individuals died in detention during the year, a 10-percent increase compared with the 201 deaths recorded in 2017. These resulted from malnutrition, poor hygienic conditions, and lack of access to proper medical care. From January to June, cholera and tuberculosis epidemics aggravated the already overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, leading to a 20 percent increase in deaths in detention compared with the same period in 2017. In July, five prisoners died from severe diarrhea and malnutrition due to poor sanitation and inadequate medical services in Tshela Prison in Kongo Central. In January, MONUSCO reported that 57 inmates in Manono Prison in Tanganyika Province suffered from malnutrition and that prisoners had endured 10-14 days without food.

Most prisons were understaffed, undersupplied, and poorly maintained, leading to corruption and poor control of the prison population that contributed to prison escapes. On March 21, media reported that two police officers were sentenced to life in prison by a military court for their involvement in a March 18 prison break in Lubumbashi, Haut Katanga province. The United Nations reported that at least 801 individuals escaped detention centers during the year, a significant decrease from the number of 5,926 escapees in 2017.

Authorities often arbitrarily beat or tortured detainees. On September 13, police arrested seven members of the local civil society group Les Congolais Debout! (Congolese Awake!) at the University of Kinshasa while they were campaigning against the use of voting machines on grounds that the seven were carrying out political activities in what is supposed to be an apolitical environment. After reportedly being beaten, whipped, and forced to clean toilets with bare hands while in police custody, their attorney said they were transferred to an ANR cell and, as of November 15, remained in detention without charges.

RMGs detained civilians, often for ransom, but little information was available concerning detention conditions (see section 1.g.).

Administration: Some prison directors could only estimate the numbers of detainees in their facilities. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited an unknown number of prisoners. Authorities denied access to visitors for some inmates and often did not permit inmates to contact or submit complaints to judicial authorities. Directors and staff generally ran prisons for profit, selling sleeping arrangements to the highest bidders and requiring payment for family visits.

Independent Monitoring: The government regularly allowed the ICRC, MONUSCO, and NGOs access to official detention facilities maintained by the Ministry of Interior but consistently denied access to facilities run by the RG, ANR, and the intelligence services of the military and police.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but both the SSF and RMGs routinely arrested or detained persons arbitrarily (see section 1.e.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Congolese National Police (PNC) operates under the Ministry of Interior and has primary responsibility for law enforcement and public order. The PNC includes the Rapid Intervention Police and the Integrated Police Unit. The ANR, overseen by the presidency, is responsible for internal and external intelligence. The Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and the military intelligence service operate under the control of the Ministry of Defense and are primarily responsible for external security but in reality focus almost exclusively on internal security. The presidency oversees the RG, and the Minister of Interior oversees the Directorate General for Migration, which, together with the PNC, are responsible for border control. Military magistrates are responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all crimes allegedly committed by SSF members, whether or not committed in the line of duty. Civilians may be tried in military tribunals if charged with offenses involving firearms. The military justice system often succumbed to political and command interference, and security arrangements for magistrates in areas affected by conflict were inadequate. Justice mechanisms were particularly ineffective for addressing misconduct by mid- and high-ranking officials due to a requirement the judge of a military court must outrank the defendant.

Elements of the SSF were undisciplined and corrupt. According to the United Nations, state agents were responsible for 61 percent of the human rights violations documented during the year. PNC and FARDC units regularly engaged in illegal taxation and extortion of civilians. They set up checkpoints to collect “taxes,” often stealing food and money and arresting individuals who could not pay bribes. The FARDC suffered from weak leadership, poor operational planning, low administrative and logistical capacity, lack of training, and questionable loyalty of some of its soldiers, particularly in the East. Nonprofit organizations and the United Nations reported regular instances of extortion, sexual-based violence, including gang rape, arbitrary arrests, and violent assaults by the SSF on Congolese migrants and expelled refugees returning from Angola in October.

Although the military justice system convicted some SSF agents of human rights abuses, impunity remained a serious problem. The government maintained joint human rights committees with MONUSCO and used available international resources, such as the UN-implemented technical and logistical support program for military prosecutors as well as international NGO-supported mobile hearings.

Military courts convicted some SSF agents of human rights violations. The United Nations reported that the government convicted at least 120 FARDC soldiers and 66 PNC officers for crimes constituting human rights violations during the year. On July 26, the mobile High Military Court in Bukavu sentenced on appeal three convicted high-ranking FARDC officers for various crimes against humanity: Colonel Julius Dhenyo Becker to two years in prison, a sentence that observers criticized for its relative leniency; Lieutenant Colonel Maro Ntuma to 20 years in prison for conviction of crimes including murder; and Colonel Bedi Mobuli to life in prison for conviction of crimes against humanity and crimes of war, including rape and murder. On October 20, the Military Tribunal of Ituri convicted and sentenced Sergeant Bienvenue Mugisa Akiki to death for the October 16 murder of four civilians in Djugu territory of Ituri Province.

The trial continued for individuals accused of involvement in the March 2017 killings of UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. After a delay of several months, the military prosecution began to call key suspects to testify, and, on December 7, arrested a military colonel and announced he was a suspect in the killings. Other key suspects have been called to testify although not all have been apprehended.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law arrests for offenses punishable by more than six months’ imprisonment require warrants. Detainees must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours. Authorities must inform those arrested of their rights and the reason(s) for their arrest, and they may not arrest a family member in lieu of the suspected individual. Authorities must allow arrested individuals to contact their families and consult with attorneys. Security officials, however, routinely violated all of these requirements.

While the law provides for a bail system, it generally did not function. Detainees who were unable to pay were rarely able to access legal counsel. Authorities often held suspects incommunicado, including in unofficial detention centers run by the ANR, military intelligence, and the RG, and refused to acknowledge these detentions.

Prison officials often held individuals longer than their sentences due to disorganization, inadequate records, judicial inefficiency, or corruption. Prisoners unable to pay their fines often remained indefinitely in prison (see section 1.e.).

In 2014 the PNC issued a decree reforming arrest and detention procedures. The decree required the PNC to verify facts before arresting individuals, separate men from women, and provide sanitary detention centers. Some improvements in recently rehabilitated detention centers were noted although authorities did not consistently implement the decree, including the holding of men and women together.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security personnel arrested and detained numerous civil society activists, journalists, and opposition party members who criticized the government, occasionally under the pretext of state security, and often denied them due process, such as access to an attorney (see sections 1.a., 2.a., and 5). Throughout the year security forces regularly held protestors and civil society activists incommunicado and without charge for extended periods. The United Nations reported the SSF arbitrarily arrested at least 2,933 persons across the country from January through August. In September the UNJHRO reported that at least 561 women were victims of arbitrary arrest from January through August.

In November 2017 civil society activist and member of the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) party Christian Lumu, was arrested and then transferred to an ANR detention cell. He was held without charge and on November 28, was transferred to a military prison where he remained as of December 31. Witnesses stated that he received electric shocks and was beaten while in detention.

On January 21, more than 100 persons were arbitrarily arrested across the country according to the United Nations, for participation in peaceful demonstrations organized by Catholic and some Protestant church leaders in support of credible elections and implementation of the December 2016 Agreement. On February 25, the United Nations reported that at least 7,194 persons were arbitrarily arrested during protests organized by the Catholic Lay Association. The United Nations reported at least 89 persons, including one minor, were arrested and kept under preventive detention during protests organized in support of opposition politician Moise Katumbi in Lubumbashi and Kasumbalesa in Haut Katanga province on August 3-7.

Police sometimes arbitrarily arrested and detained persons without filing charges to extort money from family members or because administrative systems were not well established.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention, ranging from months to years, remained a problem. NGOs estimated that at least three quarters to four-fifths of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Judicial inefficiency, administrative obstacles, corruption, financial constraints, and staff shortages also caused trial delays. On September 15, a report by the regional civil society development network CRONGD documented that, of 461 persons arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of RMG involvement, 44 were in detention without charge.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention; however, few were able to obtain prompt release and compensation.

Amnesty: A total of 148 persons were released following the signing of four executive orders by the minister of justice in January and February. Two of the executive orders applied the law on amnesty of 2014 (43 persons released) and the two others granted conditional release to persons sentenced for participation in an insurrectional movement, war crimes, and political offenses.

On December 29, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba announced the pardon of “several hundred” prisoners for the New Year and said these individuals would be released. The prisoners were not released by year’s end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was corrupt and subject to influence. Officials and other influential individuals often subjected judges to coercion. On August 16, the minister of justice claimed to have issued an international arrest warrant for businessman and opposition politician Moise Katumbi, who was convicted in 2015 of real estate fraud despite a Catholic Council of Bishops (CENCO) 2017 report concluding that the SSF pressured judicial officials to convict him. It was not clear that any warrant was actually issued. CENCO also concluded that a similar property fraud case against opposition member and businessman Jean-Claude Muyambo was equally unfounded and amounted to “judicial harassment.” Muyambo, who claimed to have permanent damage to his foot following beatings during his arrest in 2015, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2017 and ordered to pay 1,580,000 Congolese francs ($9,900) in damages for conviction of breach of trust and illegal retention of documents. Muyambo was among the prisoners slated to be released by the justice ministry on December 30, but he remained in prison at year’s end.

