Republic of the Congo
The Republic of the Congo (ROC) is a presidential republic in which the constitution vests most decision-making authority and political power in the president and prime minister. In 2015 the Republic of the Congo adopted a new constitution that extended the maximum number of presidential terms and years to three terms of five years and provided complete immunity to former presidents. In 2016 the Constitutional Court proclaimed the incumbent, Denis Sassou N’Guesso, the winner of the 2016 presidential election, despite opposition and international criticisms of electoral irregularities. The government last held legislative and local elections in 2017, with legislative election irregularities sufficient to restrict the ability of citizens to choose their government. While the country has a multiparty political system, members of the president’s Congolese Labor Party (PCT) and its allies retained 68 percent of legislative seats, and PCT members occupied almost all senior government positions.
National police, gendarmes, and the military have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The national police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Interior. The gendarmerie reports to the Ministry of Defense and conducts domestic paramilitary and law enforcement activities. The army, navy, and air force, which also report to the Ministry of Defense, secure the country from external threat but also conduct limited domestic security activities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; infringement of citizens’ privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; restrictions on the ability of citizens to change their government peacefully; corruption by government officials; violence against women and girls to which government negligence significantly contributed; trafficking in persons; and forced child labor, including the worst forms.
The government took limited steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, and official impunity was a problem.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups occasionally faced government restrictions during their investigations and when publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not cooperative with or responsive to international or domestic human rights groups. Some domestic human rights groups did not report on specific incidents due to fear of reprisal by the government.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies during the year. For example, the government hosted major international conferences, partnered with resident UN agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance, and consulted regularly with the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Central Africa, focusing on regional peace, security, and environmental issues.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The government-sponsored Human Rights Commission (HRC) is the government human rights watchdog and is responsible for addressing public concerns about human rights problems. The HRC had little effectiveness or independence; it did not undertake any activities directly responding to human rights problems during the year.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal in the country; spousal rape is not specifically addressed. The law prescribes unspecified monetary fines based on the severity of the crime and between 10 and 20 years in prison for violators. Authorities enforced the law effectively, however judgments often took years to be rendered and penalties applied. According to a local women’s group, 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. The law prohibits domestic violence, with maximum penalties including prison terms and hard labor. One local NGO working on women’s issues reported more than 450 cases of domestic violence in the city of Pointe Noire between January and September, with police often bringing victims to the NGO’s headquarters due to the lack of a formal shelter or other area of refuge.
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. Women are provided the same legal status as men under the law, and authorities generally effectively enforced those laws. Individual bias and customary beliefs, however, contributed to societal pressures to limit the rights of women. Adultery is illegal for both women and men, although the penalty differs. Under civil law, the husband could receive only a fine for adultery, while the wife could 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.
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 ($2.00) per month health 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 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 ($255 to $2,550).
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law 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 ($17,000) 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 ($850). 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 ($17,000). A lack of specificity in the law 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/reported-cases.html.
There is a very small Jewish community. There were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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.
The law prohibits discrimination based on ethnicity. There were reports of violence against indigenous groups.
Locally the phrase “indigenous people” refers to forest-dwelling communities that live a seminomadic lifestyle and practice a traditional socioeconomic system based on hunting and gathering of forest products. Most indigenous communities live in rural or isolated parts of the country with limited exposure to the government or its representatives. According to government statistics from 2007, indigenous people represented 1.2 percent of the country’s total population, while other international and domestic NGOs reported figures near 7 percent.
The law provides special status and recognition for indigenous populations. Additionally, the constitution stipulates the state shall provide promotion and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights. In July the government adopted six decrees on the Protection and Promotion of Indigenous Peoples. These decrees created an interministerial committee for the monitoring and evaluation of indigenous rights, protection of cultural property, the status of certain civil measures, and promotion of education, literacy, and basic social services. Beginning in October the government conducted a series of public campaigns to educate members of indigenous communities, civil society, and government agencies about the new decrees.
Nevertheless, according to UNICEF and local NGOs, geographic isolation, cultural differences, and lack of political inclusion marginalized indigenous peoples throughout the country. NGOs and UN agencies reported members of indigenous communities experienced episodic discrimination, forced labor, and violence. The UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, after a visit in October, reported that indigenous peoples faced significant discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization, including in their access to health services, education, employment, and political participation. According to UNICEF poverty levels remained high in indigenous communities and a lack of access to social services remained the main socioeconomic hurdle to these populations. Other indigenous communities living in more urban areas had greater access to social services but feared harassment by members of the majority Bantu nonindigenous population.
There is no law that specifically prohibits consensual same-sex sexual conduct. The law 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’ imprisonment 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, to elicit a small bribe, police officers harassed gay men and claimed the law prohibited same-sex sexual activity.
Local NGOs reported episodic violence by government authorities and private citizens against LGBTI persons. A local NGO reported one LGBTI organization was unable to secure legal recognition from authorities. Authorities refused to recognize the organization until it removed from all registration documents language indicating the organization’s focus on the LGBTI community.
There is no law specifically prohibiting discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services.
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 well organized and sought fair treatment, especially regarding employment.