Dozens of political opponents remained in detention; some were prisoners of conscience. There were no investigations into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by security forces and prison guards. Armed conflict between security forces and armed groups continued in Pool; around 81,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from the area continued to live in appalling conditions; and the rate of acute malnutrition reached alarming levels.
The government conducted military operations, including air strikes, in the southeastern department of Pool. Government restrictions and the continuing armed conflict limited access to the area.
The Congolese Labour Party won 90 of the 151 National Assembly seats in legislative elections in July while elections in Pool had been postponed indefinitely due to the conflict. On 23 December, the government and armed groups led by Frédéric Bintsamou (also known as Reverend Ntumi) signed up to a ceasefire in Pool.
On 31 March, the Republic of the Congo ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Freedoms of assembly and expression
The authorities used restrictive legislation, relating to public gatherings and assemblies, to curtail the right to freedom of assembly. On 23 March, the Prefect of Brazzaville, the capital, rejected a request to hold a peaceful demonstration from the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, the Association for Human Rights and Prison Conditions, and the United Forces for Freedom and Democracy. The organizations had intended, during the demonstration, to give the Prime Minister a letter raising concerns about the human rights situation.
The right to freedom of expression was restricted. On 11 January, Ghys Fortuné Dombé Bemba, editor of the Talassa newspaper, was summoned by the judicial police in connection with charges of “complicity in undermining state security”. This followed his publishing a statement by Reverend Ntumi, leader of the “Ninjas”, an armed group operating in the Pool department.
Prisoners of conscience
In November Paulin Makaya completed a two-year prison sentence for participating in an unauthorized protest. However, he remained in prison at the end of the year as a result of additional charges brought against him on 6 January 2017 which included “undermining national security, complicity in a plan to escape from detention, and complicity in the unlawful possession of arms and munitions of war”. The charges related to a shooting in Brazzaville central prison in December 2016 in which, according to witnesses, he played no part.
Little progress was made in judicial proceedings involving opposition leaders and members detained since 2015 for opposing changes to the Constitution, or the presidential election results.
The opposition Initiative for Democracy in the Republic of Congo – Republican Front for the Respect of Constitutional Order and Democratic Change (FROCAD-IDC) – said that over 100 political prisoners remained in detention in Brazzaville central prison at the end of the year. Local human rights organizations compiled a list of names of 90 political prisoners held during the year. They included opposition leaders Okouya Rigobert of the Convention for Action, Democracy and Development (CADD); Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko, a presidential candidate and retired army general; and Jean Ngouabi, a member of the latter’s campaign team. In January, André Okombi Salissa, former member of the National Assembly and president of CADD, was arrested and detained at the General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance after spending almost a year in hiding.
Also in January, Noël Mienanzambi Boyi, president of the Association for the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence and a broadcaster for a community radio station, was arrested in Kinkala, the main town in Pool. The authorities claimed that he was transporting medicine and food to Reverend Ntumi, and charged him with “complicity in undermining state security”. Local NGOs said that he was arrested after he agreed to organize mediation between the authorities and Reverend Ntumi on the government’s request. They also alleged that he was tortured in various detention centres before being transferred to Brazzaville central prison in June where he remained at the end of the year.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Several cases of torture and other ill-treatment by security services were reported. No investigations or judicial proceedings into these allegations were conducted by the authorities.
On 24 January, Modeste Boukadia, president of the opposition Congolese Circle of Democrats and Republicans, was admitted to Clinique Guénin in Pointe Noire city as a result of injuries he sustained when prison guards beat him at Pointe Noire prison in November 2016. The beating resulted in two fractured bones, and caused him to have high blood pressure and a heart condition.
Internally displaced people
Following fighting between government forces and the Ninjas armed group, around a third of residents in Pool fled their homes. An estimated 81,000 people were IDPs; 59,000 of them were registered displaced in 2017. IDPs were in dire need of shelter, food, water, basic health services and adequate sanitation. They were forced to live with families in host communities, on church grounds, in public buildings, or in overcrowded makeshift sites.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The refugee status of around 10,000 Rwandan refugees expired on 31 December, under the Cessation Clause for Rwandan refugees, on the grounds that Rwanda was a safe country. Some of the refugees may be permitted to choose between voluntary repatriation and residency in their host countries, or otherwise retain their refugee status if they fulfill certain criteria.
Right to food
According to the UN, 138,000 people in Pool required humanitarian assistance, and over 50% of families were food insecure.
Global Acute Malnutrition − the measurement of the nutritional status of those in long-term refugee situations – affected between 17.3 and 20.4% of IDP children aged under five who fled from Pool.