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TITLE: EQUATORIAL GUINEA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY EQUATORIAL GUINEA Equatorial Guinea is nominally a constitutional republic, but in reality power is held by a small subclan of the majority Fang tribe which has ruled since the country's independence in 1968. Despite the formalities of a multiparty form of government, President Obiang, in power since 1979, together with his associates, dominates the Government. The President's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (DPEG) controls the judiciary and the legislature, the latter through fraudulent elections. President Obiang exercises control over the police and security forces through the Minister of Interior. These forces committed well-documented human rights abuses, including unwarranted searches, arrests, and physical abuse of prisoners in their custody. The authorities took no action against any security force member accused of human rights violations. The majority of the population lives by subsistence agriculture, supplemented by hunting and fishing. Barter is a major aspect of an economy in which the small monetary sector is based on exports of petroleum, increasing quantities of timber, and declining quantities of cocoa. The economic crisis is compounded by the suspension of international assistance due to the lack of economic reform and the Government's continued violation of human rights. Serious human rights abuses continue, although there has been a significant diminution of abuses from 1993 levels. Nonetheless, citizens still do not have the right to change their government. The Government continues to use torture, arbitrary arrest, and illegal detention with impunity. It also restricts freedom of the press. 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 killings. b. Disappearance There were no reports of disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment These abuses are serious, frequent, and widespread. Government security forces arrest prominent members of the opposition, beat and torture them, and release them within days. Beatings are severe, and some victims require hospital care after release. Access to prisoners while in custody is not generally permitted. The Government uses the psychological effect of arrest, along with the fear of future beating, to intimidate opposition party members. The Government has not prosecuted or punished any security officials for these abuses. Prison conditions are extremely primitive and life- threatening. Rations are highly inadequate and sanitary facilities range from nonexistent to minuscule. Prison authorities do not target women, but female prisoners are not housed separately from men. Prison conditions are not independently monitored. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile Police routinely hold persons in incommunicado detention. Although there are no long-term political prisoners, the Government continues to arrest political figures and detain them for short periods of time, usually less than 1 week. Although the Government apparently no longer holds political prisoners for extensive periods of time without trial, the current short arbitrary detentions constituted a dubious improvement over past patterns of abuse. There are nominal, but unenforced, legal procedural safeguards as to detention, the need for search warrants, and other protection of prisoner rights. Judicial warrants are required. Generally, police arrested suspects without having obtained warrants; on occasion they beat them, then released them within days. Authorities also continued to hold Nigerians, Ghanaians, Gabonese and others to secure bribes. The Government does not force citizens into exile and does not harass returned exiles. e. Denial of Fair Public Trail The court system, composed of lower provincial courts, appeal courts, and a Supreme Court, is rarely used. The President appoints the Supreme Court, which is responsive to him. There are traditional courts in the countryside, in which elders adjudicate civil claims and minor criminal matters. Military courts are seldom used for political offenses; there were no reports of such use in 1994. There are no religious or political courts. The Constitution and laws passed by the Chamber of Deputies provide for legal representation, the right of appeal, and the use of search warrants. In practice, authorities do not uniformly respect these provisions. Civil cases rarely come to public trial. The judiciary is not independent; judges serve at the pleasure of the President and are appointed, transferred and dismissed for political reasons. Corruption is reportedly rampant. The Government recently responded to international donor pressure by releasing all political prisoners. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Government does not enforce the law requiring judicial warrants and security forces conduct arbitrary searches of homes. The Government does not overtly force officials to join the DPEG, but lawyers, government staff, and others understand that party membership is necessary for employment and promotion. There is reportedly some surveillance of members of the opposition parties. There does not appear to be systematic interference with correspondence, and there is no coercive population control or forced resettlement. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press but the Government severely restricts these rights in practice. Although there is no press, opposition pamphlets and statements circulate. Government-controlled television, which broadcasts only a few hours per day, is the voice of the Government, and the Government withholds even minimal access to broadcasting from opposition parties. There are no universities or other institutions of higher learning in this country with a deteriorating educational system. The question of academic freedom is, therefore, largely irrelevant. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The right of assembly and association is provided for in the Constitution. However, the Government must authorize any gathering of more than 10 persons for discussions that the regime considers political, even in private homes. The Government generally permits opposition parties to hold conferences and private meetings. It requires permits for public events, which it routinely grants and as quickly cancels, effectively undermining the right of assembly. c. Freedom of Religion The Government generally respects freedom of religion. There is no state religion, and the Government does not discriminate against any faith. However, the Government must recognize a faith as a legally inscribed religion. