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TITLE:  BENIN HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

                             BENIN


The Republic of Benin has a constitutional government headed by 
President Nicephore Soglo, who was elected in free and fair 
elections in 1991.  There are a large number of political 
parties represented in the National Assembly.  A working 
coalition of approximately 34 parties referred to as the 
Presidential majority dissolved in late 1993, and no party or 
grouping commands a majority of seats.  There were tensions 
between the executive and the legislature over the installation 
of the new Constitutional Court which took place in June.

The security forces are under civilian control:  the 4,000 
personnel of the armed forces are under the direction of the 
Minister of Defense, while the 1,500-person police force comes 
under the Minister of the Interior.  The 2,500-strong 
gendarmerie reports to both the Minister of Defense and the 
Minister of the Interior; it fills police functions in rural 
areas.  The questionable commitment of the military 
establishment to democratic change remains a cause of concern, 
especially as voluntary departures have left the officer ranks 
ethnically unbalanced in favor of the otherwise underprivileged 
north.  The Government has implemented a voluntary departure 
program to reduce the size of the armed forces and seeks to 
keep the armed forces professional and depoliticized.

The underdeveloped economy is based largely on subsistence 
agriculture, cotton production, regional trade, and small-scale 
offshore oil production.  In accordance with World Bank and 
International Monetary Fund agreements, the Government is 
pursuing an austerity program for the purpose, among others, of 
privatizing state-owned enterprises, reducing fiscal 
expenditures, and deregulating trade.  Benin suffers from a 
bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, high debt-servicing costs, 
and widespread unemployment.

The human rights situation continued to improve.  Positive 
developments included the establishment of the Constitutional 
Court as a potentially important judicial counterweight to the 
executive and legislative branches.  The Government continued 
to respect the fundamental rights provided for in the 1990 
Constitution, and, in a conciliatory move, President Soglo 
commuted the sentences of those persons, all northerners, 
convicted and still imprisoned for involvement in electoral 
violence in 1991.  There were no reports of political prisoners 
or detainees.  However, the Government continued to detain 
without trial a number of persons charged with torture under 
the old regime and did not address the serious administrative 
delays in processing criminal cases, resulting in the denial of 
timely fair trial.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial 
killing.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
         Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, and 
degrading treatment.  There were no reports of torture.  

A rising crime rate and a lack of police responsiveness to 
reports of crime sometimes led mobs to take justice into their 
own hands, resulting in severe injuries to suspected criminals, 
particularly thieves caught in the act.  While a number of such 
incidents took place in urban areas, there were no reported 
cases of such vigilantism being prosecuted.

Prison conditions remained harsh and characterized by extensive 
overcrowding as well as lack of proper sanitation and medical 
facilities.  The prison diet is grossly inadequate, and 
malnutrition and disease are common among prisoners.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Since 1990 arbitrary arrest and detention has ceased to be 
routinely practiced by the Government.  Procedural safeguards 
against arbitrary arrest include a constitutional provision 
forbidding detention of more than 48 hours without a hearing by 
a magistrate, whose order is required for continued detention.

However, there were credible reports that this 48-hour limit 
was exceeded in many cases, mainly due to the accepted practice 
of holding a person without specified time limit "at the 
disposition of" the public prosecutor's office before 
presenting the case to a magistrate.  According to a local 
human rights group, when such cases come to its attention and 
it lodges a protest, such detained individuals are promptly 
released, but there are cases in which persons have been held 
in this manner for periods of up to a year or more.  There were 
no reports of incommunicado detention.

There were no reports of political detainees held by the 
Government at year's end.  However, the Government continued to 
hold the former head of Benin intelligence, who allegedly 
carried out acts of torture under the old regime, and a deputy 
in detention pending trial at year's end.  The pair are being 
held on charges of torture, one since late 1991, the other 
since late 1992.  The delay has been due to the complexity of 
the case, the large number of victims involved, and the 
reluctance of many victims to give evidence out of fear of 
retaliation.

The Government has also held a group of military officers 
involved in a May 1992 coup attempt in detention for over a 
year.  International human rights groups expressed concern to 
the Government about the officers' extended detention without 
charge or trial.  A number of the accused officers escaped from 
prison in March, but the remaining officers are expected to be 
brought to trial in early 1994.