A shortage of judges hindered the government’s ability to provide expeditious trials, and judges occasionally refused transfers to remote areas where shortages were most acute because the government could not support them there. Authorities routinely did not respect court orders. Disciplinary boards created under the High Council of Magistrates continued to rule on numerous cases of corruption and malpractice each month. Many of these rulings included the firing, suspension, or fining of judges and magistrates. One judge on the High Council said its March investigation into corruption concluded that 250 magistrates were guilty of counterfeiting, including fake diplomas, and failure to pass the recruitment test.

A recruitment drive during the year, however, increased to 3,000 the number of military and civilian judges, and in July the minister of justice announced the recruitment of appellate court judges throughout the country. That same month, three members of the nine-member constitutional court were inducted, including one advisor to the president and another prominent member of the president’s ruling party.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for a presumption of innocence, but this was not always observed. Authorities are required to inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary, but this did not always occur. The public may attend trials at the discretion of the presiding judge. Defendants have the right to a trial within 15 days of being charged, but judges may extend this period to a maximum of 45 days. Authorities only occasionally abided by this requirement. The government is not required to provide counsel in most cases, with the exception of murder trials. While the government regularly provided free legal counsel to indigent defendants in capital cases, lawyers often did not have adequate access to their clients. Defendants have the right to be present and to have a defense attorney represent them. Authorities occasionally disregarded these rights. Authorities generally allowed adequate time to prepare a defense, although there were few resources available. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present evidence and witnesses in their own defense, but witnesses often were reluctant to testify due to fear of retaliation. Defendants are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal, except in cases involving national security, armed robbery, and smuggling, which the Court of State Security usually adjudicates. These rights extend to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees. Authorities charged political prisoners with a variety of offenses, including offending the person or threatening the life of the head of state, inciting tribal hatred or civil disobedience, spreading false rumors, treason, and attacking state security. While the government permitted international human rights and humanitarian organizations and MONUSCO access to some of these prisoners, authorities always denied access to detention facilities run by the RG, military intelligence, and the ANR (see section 1.c.).

As of year’s end, the United Nations estimated that at least 71 persons were held in detention for their political opinions or legitimate citizens’ activities, although the United Nations reported that many more persons deemed political prisoners might be held in unreported locations. A local NGO, Congolese Association for Access to Justice (ACAJ), reported at the UN Security Council on November 13 that 54 political prisoners were in detention. On September 25, a court sentenced activists Carbone Beni and three other members of the citizen movement Filimbi to 12 months in prison for offenses against the head of state, undermining state security, and distributing subversive material. They were originally arrested in December 2017 following advocacy for peaceful protests organized by the Catholic Church in support of the December 2016 Agreement and credible elections. They were held without charge in ANR cells for nearly six months before they were taken to the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kinshasa for questioning and transferred to Makala Prison. Observers criticized the proceedings for presenting confessions obtained under duress and for fabricating evidence. An international human rights NGO stated that police and intelligence agents beat the Filimbi members while they were in detention and during interrogation. On December 25, Beni and the three other Filimbi members were released for time served.

On July 16, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe announced the government had liberated 4,019 prisoners as part of the December Agreement’s “confidence building” measures. Most of the prisoners, however, were released some time earlier under the terms of the 2013 Nairobi agreement between rebel group M23 and the government and were not political prisoners.

In August, four civil society activists who were arrested in July 2017 for attempting to march and deliver a letter to the Lubumbashi Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) office were convicted of disturbing the peace and sentenced to eight months in prison. In November 2017 a fifth member of this group, NGO activist and human rights lawyer Timothee Mbuya, was convicted of provocation and incitement of disobedience and sentenced to 12 months in prison. Mbuya served six months in jail before he was released on February 13 while the four other activists were released shortly before him.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations within the civil court system. Most individuals, however, preferred to seek redress in the criminal courts.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the law prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, the SSF routinely ignored these provisions. The SSF harassed and robbed civilians, entered and searched homes and vehicles without warrants, and looted homes, businesses, and schools. The United Nations previously reported that FARDC soldiers conducted door-to-door searches in the Nganza commune of Kananga, Kasai Central Province, in March 2017 looking for suspected Kamuina Nsapu militia sympathizers. The OHCHR report on the Kasais released in July attributed 89 civilian deaths, including at least 11 children, to the March 2017 FARDC operation (See 1.a.).

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: Corruption by officials at all levels as well as within state-owned enterprises continued to deprive state coffers of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. NGOs and media reports during the year alleged irregularities in the public contract management process for the awarding of contracts related to the voter registration process. A September report by NGO The Sentry alleged corruption and self-enrichment by CENI officials in the awarding of a no-bid $150 million contract for electronic voting machines to be used in the December elections. Additional revenue losses were due to racketeering and exploitation of minerals in the east by the SSF, FARDC elements, and RMGs. Artisanal mining remained predominantly informal and illicit and strongly linked to armed groups and elements of the FARDC. Artisanal mining products, particularly gold, were smuggled into Uganda and Rwanda, often with the connivance of government officials. As of 2017 research by NGO International Peace Information Service estimated 44 percent of artisanal mine sites in the east were free of illegal control or taxation by the SSF or RMGs; 38 percent were under the control of elements of the FARDC; and the remainder was under the control of various armed groups. In 2014 the government launched a mechanism to standardize supply-chain processes across the Great Lakes Region for artisanally produced cassiterite (tin ore), wolframite (tungsten ore), and coltan (tantalum ore), the implementation of which continued. On June 12, the government publicly launched an artisanal gold traceability initiative but had not begun implementation by year’s end. The mining code of 2018 mandates membership in mining cooperatives for all artisanal miners, and requires accreditation to transform, transport, and conduct transactions in artisanal mining products.

In 2013 Kofi Annan’s Africa Progress Panel estimated that the country lost $1.36 billion between 2010 and 2012 due to undervalued mining asset sales. In July the NGO Global Witness reported that more than $750 million in payments by mining companies to country’s tax agencies and state mining companies between 2013 and 2015 never reached the national treasury. In November the Carter Center reported 1.2 trillion Congolese francs ($750 million) in unaccounted for mining revenues earned by the parastatal Gecamines from 2011 to 2014. This constituted more than two-thirds of the 1.75 trillion Congolese francs ($1.1 billion) in mining revenues earned by Gecamines during this period. The Carter Center’s analysis of Gecamines contracts and finances found that the government could also not account for more than half a billion dollars in infrastructure loans from Chinese banks. The report documented how government officials circumvented the mining code and regulations governing state-owned enterprises to divert revenue and observed that suspicious financial transactions appeared to coincide with the country’s electoral cycles. In a public statement after the Carter Center’s report was released, Gecamines chief executive officer Albert Yuma claimed all revenues were accounted for and denied the allegations.

An UNGOE report published in June noted that armed groups and criminal networks, including DRC security officers, continued to derive illegal revenues through gold smuggling and illicit taxation. The UNGOE provided information that a significant portion of the gold traded by Uganda and Rwanda is sourced fraudulently from neighboring countries, including the DRC, and then exported to countries including the UAE. The UNGOE previously reported cases involving FARDC elements and RMGs in the exploitation and trade of gold in the country, including that of Major General Gabriel Amisi Kumba, also known as Tango Four. According to the report, Amisi owned several gold dredges through a local gold mining company that benefited from FARDC protection. The UNGOE previously reported “almost all artisanally sourced gold in the DRC is exported illegally and underestimated in both value and volume.” The June UNGOE report also documented cases of fraud in the tagging and transport processes of various minerals in the east, noting that, while some projects are underway to strengthen the government’s technical capacity to detect fraud in the transport of minerals, the UNGOE believed structural measures were also needed to address the problem of corruption among agents responsible for tagging. In June the UNGOE reported several cases where FARDC officers violated the Tin Supply Chain Initiative traceability system by fraudulently tagging minerals. The group also found that some FARDC officers participated in the smuggling and illegal transportation of minerals. In September the Congolese Association for the Fight Against Corruption alleged Congolese citizens smuggled an estimated $30 million in gold to Hong Kong via Kenya.

A report published by the UNGOE in 2014 indicated that elements of the FARDC, local poachers, and armed groups remained involved in the illegal exploitation of and trade in wildlife products, including ivory (see section 1.g.).

In 2016 the government launched an initiative to boost the economy that included specific measures to fight tax evasion and enforce penalties against corrupt civil servants. In 2016 the prime minister established the Corruption and Ethics Monitoring Observatory (OSCEP) to monitor corruption in the civil service. OSCEP’s mandate includes generating a database of corruption-related activities as well as coordinating anticorruption activities among government agencies, including the antifraud brigades of the Customs Authority, the Ministry of Mines, the General Inspectorate of Finance, the Financial Intelligence Unit (CENAREF), and the Bureau of the Special Advisor of the Head of State in Charge of Good Governance. Although CENAREF undertook some anti-money-laundering activities, OSCEP remained largely inactive.

In an effort to combat corruption, the government continued a program to pay many civil servants and security forces in major cities by direct deposit, eliminating an important means of graft. Previously, the government utilized a cascading cash payment system, disbursing salaries to senior officials for payment to subordinate officials, who in turn paid their staffs.

