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TITLE: GABON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 GABON In December 1993, Gabon held its first contested presidential election since 1964. The election was marred by serious irregularities, including a secret vote count that excluded all but government observers. It resulted in the reelection of incumbent President Omar Bongo, who has ruled the country since 1967. Immediately following announcement of the results, a group of opposition candidates filed suit in the Constitutional Court to have the election declared invalid. Second-place candidate Paul Mba Abessole declared himself president and established a "parallel government." In January the Constitutional Court rejected the opposition candidates' suit, in part because many had accepted posts in Abessole's unconstitutional "government." Although Bongo ostensibly disassociated himself from the former single ruling party (the Gabonese Democratic Party, or PDG, which he had formed in 1968) and had run as an independent, the PDG still provides the bulk of his support. It retains a majority in the National Assembly and provides most of the members of the Cabinet. On October 7 Government and opposition leaders signed an agreement in Libreville, known as the "Paris Accords," to allow opposition members to join the Government, and establish an independent National Electoral Commission. The new Government formed in November with 6 opposition leaders among 27 cabinet ministers. A gendarmerie and a police force normally maintain public security. In 1994, however, the Government used the elite and heavily armed Presidential Guard on several occasions to restore and enforce public order. It was responsible for numerous human rights abuses. Although a one-party state until 1990, Gabon has adhered to strongly capitalist economic policies and welcomes foreign investment. Thanks to petroleum reserves and a population of only 1.2 million, it has a per capita income of more than $3,500 per year. Nevertheless, corruption, financial mismanagement, the precipitous decline in petroleum prices, and neglect of the agricultural sector have forced the Government to adopt austerity measures. The 14-member Communaute Financiere Africaine, of which Gabon is a member, agreed in January to devalue its currency, the CFA franc, by 50 percent, to 100 CFA to 1 French franc. The resulting economic uncertainty led to numerous strikes and demonstrations in the first half of the year, some of which became violent. The controversy attending the presidential elections and reactions to the CFA devaluation led to clashes between security forces and supporters of opposition parties during February and again in March. Security forces were directly implicated in the killings of at least 15 Gabonese and 70 foreign nationals (according to official figures) and were responsible for destroying an opposition radio station and the residence of opposition leader Abessole. The Government briefly held numerous persons without charge. Opposition supporters also engaged in politically motivated violence. From the beginning of the year until April 10, the Government imposed a "state of alert" which curtailed numerous individual rights and freedoms and granted security forces extralegal powers. Other longstanding human rights abuses included security forces' mistreatment of detainees, abysmal prison conditions, societal discrimination and violence against women. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing Government authorities were responsible for many confirmed extrajudicial killings. In February, between 67 and 102 prisoners died while in detention in Libreville. After detaining at least 300 West Africans who were attempting to enter Gabon illegally, gendarmes beat many, then forced the entire group into four prison cells meant to hold 12 persons each. The Government first attributed the deaths to a prison brawl, and claimed that 67 adult males had died. However, both police sources and human rights groups put the number at 102, including 15 women and children, and survivors themselves reported that no brawl had occurred. Reportedly, foreigners died of suffocation, dehydration, and in some cases of injuries sustained during beatings. The Government claimed that a full investigation was underway, but by year's end it had issued no report. During political clashes in late February, security forces acknowledged responsibility for the deaths of seven Gabonese citizens and blamed demonstrators for killing two gendarmes. Family members confirmed that security forces beat Francois D'Assisses Obiang-Ebe to death at his home in the northern town of Oyem. Witnesses also confirmed that Presidential Guard forces killed Antoine Mba Ndong, an Abessole bodyguard, when they attempted to arrest the candidate. Unofficial sources reported that as many as 35 died during confrontations, including 8 members of the security forces. In the northern town of Oyem, an anti-government demonstration turned violent when a member of the security forces shot and killed a demonstrator. In Libreville, opposition party supporters were responsible for publicly beating to death PDG party member Kamga Komo. By year's end, the Government had announced no results of any investigation and had not arrested suspects in any of these cases. In December 1993, a soldier of the Presidential Guard detained and publicly shot a demonstrator. The Government has still issued no official report, nor has it revealed the name of the soldier whom it allegedly arrested. b. Disappearance There were no confirmed disappearances or abductions ascribed to government security forces or any other group. