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

                            COMOROS


The Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros comprises three 
islands and claims a fourth, Mayotte, which is still governed 
by France.  Until the assassination of President Abdallah in 
November 1989, the Comoros was a de facto one-party state.  
Following a brief rule by European mercenaries who had served 
as officers in the presidential guard, French troops arrived to 
stabilize the situation.  Early in 1990, opposition politicians 
returned from exile, and a wide spectrum of political leaders 
and eight political parties contested presidential elections in 
two stages.  The acting President, Said Mohamed Djohar, emerged 
the winner in the second round.  Following the President's 
inauguration on March 20, 1991, the Djohar coalition Government 
went through several reorganizations and survived three coup 
attempts.  The most recent one, on September 26, 1992, involved 
two sons of the late President Abdallah.

While several opposition groups exist, the main opposition to 
the Djohar coalition comes from the Udzima Party, formerly the 
sole legal party.  Postponed legislative elections finally took 
place in November and December 1992 and resulted in a truly 
representative National Assembly, which met for the first time 
January 8, 1993.  However, the Assembly could reach no 
consensus with the President on his choice of ministers, and 
after one successful no-confidence vote and the threat of a 
second, Djohar dissolved it on June 18, 1993.

French military advisers assisted the Djohar Government in 
restructuring and reducing the regular military and police 
forces to about 1,700 persons.  Further reductions in 1993 left 
a force of 989 persons.

Agriculture dominates the economy, but the Comoros is running 
out of arable land, and soil erosion on the steep volcanic 
slopes is exacerbating the problem.  Revenues from the main 
crops--vanilla, essence of ylang ylang, and cloves--continue to 
fall as the population increases at one of the fastest rates in 
the world.  Comoros is part of the French franc monetary zone 
and depends heavily on France for budgetary support and 
technical and security assistance.

The human rights situation changed little in 1993.  Nine 
persons suspected in the September 1992 coup attempt were 
tried, convicted, and given death sentences on April 24, 1993.  
The press gave the trial wide publicity, and a public vigil was 
kept in front of the courthouse.  President Djohar on May 1 
commuted the sentences to life in prison.  He was pressured to 
release these prisoners but showed no willingness to issue a 
general pardon.  All 13 people convicted of involvement in the 
coup attempt were still in prison at the end of 1993.  One 
reason for the President's reluctance to pardon the prisoners 
was that at their sentencing two of the main defendants, Omar 
Tamou and Mtara Maesha, admitted to having staged the coup and 
vowed to do so again if released.  The presiding judge said 
their future liberation depended on their behavior in jail.

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 confirmed reports of such killings.

     b.  Disappearance

No disappearances were reported.

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

There were no substantiated reports of torture or other cruel, 
inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.  However, prison 
conditions usually were unhealthful, with overcrowding and 
inadequate diet common.  Organizations wishing to inspect 
conditions at the military prison were denied access 
repeatedly, though the civilian prison could be visited 
regularly.  For example, the 11 coup plotters held at the 
Moroni jail were visited by the Comorian Human Rights 
Association in August, but international organizations, 
including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 
were denied access to the military prison where the two 
Abdallah sons are held.  The sons are, however, permitted one 
visit a week by family members.  The Comorian Human Rights 
Association confirmed that prison conditions at the Moroni jail 
were Spartan, with poor sanitation, inadequate diet, and 
overcrowding the norm.  The Government admitted to these 
problems; it blamed them on financial constraints.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution does not specify a time limit between arrest 
and appearance before a magistrate; however, according to usual 
Comorian procedure, the time limit is 48 days.  The law is 
silent about how long prisoners held for security reasons may 
be detained without being charged (see below).

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The 1992 Constitution provides for the equality of all citizens 
before the law and the right of all accused persons to defense 
counsel.  The Comorian legal system applies Islamic law and an 
inherited French legal code.  Most disputes are settled by 
village elders or by a civilian court of first instance.  In 
regular civil and criminal cases, the judiciary is largely 
independent, and trials are public.  The Supreme Court has the 
power to review the decisions of lower courts, including the 
Court of Appeals.

National security cases--involving attempts to destabilize the 
country or overthrow the Government by violent means--are 
handled in the regular court system.  In the past, defendants 
in security cases were held for up to a year, and then released 
without a trial.  This pattern was broken by the trial of the 
suspected coup plotters in April 1993.  Moreover, there were 
unconfirmed allegations that the President consulted with the 
judge during the trial.

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

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of home and 
property.  There were no known cases of arbitrary interference 
with privacy, including with correspondence.  The Paris-based 
Indian Ocean Newsletter, which is often highly critical of the 
Government, arrives unhindered through the international mail.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression, thought, 
and conscience, and Comorians discussed and criticized the 
Government and its leading personalities openly.  A wide 
spectrum of political views was aired throughout the year.  
Comorians can receive radio broadcasts from Mayotte and two 
French television stations without interference.  Satellite 
antennas are popular, and amateur radio licenses are granted 
without hindrance.  Several small independent newspapers are 
published, and they operate without interference and freely 
criticize the Government.  The weekly semiofficial newspaper 
also publishes articles critical of some government policies.  
Lack of funds and illiteracy are the biggest obstacles to a 
wide press audience.  Foreign journals and newspapers are 
available, as are books from abroad.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and 
association.  Under the late President Abdallah, Comorians were 
circumspect about organizing public political gatherings, and 
political groupings were careful not to antagonize the 
Government.  Since 1990, as new political parties formed and 
old ones resumed activity, numerous rallies and assemblies have 
taken place with a minimum of governmental interference.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

An overwhelming majority of the population is Sunni Muslim.  
The Constitution holds Islam to be the "wellspring of the 
principles and rules which guide the State and its 
institutions."  The State upholds the right of non-Muslims to 
practice their faith, and there are churches for the small 
Catholic and Protestant populations.  Christian missions work 
in local hospitals and schools, but by local custom they are 
not allowed to proselytize.