The law criminalizes money laundering and terrorist financing. Limited resources and a weak judicial system hampered the ability of CENAREF to enforce regulations against money laundering. Local institutions and personnel lacked the training and capacity to enforce the law and its attendant regulations. Former minister of justice, Luzolo Bambi is the president’s special envoy to fight corruption and money laundering. On August 4, Bambi set out his renewed “battle against impunity” in a letter to the attorney general. In 2016 the president issued an executive ordinance granting Bambi’s office broad arrest authority. The arrest authority did not prove effective, since the special envoy lacked the personnel to make arrests, and for the most part remained limited to referring suspects to the court system for prosecution.

Government authorities and wealthy individuals at times used antidefamation laws that carry criminal punishments, as well as other means of intimidation, to discourage media investigation of government corruption (see section 2.a.).

As in previous years, a significant portion of the country’s 2018 enacted budget (approximately 14 percent) consisted of off-budget and special account allocations that were not fully elaborated. These accounts facilitate graft by shielding receipts and disbursements from public scrutiny. Under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative standard of 2016, the DRC is required to disclose the allocation of revenues and expenditures from extractive companies. While awaiting the onset of the country’s first validation for compliance under this standard, preliminary assessments have revealed serious weaknesses.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president and ministers to disclose their assets to a government committee. The president and all ministers and vice ministers reportedly did so when they took office. The committee had yet to make this information public.

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

Elements of the SSF continued to kill, harass, beat, intimidate, and arbitrarily arrest and detain domestic human rights advocates and domestic NGO workers, particularly when the NGOs reported on or supported victims of abuses by the SSF or reported on the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the east. In 2016 the government declined to renew the work permit of a Human Rights Watch researcher and revoked the visa of Congo Research Group director Jason Stearns, officially for reasons of “undesirability.” During the year the government declined to issue or renew visas for some international journalists and researchers. Representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the ANR met with domestic NGOs and sometimes responded to their inquiries.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated at times with investigations by the United Nations and other international bodies but was not consistent in doing so. For example, the government refused to grant the United Nations access to certain detention centers, particularly at military installations such as military intelligence headquarters, where political prisoners were often detained. In Kasai the government and the SSF provided MONUSCO limited access to suspected mass grave sites, including a site located inside the FARDC officers training school in Kananga, and impeded UN access to individuals arrested in connection with the killing of two UN experts, Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan. The government also blocked UNJHRO access to morgues, hospitals, and detention facilities during protests in January and February in Kinshasa.

In March 2017, UN experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan were killed in Kasai Central Province. Cell phone video footage showed the two being shot and Catalan later being decapitated by a group of militants. The UNGOE called the incident an assassination “in a premeditated setup under hitherto unclear circumstances” and stated the killings constituted “a deliberate attack against the UN Security Council, which is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.” The government accused members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia of killing the experts, and in June 2017 a trial began in Kananga of 18 defendants, 14 of whom, including several individuals who appeared in the video, remained at large. In October 2017 the trial was suspended but resumed in August. On December 6, a DRC Military Intelligence Colonel was arrested, one of four government officials implicated in the murders. In its 2017 annual report, the UNGOE wrote that the evidence it reviewed “does not yet allow the Group to attribute responsibility for the murder.” The available evidence does not preclude the involvement of different actors, however, such as (pro- or antigovernment) Kamuina Nsapu factions, other armed groups, as well as members of state security services. In May media reported the United Nations stated that the government “hampered” investigations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: During the year the National Commission on Human Rights made some progress, publishing reports on violence in Beni territory, protests during December 2017, January, and February, and the Kamuina Nsapu phenomenon in the Kasais. It also visited detention centers, followed up on complaints of human rights violations from civilians, and held a meeting on the right to demonstrate. It continued to lack sufficient funding for overhead costs or to have representation in all 26 provinces.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law on sexual violence criminalizes rape, but the offense was not always reported by victims and the law was not always enforced. Rape was common. The legal definition of rape does not include spousal rape. It also prohibits extrajudicial settlements (for example, a customary fine paid by the perpetrator to the family of the victim) and forced marriage, allows victims of sexual violence to waive appearance in court, and permits closed hearings to protect confidentiality. The minimum penalty prescribed for conviction of rape is a prison sentence of five years, and courts regularly imposed such sentences in rape convictions.

From January to August, the UNJHRO reported that at least 893 women and girls were victims of sexual and gender based violence. The UNJHRO stated that perpetrators were primarily armed groups followed by FARDC, police, and intelligence agents. The UNJHRO stated that RMGs, including the Raia Mutomboki, also targeted women and girls during the year. On April 15-19, the United Nations reported that at least 66 women and girls were victims of sexual violence, including rapes and gang rapes, by members of the Raia Mutomboki in the South Kivu provincial towns of Keba, Wameli, Kamungini, and Bimpanga. Implementation, including promulgation of the text of the amended family code adopted in 2016, had not begun by year’s end. As of November 19, the United Nations reported that the SSF killed 143 adult women and RMGs killed 111 women and girls.

The SSF, RMGs, and civilians perpetrated widespread sexual violence (see section 1.g.). During the year the United Nations documented adult victims and 183 child victims, including one boy, of sexual violence in conflict. Crimes of sexual violence were sometimes committed as a tactic of war to punish civilians for having perceived allegiances to rival parties or groups. The crimes occurred largely in the conflict zones in North and South Kivu Province, but also throughout the country. The 2013-14 Demographic and Health Survey(DHS) found that more than one in four women nationwide (27 percent) had experienced sexual violence at some point in their lives, up from 22 percent in 2007.

Some prosecutions occurred for rape and other types of sexual violence. On July 26, the High Military Court of Bukavu upheld the December 2017 conviction of Frederic Batumuke, a provincial member of parliament, and 10 other persons for murder and crimes against humanity for the rape of 37 girls ranging in age from 18 months to 12 years. The same court also convicted and sentenced Colonel Bedi Mobuli (aka Colonel 106) to life in prison for crimes against humanity, including rape, sexual slavery, looting, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

Most survivors of rape did not pursue formal legal action due to insufficient resources, lack of confidence in the justice system, family pressure, and fear of subjecting themselves to humiliation, reprisal, or both.

The law does not provide any specific penalty for domestic violence despite its prevalence. Although the law considers assault a crime, police rarely intervened in perceived domestic disputes. There were no reports of judicial authorities taking action in cases of domestic or spousal abuse.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law describes FGM/C as a form of sexual violence, provides a sentence if convicted of two to five years in prison, and levies fines of up to 200,000 Congolese francs ($125); in case of death due to FGM/C, the sentence is life imprisonment.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: UNICEF and MONUSCO attributed some abuses of children, including mutilation of children and use of children in combat in the Kasais, to harmful traditional and religious practices. The United Nations reported that Kamuina Nsapu militias often put children, particularly young girls, on the front lines of battle, believing they have powers that could protect them as well as other fighters. For example, it reported Kamuina Nsapu militias often believed young girls could trap bullets fired at them and fling them back at attackers. The Kamuina Nsapu also reportedly slashed children’s stomachs as part of an initiation ritual to see if they would survive and how the wound would heal.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment occurred throughout the country. Legislation passed in 2006 prohibits sexual harassment with conviction carrying a minimum sentence of one year, but there was little or no effective enforcement of the law.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available in Appendix C.

Discrimination: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, but the law does not provide women the same rights as men. A 2015 women’s parity law provides women a number of protections. It permits women to participate in economic domains without approval of male relatives, provides for maternity care, disallows inequities linked to dowries, and specifies fines and other sanctions for those who discriminate or engage in gender-based abuse. Women, however, experienced economic discrimination.

According to UNICEF, many widows were unable to inherit their late husbands’ property because the law states that in event of a death in which there is no will, the husband’s children, including those born out of wedlock (provided that they were officially recognized by the father), rather than the widow, have precedence with regard to inheritance. Courts may sentence women found guilty of adultery to up to one year in prison, while adultery by men is punishable only if judged to have “an injurious quality.”

Children

Birth Registration: The law provides for the acquisition of citizenship through birth within the country or from either parent being of an ethnic group documented as having been located in the country in 1960. The government registered 25 percent of children born in some form of medical facility. Lack of registration rarely affected access to government services. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: The constitution provides for tuition-free and compulsory primary education. It was not, however, compulsory or tuition free, and the government inconsistently provided it across the provinces. Public schools generally expected parents to contribute to teachers’ salaries. These expenses, combined with the potential loss of income from their children’s labor while they attended class, rendered many parents unable or unwilling to enroll their children.

Primary and secondary school attendance rates for girls were lower than for boys due to financial, cultural, or security reasons, including early marriage and pregnancy for girls. Additionally, children in school were not particularly safe. Teachers subjected one in four children to corporal punishment and pressured one in five girls to exchange sexual favors for high grades.

Many of the schools in the east were dilapidated and closed due to chronic insecurity. The government used other schools as housing for IDPs. Parents in some areas kept their children from attending school due to fear of RMG forcible recruitment of child soldiers.

