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TITLE:  BENIN HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995




                             BENIN


The Republic of Benin is a constitutional democracy headed by 
President Nicephore Soglo, who was elected in free and fair 
elections in 1991.  There are 24 political parties represented 
in the 64-member National Assembly.  No party or grouping 
commands a majority of seats.  The President resorted to 
emergency powers to pass his 1994 budget and fulfill the 
country's commitments to international financial institutions.

The civilian-controlled security forces consist of the armed 
forces under the direction of the Minister of Defense and the 
police force under the Minister of Interior.  The two ministers 
also share authority over the gendarmerie, which exercises 
police functions in rural areas.  Although the military 
continued to play an apolitical role in government affairs, 
there were some concerns about morale within its ranks, its 
ethnic imbalance, and the depth of its commitment to 
constitutional rule.

The economy is based largely on subsistence agriculture, cotton 
production, regional trade, and small-scale offshore oil 
production.  The Government continued its austerity program to 
privatize state-owned enterprises, reduce fiscal expenditures, 
and deregulate trade.  However, the country continues to suffer 
from a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, high debt-servicing 
costs, and widespread unemployment.

Overall, the Government continued to respect the fundamental 
rights provided for in the 1990 Constitution.  The major human 
rights problems continued to be the failure by police forces to 
curtail acts of vigilantism and mob justice; serious 
administrative delays in processing criminal cases with 
attendant denial of timely fair trials; harsh and unhealthy 
prison conditions; societal discrimination and violence against 
women and the abuse of children.  The Government finally 
brought to trial those detained for coup plotting in 1992; it 
acquitted 3 and convicted 24 persons.

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 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, and there were no reports that government 
forces employed it.  The Government began making payments to 
victims of torture under the previous military regime which 
ruled from 1972 to 1989.

A rising crime rate and a lack of police responsiveness led to 
more reports of mob justice.  Mobs reportedly inflicted severe 
injuries on suspected criminals, particularly thieves caught in 
the act.  Although a number of these incidents took place in 
urban areas, there were no indications that the Government 
investigated or prosecuted anyone involved.

Prison conditions continue to be harsh.  Extensive overcrowding 
and lack of proper sanitation and medical facilities pose a 
risk to prisoners' health.  The prison diet is grossly 
inadequate, and malnutrition and disease are common.  Prisoners 
are allowed to meet with visitors.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits detention of persons for more than 
48 hours without a hearing by a magistrate, whose order is 
required for continued detention.  However, there were credible 
reports that authorities exceed this 48-hour limit in many 
cases, sometimes by as much as a week, using 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.  There were no reports of 
incommunicado detention.  Approximately 75 percent of prisoners 
are pretrial detainees.  Arbitrary arrest is not routine but 
does occur occasionally.

There were no reports that the Government held any political 
detainees at year's end.  Early in 1994 the Government 
provisionally released, pending their trials, the country's 
former intelligence chief and his deputy who allegedly carried 
out acts of torture under the old regime.  The Government had 
held the pair on charges of torture, one since late 1991, the 
other since late 1992.

President Soglo at the end of the year announced a one-half 
reduction in the prison terms of those convicted of offenses 
after August 1.  He excluded those sentenced for murder and 
certain other felonies, as well as those convicted of 
embezzlement of public funds.

In August the Government began the trial of a group of 27, 
largely military officers, of whom 16 were tried in absentia.  
Most had been held for over 2 years; international human rights 
groups had expressed concern.  The trial ended in September.

The Constitution prohibits forced exile of any citizens, and 
many who went into exile under previous governments have 
returned.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The legal system is based on French civil law and 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.  There is only one court of 
appeals.

The President appoints career magistrates as judges in civil 
courts.  Although the Constitution provides that the Ministry 
of Justice has administrative authority over judges, officials 
are answerable only to the law in carrying out their duties.  
The Ministry may, however, transfer judges.  Inadequate 
facilities and overcrowded dockets result in slow 
administration of justice.  The relatively low salaries of 
magistrates and clerks have a demoralizing effect on their 
commitment to efficient and timely justice and make them 
susceptible to corruption.

A defendant has the right to be present at trial and to 
representation by an attorney, at public expense if necessary.  
In practice, the court provides indigent defendants 
court-appointed counsel upon request.  Trials are open to the 
public.

The Supreme Court is the court of last resort in all 
administrative and judicial matters, and the new Constitutional 
Court is charged with passing on the constitutionality of 
laws.  The Constitutional Court, seated in June 1993, decides 
disputes between the President and the National Assembly.  Its 
rulings against both the executive and legislative branches 
indicated its independence from these two branches of 
government.  The Constitution also provides that a High Court 
of Justice convene when necessary to preside over crimes 
against the nation committed by the President or government 
ministers.

