This 2007 asylum seeker claimed that he would be in danger if returned to the Congo, despite State Department claims that the situation had changed. In this case, the Court vacated the ruling of the Board of Immigration Appeals and remanded for further proceedings. The Ninja were a militia in the Congo; according to Wikipedia they disbanded in 2008.
United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.
487 F.3d 396
Decided and Filed: May 18, 2007.
The majority opinion written by Judge Dan Polster (and joined by Judge Martin) explains:
Blaise Mapouya is an ethnic Mbochi born in Brazzaville, Congo on January 4, 1970. He fled Congo on March 20, 1999, and eventually entered the United States illegally through New York City on August 3, 2002, using a borrowed passport. Mapouya made his way to Memphis, Tennessee, and in October 2002, he filed an application for asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under The Convention. On the application, Mapouya claimed asylum based on political opinion. After recounting that Mapouya was subjected to violence and torture in the days of the 1997-98 Congolese civil war, the application included Mapouya’s assertion that he would not return to Congo as long as Denis Sassou-Nguesso is president, “because I do not want to put my life in danger.”
A recounting of recent events is necessary to better understand the details of Mapouya’s testimony. In the second half of 1997, violence and civil war returned to the Republic of Congo (hereinafter “Congo”) when Sassou-Nguesso, the country’s former military strongman, ousted the country’s first democratically elected president, Pascal Lissouba. Sassou-Nguesso, who had ruled Congo previously from 1979-91 after a coup, once again seized power militarily in October 1997 after several months of vicious fighting between government and militia troops loyal to Lissouba on one side, and Sassou-Nguesso’s forces on the other. Angolan troops also crossed the southern border and intervened at different places on Sassou-Nguesso’s behalf, including in the capital city of Brazzaville, which is located in the southeast region of the country.
Strong ethnic overtones are present in Congolese politics, and the 1997-98 civil war was no different. Generally, the conflict can be characterized as pitting northerners, who supported Sassou-Nguesso and his Congolese Labour Party (“PCT”), against southerners, who supported former President Lissouba and former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas. The Mbochi, which are one of the larger Bantu ethnic groups, are located primarily in the northern regions of Congo. Accordingly, the Mbochi are traditionally strong Sassou-Nguesso supporters, especially because Sassou-Nguesso is Mbochi as well. Conversely, supporters of Lissouba and his Pan-African Union for Social Development party (the translated acronym for which is “UPADS”) are primarily southern Congolese tribes, which are mainly Lari ethnic groups. Any divergence from these ethnic-political affiliations, while not unheard of, is rare. Mapouya appears to be one of these few exceptions.
Concluding “that the IJ made an erroneous adverse credibility finding on the asylum question, and that this negative credibility determination permeates and infuses the IJ’s subsequent findings and conclusions”. The Court remands and “urge[s] that, on remand, a different immigration judge be assigned to any further proceedings.”
Dissent by Judge Clay argues to uphold the denial of asylum based on the Board of Immigration Appeals finding “that changed country conditions rebutted Petitioner’s presumption of a well-founded fear of persecution.” Judge Clay notes:
Petitioner contends that the Republic of Congo still has a poor human rights record, that security forces killed civilians in the southern “Pool” region, [and] that the government committed various human rights abuses in the same region
And citing a 2003 State Department report in multiple footnotes, Judge Clay explains:
FN5 – “The Government’s human rights record remained poor.”
FN6 – “There were no reports of political killings; however, there were press reports that government forces killed civilians in the Pool region prior to the March signing of the Peace Accord between the Government and anti-government Ninja rebels.”
FN7- “Until March, there were reports that undisciplined government forces committed abuses such as summary executions, rape, looting, and other violent acts, primarily in the Pool region.”
FN8- “The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces frequently committed such acts.”