A two-year struggle against the use of illegal detention in the DR Congo

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)DetentionLegal aidNews

Kinshasa, 8 April 2016 – For the last two years, with the support of the Belgian Development Cooperation, Avocats Sans Frontières has been working actively with the Bar Associations of the west of the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to combat the abusive and sometimes even illegal use of preventive detention in the country. The key aspects of this project were the development of the capacity of individuals held in detention to understand and to take action, the legal representation of detainees by specifically trained lawyers and the highlighting of the catastrophic conditions of detention, and the causes underlying the very widespread use of preventive detention.

Preventive detention is a measure aimed at depriving a person of their liberty while they are awaiting trial. It should only ever be considered as an exceptional measure, and strictly in accordance with the law, since the person detained under these conditions is still presumed innocent.

In the DR Congo, as in many countries, the reality is different. In fact, the vast majority of the prison population is made up of these detainees awaiting trial (between 75% and 82% according to the available figures) and who are often imprisoned illegally, given the lack of compliance with national laws and international standards establishing the conditions under which a person may be arrested and detained.

To date, within the framework of the Na Bosembo Tokokani project, 90 Congolese lawyers have raised awareness for 1,500 people in relation to their rights, have received some 1,500 detainees during legal consultations and have filed more than 2,000 petitions before competent judges in order to review the legality of the detention. When the detention was shown to be illegal or unjustified, the lawyers requested the release of their clients.

These activities, which were coordinated by the Bar Associations of Kinshasa-Matete, Kinshasa-Gombe, Matadi and Mbandaka, have offered legal aid services to the specific category of vulnerable people consisting of detainees awaiting trial. They have also helped to identify, understand and attempt to correct the serious shortcomings in the mechanisms for detention in the DR Congo. Within this context, two studies have been conducted in the province of Kongo Central, providing the opportunity to question those Congolese involved with detention about their experiences, and also to meet a large number of inmates held in Matadi prison. This research highlighted how the measure of detention as envisaged strictly in accordance with the law is frequently hijacked for the benefit of vested pecuniary interests.

The findings derived from activities of information, legal advice and legal representation for detainees, but also from the research and from the meetings with those involved in detention, mean that the 8 and 9 April 2016 will feature three important meetings in Kinshasa: a round-table discussion bringing together stakeholders from the prison, legal and administrative systems in relation to detention, a conference on legal practices and the alternatives to detention to which are invited all interested people and, finally, a photography exhibition by Rosalie Colfs which will illustrate testimonials from people who relate their stories about detention.

* Download the study Pour quoi détenir? Réalités de la détention des personnes en RD Congo (PDF in French)
* Download the study Expériences de la détention dans la prison centrale de Matadi (PDF in French)

Coverpicture © Rosalie Colfs for ASF