Schools were sometimes targeted in attacks by both the FARDC and RMGs. UNJRO documented 153 attacks on schools, including 118 in Ituri province, the majority that were committed in the context of interethnic conflict.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits all forms of child abuse, it regularly occurred.

The constitution prohibits parental abandonment of children accused of sorcery. Nevertheless, parents or other care providers sometimes abandoned or abused such children, frequently invoking “witchcraft” as a rationale. The law provides for the imprisonment of parents and other adults convicted of accusing children of witchcraft. Authorities did not implement the law.

Many churches conducted exorcisms of children accused of witchcraft. These exorcisms involved isolation, beating and whipping, starvation, and forced ingestion of purgatives. According to UNICEF some communities branded children with disabilities or speech impediments as witches. This practice sometimes resulted in parents’ abandoning their children.

Many children suffered abuse from militia groups that recruited children and believed they possessed magic powers. The armed group Bana Mura was reportedly responsible for taking women of childbearing age and enslaving them to give birth to children that would be raised in a different ethnic group. The United Nations reported that Kamuina Nsapu militants forced children to undergo a “baptism” ritual of a deep knife cut to the stomach. Those children who did not die of these wounds were reportedly recruited into the militia and used as combatants, often put on the front lines as “fetish keepers” due to their supposed powers. These practices resulted in the deaths of many children during the Kasai conflict in 2017.

Early and Forced Marriage: While the law prohibits marriage of boys and girls younger than age 18, many marriages of underage children took place. Bridewealth (dowry) payment made by a groom or his family to the relatives of the bride to ratify a marriage greatly contributed to underage marriage, as parents forcibly married daughters to collect bridewealth or to finance bridewealth for a son.

The constitution criminalizes forced marriage. Courts may sentence parents convicted of forcing a child to marry to up to 12 years’ hard labor and a fine of 92,500 Congolese francs ($58). The penalty doubles when the child is younger than age 15. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and the law prohibits prostitution by anyone younger than age 18. The penal code prohibits child pornography, with imprisonment of 10 to 20 years for those convicted. The 2009 Child Protection Code criminalized child sex trafficking, with conviction carrying penalties ranging from 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 800,000 to 1,000,000 Congolese francs ($500 to $625). From January through July, UNICEF assisted 2,694 children who were victims of sexual exploitation. Approximately half of these children (1,076 girls and 37 boys) were provided with a holistic response including psychosocial care, medical care, socioeconomic reintegration, and legal assistance. There were also reports that child soldiers, particularly girls, faced sexual exploitation (see section 1.g.).

There was an increase in sexual violence against children and infants in Kavumu, South Kivu Province, during 2016 (see section 6). While targeted sexual violence against children decreased in the region following arrests and charges against some militia members responsible, many of the survivors continued to face stigmatization from their communities.

Child Soldiers: Armed groups recruited boys and girls (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: According to the 2007 Rapid Assessment, Analysis, and Action Planning Report, which remains the most recent data available, there were an estimated 8.2 million orphans and other vulnerable children in the country. Of these, 91 percent received no external support of any kind and only 3 percent received medical support. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 children lived on the streets, with the highest concentration in Kinshasa. The families of many of these children forced them out of their homes, accusing them of witchcraft and bringing misfortune to their families.

Since 2016 the conflict in the Kasais displaced more than 1.4 million persons, including many children who were kidnapped by militia members or otherwise separated from their families. The government was not equipped to deal with such large numbers of homeless children. The SSF abused and arbitrarily arrested street children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The country had a very small Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and provides specific government protection for them. The constitution states all persons should have access to national education. The law states that private, public, and semipublic companies may not discriminate against qualified candidates based on disability. The government did not enforce these provisions effectively, and persons with disabilities often found it difficult to obtain employment, education, and other government services.

The law does not mandate access to government buildings or services for persons with disabilities. While persons with disabilities may attend public primary and secondary schools and have access to higher education, no special provisions are required of educational facilities to accommodate their specific needs. Consequently, 90 percent of adults with disabilities do not achieve basic literacy. The Ministry of Education increased its special education outreach efforts but estimated it was educating fewer than 6,000 children with disabilities.

Disability groups reported extensive social stigmatization, including children with disabilities being expelled from their homes and accused of witchcraft. Families sometimes concealed their children with disabilities from officials to avoid being required to send them to school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Twa persons frequently faced severe societal discrimination and had little protection from government officials (see section 1.g.).

There were reports of societal discrimination and violence against foreign minority groups. For example, protesters attacked businesses owned by ethnic Chinese during the January protests.

Indigenous People

Estimates of the country’s indigenous population (Twa, Baka, Mbuti, Aka, and others believed to be the country’s original inhabitants) varied greatly, from 250,000 to two million. Societal discrimination against these groups was widespread, and the government did not effectively protect their civil and political rights. Most indigenous persons took no part in the political process, and many lived in remote areas. Fighting in the east between RMGs and the SSF, expansion by farmers, and increased trading and excavation activities caused displacement of some indigenous populations.

While the law stipulates that indigenous populations receive 10 percent of the profits gained from use of their land, this provision was not enforced. In some areas, surrounding tribes kidnapped and forced indigenous persons into slavery, sometimes resulting in ethnic conflict (see section 1.g.). Indigenous populations also reported high instances of rape by members of outside groups, which contributed to HIV/AIDS infections and other health complications.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While no law specifically prohibits consensual sexual conduct between same-sex adults, individuals engaging in public displays of same-sex sexual conduct, such as kissing, were sometimes subject to prosecution under public indecency provisions, which society rarely applied to opposite-sex couples. A local NGO reported that authorities often took no steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials, who committed abuses against LGBTI persons, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity for human rights abuses was a problem.

Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex remained a cultural taboo, and harassment by the SSF and judiciary occurred.

LGBTI individuals were subjected to harassment, stigmatization, and violence, including “corrective” rape. Some religious leaders, radio broadcasts, and political organizations played a key role in perpetrating discrimination against LGBTI individuals.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination based on HIV status, but social stigma continued.

The latest available DHS, which dates from 2013-14, captured a proxy indicator measuring the level of tolerance of respondents towards an HIV-positive person (either family member, businessperson, or teacher) and the necessity of hiding the HIV-positive status of a family member. A total of 72 percent of respondents said they were ready to take care of an HIV-positive parent, but only 47 expressed willingness to purchase produce from an HIV-positive seller. A total of 49 percent of respondents would accept having an HIV-positive teacher teach their children, and 26 percent said it would not be necessary to hide the HIV status of a family member. The study estimated a global tolerance level towards HIV-positive persons at 4 percent in women and 12 percent in men.

According to UNAIDS, the HIV prevalence rate of adults and children between 15 and 49 was 0.7 percent, and an estimated 390,000 persons of all ages in the country had HIV in 2017.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Discrimination against persons with albinism was widespread and limited their ability to marry and obtain employment, health care, and education. Families and communities frequently ostracized persons with albinism.

Longstanding ethnic tensions also fueled some community violence. In the wake of an offensive against Mai Mai Yakutumba in South Kivu, the SSF targeted for arrest young men identified by tribal scarring as members of the Bemba community. This harassment by the SSF was given as a reason why several young men subsequently joined the Mai Mai group. Small-scale conflicts in the Rutshuru and Lubero territories of North Kivu conflict exacerbated longstanding tensions between Hutu, on the one hand, and the Kobo, Nyanga, and Nande ethnic communities, on the other hand. In January 2017 the Nande-affiliated Mai Mai Mazembe RMG attacked the town of Kibirizi, decapitating one Hutu, burning one woman to death, and burning 16 homes. In April 2017 intercommunity tensions between Tshokwe and Pende (accused of being affiliated with the Congolese security forces) and Luba and Lulua communities (accused of being Kamuina Nsapu militia sympathizers) turned violent, particularly in Kamonia territory, Kasai Province. In April 2017 Tshokwe youths armed with rifles and machetes killed at least 38 persons, including eight women and eight children, mainly of Lulua ethnicity, in several parts of the territory.

Gabon

Executive Summary

Gabon is a republic with a presidential form of government dominated by the Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) and headed by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, whose family has held power since 1967. Bongo Ondimba was declared winner of the 2016 presidential election. Observers noted numerous irregularities, including a highly questionable vote count in Bongo Ondimba’s home province. The government forcibly dispersed violent demonstrations that followed the election. On October 6 and 27, legislative elections were held in two rounds. The PDG won 98 of 143 National Assembly seats. The African Union observer mission did not comment on whether the elections were free and fair but noted some irregularities. Some opposition parties boycotted the elections; however, fewer did so than in the 2011 legislative elections.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included torture; harsh prison conditions; political prisoners; criminal libel; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; corruption; violence against women with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability; trafficking in persons; and forced labor, including forced child labor.

The government took limited steps to prosecute officials and punish those convicted of abuses. Nevertheless, impunity remained a problem.

Authorities took steps to investigate alleged abuses by Gabonese peacekeeping forces in the Central African Republic and to mitigate future risks.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances. In December 2017 the family of television journalist and opposition activist Jocelyn Obame Nsimoro reported him missing. Throughout the year his family attempted unsuccessfully to locate him through police, judicial, and other official channels and through social media. As of October authorities had yet to open a formal investigation into Nsimoro’s disappearance.