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

There are no restrictions on travel within the country or 
abroad, and exit visas are freely granted.

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

Citizens now have the right to change their government through 
peaceful means.  The Constitution gives legal status to a 
multiparty system and provides for other fundamental rights.  
It calls for new legislative elections to be held within 40 
days of the dissolution of the National Assembly.  
Organizational problems, concerns about the security of voter 
lists, and financial difficulties caused these elections to be 
delayed until the end of December.  The newly formed party of 
the President, Le Rassemblement pour la Democratie et le 
Renouveu (RDR), emerged with a slim majority in the Assembly.  
Opposition groups boycotted portions of the elections, citing 
irregularities on the part of the RDR.

Although the nature of Comorian society makes it difficult for 
women to get involved in politics, they have the right to vote 
and participate in the political process.  There were 11 women 
candidates in the 1992 legislative elections, none of whom was 
victorious.  In August 1991, the first Comorian woman was 
appointed to a high government position:  Sittou Raghadat 
Mohamed was named Secretary of State for Population and the 
Condition of Women.  Traditional social, religious, and 
economic institutions also importantly influence the country's 
political life.  Interisland rivalries have been a persistent 
and growing factor.  Village notables and Muslim religious 
leaders tend to dominate local politics.

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

In May 1990, a group of private citizens established the 
Comoros Human Rights Association (CHRA, also known as the 
Comorian Association for the Rights of Man). The Minister of 
Justice praised the CHRA for its report on prison conditions 
and promised to improve them but little was changed during the 
year.  The CHRA had access to civilian prisons and worked as 
well to ensure fair treatment of injured prisoners being 
treated at the local hospital.  In one recent case, CHRA 
involvement resulted in the transfer of a prisoner charged with 
incest from the public hospital, where he was being mistreated, 
to a missionary facility.

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

     Women

The Constitution formally provides for the equality of citizens 
regardless of race, sex, or religion.  Nevertheless, within 
Comorian society, men have the dominant role.  Change in the 
status of women is most evident in the major towns.  Women are 
not required to wear a veil.  Women are finding increasing 
employment opportunities in the small paid labor force and 
generally receive wages comparable to those of men in similar 
work.  However, school enrollment of females is well below that 
of males.  A Comorian Women's Federation, formed in late 1989, 
has the goal of developing a family bill of rights.


Property rights do not disfavor women; for example, the house 
the father of the bride traditionally provides to the couple at 
the time of their marriage remains her property, even in the 
case of divorce.

Violence against women, including wife beating, occurs.  
However, medical authorities, the Women's Federation, and the 
police believe that violence against women is rare, in part 
because of the nonviolent nature of Comorian society.  The 
Government has not addressed this issue specifically, and there 
are no studies or statistics indicating the extent of the 
problem.  In principle, a woman can seek protection though the 
courts in the case of violence, but in reality the issue would 
most likely be addressed within the extended family or at the 
village level.

     Children

The few legal instruments which address the rights and welfare 
of children are generally not enforced because of a lack of 
inspectors.

     People with Disabilities

No legislation is in force or pending concerning accessibility 
to public buildings for people with disabilities.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The Constitution allows workers, including most public sector 
workers, to form unions and to strike, but these rights only 
became a reality in 1990 with the association of some workers 
into small unions.  Farming on small landholdings, subsistence 
fishing, and petty commerce make up the daily activity of most 
of the population.  Hence, the wage labor force is small; less 
than 8,800 including government employees, and less than 2,000 
excluding them.  Since 1990 groups of teachers, civil servants, 
and dock workers--who in previous years formed temporary 
associations to press their demands--have created unions for 
purposes of collective action.


     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There are no laws that prohibit antiunion discrimination or 
protect collective bargaining, which is still in its infancy.  
Labor legislation, to the extent that it exists, is found 
mainly in the Labor Code, which is not rigidly enforced.  The 
Code does not address the issue of collective bargaining.  In 
the private sector, wages are set by informal employee/employer 
negotiations.  Public workers' wages are set by government 
policy through the Ministries of Finance and Labor.  Economic 
rather than political impediments stand in the way of a more 
active role by labor organizations; unofficial unemployment 
figures exceed 70 percent.

Most unions are in the public sector.  Strikes in 1993 usually 
related to nonpayment of wages.  In recent years it has not 
been uncommon for government workers to go months without being 
paid.  There are no restrictions on unions joining federations 
or affiliating with international bodies.

There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is forbidden by the Constitution and 
is not practiced.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code defines 15 years as the minimum age for the 
employment of children.  The Ministry of Labor is lax about 
enforcing this provision, but child labor is not an issue due 
to the lack of employment opportunities for adolescents and 
young adults.  Children generally help with the work of their 
families in the large subsistence farming and fishing sectors.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government mandates minimum wage levels.  The rates, which 
vary by occupation, have not been changed in 13 years and no 
longer reflect economic realities in the Comoros.  The minimum 
wage for a laborer is about $15 (4,600 Comorian Francs) per 
month.  Efforts in 1993 to raise the minimum wage failed.  
However, most workers earn some income from subsistence 
agriculture or fishing and receive support from the extended 
family.  The hours of work in any one job rarely exceed 35 
hours per week.The Government periodically reminds employers to 
respect the Labor Code, which guarantees 1 day off per week, 
plus 1 month of paid vacation per year, but does not set a 
standard workweek.  Overall, the Ministry of Labor sets very 
few standards.  The authorities gave no concerted attention to 
health and safety standards in the miniscule manufacturing 
sector. (###)


[end of document]

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