The Constitution contains a provision prohibiting the 
Government from exiling any citizen, and many exiles have 
returned to Benin since the change in government and a 1990 
Presidential amnesty.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The legal system is based on French civil law and on local 
customary law.  A civilian court system operates on the 
national and provincial levels.  Military disciplinary councils 
deal with minor offenses by military members but have no 
jurisdiction over civilians.  Judges in civil courts are career 
magistrates, appointed by the President, and administratively 
they come under the Ministry of Justice.  However, under the 
Constitution, officials are answerable only to the law in 
carrying out their duties and may not be transferred.

Serious crimes are first presented to an investigating 
magistrate who decides whether there is sufficient evidence to 
warrant trial.  A defendant has the right to be present at his 
or her trial and to be represented by an attorney, at public 
expense, if necessary.  In practice, indigent clients are 
provided with court-appointed counsel upon request.

Under the Constitution, the highest courts are the Supreme 
Court, which is the court of last resort in all administrative 
and judicial matters, and the new Constitutional Court, charged 
with passing on the constitutionality of Beninese laws, 
including those that may violate fundamental human rights.  The 
Constitutional Court was first seated in June.  Whether it will 
develop as the main judicial counterweight to the legislative 
and executive branches of government remained to be seen, but 
it was the subject of much political debate between the 
Presidency and the National Assembly (see Section 3).  The 
Constitution also provides for a High Court of Justice to be 
convened when necessary to preside over crimes against the 
nation committed by the President or by ministers in the 
Government.

There were no political or security trials, and there were no 
reports of political prisoners being held at year's end.  In a 
conciliatory gesture, President Soglo commuted the sentences of 
the last persons, all of them northerners, in prison for acts 
of violence in connection with the 1991 elections.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
         Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of private 
property and the home and for the privacy of personal 
correspondence and communications.  Police are required to 
obtain a judicial warrant before entering a private home, a 
requirement observed in practice.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the 
press and other media, and these rights were generally 
respected.  Beninese freely discussed politics, both in public 
and private forums, including in the National Assembly.  A 
large and active private press was represented through more 
than 15 private newspapers, mostly weeklies and monthlies.  

The Government continued to own and operate the media most 
influential in reaching the public, the local radio and 
television stations, and the one daily newspaper.  However, 
official journalists continued to cover sensitive matters and 
to criticize the Government, including perceived indiscretions 
on the part of the President's spouse, as well as strong 
criticism of the President's delay in the seating of the 
Constitutional Court.  

Benin experienced a large number of libel cases brought against 
journalists in 1993.  In one notable case, brought by President 
Soglo, a journalist who had been convicted in open court in a 
criminal libel case, which observers described as fair, failed 
to appear at his sentencing hearing or appeal his conviction.  
His failure to appear led to his receiving the maximum 
sentence, 1 year's imprisonment.  Several months later, he was 
apprehended and sent to prison to serve his sentence.  There 
were complaints that the journalist went to prison subsequent 
to (and because of) the publication of another article critical 
of the President, a claim the President denied.  Most 
journalists deny the incident had any chilling effect on their 
reporting, other than to make them careful to check the 
accuracy of their reports.

There was no censorship of foreign books or artistic works.  
Foreign periodicals were widely available on newsstands, and 
much of the population has ready access to foreign broadcasts 
on short wave radio.

In general, academic freedom is enjoyed in schools and in the 
sole university.  University professors are permitted to 
lecture freely in their subject areas, conduct research, and 
draw independent conclusions.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution recognizes the rights of peaceful assembly and 
association.  These rights were generally respected.  Permits 
are required for use of public places for demonstrations, and 
associations are required to register.  Both permits and 
registrations are routinely granted, as in the case of the 
long-clandestine Communist Party of Benin, which registered as 
a political party for the first time.