In September 2017 the government reported to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances that despite opposition allegations of disappearances, no official complaints were filed after the 2016 elections. The committee called on the government to conduct an exhaustive inquiry into postelection violence and to update the law to comply with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. As of October the government had not conducted an official inquiry.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits such practices, but security force personnel sometimes employed cruel and degrading treatment.

For example, in January, Bertrand Zibi Abeghe, a former member of parliament, stated he was subjected to mistreatment and torture while in detention after a mobile phone was found in his cell at the Libreville Central Prison. His lawyer stated that prison officials beat him with police batons, pickaxe handles, and electric cables. After his lawyer filed a complaint concerning mistreatment, the prison director was replaced.

Refugees complained of harassment and extortion by security forces. According to reports from the African immigrant community, police and soldiers occasionally beat noncitizen Africans who lacked valid resident permits or identification. Authorities sometimes detained noncitizen Africans, ordered them to undress to humiliate them, and exacted bribes from them.

The United Nations reported that it received one allegation of sexual exploitation (transactional sex) and abuse against two Gabonese peacekeepers deployed with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. Investigations by UN and Gabonese authorities were pending at year’s end along with investigation of three allegations of sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships) and abuse (rape, including of minors) against at least 20 Gabonese peacekeepers reported in prior years.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to low-quality food, inadequate sanitation, lack of ventilation, gross overcrowding, and poor medical care. Conditions in jails and detention centers mirrored those in prisons. There were no specific accommodations for persons with disabilities in prisons.

Physical Conditions: Libreville’s central prison was severely overcrowded; it was built to hold 500 inmates but held approximately 3,000. Reports also indicated overcrowding in other prisons.

No credible data or estimates were available on the number of deaths in prisons, jails, and pretrial detention or other detention centers attributed to physical conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities.

In some cases authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, juveniles with adults, and men with women. Authorities separated juvenile prisoners from adults in Libreville and Franceville prisons. There were separate holding areas within prisons for men and women, but access to each area was not fully secured or restricted. Prisoners had only limited access to food, lighting, sanitation, potable water, and exercise areas. On-site nurses were available to provide basic medical care, but prison clinics often lacked sufficient medication. For serious illnesses or injury, authorities transferred prisoners to public hospitals. Management of the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, was inadequate.

Administration: Prisoners filed few complaints. Observers believed the low incidence of complaints was due to ignorance of, or lack of faith in, the process, or fear of retribution. There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority available to respond to prisoner complaints.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted human rights organizations to conduct independent monitoring of prison conditions, but there were reports of difficulties in obtaining access to prisons. The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Malachie visited prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention; however, the government did not always respect these provisions. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and briefly detained civil society and labor leaders following peaceful protests and marches.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the Ministry of Interior, and the gendarmerie, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for law enforcement and public security. Elements of the armed forces and the Republican Guard, an elite unit that protects the president under his direct authority, sometimes performed internal security functions. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police, gendarmerie, republican guard, and all other branches of the security forces, and the government had mechanisms to investigate and punish those found responsible for abuse and corruption. Nevertheless, impunity was a significant problem.

Some police were inefficient and corrupt. Security force members sought bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents. The Inspector General’s Office was responsible for investigating police and security force abuse and corruption. Information on effectiveness of this office was not available.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Although the law requires arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official to make arrests, security forces in some cases disregarded these provisions. The law allows authorities to detain a suspect up to 48 hours without charge, after which it requires the suspect be charged before a judge. Police often failed to respect this time limit. Once a person is charged, the law provides for conditional release if further investigation is required. There was a functioning bail system. Detainees did not always have prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. The law requires the government to provide indigent detainees with lawyers, but this was not always possible, often because the government could not find lawyers willing to accept the terms of payment offered for taking such cases. Arrests required warrants issued by a judge or prosecutor based on evidence.

Authorities did not detain suspects incommunicado or hold them under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of arbitrary arrests. In August and September 2017, authorities arrested the spokesperson for the opposition Coalition for the New Republic, Frederic Massavala-Maboumba, and Deputy Secretary General Pascal Oyougou of the Heritage and Modernity Party and charged them with “provocation and instigation of acts likely to provoke demonstrations against the authority of the State.” As of December no trial date had been set for Oyougou or Massavala; both remained in detention.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention was common due to overburdened dockets and an inefficient judicial system. The law limits pretrial detention to six months for a misdemeanor and one year for a felony charge, with six-month extensions if authorized by the examining magistrate. The law provides for a commission to deal with cases of abusive or excessive detention and provides for compensation to victims, but the government had yet to establish such a commission. Approximately two-thirds of prison inmates were held in pretrial detention that could sometimes last up to three years. There were instances in which the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. Detainees generally lacked knowledge of their rights and the procedure for submitting complaints, and may not have submitted complaints due to fear of retribution.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for detainees or persons arrested to challenge the legal basis and arbitrary nature of their detention. The law also provides for compensation if a court rules detention unlawful. Authorities did not always respect these rights.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary demonstrated only partial independence and only in some cases. The judiciary was inefficient and remained susceptible to government influence. The president appoints and may dismiss judges through the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, to which the judiciary is accountable. Corruption was a problem.

To address military cases, each year the Office of the Presidency appoints a military court composed of selected magistrates and military members. A military court provides the same basic legal rights as a civilian court. Outside the formal judicial system, minor disputes may be referred to a local traditional chief, particularly in rural areas, but the government did not always recognize a traditional chief’s decision.

Authorities generally respected court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial and to legal counsel, and the judiciary generally respected these rights. Trial dates were often delayed.

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges when booked at a police station, and authorities provided free interpretation as necessary, when staff members with the required language skills were available. A panel of three judges tries defendants, who enjoy the right to communicate with an attorney of choice and to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals and have a right to be present at trial. Indigent defendants in both civil and criminal cases have the right to have an attorney provided at state expense, but the government often failed to provide attorneys because private attorneys refused to accept the terms of payment the government offered for such cases. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them, present witnesses or evidence on their own behalf, and appeal. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In August the president stated there were no political prisoners in the country. One civil society group, however, claimed there were seven individuals in prison it considered political prisoners. Of an estimated 60 protesters detained in August and September 2017, opposition leaders Frederic Massavala-Maboumba and Pascal Oyougou remained in pretrial detention.

In 2016 a former PDG deputy who joined the opposition was arrested without a warrant and charged with disturbing public order, failure to help a person in danger, instigation of violence, and illegal firearms possession. He had yet to be tried and remained in detention at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Persons seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations may seek relief in the civil court system, although this seldom occurred.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although the constitution and law prohibit such actions, the government did not always respect these prohibitions. As part of criminal investigations, police requested and easily obtained search warrants from judges, sometimes after the fact. Security forces conducted warrantless searches for irregular immigrants and criminal suspects. Authorities also monitored private telephone conversations, personal mail, and the movement of citizens.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Some police were inefficient and corrupt. Police, gendarmes, and military members sought bribes to supplement their salaries, often while stopping vehicles at legal roadblocks to check vehicle registration and identity documents. In February taxi drivers held a strike to protest higher fuel prices and police harassment, including exacting bribes. The 2016 World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators suggested corruption remained a serious problem.

In 2015 the government officially launched a three-year Fight Against Corruption and Money Laundering Strategy in partnership with the UN Development Program, National Commission against Illicit Enrichment (CNLCEI), National Agency for Financial Investigation, and private-sector and civil society partners. The strategy aims to encourage and reward ethical standards in public life, consolidate the rule of law, improve governance, increase transparency in the management of public finances, diminish inequality, and achieve a fair and transparent distribution of the benefits of growth.

Corruption: In 2017 the government started an anticorruption campaign. A number of officials, including several directors of agencies and two former ministers, were arrested on corruption charges. In January 2017 former minister of economy and presidential advisor Magloire Ngambia, along with Minister of Petrol and Hydrocarbons Etienne Dieudonne Ngoubou, were arrested and charged with corruption. On October 5, Ngoubou was released on bail, but Ngambia remained in detention.

In January, following adoption of changes to the constitution, the government created the Special Criminal Court for the prosecution of persons charged with misappropriation of public funds in excess of 250,000 CFA francs ($425). As of October five individuals had been tried, four of whom were convicted. For example, on April 26, former public agent Blaise Wada was convicted of embezzlement and illicit enrichment and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of two billion CFA francs ($3.4 million).

Financial Disclosure: The law requires executive-level civil servants and civil servants who manage budgets to disclose their financial assets to the CNLCEI within three months of assuming office. Most officials complied, but some attempted to withhold information. The government did not make these declarations available to the public. There are administrative sanctions for noncompliance, but they were not enforced.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups operated, albeit with government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Several human rights NGOs reported governmental intimidation and a general lack of responsiveness to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights coordinates government efforts to improve respect for human rights, organize human rights training for government officials, and address major human rights problems. The National Human Rights Commission, composed of representatives from civil society, media, religious groups, and the judiciary had a degree of independence. Commission members provided basic human rights training to police and gendarmes and inspected detention conditions at Libreville police stations.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and convicted rapists face penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, authorities seldom prosecuted rape cases. The law does not address spousal rape. There were no reliable statistics on the prevalence of rape, but a women’s advocacy NGO estimated it to be a frequent occurrence. Discussing rape remained taboo, and women often opted not to report it due to shame or fear of reprisal.

