Torture has become routine in prisons and police stations in the Republic of Congo, according to a 2 November report by the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH).
The report is based on a series of field investigations OCDH conducted, with financial support from the European Union, between 2010 and 2012 in prisons around the country. These investigations aimed to, among other things, understand “the extent of the practice of torture in the country, with a view to attracting the attention of national and international opinion."
"Torture remains a sad reality in Congo. Several cases were followed by murder. Numerous cases of torture are not reported for various reasons, such as fear of reprisals and lack of knowledge of the mechanisms of protection," said OCDH executive director Roch Euloge Nzobo.
"The majority of acts of torture are committed in official places of detention, especially in prisons, local penitentiaries, police stations, gendarmerie brigades, as well as outside prisons. They occur at the time of arrest, during custody and in detention," he said.
Routine and commonplace
"Torture is systematic everywhere. It is becoming routine and commonplace. The perpetrators of torture enjoy impunity," said Nzobo, urging the government "to establish an oversight committee, made up of members of civil society and the government, to undertake ad hoc inspections of detention centres".
The OCDH report is supported by the former president of the Bar of Brazzaville, Ambroise Hervé Malonga, who has just filed a torture complaint against police officials. Malonga was arrested and detained between April and July 2012 in a prison in the capital for trying to defend a senior officer of the Congolese Armed Forces.
His defendant is Col Marcel Tsourou, deputy secretary-general of the National Security Council. Tsourou has been jailed since late March as part of the investigation into an explosion at an army munitions dump, which killed nearly 300 people and caused extensive damage on 4 March.
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"The constitution, laws and regulations of the republic are being violated daily. Human rights are constantly violated," said Miérassa Clement, head of the Congolese Social Democratic Party (CSDP), an opposition party.
The US State Department’s 2011 Human Rights Report on the Republic of the Congo also documented cases of torture in the country’s prisons, noting that in early 2011, “inmates and pre-trial detainees in Brazzaville’s prison were reportedly tortured two to three times per month by gendarmes during the night”. It also mentioned the attempted rape of a female inmate in the Brazzaville prison in April 2011, after which gendarmes were no longer deployed inside the prison.
In its 2012 human rights report, Amnesty International stated that members of the Congolese security forces “tortured or otherwise ill-treated detainees with impunity, in some cases resulting in deaths”.
Government rejects OCDH allegations
The OCDH accusations are rejected by the government, which said, "Congo has signed and ratified the convention against torture and inhuman and degrading treatment."
"In light of this agreement, and given our international obligations, we must provide periodic reports to the UN Council of Human Rights to assess the situation of torture in Congo," Philippe Ongagna, director-general of human rights at the Ministry of Justice, told IRIN.
"Currently we are preparing a report based on formal and verifiable elements. When we finish writing this report, each of us can digest it… I can say that we have evidence refuting the OCDH allegations. What this NGO is suggesting is totally false," he said.