The Government held no political prisoners.

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

The Constitution provides for, and the Government respected in 
practice, the inviolability of private property and the home, 
as well as 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; the Government generally respected these 
rights.  There is a large and active private press consisting 
of more than a dozen private newspapers.  A major new 
independent daily newspaper which frequently criticizes the 
Government began publishing in 1994.

The Government continued to own and operate the local radio and 
television stations and a daily newspaper, the media most 
influential in reaching the public.  Nevertheless, journalists 
continued to cover sensitive matters and to criticize the 
Government.  This included strong criticism of the President's 
exercise of emergency powers to implement the budget.

A major increase in defamation suits accompanied the rise of 
the free press.  Due to the President's grant of a reduction in 
sentences, authorities released a journalist early who had been 
convicted in 1993 of libel and sentenced to 1 year in prison.  
The Government does not censor foreign books or artistic works 
and foreign periodicals are widely available at newsstands.  
The High Authority for Audio-Visual and Communications (HAAC), 
a new constitutionally mandated body, began its preliminary 
work to develop private radio stations.  By year's end, it had 
not approved any licenses.  The Government, without prior 
consultation with the HAAC, adopted two decrees in September 
which regulated movie and video clubs.

In general, academic freedom is respected.  University 
professors are permitted to lecture freely, conduct research, 
and publish their work.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the rights of peaceful assembly 
and association, and these rights were generally respected.  
The Government on two occasions disbanded labor meetings (see 
Section 6.a.).  The Government requires permits for use of 
public places for demonstrations, and requires associations to 
register.  However, it routinely grants both permits and 
registrations.  The Government did not take any actions against 
nonregistered organizations for failure or refusal to register.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the 
Government observed it in practice.

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

The presence of police, gendarmerie, and illegal roadblocks 
impedes domestic movement.  Though ostensibly meant to enforce 
automotive safety and customs regulations, many of these 
checkpoints serve as a means for officials to exact bribes from 
travelers.

The Government's policy toward transhumance allows migratory 
Fulani herdsmen from other countries to enter freely; it does 
not enforce designated entry points.  In recent years, friction 
between native farmers and itinerant foreign herders has 
sometimes led to violence.

The Government does not restrict international travel for 
political reasons, and those who travel abroad may return 
without hindrance.  Benin hosts some 50,000 Togolese refugees 
who are protected and assisted by the United Nations High 
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  The Togolese Government has 
pressured Benin to deny asylum and to repatriate refugees 
forcibly, most of whom are members of or are sympathetic to 
opposition groups.  The Government has resisted this pressure 
and continues to maintain an open-door policy toward refugees.  
There were no reports of forced repatriation.

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

Citizens exercised this constitutional right in free and fair 
elections in 1991.  The Constitution provides for a 5-year term 
of office for the President (who is limited to 2 terms) and 
4-year terms for National Assembly members (who may serve an 
unlimited number of terms).  National Assembly elections are 
scheduled for March 1995, with presidential elections in 1996.  
More than a dozen new parties were created in 1994; others 
folded or merged.  Voting is by secret ballot and the franchise 
extends to all adults.

Women participate actively in political parties, but there are 
only 2 women in the 19-member Cabinet and 3 in the 64-member 
National Assembly.  The President of the Constitutional Court 
is a woman, and the HAAC and the Economic and Social Council 
each have one female member.

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

Several nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) monitor human 
rights without restriction or interference by the Government.  
These organizations 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 Human 
Rights Commission regularly investigated complaints it received 
about police violence, arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, 
abuses of authority, and interference with labor rights.

In 1994 the Government provided a detailed response to Amnesty 
International's 1993 report on the human rights situation in 
Benin.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, 
and religion.

     Women

Although the Constitution provides for equality for women in 
the political, economic, and social spheres, women experience 
extensive societal discrimination, especially in rural areas, 
where they occupy a subordinate role and are responsible for 
much of the hard work on subsistence farms.  In urban areas, 
women dominate the trading sector in the open-air markets.  By 
law, women have equal inheritance and property rights, but 
local custom in some areas prevents them from inheriting real 
property.  Women are underrepresented in government positions 
and do not enjoy the same educational opportunities as men.  In 
some parts of the country, girls receive no education at all.

