Congo, Republic of the

Last Updated 21 February 2020

A former part of the French colony of Equatorial Africa, independent since 1960, the Republic of Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville, borders its larger namesake the Democratic Republic of Congo to the east. It was formerly known as the People’s Republic of the Congo, a Marxist–Leninist single-party state, from 1970 to 1991. Multi-party elections have been held since 1992, but there are concerns that criticims of the government and political oppression are somewhat suppressed.

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory
Free and Equal

Constitution and government

The Congolese constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom and forbid discrimination based on religious affiliation. The constitution states that the country is secular, prohibits the use of religion for political ends, and requires that impositions on freedom of conscience stemming from “religious fanaticism” are unlawful.

The rights to freedom of assembly and association are sometimes restricted in practice, and often precarious to exercise if they involve a particular political agenda. However, Congo nevertheless has a lively civil society.

The returning president: corruption and oppression

Although religion or belief rights appear to upheld, there are broader concerns about civil rights and freedoms. President Denis Sassou Nguesso has held power for most of the time since he first became president in 1979. Ousted in 1991 from executive power (but still serving as head of state), he returned to power during the Second Civil War (1997-1999). During his fourth term as president (ongoing as of 2018), as during his previous presidency, he has severely repressed political opposition. Corruption and decades of political instability have left the country poor, despite significant oil reserves. Abuses by security forces are frequently reported.

Education and children’s rights

There are religious private schools in Congo, which may provide religious instruction. However, public schools are prohibited from religious instruction. All schools, public and private, are meant to respect all religion or belief traditions.

Academic freedom is formally unrestricted. However, some professors engage in self-censorship on grounds of fearing government harassment.

Family, Community and Society

One estimate puts the atheist population at just 2 percent. With an estimated total population at around 5.0 million as of July 2017, one survey estimates that 55 percent of native-born population are Protestant (including evangelical churches), 32 percent Roman Catholic, 2 percent Muslim. Another 9 percent belongs to various modern churches: Church of Jesus Christ on Earth (Kimbanguists), the Celestial Church of Christ, Salvation Army, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons.

There have been no reports received of discrimination against the estimated 2 percent of the population who are non-religious or atheist.

A government decree bans individuals from wearing full-face Islamic veils in public. The Muslim population has been rising in recent years (up to 2018) particularly due to refugees arriving from Central African Republic. The migration has reportedly lead to some tensions, though no major incidents of intercommunal violence.

There do not appear to be any Sharia courts or any legal provision that would validate them.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Although guaranteed by the Congolese constitution, freedoms of speech and expression remain limited. Journalists have been threatened, attacked and detained by members of the state security apparatus for reporting critical accounts of government officials. Journalists have been incarcerated, or attacked by non-state armed groups. Freedom House rates the country as “Not Free” in 2018.

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