The National Assembly of the Republic of Congo (ROC) has adopted a law creating a national human rights commission, as stipulated by the country's new constitution, which was approved by referendum in January 2002 and entered into effect in August 2002 following a five-year transition period.
During the debate on the law, Justice Minister Jean-Martin Mbemba said the national commission would be an "essential instrument" for the protection of human rights in the country.
Included in the national commission's mandate will be country-wide human rights education efforts for all levels of society; support for human rights research; promotion of human rights understanding among elected officials and police authorities; and provision of a forum for dialogue among all public and private actors interested in human rights.
The commission is also charged with producing human rights reports, supplying these reports to government authorities, and maintaining relations with regional and international organisations.
"As it has been presented, it cannot be said that it is bad. However, what matters the most is the work that will ultimately be carried out within this commission, because the credibility of the commission depends on it," Roger Bouka-Owoko, the spokesman for a national human rights NGO, Observatoire congolais des droits de l'homme, told IRIN.
"It is great news that such a structure has come into existence - it is a definite plus for the protection and promotion of human rights [in ROC]," Moke Loamba, the president of another national human rights NGO, Association pour les droits de l'homme et de l'univers carceral, told IRIN. "However, it is essential that only legitimate human rights NGOs be included, and that questionable NGOs tied to political parties be excluded."
Opposition politicians lamented, however, that the powers of the commission would be very limited, as it would only have "civil party" status in the prosecution of human rights violations cases, and would not have the authority to summons those accused of such violations.
The commission will be independent of other institutions created by the constitution, such as parliament, the Supreme Court, the social and economic council, and the newly created media freedom body, known as the Conseil superieur de liberte de l'information et de la communication. It is to be financed both by state funds and contributions from international donors.
The commission comprises 39 "full" members and 14 "associate" members, from human rights NGOs, other civil society organisations, professional associations and public institutions. Members of the commission are named by presidential decree, with a three-year renewable mandate. The commission will have a president, two vice-presidents, an administrative/financial officer, and a rapporteur.