DRC ratifies Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture News
MONUSCO Photos, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
DRC ratifies Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ratified Friday the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The DRC’s ratification of the Optional Protocol, which will enter into force on May 26, 2024, represents a significant step toward strengthening the prevention of torture and ill-treatment in the country. As a State Party, the DRC must establish or designate one or several independent national preventive mechanisms (NPMs) within one year, per Article 17. These NPMs will be empowered to examine the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty regularly, make recommendations to authorities, and have unimpeded access to all places of detention, as described in Articles 19-20.

Furthermore, Article 4 states that the DRC must allow visits by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) to any place under its jurisdiction where persons are or may be deprived of liberty. During such visits, the DRC must grant the SPT unrestricted access to information, installations, and detainees in line with Article 14. While it may be challenging, cooperating with the SPT, examining its recommendations, and entering into constructive dialogue on implementation measures according to Article 12 presents a valuable opportunity for the DRC to benefit from the SPT’s expertise in strengthening protections against torture.

The decision comes at a time of increasing violence between government forces and the M23 rebel group, one of more than 100 armed groups operating in the conflict-ridden and resource-rich eastern part of the country, which has been a center of conflicts since the 1990s.

A recent United Nations report, covering the period from April 2019 to April 2022, highlighted the alarming prevalence of torture in conflict-affected regions of the DRC, where impunity is widespread. The report, jointly issued by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in DRC (UNJHRO) and the UN Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), found that 93% of the 3,618 documented cases of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, involving 4,946 victims, occurred in areas affected by armed conflicts. Among these cases, 492 involved sexual violence against 761 victims. According to the UN report’s findings, members of the DRC’s defense and security forces were responsible for 1,293 cases of torture and ill-treatment. The report revealed that individuals were subjected to torture and ill-treatment while exercising fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, or during detention. Despite the scale of violations and abuses documented during the reporting period, only two army officers, 12 national police officers, and 75 members of armed groups were convicted of torture-related offenses.

Moreover, a 2023 US Department of State report highlighted allegations regarding the prevalence of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in the DRC. According to the report, despite legal prohibitions, there were credible reports of government officials employing such practices. The report indicated that throughout the year, credible accounts suggested Congolese security forces subjected various groups, including minorities and journalists, to cruel, inhumane treatment and punishment. It alleged that children living or working on the streets faced abuse by security forces, while minority groups and journalists also reportedly endured rape and sexual violence at their hands. Though the report noted that impunity for mistreatment by security forces remained an issue, it stated the government made limited accountability efforts, such as the life sentences given to four police officers for allegedly torturing a detainee to death in 2021.