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









                            COMOROS*


The Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros comprises three 
islands and claims a fourth, Mayotte, which is still governed 
by France.  Since the assassination of President Abdallah in 
1989, the Comoros has passed from a de facto one-party state, 
through a brief rule by European mercenaries, to a government, 
chosen in multiparty elections in 1991, won by Said Mohamed 
Djohar.  President Djohar has controlled the Government since 
1991 but has faced strong opposition in the National Assembly, 
particularly from the Udzima Party, formerly the sole legal 
party.  He has also survived several coup attempts.  In the new 
elections held at the end of 1993, Djohar's Rassemblement pour 
la Democratie et le Renouveau (RDR) party won a majority in the 
Assembly, and the President consolidated his position in 1994.  
The 1992 Constitution mandates several institutions, including 
a senate, constitutional court, and island councils, but by 
year's end the Government had not established them.

The Comorian Defense Force (FCD) and the gendarmerie are 
responsible for internal security.  Both are under civilian 
control, answering to the Presidency and the Ministry of 
Interior respectively.  Security forces committed a number of 
human rights abuses in 1994, and during the last elections 
there were reports of interference by members of the military 
acting on behalf of the Djohar Government.  French officers 
serve as advisers to the FCD.

The economy is dominated by agriculture, but there is a 
shortage of arable land, and soil erosion has exacerbated the 
problem.  Revenues from the main crops--vanilla, essence of 
ylang ylang, and cloves--continue to fall, while the population 
(about 500,000) is growing at an extremely high rate.  Comoros 
is a part of the French franc monetary zone, and while the 1994 
devaluation of the franc may improve export and investment 
opportunities in the long term, it has had serious short-term 
consequences on the Government's finances.  Comoros depends 
heavily on French financial assistance.

The human rights situation did not improve in 1994.  The 
Government abridged freedoms of the press and assembly, and 
security forces killed several persons in controlling a 
demonstration on the island of Moheli.  The Government

                    

*There is no U.S. Embassy in the Comoros.  Information on the 
human rights situation is therefore limited.

continued to hold incommunicado an unknown number of soldiers 
who had allegedly participated in the 1992 coup attempt against 
the Government.  The 1993 trial in the State Security Court of 
16 other persons, including two sons of former president 
Abdallah, for participation in the 1992 coup attempt did not 
meet international standards of fair trial.  The Government did 
permit officials of the International Committee of the Red 
Cross (ICRC) to visit Abdallah's sons in prison.  Prison 
conditions remained harsh, and societal discrimination against 
women continued as a serious problem.

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 known political killings, but on at least one 
occasion, government forces used excessive force against 
antigovernment demonstrators on the outer island of Moheli.  
According to credible reports, in June government forces fired 
into the crowd, killing three persons and wounding several 
others.  The demonstrators also committed acts of violence 
during the melee.

As far as known, there was no official investigation into the 
deaths of two persons reportedly killed (and secretly buried) 
by the gendarmerie on the eve of the legislative elections in 
December 1993 on the island of Anjouan.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reported disappearances.

     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, 
several persons, all members of opposition parties, who were 
arrested in late 1993 on the island of Anjouan, claimed that 
they had been mistreated by the gendarmerie at Koki prison in 
Mutsamudu.

Prison conditions--especially in military prisons where most 
political prisoners are held--continued to be poor.  A lack of 
proper sanitation, overcrowding, inadequate medical facilities, 
and poor diet are common problems.  The Government admits these 
problems but has taken no action to remedy them.  Those persons 
imprisoned in connection with the 1992 coup attempt reported 
that they were held in cramped cells, humid and poorly 
ventilated, without sanitary facilities, especially at Kandani 
barracks in Moroni.  While the Government would not permit 
diplomats to visit the two sons of former president Abdallah, 
who were implicated in the 1992 coup attempt and are being held 
in Kandani prison, it did permit an ICRC official to visit 
them.  There were no reports of abuse of women in prison.

     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 hours.  The law 
is silent about how long prisoners held for security reasons 
may be detained without being charged.  The soldiers arrested 
after the 1992 coup attempt have been held incommunicado 
throughout 1993 and 1994 without charge or trial.  The exact 
number of soldiers being held is unknown, but estimates range 
from 11 to 70.  The Government does not use forced exile as a 
means of political control.

     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.  However, there are very few lawyers in the country, 
making it difficult to obtain legal representation.  The 
Government does not provide free legal counsel to the accused.  
The Comorian legal system incorporates Islamic law as well as 
French legal codes.  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.

The number of political prisoners held by the Government was 
not known at year's end.  Omar Tamou and M'tara Maecha, who 
admitted to staging the 1992 coup, remained in prison serving 
life sentences.  The State Security Court trial of 16 persons 
(4 in absentia), including the two sons of former president 
Abdallah, held in April 1993, has been judged unfair by 
international human rights monitors.  There was evidence of 
executive interference during the trial (see the 1993 report), 
and defense lawyers had limited access to the defendants and
case information.

