A “constitutional coup d’État” in progress

Press release
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(Brazzaville, Paris) FIDH, OCDH and the member organisations of the #MyVoteMustCount coalition consider the imminent referendum to “change” the Constitution of the Republic of Congo, as announced by President Denis Sassou Nguesso, in his radio-TV speech of 22 September 2015, a “constitutional coup d’État”. Revoking the 2002 Constitution, which limits the number of presidential terms to two, would allow President Sassou Nguesso, who has been in power for more than 30 years, to run again in the July 2016 presidential elections. Our organisations urge Congolese authorities to withdraw this proposal since it is anti-constitutional and contrary to the country’s international commitments, and appeal to the international community to prevent Congo from plunging into an looming political crisis.

« “This referendum for a new constitution is a ‘constitutional coup d’État’ to allow Denis Sassou Nguesso to stay in power. It ignores constitutional law and the rules of the African Union. Recent events in Burkina Faso and in Burundi have shown that the people do not support this type of stiff-arm tactic which leads to human rights violations and destabilises the country. We appeal to all the actors to show restraint and to support the Congolese civil society organisations that peacefully and unanimously have denounced this flagrant attack on democratic principles, and on respect for lawfulness, political changeover and the organisation of free, multi-party, transparent elections.”
Paul Nsapu, FIDH Secretary General

Denis Sassou Nguesso must overcome three legal hurdles specified in the Constitution. First, Article 57 states that the president can be re-elected only once; Nguesso has already been elected in 2002 and 2009. Second, Article 58 stipulates that a candidate for the office of president must not be over the age of 70 when filing for candidacy; Denis Sassou Nguesso was, according to official records, born in November 1943 so is now 71. And third, Article 185 stipulates that the number of terms of office for the president cannot be changed by an amendment to the constitution. To overcome this last legal hurdle, President Sassou Nguesso would have to “make profound changes to the institutions of the Republic” as he said in his TV address, and get a completely new constitution adopted. He explained that “after the adoption of the draft Constitution, which will be drawn up by an ad hoc commission, the government will decide how to hold a referendum in the near future”. Holding this referendum would be a triple infringement on the Constitution – that the President himself had pushed for adoption in 2002.

This attempt to manipulate the Constitution also contravenes the regional and international commitments of the Republic of Congo, in particular Article 23 of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance which prohibits “any amendment or revision of the constitution or legal instruments, which is an infringement on the principles of democratic change of government.” and the Bamako Declaration on democratic practices, rights and freedoms within the Francophone area of the International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF). The Congolese government respectively signed and adopted both these legal texts. Our organisations urge the international community, especially the African Union (AU), the United Nations, the OIF and the European Union, to do their utmost to prevent this revision of the constitution and, if necessary, to activate the mechanisms and sanctions enshrined in their respective texts.

In the meantime, the electoral lists are being revised on the basis of the 2013 administrative census. The results of the census were not accepted by the opposition party nor by the Congolese civil society who were not involved in the census process. The electoral lists are to be updated in the five days from 22 to 26 September 2015, without consulting the driving forces of the society. Congolese civil society and the opposition party unanimously challenge the accuracy of the 2013 electoral lists that are being used for the current census, and contest the unrealistic timetable for conducting the electoral census. In 2013 the Ministry of the Interior was given three months to do this work, but was six months late in completing it.

“By sidelining the opposition and the civil society from the electoral rolls revision process, the Congolese authorities are showing once again that they do not want to organise credible, peaceful elections. Our organisations urge the international community to pressure the authorities into conducting a new population census, working together with the opposition and the Congolese civil society. After 32 years of what could be called a one-man rule, Denis Sassou Nguesso should withdraw and guarantee the organisation of free, inclusive, transparent elections.”
Trésor Nzila, OCDH Executive Director


Denis Sassou Nguesso, who headed the single-party regime from 1979 to 1992, was defeated in the 1992 multi-party elections but returned to power in 1997 after a violent civil war and a military coup d’État. He was then elected president in 2002. Since that time he has been at the head of the ruling party, the Congolese labour party (PCT). FIDH and OCDH have documented many cases of human rights violations and have shown how the Congolese authorities manipulate the judiciary to encourage politically-motivated repression. Information received by FIDH and OCDH also indicate that the Congolese authorities are guilty of acts of torture and ill treatment in detention sites and have criminalised social protests to silence all opposition.

The #MyVoteMustCount coalition
Between 2014 and 2016, 52 elections including 25 presidential elections have been scheduled in 27 African countries. To avoid manipulation, fraud, and violence resulting from shortened elections, African and international civil societies have decided to mobilize through the #MyVoteMustCount campaign. Civil societies are demanding that their leaders respect the legitimate rights of the people to choose their representatives in fair, free and transparent elections through public awareness, field actions and political advocacy prior to each election between now and 2016.

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