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation The Government does not restrict internal travel for political, security reasons. Local police demand bribes from occupants of cars, taxis, and other vehicles traveling outside the capital. Members of opposition parties often travel abroad with no restrictions on their right to return. There are no refugees or asylum seekers. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens do not have the right to change their government by democratic means. The Constitution nominally provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, but in fact there have been no free elections since independence in 1968. The President exercises complete power as Head of State, commander of the armed forces, and leader of the government party, the DPEG. Leadership positions within the Government are in general restricted to the President's subclan and closest supporters. While there is an elected Chamber of Deputies, it is not representative and is dominated by the Government. During 1994 there were no elections. Although there are no legal restrictions on women's participation in politics, they are seriously underrepresented in the political process. The 42-member Cabinet has 2 women, while the 80-member legislature has only 5 women. The Government does not overtly limit participation by ethnic minorities, but the Fang's monopolization of political power persists in spite of the Government's very preliminary steps toward democratization. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The first human rights organization was formed in early 1994; its registration is pending with the Ministry of the Interior. Another local human rights organization, the League for the Defense of Human Rights in Guinea, was organized in April. The Minister of the Interior had not acted on its registration request at year's end. Based on the Government's record of human rights abuse, many citizens are fearful of associating with the League. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights visited Equatorial Guinea three times, receiving grudging government cooperation. The Government refused to permit the International Committee of the Red Cross to establish an office and to visit prisons and detainees. Amnesty International visited twice. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status Both governmental and societal discrimination continue to exist and is reflected in traditional restraints on women's education and in the circumscribed opportunities for professional and occupational achievement for ethnic minorities. The Government deliberately limits potential opportunities for ethnic minorities (see Section 3). Women Although the Constitution and laws provide for equal rights for women, they are largely confined by custom to traditional roles, especially in agriculture. Polygyny, which is widespread among the Fang, contributes to women's secondary status, as does limited education opportunity; women receive only one-fifth as much schooling as men receive. Violence against women, particularly wife beating, is common. Medical professionals estimate that 30 to 35 percent of women experience violence in the home. The Government does not maintain records of such incidents, nor does it prosecute them. There is no discrimination against women with regard to inheritance and family laws. For an estimated 90 percent of the women in the country--i.e., virtually all ethnic groups except the Bubi--tradition dictates that if a marriage is dissolved, the woman must return the dowry given her family by the bridegroom at the time of marriage, and the husband automatically receives custody of all children from the union. Similarly, in the Fang, Ndowe, and Bisio cultures, primogeniture is practiced and as women become members of their husband's families upon marriage, they usually are not accorded inheritance rights. In theory, women may buy and sell property as well as goods, but in practice the male-dominated society permits few women access to sufficient funds to engage in more than petty trading or to purchase real property beyond a garden plot or modest home. Children The Government devotes little attention to children's rights or welfare and has no set policy in this area. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities There is no legal discrimination against ethnic or racial minorities per se, but in practice some members of minorities face discrimination because they do not come from the Fang clan, or belong to a subclan other than the President's. Minorities do not face discrimination in inheritance, marriage, or family laws. People with Disabilities There is no constitutional or legal provision for the physically disabled with respect to discrimination in employment or education. There is no legislation mandating accessibility for the disabled to buildings or government services. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Although the Constitution provides for the right to organize unions, the Government has not passed enabling legislation. In the small wage-economy, no labor organizations exist, although there are a few cooperatives with limited power. The law prohibits strikes. There is a Labor Code which purports to uphold the dignity of the worker, but the Government generally does not enforce it. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively There is no legislation regarding these rights or addressing antiunion discrimination, and no evidence of collective bargaining by any group. Wages are set by the Government and the employers, with little or no input by workers. Employers must meet the minimum wages set by the Government, and most companies pay above the government-established minimum. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor The law forbids forced labor and slavery, and there is no evidence that such activity takes place. Convicted felons do, within the law, perform extensive labor outside prison without compensation. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The legal minimum age for child employment is 16 years, but the Ministry of Labor does not enforce this law. The Government also does not enforce the law, which stipulates mandatory education up to the age of 18. Underage youth perform both family farm work and urban commercial vending. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The law prescribes a standard 40-hour workweek and a 48-hour rest period; these are observed. The minimum monthly wage is approximately $46 (CFA 27,500). The Labor Code provides comprehensive protections for workers from occupational hazards, but the Government does not enforce these in practice. Employees who protest unhealthy or dangerous working conditions risk loss of their jobs. (###)
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