Although the law prohibits domestic violence, NGOs reported it was common. Penalties for conviction range from two months’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. Women virtually never filed complaints, due to shame or fear of reprisal, although the government operated a counseling group to provide support for abuse victims. The government provided in-kind support to an NGO center to assist victims of domestic violence, and through the center’s work police intervened in response to incidents of domestic violence.

Sexual Harassment: No law prohibits sexual harassment, and it remained a widespread problem. NGOs reported sexual harassment of women in the military was pervasive.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Discrimination: Although the law does not generally distinguish between the legal status and rights of women and men, it requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to receive a passport and to travel abroad. The law provides for equal treatment regarding property, nationality, and inheritance. No specific law requires equal pay for equal work. Women owned businesses and property, participated in politics, and worked in government and the private sector. Nevertheless, women faced considerable societal discrimination, including in obtaining loans and credit and, for married women, opening bank accounts without their husbands’ permission and administering jointly owned assets, especially in rural areas.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through one’s parents and not by birth in the country. At least one parent must be a citizen to transmit citizenship. Registration of all births is mandatory, and children without birth certificates may not attend school or participate in most government-sponsored programs. Many mothers could not obtain birth certificates for their children due to isolation in remote areas of the country or lack of awareness of the requirements of the law. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Although education is compulsory until age 16 and tuition-free through completion of high school, it often was unavailable after sixth grade in rural areas. There was no significant difference in the rates of enrollment between boys and girls; however, due to high rates of early pregnancy, girls were less likely to complete school than were boys.

Child Abuse: Child abuse is illegal, with penalties for conviction of up to life in prison, one million CFA francs ($1,700), or both. Child abuse occurred, but the law was not regularly enforced.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for consensual sex and marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, and authorities generally enforced the law. Perpetrators convicted of procuring a child for prostitution or a child pornography-related offense may be sentenced to between two and five years’ imprisonment. Conviction of child trafficking is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to 10 million to 20 million CFA francs ($17,000 to $34,000). Conviction of possession of child pornography is punishable by imprisonment of six months to one year and a fine of up to 222,000 CFA francs ($378). These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was very small, and there were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with “physical, mental, congenital, and accidental” disabilities and requires access to buildings and services, including voter access to election polling centers. Most public buildings, however, did not provide adequate access, hindering access to state services and the judicial system. The law subsumes sensory disabilities under congenital and “accidental” disabilities but does not recognize the concept of intellectual disability. The law provides for the rights of persons with disabilities to education, health care, and transportation. Enforcement was limited–there were no government programs to provide access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities generally attended school at all levels, including mainstream schools. There was accommodation for persons with disabilities in air travel but not for ground transportation.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers in obtaining employment, such as gaining access to human resources offices to apply for jobs, because buildings were not accessible. The inaccessibility of buses and taxis complicated seeking jobs or getting to places of employment for those without their own means of transportation.

Indigenous People

The Babongo, Baghama, Baka, Bakoya, and Barimba ethnic groups are the earliest known inhabitants of the country. The law grants members of indigenous ethnic groups the same civil rights as other citizens, but they experienced societal discrimination. They remained largely outside of formal authority–keeping their own traditions, independent communities, and local decision-making structures–and did not have ready access to public services. Discrimination in employment also occurred. Indigenous persons had little recourse if mistreated by persons from the majority Bantu population. No specific government programs or policies assisted them.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law does not criminalize sexual orientation or limit freedom of speech or peaceful assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. There are no specific antidiscrimination or hate crime laws, or other criminal justice mechanisms designed to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes. There were no reports LGBTI persons were targeted for abuse, but underreporting of such incidents was likely, in view of societal stigma. Societal discrimination in employment and housing was a problem, particularly for openly LGBTI persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Local NGOs reported discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. Persons with HIV/AIDS encountered difficulties obtaining loans and finding employment in at least some sectors. NGOs worked closely with the Ministry of Health to combat both the associated stigma and the spread of the disease.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Ritual killings in which persons were killed and their limbs, genitals, or other organs removed occurred and often went unpunished. During the year authorities made no arrests of persons accused of ritual killing. The local NGO Association to Fight Ritual Crimes reported 24 victims of ritual killings and five disappearances from January to October. The actual number of victims was probably higher because many ritual killings were not reported or were incorrectly characterized.

Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The Republic of the Congo (ROC) is a presidential republic in which the constitution, promulgated in 2015, 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 previous maximum presidential term limits to three terms of five years, and provided complete immunity to former presidents. In April 2016 the Constitutional Court proclaimed the incumbent, Denis Sassou N’Guesso, winner of the March 2016 presidential election despite complaints of electoral irregularities. The government held the most recent legislative and local elections in July 2017. While the country has a multiparty political system, members of the president’s Congolese Labor Party (PCT) and its allies retained almost 90 percent of legislative seats, and PCT members occupied almost all senior government positions.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

During the year the country experienced significant positive changes regarding internal peace and security. In December 2017 the government and representatives of the Nsiloulou faction of the Ninja rebel militia group agreed to a ceasefire, thereby ending the conflict in the Pool region that had been ongoing since 2016. In June government and UN sources stated approximately 80-90 percent of the 161,000 persons displaced by the conflict had returned to their homes and villages.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; infringement of citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association; restrictions on the ability of citizens to change their government peacefully; corruption on the part of officials; violence against women, including rape, domestic violence, and child abuse; trafficking in persons; and child labor, including worst forms.

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

According to the United Nations, the security situation in the Pool region improved significantly. In contrast with 2017, reports of human rights abuses against civilians in the conflict zone committed either by government-controlled or rebel forces declined significantly as the security situation improved. The government did not take steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish perpetrators of human rights abuses committed during the Pool conflict by government-controlled or rebel forces in 2016 and 2017. In August the government, rebel leaders, and the United Nations Development Program announced a joint program to conduct disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) activities in the Pool region.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were several reports on social media of the government or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings; however, for most such reports of killings besides those specified below, no independent confirmation was possible, leading to uncertainty regarding the frequency of the incidents and the total number of persons arbitrarily deprived of life.

Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report deaths resulting from abuse in prisons and pretrial detention centers (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.).

On July 23, 13 persons between the ages of 12 and 22 died in police custody in the Chacona police station in Brazzaville. Significant public backlash contributed to a shifting government narrative of the incident. The government’s public prosecutor originally announced that the deaths resulted from armed street violence between rival gangs. On July 26, however, the minister of interior admitted before Parliament that the young men died in unclear circumstances in police custody. In the days following the incident, the government announced it would launch an investigation into the incident, detained members of the police unit that worked at the Chacona police station, and paid families 2,000,000 Central African Francs each ($3,530). As of December 10, a judicial review was underway but not yet complete.

b. Disappearance

There were no new reports of politically motivated disappearances. There was no new information on the February 2017 disappearances of Nimi Ngoma Guedj, Akonga Hosny Normand, and Awambi Elmich, who were arrested and detained at the Poto-Poto 2 police jail facility.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution prohibits torture, and the law contains a general prohibition against assault and battery, but there is no legal framework specifically banning torture under the criminal code. There were reports of cases of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

In January authorities released Dongui Christ, an activist, from custody. Authorities had accused Christ of spreading false information and disturbing the public order and subjected him to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment during his detention.

The United Nations reported that during the year it received two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from the Republic of the Congo deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). One case alleged sexual assault (rape), the other allegation reported sexual exploitation (exploitative relationships involving 13 peacekeepers and 11 victims). Investigations by both the UN and the ROC government were pending. Four allegations were reported in 2017, of which two were pending (and one was unsubstantiated). Ten allegations dating back to 2015 were pending. In 2017 a UN review of the deployment of uniformed personnel from the ROC in MINUSCA found that the nature and extent of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse pointed to systemic problems in command and control, leading the Republic of the Congo to withdraw its military personnel deployed in MINUSCA.

In June the government convicted three ROC military personnel accused of committing war crimes in the Central African Republic (CAR). A court sentenced the three military personnel to three years in prison before releasing them for time served. The armed forces reportedly imposed nonjudicial punishments on personnel accused of sexual exploitation and abuse in the CAR.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate sanitary conditions, gross overcrowding, and a severe deficit of medical and psychological care.

Physical Conditions: As of September the Brazzaville Prison, built in 1943 to accommodate 150 inmates, held more than 1,016, including 33 women and 17 minors. The Pointe-Noire Prison, built in 1934 to hold 75 inmates, held an estimated 325 persons. Police stations regularly housed individuals in their limited incarceration facilities beyond the maximum statutory holding period of 72 hours. In addition to these official prisons, the government’s intelligence and security services operated several secret detention centers and security prisons, which were inaccessible for inspection.

Authorities generally maintained separate areas within facilities for minors, women, and men in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. In Brazzaville, while these areas were separate, they were sometimes easily accessible with no locked entryways. In the other 10 prisons, authorities sometimes held juvenile detainees with adult prisoners.