Multiple political parties as well as numerous religious and 
cultural associations exist.  The Government did not take any 
actions against nonregistered organizations for failure or 
refusal to register.


     c.  Freedom of Religion

Christianity, Islam, and traditional religions coexist in Benin 
with occasional friction.  Adherence to a particular faith does 
not confer special status or benefit.  Religious ceremonies and 
shrines of all faiths are protected by law.  There are no 
restrictions on religious ceremonies, teachings, foreign 
clergy, or conversion to any religion.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Domestic movement is impeded somewhat by the presence of 
police, gendarmerie, and customs roadblocks.  Ostensibly 
present for the purpose of enforcing automotive safety and 
customs regulations, many of these checkpoints serve as a means 
for officials to exact bribes from travelers.  Travel outside 
of Benin is not restricted for political reasons; those who 
travel abroad may return without hindrance.

Benin respects the right of first asylum and welcomes refugees, 
notably 150,000 refugees from Togo in 1993.  The majority of 
these refugees were accommodated by family and friends in 
Benin.  Refugees who marry Beninese may apply for citizenship; 
other refugees are permitted to remain indefinitely but do not 
have the option of naturalization, though the Government helps 
integrate them into Beninese society if they chose to remain.  
There were no reports of involuntary repatriation during 1993.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens
           to Change Their Government

Citizens have this right, and the Government continued the 
process of creating and consolidating its democratic 
institutions, notably in the installation of the Constitutional 
Court, an event which finally took place in June.

The conflict between President Soglo and the National Assembly 
over the seating of the Constitutional Court centered on the 
qualifications of the designated members, the infrastructure of 
the Court, and the timing of the installation ceremony.

The President and an informal coalition of parties commanded a 
majority in the National Assembly for much of 1993 and used it 
effectively to gain passage of the controversial 1993 budget.  
The Constitution provides for a 5-year term of office for the 
President (who is limited to 2 terms) and a 4-year term for 
National Assembly members (who may serve an unlimited number of 
terms).

Women are poorly represented in the political process.  There 
are 2 women in the 19-member Cabinet and only 4 female deputies 
in the 64-member National Assembly.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

Several nongovernmental organizations monitor human rights; 
they include the Human Rights Commission, the Study and 
Research Group on Democracy and Economic and Social 
Development, the Association of Christians Against Torture, and 
the League for the Defense of Human Rights in Benin. The 
groups' activities in 1993 included drawing attention to poor 
prison conditions, calling upon the President to stop delaying 
installation of the Constitutional Court, drawing attention to 
corruption, and emphasizing the unacceptability of procedural 
delays in the court system.

In contrast to the attitude of the former authoritarian regime, 
which considered outside investigation into human rights 
unwarranted interference in internal affairs, the current 
Government has welcomed nongovernmental and international 
scrutiny of human rights. 

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

Discrimination based on the these factors is prohibited in the 
Constitution and by law, and in practice the Government 
generally respected these prohibitions.

     Women

The Constitution specifically states that women are the equal 
of men in the political, economic, and social spheres, but they 
face extensive societal discrimination, especially in rural 
areas, where they occupy a subordinate role and are responsible 
for much of the hard labor on subsistence farms.  Women in all 
parts of the country are the equals of men in inheritance and 
property rights in the courts, though local custom in some 
areas does not permit women to inherit real property.  As a 
consequence, women increasingly approached the courts to 
resolve inheritance and property issues.  Women do not enjoy 
the same educational opportunities as men, and in some parts of 
the country, families are reluctant to have their daughters 
educated at all.  Overall, the literacy rate for women is only 
16 percent compared to 32 percent for men.  

While no statistics are available, violence against women, 
including wife beating, occurs, although it is prohibited by 
law.  Incidents are sometimes reported in the private press 
and, when they are brought to the attention of judicial or 
police authorities, they are treated as criminal cases.  
However, some judges and police are reluctant to intervene 
seriously, considering such affairs to be family matters.  
Among women's groups, the Association of Women Jurists has 
taken an active role in educating women about their legal 
rights.