     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 or correspondence.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression, thought, 
and conscience, and the Government generally respected this 
right in practice with one important exception (see below).  
Comorians discuss and criticize the Government and its leading 
personalities openly.  The several small independent newspapers 
and weekly semiofficial newspaper freely criticize the 
Government.  However, radio is the most important medium for 
reaching citizens, and in 1994 the Government closed down the 
country's only nongovernment radio station.   Credible sources 
cite the station's frequent criticism of the Government and 
ties to opposition politicians as the reasons for its closure.
 There is one government-controlled radio station, Radio 
Comoros.  Comorians receive broadcasts from Mayotte radio as 
well as from French television without interference, but these 
carry only limited news about Comoros developments.  Satellite 
antennae are popular and amateur radio licenses are issued 
without hindrance.  Foreign newspapers are available, as are 
books from abroad.

Although there is no university in the Comoros, secondary 
teachers and students speak freely, and students occasionally 
engaged in meetings critical of the Government.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and 
association, and the Government generally respects it in 
practice.  There were numerous partisan political 
demonstrations during the year, some of which led to violence.  
On at least one occasion the Government refused an opposition 
party permission to hold a rally.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

An overwhelming majority of the population is Sunni Muslim.  
The Constitution designates Islam as the state religion.  The 
Government permits non-Muslims to practice their faith, and 
Christian missionaries work in local hospitals and schools but 
by tradition 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.  There are no 
refugees in Comoros.

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

Citizens have this right, but it has not yet been fully 
demonstrated that they, in fact, have the ability peacefully to 
change their government through free and fair elections.  The 
Constitution gives legal status to a multiparty system and 
provides for other fundamental rights.  Nevertheless, the 
political system remains unstable, and many democratic 
institutions established by the Constitution, like the 
constitutional court, the senate, and the island councils, had 
not been created by year's end.  President Djohar and his 
party, the RDR, continued to dominate the political process.  
Several opposition parties accused the Government of fraud in 
the 1993 election, although they participated during the year 
in the deliberations of the National Assembly.

Village chiefs and Muslim religious leaders tend to dominate 
local politics.  Traditional social, religious, and economic 
institutions also importantly affect the country's political 
life.

Traditionally, Comorian society is characterized by male 
dominance, making it very difficult for women to become 
involved in politics.  Women have the right to vote and 
participate in the political process; however, there are no 
female ministers or members of the National Assembly.

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

The Comoros Human Rights Association, established in 1990, 
continues to function, but many members are unwilling to 
criticize the Government vigorously for fear of losing their 
civil service positions.

The Government cooperates with international human rights 
organizations, including the ICRC.  However, it turned down a 
U.S. Embassy request to visit prisons in 1994 (see Section 
1.c.).

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

The Constitution formally provides for the equality of citizens 
regardless of race, sex, or religion.

     Women

Despite constitutional provisions for equality, men have the 
dominant role in Comorian society, and few women hold positions 
of responsibility in government or business.  Societal 
discrimination against women is most apparent outside the major 
towns where women carry heavy farming and child-rearing duties, 
with fewer opportunities for education and wage employment.  In 
contrast, change in the status of women is most evident in the 
major towns, where growing numbers of women are in the labor 
force and generally receive wages comparable to those of men 
engaged in similar work.  While legal discrimination exists in 
some areas, in general, inheritance and 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 occurs, but medical authorities, the 
police, and women's groups believe that it is rare.  In theory 
a woman could seek protection through 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 Government, while committed to the protection of children's 
rights and welfare in theory, has an extremely limited ability 
to put this into practice.  Population pressure and poverty 
force some families to place their children into the homes of 
others.  These children, often as young as 7 years of age, 
typically work long hours as domestic servants in exchange for 
food and shelter.  The few legal instruments which address the 
rights and welfare of children are not enforced because of a 
lack of inspectors.

Female genital mutilation is not generally practiced, and child 
abuse appears to be rare.

     People with Disabilities

There is no legal protection for people with disabilities, but 
there is no evidence of widespread discrimination against the 
disabled in the provision of education or other services.  No 
legislation is in force or pending concerning accessibility to 
public buildings or services 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.  Teachers, civil servants, and dock workers 
have each created unions for purposes of collective action.  
Unions are independent of the Government.  Teachers and 
hospital workers were on strike for most of the latter half of 
1994 over a variety of grievances.  There are no laws 
protecting strikers from retribution, but there were no known 
instances of retribution in 1994.

There are no restrictions on unions joining federations or 
affiliating with international bodies.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Unions have the right to bargain collectively, and strikes are 
legal.  In reality, with over 75 percent of the work force 
unemployed and the public sector far and away the largest 
employer, true collective bargaining does not take place.  
Wages are set by employers in the small private sector and by 
the Government, especially the Ministries of Finance and Labor, 
in the larger public sector.

The Labor Code, which is only loosely enforced, does not set up 
a system for resolving labor disputes, and it does not prohibit 
antiunion discrimination by employers.

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 has few 
resources to enforce this provision, but outside of domestic 
work child labor is not an issue due to the general lack of 
wage employment opportunities for adults.  Children generally 
help with the work of their families in the 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 over a decade and 
no longer reflect economic realities in the Comoros.  The 
minimum wage for a laborer is about $11 (4,600 Comorian francs) 
per month.  The Government periodically reminds employers to 
respect the Labor Code, which specifies 1 day off per week, 
plus 1 month of paid vacation per year, but does not set a 
standard workweek. There are no safety or health standards for 
the miniscule manufacturing sector.

(###)

[end of document]

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