a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports on social media of the government or its agents committing arbitrary or unlawful killings; however, for such reports (besides those specified below), no independent confirmation was possible, leading to uncertainty regarding the frequency of the incidents and the number of persons arbitrarily deprived of life. In some cases the Ministry of Justice coordinated with the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense to investigate security force involvement in the deaths of citizens and pursued prosecution.
Human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to report deaths resulting from abuse in prisons and pretrial detention centers (see also section 1.c.).
In August a young woman, Nancy Adzouana, allegedly died while under police custody in the southern town of Dolisie due to injuries sustained from security forces. Citizens in Dolisie demonstrated by burning tires and blocking the main road in town for a day before military forces were called into the town to maintain order. At year’s end the Ministry of Justice had not announced any investigation into the death nor any disciplinary actions.
In November local NGOs through international media alleged the death of six individuals while in Brazzaville’s central prison in July. After the announcement, the government publicly acknowledged the deaths were accidental in relation to overcrowding. NGOs conducted an independent autopsy, naming blunt-force trauma as the cause of death. Despite continued criticism from the NGOs, the government had yet to publish a report of the investigation by year’s end.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
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. There were reports on social media of the government or its agents meting out cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to detainees or convicts. No independent confirmation was possible, leading to uncertainty regarding the frequency of the incidents and the number of persons abused.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were a total of 14 open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including three allegations received during the year, one received in 2020, two received in 2019, two received in 2018, and six received in 2016. Eight cases allegedly involved the rape of a child, including one alleged rape of a child by four peacekeepers, and two cases allegedly involved exploitative relationships with an adult. As of October the government had not reported accountability measures taken for any open allegations.
The Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) did not maintain a separate military justice system. In most cases the military handled allegations of abuse by soldiers outside the country through administrative procedures, which often included lengthy detentions. The FAC reported that all personnel involved in allegations in the UN peacekeeping deployments in the Central African Republic received legal or administrative discipline in line with these administrative procedures.
Officials took steps to prosecute or punish members of the security forces who acted with impunity. Abuses are investigated by the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Justice.
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: The Brazzaville Prison, built in 1943 to accommodate 150 inmates, held more than five times its designed capacity, including women and minors. The Pointe-Noire Prison, built in 1934 to hold 75 inmates, held more than six times its designed capacity. In addition to these official prisons, the government’s intelligence and security services operated detention centers and security prisons that 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 throughout the country, authorities sometimes held juvenile detainees with adult prisoners.
Prison conditions for women were generally better than those for men. There was less crowding in women’s cells. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. In Brazzaville authorities confined 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 a few reported deaths resulting from abuse, neglect, and overcrowding in prisons and pretrial detention centers. A local NGO reported that figures on the number and causes of death while in custody were unavailable.
In Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, authorities equipped the prisons with some mattresses and prisoner uniforms. Most inmates, however, slept on the floor on cardboard 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. Local NGOs commented that the cells were infested with insects and rats. Basic and emergency medical care was limited. Medical personnel at the Brazzaville Prison cited tuberculosis, dysentery, malaria, and HIV and AIDS as the most common maladies affecting prisoners. Authorities did not provide specialized medical care to prisoners with HIV and 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 problems. 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 in a shared recreational space. The Pointe-Noire Prison occasionally had running water. All the prisons supplied potable water to inmates in buckets. The government evacuated some prisoners to military hospitals when care was urgent and the prisoner was well connected.
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. Prisoners had weekly access to Christian religious services only.
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 in either a crowded open area or 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 were infrequent because of the financial hardship of travel and COVID-19 preventative measures.
Independent Monitoring: The government provided domestic 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 prisons on multiple occasions.
Other 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 reported 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 did not observe the law regularly.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The constitution and law require that a duly authorized official issue warrants before officers make an arrest, that a person be apprehended openly, that a lawyer be present during initial questioning, and that detainees be brought before a judge within three days and either charged or released within four months. The government regularly 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. Authorities sometimes informed detainees of charges against them at the time of arrest, but the filing of formal charges often took more than one week. There were reports 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. 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 at government expense to indigent detainees facing criminal charges, but this regularly did not occur.
The law 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 law states 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 the judicial investigation is sufficiently advanced and the accused does not pose a risk of bribing witnesses or a threat to public order. This provision of the law was not respected.
Arbitrary Arrest: Reports suggested arbitrary and false arrests continued to occur (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
Pretrial Detention: Under the law the four-month pretrial detention period is extendable for two additional months with judicial approval. The law is not clear whether the two-month extension is renewable; however, judges often renewed the two-month extension period. Between 60 and 75 percent of detainees in prison were pretrial detainees. Prison authorities stated the average pretrial detention for nonfelony cases lasted one to three months and for felony cases at least 12 months. Human rights activists, however, stated the average was much longer for felony cases, commonly exceeding a year, and sometimes exceeding the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.
Lengthy pretrial detentions were due to the judicial system’s lack of capacity and, according to observers, a lack of political will to address the problem. The law defines three levels of crime: misdemeanors (punishable by less than one year in prison), 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, but the government held only three criminal sessions in each of the five appeals courts and continued to hold persons accused of felonies in pretrial detention pending trial.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law provide detainees the right to challenge the legal basis of their detention before a competent judge or other 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 for compensation and damages with the Administrative Court. The government did observe this law in allowing released detainees the right to file a complaint. The government, however, rarely paid court-ordered compensation. Local human rights NGOs reported few occasions when officials denied detainees in Brazzaville the right to challenge their detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide the framework for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect judicial independence and employed political influence at times. Corruption also undermined judicial independence. International NGOs reported in 2019 the judiciary was dominated by allies of the president. 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, as well as domestic conflicts that could not be resolved within the family.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial presided over by an independent judiciary, but authorities did not always respect this right. 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. Defendants in all criminal trials enjoy the presumption of innocence and 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 government generally abided by these provisions, except in highly politicized cases.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of political prisoners and detainees, although verifiable estimates of their total number were not available. While the government claimed there were no political prisoners, human rights groups and international observers maintained the government detained or imprisoned persons solely or chiefly because of their political beliefs. In 2020 the UN Mission in Brazzaville, based on information gathered from local NGOs, reported 24 persons in detention for political reasons. The government did not comment on the release of any prisoners.
Former presidential candidate Andre Okombi Salissa remained in prison as of October. In July 2020 the government transferred Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a former presidential candidate, to Turkey for one month of medical treatment. Upon his return, due to pending health conditions related to pneumonia, he was placed in the Brazzaville Military Hospital. In September he was transferred from the central military hospital to the central prison of Brazzaville, where he remained in detention. Mokoko and Okombi Salissa were serving sentences of 20 years at hard labor after being convicted of “undermining the internal security of the state” as well as “illegal possession of weapons and ammunition of war.”
The government arrested five political activists in March on allegations of posing a threat to national security: Landry Boumbeya, Alex Dzabana Ibacka, Rive Niaty, Christ Belvy Dongui, and Jean Louis Packat. Boumbeya, Dongui, and Dzabana Ibacka were released in July. Packat and Niaty remained in custody.
The government permitted limited access to those considered political prisoners by international human rights and humanitarian organizations and diplomatic missions.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Individuals may file lawsuits in court on civil matters related to human rights, including seeking damages for or cessation of a human rights abuse. 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.