     Children

The Government recognizes its responsibilities for the 
protection and welfare of children as outlined in both the 
Constitution and the African Charter of Human Rights and 
People's Rights, to which Benin subscribes.  The Ministry of 
Labor and Social Affairs is charged generally with the 
protection of children's rights.  The Government's commitment 
to children has been particularly focused on the education and 
health sectors, and especially its constitutional obligation to 
provide universal education for children.  Education and public 
health remain priority sectors even in the face of a difficult 
economic austerity program.  Most notable are the advances in 
primary education and the highly successful vaccination program 
conducted throughout the country.

Some infants born with deformities are deemed to be sorcerers 
and reportedly killed at birth in some rural areas.  The 
Government deals with such matters as criminal offenses and 
regularly prosecutes offenders.  There were also credible 
reports that a number of children were sent, often by their 
families and for a fee, through unscrupulous traders to work as 
domestic servants and farm laborers in other countries in the 
region, often in deplorable conditions (see also Section 6).

Female genital mutilation (circumcision), which is condemned by 
international health experts as damaging to physical and mental 
health, is practiced on females at a young age.  Conventional 
wisdom had been that the practice existed primarily in the 
north, but it has become evident that the practice is more 
widespread in the south than formerly believed, although 
statistical evidence is not available.  Infibulation does not 
appear to be widely practiced, if at all, in Benin.  Recent 
research by a small Beninese nongovernmental organization found 
that those who perform such circumcisions, themselves often 
elderly women, have a strong profit motive in the continued 
practice.  The Government has cooperated with an inter-African 
committee working against the practice of female genital 
mutilation by allowing locally produced posters and pamphlets 
about the practice to be made available at government health 
clinics.

     National/Ethnic/Racial Minorities

Benin has a long history of regional rivalry.  This led to 
violence during the 1991 elections, when northerners supporting 
ex-President Kerekou's candidacy clashed with southerners and 
at least one death ensued.  In a move to reduce regional 
tensions, President Soglo commuted the sentences of the last 
persons serving prison sentences for acts of violence at that 
time, all of them northerners.  However, relatively few 
northerners have been appointed to senior governmental 
positions and this, as well as the general lack of economic 
development in the north, leads to regional dissatisfaction 
with the Government.  The southern third of the country, which 
was favored during the colonial period, has about two-thirds of 
the population and is itself divided among various ethnic and 
religious groups.

     Religious Minorities

No one religion can accurately claim a majority of the 
population as its followers.  Christians and followers of the 
Vodun traditional religion are concentrated in the south, and 
Muslims and followers of other traditional religions are 
concentrated in the north.

Government action in the face of interfaith conflicts was the 
subject of criticism from nearly all religious groups in 1993.  
Action to quell tensions between Muslims and followers of 
traditional religion in Porto-Novo in April was tardy, and two 
people died in rioting before the Government intervened.  In 
the same month, in response to protests from followers of 
traditional religions about disrespect to their practices, 
government officials in Atlantique province told Christians not 
to work their fields on traditional market days, causing the 
Christians to make countercharges of religious discrimination.  
In a case in which two opposing groups from a small Christian 
sect repeatedly brawled in the streets, the Minister of the 
Interior suspended the registration, and thus the legal 
existence, of the church for several months, only restoring 
registration upon receiving assurances the violence would cease.

     People with Disabilities

The Constitution contains a clause mandating that the State 
"look after the handicapped."  However, there are no 
legislatively or otherwise mandated provisions of accessibility 
for disabled persons.  The Government runs a number of social 
centers for disabled persons and conducts seminars, including 
one in 1993 attended by government officials and members of 
associations of persons with disabilities, to encourage the 
handicapped to become better organized and to recommend methods 
for improved social integration.  Nonetheless, disabled persons 
are subject to societal discrimination.  For example, they are 
sometimes popularly believed to be cursed and are treated as 
outcasts and forced into beggary.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The December 1990 Constitution gives workers the freedom to 
organize, join unions, meet, and strike, and those rights are 
respected in practice.  Benin's labor force of about 2 million 
is primarily engaged in subsistence agriculture (80 percent), 
with less than 2 percent of the population engaged in the 
modern (wage) sector.  Approximately 75 percent of the wage 
earners belong to labor unions.  There were efforts to organize 
certain workers in the informal sector, notably motorcycle taxi 
drivers and automotive mechanics. 

