Referendum on the constitution : Questionable results, opponents harassed, a dangerous day

Press release
en fr

(Brazzaville, Paris) FIDH, OCDH and the organisations of the MyVoteMustCount Coalition denounce the results of the referendum on the constitution held in the Republic of the Congo on 25 October endorsing the adoption of a new Constitution, which will allow the current president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, to seek a third term in 2016. The official results, published on 27 October, indicate that 92.96% of voters said "yes" to this new draft Constitution and that 72.44% of the electorate went to vote, whereas according to what our organisations observed most of the Congolese decided not to vote and the opposition boycotted the polls. In the face of what looks like a constitutional takeover, our organisations are calling for the withdrawal of the draft constitution, which is obviously neither consensual nor legal, the main aim being to keep President Sassou Nguesso in power after more than thirty years as head of state, and are asking the international community to ensure that the 2016 presidential election is free, transparent and inclusive.

As regards the extent of the contestation, the boycott of the polls by the entire political opposition and the lack of enthusiasm throughout the country for Sunday’s vote, the figures announced by the Congolese authorities, in particular the turnout, appear to be the opposite of what was observed. Our organisations are calling on the international community to condemn the results of the referendum unanimously and to put pressure on the authorities to withdraw the new draft Constitution and undertake to hold free and transparent elections without changing the rules of the game."
FIDH, OCDH, the organisations of the MyVoteMustCount coalition

According to the information gathered, most of the inhabitants of the southern quarters of the capital, Brazzaville, boycotted the polls and stayed at home. In the northern quarters and the city centre, where a lot of support was expected, only a limited number of people went to the polling stations. It was the same throughout the country. In at least five sub-prefectures in the south no voting took place, "for various reasons" declared the Minister of the Interior and Decentralization, Zéphirin Mboulou, when the results were announced on radio and television on Tuesday 27 October.

Moreover, since Thursday 22 October, one of the opposition leaders, Guy Brice Parfait Kolelas, has been under house arrest with about 30 of his activists. They are at his home in Brazzaville, surrounded by soldiers of the Presidential Guard. On Thursday the Congolese authorities declared that the Presidential Guard had been deployed in order to make the area safe. According to our sources the guards are preventing the opponents from leaving and receiving visitors and only the French ambassador has been able to bring them food on 26 October by invoking the welfare clause. Our organisations condemn the attack on freedom of movement and the intimidation that house arrest constitutes and urge the Congolese authorities to withdraw the Presidential Guard in order to set the opposition activists free.

Likewise, six civilian activists, opponents of the referendum on the constitution, who had been arrested by the police and the gendarmerie on 9 October in the quarter of Bacongo, in the south of Brazzaville, and transferred to the National Security Agency (Direction Générale de la Surveillance du Territoire - DGST)1 on Saturday 10 October, are still held in Brazzaville prison, to which they were transferred on Monday 19 October. According to information gathered by our organisations they have all been able to receive visits but only some of them have benefited from the assistance of a lawyer. Three men, Fernand Dzanga, George Kikele and Okemba Koumou, were also arrested at home by the police in Dongou, in the department of Likouala in the north-west of the country, at about 7 am on polling day. They are accused of having encouraged their relatives to vote against the referendum for a new constitution. They were released from Dongou police station in the afternoon of Monday 26 October. Our organisations are calling on the Congolese authorities to free all those arbitrarily detained immediately and to respect their right to receive visitors and benefit from medical treatment and legal assistance.

"The Congolese authorities must stop harassing, intimidating, arresting and detaining those opposed to the amendment to the Constitution. Independent investigations into the repression of the demonstrations of 20 and 21 October 2015, which according to various sources caused at least five deaths, must be carried out and the perpetrators brought to justice. On the eve of the vast mobilization of opposition, we call on the Congolese authorities to show the strictest respect for the right to demonstrate peacefully and remind them that those who ordered and perpetrated human-rights violations must be held criminally responsible for their acts."
FIDH, OCDH, the organisations of the MyVoteMustCount coalition

The opposition has launched appeals for demonstrations against the results of the polls of 25 October and the draft new Constitution in all the major towns in the country tomorrow, Friday 30 October. Our organizations are calling on all actors involved to exercise restraint and are urging the Congolese authorities to respect Congolese citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully and to ensure that the police and gendarmerie do not use lethal weapons nor disproportionate and excessive force to control demonstrators.


On 22 September Denis Sassou Nguesso said he wanted to hold a referendum to decide on a ’change’ to the Constitution that had been in force in the Republic of the Congo since 2002 to allow him to seek a third term as president. The opponents of the referendum, who see in it an attempt to overthrow the constitution, came out in force and were severely repressed on Tuesday 20 and Wednesday 21 October 2015, resulting in the deaths of around twenty people according to the figures ascertained by our organisations. The official figures speak of four victims. Denis Sassou Nguesso has been in power since 1979. In 1992 he lost the first pluralist elections before returning to power by force of arms in 1997 following more than two years of civil war. In 1999 the government’s security services were accused of having massacred more than 300 people on Brazzaville Beach, refugees returning to the Congo. The case is still pending in the French courts. In 2002 Denis Sassou Nguesso was reelected in a disputed election.

Read more