While no statistics are available, violence against women, 
including wife beating, occurs.  It is not considered 
widespread.  The press sometimes reports incidents of abuse of 
women, but judges and police are reluctant to intervene, 
considering such abuse a family matter.

     Children

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is charged generally 
with the protection of children's rights and focuses primarily 
on education and health issues.  There is no broad pattern of 
societal abuse against children, nor is there child 
prostitution.  There are some traditional practices that 
inflict violence on children which the Government has been 
vigorous in its efforts to end, including prosecuting 
offenders.  These practices include the killing of deformed 
babies (thought to be sorcerers in some rural areas) and a 
tradition in which a groom abducts and rapes the prospective 
(under 14 years of age) bride.  In a much-publicized case in 
July, a criminal court sentenced a mother and her accomplices 
to 15 years in prison at hard labor for arranging the 1988 
kidnaping and sale of her 8-year-old son.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is condemned by 
international health experts as damaging to physical and mental 
health, is practiced on females at a young age as well as on 
teenage girls and women up to age 30.  Studies suggest at least 
4 percent of Beninese women are affected by this practice, 
mostly in the northern provinces.  Recent research by an NGO 
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 FGM by making available 
locally produced posters and pamphlets at government health 
clinics even though FGM is not illegal.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Benin has a long history of regional rivalry.  Although 
southerners dominate the Government's senior ranks, northerners 
dominate the military.  The south has enjoyed more advanced 
economic development, a larger population, and has 
traditionally held favored status.

     Religious Minorities

There is no official religion and no single dominant religion.

     People with Disabilities

Although the Constitution mandates that the State "look after 
the handicapped," the Government does not mandate accessibility 
for disabled persons.  The Government operates a number of 
social centers for disabled persons to assist their social 
integration.  Nonetheless, many are unable to find employment 
and must resort to begging to support themselves.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The Constitution provides workers with the freedom to organize, 
join unions, meet, and strike, and those rights are usually 
respected in practice.  The 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 wage earners belong 
to labor unions.  There are four union confederations; 
confederations and individual unions have the right to 
affiliate internationally.  Unions are generally independent of 
the Government and political parties, but there were growing 
efforts by some members of the National Assembly to coopt the 
unions in their disputes with the Government.  The Economic and 
Social Council, a constitutionally mandated body installed in 
1994, includes four union representatives.

There were several instances of labor unrest during 1994, and 
on two occasions the Government disbanded labor meetings.  In 
July authorities denied permission for a labor demonstration 
owing to concern that it would disrupt normal business, then 
intervened when the demonstration was held anyway.  In January 
the Government prevented a union from meeting despite the fact 
that the union had conformed to normal procedures.

There was a legal 3-day general strike in March called by the 
four labor unions to protest devaluation.  There were no 
incidents or government intervention, even though the strike 
was highly disruptive.  There were no known efforts to 
retaliate against strikers.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Code provides for collective bargaining, and workers 
freely exercised these rights.  Wages in the private sector are 
set in negotiations between unions and employers.  A tripartite 
group, composed of unions, employers, and the Government, 
discussed and agreed to revisions in the former labor code; 
these are now under consideration by the National Assembly.  
The Government sets wages in the public sector by law and 
regulation.

The Labor Code prohibits employers from taking union membership 
or activity into account regarding hiring, work distribution, 
professional or vocational training, or dismissal.  The 
Government levies substantial penalties against employers who 
refuse to rehire workers dismissed for lawful union activities.

There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and it is 
not practiced.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code prohibits the employment or apprenticeship of 
children under the age of 14 in any enterprise.  However, the 
Ministry of Labor enforces the Code in only a limited manner.  
Child labor continues, on rural family farms, in urban areas, 
and as domestic servants.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government administratively sets minimum wage scales for a 
number of occupations.  The minimum wage is approximately $39 
per month (20,300 CFA), not enough to cover the costs for food 
and housing of even a single worker living in an urban area.  
Many workers must supplement their wages by subsistence farming 
or in informal sector trade.  Most workers in the wage sector, 
however, earn more than the minimum wage.

The Labor Code establishes a workweek of from 40 to 56 hours, 
depending on the type of work, and provides for at least one 
24-hour rest period per week.  The authorities generally 
enforce legal limits on workweeks.  The Labor Code establishes 
health and safety standards, but the Ministry of Labor does not 
enforce them effectively.  The Labor Code does not provide 
workers with the right to remove themselves from dangerous work 
situations without jeopardy to continued employment.  The 
Ministry of Labor has the authority to require employers to 
remedy dangerous working conditions, but does not do so 
effectively.


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[end of document]

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