In 1974 all preexisting unions were absorbed into a single 
trade union confederation, the National Workers' Union of Benin 
(UNSTB), which for 17 years was the designated mass 
organization of a single-party Marxist regime.  The UNSTB 
declared its independence from the former ruling party in 1990 
and now claims 26 nationwide affiliated unions.  It represents 
workers at the International Labor Organization (ILO).  The 
Confederation of Autonomous Unions (CSA), a separate and larger 
confederation formed in 1991, represents an additional 26 
unions, mostly in the public sector.  In February the National 
Association of Public Administration Trade Unions (FENSAP), 
organized in 1992, changed its name to the General 
Confederation of Workers of Benin (CGTB).  A fourth 
confederation, the Union Center of Workers of Benin (CSTB), 
formed in late 1993.

There were a number of labor actions, including strikes of 
railway workers, airline workers, and civil servants.  The 
Government took no action to impede any of these strikes or 
other labor union demonstrations.  The right to strike was 
respected, even when it proved highly disruptive as in airport 
workers' and railroad workers' strikes.  There were no known 
efforts to retaliate against strikers.  

Confederations and individual unions have the right to 
affiliate with international labor movements.  The Government 
designated the head of the CSA to represent the workers at the 
International Labor Organization conference in Geneva, with the 
head of UNSTB serving as adviser.  In 1990 the UNSTB 
disaffiliated from the formerly Soviet-controlled World 
Federation of Trade Unions, and in 1992 it affiliated with the 
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Code provides for collective bargaining, which took 
place on such issues as assistance to laid-off workers.  The 
Code is basically copied from the French colonial Labor Code.  
Revisions to the Labor Code were under consideration by the 
National Assembly in late 1993.  Individual labor unions are 
authorized to negotiate with employers on labor matters and 
represent workers' grievances to both employers and the 
Government, with the latter often acting voluntarily as 
arbitrator.  Wages in the public sector are set by law and 
regulation via a schedule that is periodically reviewed.  The 
schedule has not been changed since 1984 due to the economic 
collapse of the previous government and the subsequent 
austerity program required by international financial 
institutions.  Private sector wages in one of the larger 
industrial enterprises, i.e., a brewery, were set by the 
employer in 1992 after informal consultations with labor unions 
and the Government.

The Labor Code prohibits employers from taking union membership 
or activity into account when making decisions on hiring, work 
distribution, professional or vocational training, or 
dismissal.  The Labor Code sets out extensive procedural 
mechanisms to enforce all of its provisions including the use 
of inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and labor tribunals 
with rights of appeal into the regular court system.


There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by the Labor Code and 
is not practiced.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code prohibits the employment or apprenticeship of 
children under the age of 18 in any enterprise.  However, 
enforcement by inspectors from the Ministry of Labor is 
limited, and child labor does occur, particularly in rural 
areas, where children under the age of 14 often work on family 
farms.  Some child labor occurs in urban areas, primarily in 
the informal sector.  For example, street vendors of newspapers 
and foodstuffs are frequently under the age of 16.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government administratively sets minimum wage scales for a 
number of occupations.  Most of those actually employed in the 
wage sector earn much more than the lowest minimum wage, which 
was last set in 1984 and is sufficient only to provide 
rudimentary food and housing for a family.  It must be 
supplemented by subsistence farming or small trade in the 
informal sector if a worker and his family are to enjoy a 
decent living.  The lowest minimum wage rate was approximately 
$49 per month (CFA Francs 13,500).

For the wage sector, the Labor Code establishes a workweek 
varying between 40 hours (nonagricultural employees) and 56 
hours (security guards), depending on the type of work.  The 
law provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week.

The Government supports policies designed to improve the 
conditions of workers in both the agricultural and industrial 
sectors.  The Labor Code establishes health and safety 
standards, but enforcement by inspectors from the Ministry of 
Labor is weak.  The Labor Code is silent on whether workers 
have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work 
situations without jeopardy to continued employment.  However, 
there are extensive provisions concerning the right of the 
Ministry of Labor to take note of dangerous work conditions and 
require employers to remedy them.  (###)
 


[end of document]

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