Prison conditions for women were generally better than those for men. There was less crowding in the women’s cells than in those for men. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In Brazzaville, authorities housed and treated prisoners with illnesses in one area but allowed them to interact with other inmates.

In the Brazzaville Prison, conditions for wealthy or well connected prisoners generally were better than conditions for others.

There were several reported deaths resulting from abuse, neglect, and overcrowding in prisons and pretrial detention centers. As in 2017, a local NGO reported that figures on the number and causes of death while in custody were unavailable.

In Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, most inmates slept on the floor on cardboard or thin mattresses in small, overcrowded cells that exposed them to disease. The prisons lacked drainage and ventilation, and they had poorly maintained lighting with wiring protruding from the walls. Basic and emergency medical care was limited. Medical personnel at the Brazzaville Prison cited tuberculosis, dysentery, malaria, and HIV as the most common maladies affecting prisoners. Authorities did not provide specialized medical care to prisoners with HIV/AIDS, nor were HIV tests available in prisons. Authorities took pregnant women to hospitals to give birth, and authorities sometimes allowed them to breastfeed their infants in prison. Access to social services personnel was severely limited due to insufficient staffing, overcrowding, and stigmatization of those with mental health issues. Prisoners had weekly access to Christian religious services only. Prison authorities permitted outdoor exercise intermittently.

Prison inmates reportedly received, on average, two daily meals consisting of rice, bread, and fish or meat. The food provided in prisons did not meet minimum caloric or nutrition requirements; however, prison authorities usually permitted inmates’ families to supply them with additional food. Authorities permitted women to cook over small fires built on the ground in a shared recreational space. The Pointe-Noire Prison occasionally had running water. All of the prisons supplied potable water to inmates in buckets.

Administration: Prison rules provide for prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but officials did not respect this right. Authorities did not investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions brought to them by NGOs and detainees’ families.

Access to prisoners generally required a communication permit from a judge. The permit allowed visitors to spend five to 15 minutes with a prisoner, although authorities usually did not strictly enforce this limit. In most cases, visits took place either in a crowded open area or in a small room with one extended table where approximately 10 detainees sat at a time. A new permit is technically required for each visit, but families were often able to return for multiple visits on one permit. Since many prisoners’ families lived far away, visits often were infrequent because of the financial hardship of travel.

Independent Monitoring: The government provided domestic and international human rights groups with limited access to prisons and detention centers. Observers generally considered the primary local NGO focused on prison conditions independent; authorities, however, denied it access to the interior of several different prisons on multiple occasions throughout the year.

Throughout the year, human rights NGOs that monitored detention conditions requested letters of permission from the Ministry of Justice to visit prisons. Their repeated requests went unanswered.

Representatives of religiously affiliated charitable organizations visited prisons and detention centers for charitable work and religious counseling. Authorities granted diplomatic missions’ access to both prisons and police jails to provide consular assistance to their citizens.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but local NGOs report arbitrary arrest continued to be a problem. The constitution and law provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or authority, but the government generally did not observe the law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces consist of police, the gendarmerie, and the military. Police and the gendarmerie are responsible for maintaining internal order, with police primarily operating in cities and the gendarmerie mainly in other areas. Military forces are responsible for territorial security, but some units also have domestic security responsibilities. For example, the specialized Republican Guard battalion provides protection for the president, government buildings, and diplomatic missions. The Ministry of Defense oversees the military and gendarmerie, and the Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization oversees the police.

A civilian police unit under the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization is responsible for patrolling the borders. Separately, a military police unit reports to the Ministry of Defense and is composed of military and police officers responsible for investigating professional misconduct by members of any of the security forces.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces; however, there were members of the security forces who acted independently of civilian authority, committed abuses, and engaged in malfeasance. The law charges both the military police and the Office of the Inspector General of Police with investigating reports of misconduct by security forces. The civilian justice system is responsible for conducting trials of military force members accused of crimes.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution and law require that a duly authorized official issue warrants before making arrests, a person be apprehended openly, a lawyer be present during initial questioning, and detainees be brought before a judge within three days and either charged or released within four months. The government habitually violated these provisions. There is a bail system, but with 70 percent of the population living in poverty, most detainees could not afford to post bail. There is an option for provisional release, but officials usually denied these requests, even for detainees with serious medical conditions. Authorities sometimes informed detainees of charges against them at the time of arrest, but filing of formal charges often took at least one week. There were reports that authorities arrested detainees secretly and without judicial authorization and sometimes detained suspects incommunicado or put them under de facto house arrest. Police at times held persons for six months or longer before filing charges due to the political nature of the case or administrative errors. Observers attributed most administrative delays to lack of staff in the Ministry of Justice and the court system. Family members sometimes received prompt access to detainees but often only after payment of bribes. The law requires authorities to provide lawyers to indigent detainees facing criminal charges at government expense, but this usually did not occur.

The penal code states authorities may hold a detainee for a maximum of 48 to 72 hours in a police jail before an attorney general reviews the case. Thereafter, authorities must decide to release or to transfer the individual to a prison for pretrial detention. Authorities generally did not observe the 72-hour maximum and frequently held detainees for several weeks before an attorney general freed or transferred them to a prison to await trial. The criminal code states that a defendant or accused person may apply for provisional release at any point during his or her detention, from either an investigating judge or a trial court, depending on the type of case. The law states that provisional release should generally be granted, provided that the judicial investigation is sufficiently advanced, that the accused does not pose a risk of subornation of witnesses, and does not pose a threat of disturbance to public order caused by the offense initially alleged; however, this law was not respected in practice.

Arbitrary Arrest: Reports suggest that arbitrary and false arrests continued to occur.

In November 2017 plain-clothes members of the security forces arrested Steve Bagne Batongo, a lawyer, in Brazzaville. Authorities arrested Bagne in his law office in violation of Article 53 of Congolese Law 026-92 on the Organization of Professional Lawyers. Authorities held Bagne in custody without charge longer than the 72 hours allowed under Article 48 of the penal code. In January authorities released Bagne from detention without trial.

Prostitution is legal. Under the law procuring (arranging the prostitution of another for financial gain) and sex trafficking are illegal. In November, the Brazzaville police arrested a Cameroonian national accused of procuring prostitution. In December, the Ministry of Women’s Promotion conducted job training for 20 former female prostitutes to encourage them to pursue other types of employment. There were unconfirmed reports that police arrested prostitutes, including gay men, for alleged illegal activity.

Pretrial Detention: The penal code sets a maximum of four months in pretrial detention. Under the law pretrial detention is extendable for two additional months with judicial approval. The penal code is not clear whether the two-month extension is renewable. Judges often renewed the two-month extension of pretrial detainees. Between 60 and 75 percent of detainees in the prisons were pretrial detainees. Prison authorities stated the average provisional detention for noncriminal cases lasted one to three months and for criminal cases at least 12 months. Human rights activists, however, stated the average was much longer, commonly exceeding a year, and sometimes exceeding the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

For example, in November 2015 authorities arrested British citizen Paulin Makaya, president of the opposition United for Congo Party, for “incitement to public disorder” for organizing and participating in an unauthorized demonstration in October 2015 against the constitutional referendum. Makaya remained in pretrial detention for two years and eight months under the charge of disturbing public order. On March 18, authorities charged Makaya with inciting disorderly conduct. His trial took place in July, and the court sentenced Makaya to one year in jail and eligible for release based on time served as of September 15. The government released Makaya on September 17.

Lengthy pretrial detentions were due to the judicial system’s lack of capacity, and a lack of political will to address the issue. The penal code defines three levels of crime: misdemeanors (punishable by less than one year in prison), the delicts (punishable by one to five years in prison), and felonies (punishable by more than five years in prison). Criminal courts try misdemeanor and delict cases regularly. The judicial system, however, suffered from a serious backlog of felony cases. By law criminal courts must hear felony cases four times per year. Due to a lack of funding, no felony cases took place from 2014 until March. Authorities held in pretrial detention those accused of felonies for the duration of this period. From March to May, criminal courts held felony sessions throughout the country. Brazzaville’s criminal court heard 132 felony cases.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest, arbitrary detention, and false arrest and provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or authority. If an investigating judge determines a detainee to be innocent, his or her release is promptly ordered, and he or she is entitled to file suit with the Administrative Court. The government, however, generally did not observe this law. Local human rights NGOs reported numerous occasions when officials denied detainees in Brazzaville the right to challenge their detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law are the framework for an independent judiciary. High caseload, lack of financial resources, political influence, and corruption remained problematic. Authorities generally abided by court orders; however, judges did not always issue direct court orders against accused authorities.

In rural areas traditional courts continued to handle many local disputes, particularly property, inheritance, and witchcraft cases, and domestic conflicts that could not be resolved within the family.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial presided over by an independent judiciary, but authorities did not always respect this right. In 2011, the Ministry of Justice began to decentralize the trial process. Appeals courts existed in five departments–Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, Dolisie, Owando, and Ouesso–and each had authority to try felony cases brought within its jurisdiction.

Under the law all defendants must be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary and have a right to a fair and public trial in all criminal cases and felony cases. Defendants in all criminal trials have the right to be present at their trials and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, although this did not always occur. The law obligates the government to provide legal assistance to any indigent defendant facing serious criminal charges, but such legal assistance was not always available because the government did not generally pay for public defenders.

Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to confront or question accusers and witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right to appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens, and the government generally abided by these provisions, except in highly politicized cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

During the year, authorities released numerous prisoners and detainees. According to local NGOs, approximately 70 persons remained in detention for political reasons. On June 26, authorities released 81 supporters of the leader of the Ninja militia, Pasteur Ntumi to solidify the December 23 ceasefire agreement signed between the government and rebel forces.

In December 2017 authorities released an American citizen who served 20 months of prison time for political reasons.

Former presidential candidates Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Andre Okombi Salissa remained in jail as of November 14. On October 19, however, authorities released senior members of their staff including Jean Ngouabi, Jacques Banagandzala, Anatole Limbongo Ngoka, Christine Moyen, Dieudonne Dhird, and Raymond Ebonga.

The government permitted limited access to political prisoners by international human rights and humanitarian organizations and diplomatic missions.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary heard felony court cases from March to May for the first time since September 2014. Brazzaville’s felony court tried 132 pending cases.

Civil courts continued to review cases on a regular basis throughout the year. Civil courts experienced long delays, although shorter than felony courts. Individuals may file a lawsuit in court on civil matters related to human rights, including seeking damages for or cessation of a human rights violation. The public, however, generally lacked confidence in the judicial system’s ability to address human rights problems.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions; the government, however, did not always respect these prohibitions.

There were reports government authorities entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization, monitored private movements, and employed informer systems.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity, despite the president’s calls for an end to corruption in his annual address to the nation during the year and his inauguration speech in 2016.

There was a widespread perception of corruption throughout government, including misuse of revenues from the oil and forestry sectors. Some local and international organizations claimed some government officials, through bribes or other fraud, regularly diverted revenues from these sectors into private overseas accounts before officially declaring the remaining revenues.

Corruption: In his annual New Year’s address to the nation, the president pledged to make anticorruption efforts a priority of his government during the year. The National Commission on the Fight against Corruption, Bribery, and Fraud accused several government officials during the year of corruption. In August the national commission issued a report that detailed investigations conducted during the first four months of the year. The report accused one minister of misusing public funds earmarked for staff training, and embezzlement of funds from a construction project. The national commission sent its report to the public prosecutor for potential legal action. As of November investigations were ongoing. The minister denied all of the findings in the report.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution mandates that senior elected or appointed officials disclose their financial interests and holdings both before taking office and upon leaving office. Failure to do so is legal grounds for dismissal from a senior position. According to the constitution, the Constitutional Court is responsible for enforcing financial disclosure; however, authorities did not enforce this provision. No financial disclosure statements were publicly available during the year.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups occasionally operated without government restriction during their investigations and when publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not cooperative with and 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 United Nations agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance, and consulted regularly with the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Central Africa focused 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 did not undertake any activities directly responding to human rights problems during the year. As in 2017 its headquarters building remained vacant.

Human Rights and Humanitarian Law are included in Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) Professional Military Education (PME). Military Academy cadets are required to complete courses in both Public Law and Humanitarian International Law. PME for lieutenants (Officer Basic Course), captains (Captains Career Course), and majors (Staff College) directly incorporates a course in Humanitarian International Law. Within the Ministry of Defense, a committee supervises the implementation of the human rights and humanitarian law curriculum for all PME levels from the military academy through Military Staff College.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal in the country. The law prescribes unspecified monetary fines based on the severity of the crime and jail time of between 10 and 20 years in prison for violators. According to a local women’s group, however, penalties actually imposed for rape ranged from as few as several months’ imprisonment to rarely more than three years. NGOs and women’s advocacy groups reported rape, especially spousal rape, was common.

Domestic violence against women, including rape and beatings, was widespread but rarely reported. For example, in one case a woman reported domestic violence by her partner to an NGO, but declined to lodge an official criminal complaint with authorities for fear of reprisal from the former partner or his family. The NGO assisted the victim in her civil complaint seeking monetary support for herself and her children, which the court awarded. There were no specific provisions in the law outlawing spousal battery other than general statutes prohibiting assault.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Generally, the penalty is two to five years in prison. In particularly egregious cases, the penalty may equal the 10-year prison sentence maximum for rape. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Both customary marriage and family laws and civil laws enacted by the government govern the rights of women, children, and extended families. Adultery is illegal for both women and men, although the penalty differs. Under civil law the husband can receive only a fine for adultery, while the wife can receive a prison sentence. Polygyny is legal, while polyandry is not.

Women experienced discrimination in divorce settlements, specifically regarding property and financial assets. National law considers men the head of the household, unless the father becomes incapacitated or abandons the family. The law dictates that in the absence of an agreement between spouses, men shall choose the residence of the family.

Women experienced economic discrimination with respect to employment, credit, equal pay, and owning or managing businesses.

Children

Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship from their parents. Birth within the territory of the country does not automatically confer citizenship, although exceptions exist for children born of missing or stateless parents, or children born of foreign parents, at least one of whom was also born in the country. The government does not require registration of births; it is up to parents to request birth registration for a child. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Education is compulsory, tuition-free, and universal until age 16, but families are required to pay for books, uniforms, and health insurance fees. Most indigenous children could not attend school because they did not have birth certificates or could not afford the 1,200 CFA francs ($2.12) per month insurance fee. Boys were five times more likely than girls to go to high school and four times more likely than girls in high school to go to a university.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported child abuse was prevalent, but not commonly reported to authorities.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law prohibits child marriage, and the legal age for marriage is 18 years for women and 21 for men. Underage marriage is possible with a judge’s permission and with the permission of both sets of parents; the law does not specify a minimum age in such a case. Many couples nevertheless engaged in an informal common-law marriage not legally recognized. For additional information, see Appendix C.

There was no government program focused on preventing early or forced marriage. The penalty for forced marriage between an adult and child is a prison sentence of three months to two years and a fine of 150,000 to 1.5 million CFA francs ($265 to $2,650).

Sexual Exploitation of Children: A child protection code provides penalties for crimes against children such as trafficking, pornography, neglect, and abuse. Penalties for these crimes range from forced labor to fines of up to 10 million CFA francs ($17,667) and prison sentences of several years. The penalty for child pornography includes a prison sentence of up to one year and a fine up to 500,000 CFA francs ($883). The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The maximum penalty for sex with a minor is five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10 million CFA francs ($17,667). A lack of specificity in the child protection code was an obstacle to successful prosecution.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is a very small Jewish community. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Humanitarian Action is the lead ministry responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. There are no laws, however, mandating access for persons with disabilities. The government provides separate schools for students with hearing disabilities in Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire. The government mainstreamed children with vision disabilities and children with physical disabilities in regular public schools.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity. There were no episodes of regional or ethnic violence reported during the year. The perception of regional and ethnic bias was most acute in the upper echelons of government wherein a large portion of the general officer corps consisted of individuals from the northern departments.

Indigenous People

According to UNICEF and local NGOs, indigenous peoples throughout the country, in both remote and urban areas, remained marginalized. Many indigenous people, known locally as Pygmies, lacked access to gainful employment, health services, housing, and education, in part due to their geographic isolation and different cultural norms. The geographic isolation of some indigenous groups limited their ability to influence government decisions affecting their interests or vote. Other indigenous communities living in more urban areas understood the concept of political participation but feared harassment by members of the Bantu population for participation and lacked access to transportation to voting booths.

According to a local NGO, indigenous communities living among majority Bantu populations often lived in substandard housing on the perimeters of villages. During the year embassy officers received unconfirmed reports of violence between Bantus and Pygmies as well as reports of violence within the indigenous communities themselves. The NGO reported that Bantus often forced indigenous people to work in their fields for little to no pay and refused to purchase food from indigenous vendors. A law enforcement official reported that high rates of alcoholism within the indigenous community contributed to high rates of violence, poverty, and incest. A government official reported that indigenous women and girls suffered from gender-based violence, and teenage pregnancy among indigenous girls was common. Bantu men often impregnated indigenous girls and later denied paternity, offering no child support. Indigenous women suffered from a disproportionate rate of fistulas resulting from unattended childbirth and rape.

A 2011 law provides special status and recognition for indigenous populations. Additionally, the constitution stipulates the state shall provide promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. The government did not implement these laws.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There is no law that specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The penal code prescribes imprisonment of three months to two years and a fine for those who commit a “public outrage against decency.” The law prescribes a punishment of six months to three years and a fine for anyone who “commits a shameless act or an act against nature with an individual of the same sex under the age of 21.” Authorities did not invoke the law to arrest or prosecute lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons. On occasion, however, police officers harassed gay men and claimed the law prohibited same-sex sexual activity to elicit a small bribe.

There were no known cases of violence against LGBTI individuals during the year.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Public opinion polls conducted by the World Bank in 2012 showed significant societal discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS. The law provides penalties for unlawful divulgence of medical records by practitioners, negligence in treatment by healthcare professionals, family abandonment, and unwarranted termination of employment. Civil society organizations advocating for the rights of persons with HIV/AIDS were fairly well organized and sought fair treatment, especially regarding employment.

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