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The Constitution prohibits the use of torture and inhuman or extreme punishment. However, security forces regularly beat prisoners and detainees and humiliated male detainees by publicly stripping them and shaving their heads. Security forces employed other forms of torture to exact confessions. Eyewitnesses reported seeing prisoners tied to chairs, doused with ice water, or made to crawl on their stomachs over gravel or sun-baked asphalt. There were other credible reports of security forces exacting confessions by beating the soles of prisoners' feet or by bending or twisting fingers. Numerous persons--including opposition party leaders and opposition journalists--detained in connection with politically motivated violence in February and March alleged beatings, torture, and other humiliating treatment during detention (see Section l.d.). One journalist at the opposition-controlled Radio Liberte, Nang-Veca Bryce, attracted international attention when an opposition newspaper falsely reported that authorities had tortured him to death in prison. When eventually released, Bryce said he had been beaten, humiliated, and forced to swear allegiance to President Bongo. Conditions in most prisons are abysmal and life threatening. Sanitation and ventilation are poor, and medical care almost nonexistent. Prisons rarely provide food, and there are unconfirmed reports that prisoners are deprived of water as a further means of punishment. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The law provides for up to 48 hours of initial preventive detention, during which time police must charge a detainee before a judge. In practice, however, police rarely respect this provision. Bail may be set if there is to be a further investigation. There were, however, numerous instances of detention without charge, often for political reasons. In February Presidential Guard forces attacked and destroyed two opposition radio stations run by the Bucheron Party (see Section 2.a.). The Government arrested at least 10 radio station employees and Bucheron Party leaders, along with some 80 other persons associated with riots and disturbances that followed the attacks. In Libreville authorities held Bucheron leader Jules Mba Bekale without charge for 48 hours before releasing him. Some 54 other detainees spent 3 weeks in prison before finally being charged. Among these was journalist Nang-Veca Bryce, who was eventually charged and released on bail in early May. In Oyem police detained party leader Athanase Ondo Mintsa, 3 of his sons, and some 29 others without charge for more than 2 months. A union leader in Port Gentil was detained in connection with a strike but released after 24 hours. At year's end, the Government held no persons for strictly political reasons. The Government frequently continued to detain both illegal and legal refugees without charge. Many foreign nationals reported they were mistreated and forced to provide unpaid labor (see Section 6.c.). Exile is not used as a punishment nor as a means of political control, and there are no opposition leaders currently living in exile. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The judicial system includes the regular courts, a Military Tribunal, and a civilian State Security Court. In September, the National Assembly passed a series of reforms to reduce obstacles the regular court system to try to reduce the bureaucracy private citizens face when bringing suits. The regular court system includes trial courts, appellate courts and the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Court is a separate body charged with examining constitutional questions, including the certification of elections. There are no traditional or customary courts. In some areas minor disputes may be taken to a local chief, but the Government does not recognize such decisions. The State Security Court, last convened in 1990, is constituted by the Government on an ad hoc basis to consider matters of state security. The Constitution provides the right to a public trial and the right to legal counsel. These rights are generally respected in criminal cases. Nevertheless, procedural safeguards are lacking, particularly in state security trials, and the judiciary remains vulnerable to government manipulation. The law still applies the concept of presumed guilt. A judge may thus deliver an immediate verdict at the initial hearing if sufficient evidence is presented. Although the Constitutional Court ratified the official results of the 1993 presidential election that were widely considered to have been manipulated by the Government, it demonstrated on other occasions an ability to act independently of the executive. In a separate development, the Government relieved the State Prosecutor for Estuaire Province of her duties, allegedly because she dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence a weapons charge against the bodyguard one of the President's principal rivals. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Constitution provides protection from surveillance, from searches without warrant, and from interference with private telecommunications or correspondence. As part of criminal investigations, police may issue search warrants, which are easily obtainable and often granted after the fact. The Government has used them to gain access to the homes of opposition figures and their families. Government authorities also routinely monitor private telephone conversations, personal mail, and the movements of citizens. Human rights monitors, opposition figures, union leaders, foreign diplomats, and even members of the Government have all reported being followed, watched, or otherwise monitored by authorities at various times. The state of alert in effect from the beginning of the year until April 10 imposed a curfew and granted the Government numerous extralegal powers to limit an individual's constitutional rights. Security forces routinely entered and searched private homes, offices, and vehicles without a warrant during this period. In February government troops attacked and ransacked an opposition radio station and the homes of two leading opposition politicians (see Section 2.a.), confiscating or destroying a considerable amount of property. After August, when most of the reshuffling of personnel within ministries was complete, there were no further confirmed reports of dismissal of government or military personnel due to political affiliation. One of the opposition's negotiating demands in pursuit of a government of national unity was reinstatement of persons so dismissed. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The Constitution provides for the right of free speech and press, and in practice, citizens speak freely and criticize leaders. Legislators in the National Assembly openly criticize government policies, ministers, and other officials. Although the Government had effectively banned all opposition periodicals for a 2-month period in 1993, print journalism thrived throughout the year. In contrast, the Government severely restricts the electronic media which reaches all areas of the country. There is one government-controlled daily newspaper, L'Union, and more than a dozen lively, outspoken weekly independents, most of which are controlled by the opposition. All--including L'Union--actively criticized the President, the Government, and political leaders of all parties. Later in the year, L'Union granted increasingly balanced coverage to opposition political figures and events. In February the Government issued a decree requiring all journalists to carry a government-issued press card, creating fears of unfair allocation and of discrimination against opposition journalists. The Minister of Communications convoked the press corps in August to discuss the matter but did not implement the decree's provisions by year's end. The Government did not respect freedom of the press for the electronic media. On February 22, armed Presidential Guard commandos attacked and completely destroyed the opposition-owned Radio Liberte station in Libreville, touching off a wave of social unrest and violence that lasted for nearly a month. Claiming that the station was promoting "hate and ethnic violence," Armed Forces Chief of Staff Idriss Ngari, who 6 weeks later became Minister of Defense, publicly declared the following day that he personally had ordered the attack. This followed the December 16, 1993, destruction of another opposition radio station, Frequence Libre. While the Government never claimed responsibility, numerous rumors circulated that the Presidential Guard had been responsible for destroying Frequence Libre as well. The Government had not undertaken a credible or public investigation of either event by year's end. There are currently no opposition- controlled radio or television stations. In April authorities arrested and deported without due process French journalist Yves Jaumanin. A member of the organization Reporters Without Borders, Jaumanin was researching the case of arrested journalist Nang Veca Brice. The Government gave no explanation for the expulsion. There is no official interference with broadcasts of international radio stations Radio France 1, Africa No. 1, and Voice of America. Foreign newspapers and magazines are widely available. There are no restrictions on academic freedom, including research. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association Citizens and recognized organizations normally enjoy freedom of assembly and association, although groups must by law obtain permits for public gatherings in advance. The state of alert in effect until April severely limited exercise of these rights. The Government prohibited all large public gatherings and forbade opposition groups to meet. When groups organized unauthorized demonstrations, the Government used force to disperse crowds. The prohibition on public meetings even applied to social gatherings such as those in public bars. This latter provision was loosely enforced, but police did use it to harass, to intimidate, and often to extort money from citizens. Opposition parties convened a number of unauthorized public demonstrations that turned violent. c. Freedom of Religion The Constitution provides for religious freedom, and authorities do not engage in religious persecution or favoritism. While the Government has not lifted a ban on Jehovah's Witnesses, neither has it enforced the ban. Jehovah's Witnesses received permits and conducted large public gatherings in 1994. There is no state religion. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation There are no legally mandated restrictions on internal movement, but authorities routinely hindered domestic travel. Police and gendarmes frequently stop travelers to check identity, residence, or registration documents and extortion became increasingly frequent. In particular, security forces used the provisions of the state of alert to monitor and limit movement. Police detained, fined, and often mistreated anyone on the streets after the curfew. Also during the periods of unrest in January and February, groups associated with various political interests set up roadblocks throughout Libreville and in other urban centers, seriously impeding movement and often stimulating violence, notably toward foreigners, both Africans and Europeans. On three occasions between December 1993 and February 1994, the Government prevented a group of opposition leaders from traveling abroad although eventually it allowed them to leave. Even during periods when the state of alert was not in effect, Gabonese continued to face numerous difficulties when they wished to travel abroad. The Gabonese Center for Documentation continued to require extensive paperwork before granting a passport and often delayed issuance for up to a year. Members of the opposition and certain ethnic groups alleged discrimination in the granting of passports. An unevenly enforced law requires married Gabonese women to have their husbands' permission to travel abroad. An exit visa for citizens is no longer required for travel abroad. The restrictions placed on the movement and travel of the nearly 250,000 non-Gabonese Africans living in Gabon are severe. Members of the security forces routinely harass expatriate merchants, service sector employees, and manual laborers, extorting bribes and services with the threat of imprisonment. Residence permits cost roughly $1,000; nevertheless, authorities frequently rounded up and detained even documented expatriates. African diplomats complained that their citizens, when detained, were mistreated, forced to provide labor, and often beaten. The authorities rarely informed consulates when they detain foreigners. Non-Gabonese must obtain an exit visa in order to leave Gabon and often experience difficulties when trying to reenter the country. Illegal aliens face the harshest limitations and mistreatment. The most egregious example occurred when some 70 or more illegal aliens died of suffocation and dehydration in prison (see Section l.a.). The Government instituted a program of voluntary departure for illegal aliens in cooperation with resident consular missions, led to a reduction of abuses. However, the Minister of Defense has announced that this program will be discontinued in 1995. The Government still controls the process of refugee adjudication, and its policy is strict. Coordination with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has improved, however, and there were no credible reports that the Government forcibly repatriated illegal aliens. There were about 200 refugees in Gabon at year's end. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government The 1991 Constitution explicitly provides this right, but the mismanagement and serious irregularities in both the 1990 and the 1993 presidential elections called into serious doubt the extent to which this right exists in practice. In the presidential elections, supporters of various political factions engaged in illegal activities, such as voter card trafficking and multiple voting. The ballot count, under the control of the Minister of Territorial Administration, took place in secret, with all impartial observers excluded. After the Minister declared that incumbent President Bongo had won with 51.18 percent of the vote, various individuals presented strong evidence that two Libreville districts--neighborhoods known to support the opposition--were left uncounted. The Governor of the Estuaire Province, where Libreville is located, was among those making this allegation. Shortly thereafter, she was dismissed from office. In President Bongo's home region of Haut Ogoue, the number of ballots cast in his favor exceeded the population reported by the 1993 census. Nevertheless, the Constitutional Court ruled against a petition to annul the results. Citing organizational problems and an unsettled political climate, the Government postponed until May the municipal elections that were scheduled to take place immediately after the presidential elections. In May the Government again postponed these elections until early 1995. There are no restrictions on the participation of women and minorities in politics. There are 6 women among the 120 National Assembly deputies and 3 in the Cabinet. Women serve at all levels within the various ministries, the judiciary, and the opposition. Despite governmental protections, indigenous Pygmies rarely participate in the political process, and the Government has made only marginal efforts to include them (see Section 5). Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Government officially allows the existence of independent human rights groups. However, the most vocal and dedicated of these, the Gabonese League of Human Rights (GLHR), reported being censured, threatened and intimidated. GLHR President Francois Ondo Nze alleged that security authorities followed him, and that agents of the Presidential Guard had once attempted to run his car off the road at high speed. Ondo Nze (one of the longest serving members of the Gabonese Bar Association) also reported receiving threatening calls from military leaders, including the Minister of Defense. A lawyer at the GLHR reported receiving anonymous telephone calls threatening her and her children. In March alleged political prisoners being held in Oyem hired Ondo Nze as their legal representative. Authorities granted him access to the prisoners at that time, but only in his capacity as legal counsel. Shortly afterward, he wrote to the Minister of Territorial Administration requesting permission to visit other prisoners and prison facilities in his capacity as GLHR President. The Government refused this request in proceedings to disbar Ondo Nze, alleging that he had defrauded and overbilled clients. Nze challenged the move in the Supreme Court, which in June cleared him of any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, the Bar suspended Ondo Nze for 1 year, sending what was generally perceived by other human rights activists as a threatening signal. There have been no active inquiries from foreign groups in recent years. However, the Government showed initial reluctance to accept international election observers who were not of its own choosing and did not permit independent observers to witness the counting of ballots. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The 1991 Constitution forbids discrimination based on national origin, race, gender, or opinion. Women The law provides that women have rights to equal access in education, business, and investment. Women own businesses and property, participate in politics, and currently work throughout the government and the private sector. Women nevertheless continue to face considerable societal and legal discrimination, especially in rural areas. For monogamous married couples, a common property law provides for the equal distribution of assets after divorce. Polygyny is also legally and culturally accepted; however, wives who leave polygynous husbands incur severe reduction in their property rights. In inheritance cases, the husband's family must issue a written authorization before his widow can inherit property. Common law marriage, which is socially accepted and widely practiced, affords a woman no property rights. There is still a requirement in law that women obtain their husband's permission to travel abroad although it is not consistently applied. Violence against women is common and especially prevalent in rural areas. While rape has not been specifically identified as a chronic problem, religious workers and hospital staff report that physical beatings are common. Police rarely intervene in these cases. Children Traditional beliefs and practices provide numerous safeguards for children, but children remain the responsibility of the extended family--including aunts, grandmothers, and older siblings. The Government has used Gabon's oil wealth to build schools, pay adequate teacher salaries and promote education, even in rural areas. Even so, according to U.N. statistics, Gabon still lags behind its poorer neighbors in infant mortality and access to vaccination. There is growing concern about the problems facing the large community of expatriate African children. Almost all enjoy far less access to education and health care than do nationals. Expatriate children are also victims of child labor abuses (see Section 6.d.). There is little recorded evidence of specific physical abuse of children. Indigenous People Several thousand indigenous Pygmies live in southern Gabon. In principle, they enjoy the same civil rights as other citizens. Pygmies are largely independent of formal authority, keeping their own traditions, independent communities, and local decision making structures. Pygmies did not participate in government-instituted policies that integrated many small rural villages into larger ones along major roads; thus their access to government-funded health and sanitation facilities is limited. There are no specific government programs or policies to assist or hinder Pygmies. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities Persons from all major ethnic groups continued to occupy prominent positions in Government, the military, and the private sector. Credible reports suggest, however, that ethnic favoritism in hiring and promotion occurs on a fairly regular basis throughout the public and private sectors. Near the end of 1993 as the election drew near, the campaign took on an increasingly ethnic overtone. The major opposition party, the Bucherons, drew most of its support from Gabon's largest ethnic group, the Fang. After the elections, many Fang accused the incoming Government of actively discriminating against them in naming the members of the new government and in redistributing government and military posts. There was evidence, especially within the armed forces, that members of the President's ethnic group occupied a disproportionate number both of senior positions and of jobs within the ranks. During the unrest of January and February, human rights groups alleged that those the Government arrested were principally of the Fang ethnic group. People with Disabilities There are no laws prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities, nor providing for accessibility for the disabled. Various groups, both independent and associated with the Government, have initiated projects to assist handicapped persons. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association The 1991 Constitution places no restrictions on the right of association and recognizes the right of citizens to form trade and labor unions. A Labor Code adopted in 1978 governs all labor activities. Unions must register with the Government in order to be recognized officially. Public employees may unionize although their right to strike is limited in areas pertaining to public safety. Until 1990 there was only one recognized labor organization, the Gabonese Labor Confederation (COSYGA), to which all workers contributed a mandatory 0.4 percent of their salaries. In 1992 the Government accepted the establishment of independent unions and abolished the mandatory COSYGA contribution. In May, after lengthy consultations with labor leaders, the National Assembly passed a long awaited series of revisions to the 1978 Labor Code. Six years in the making, these changes clarify or bring up to date numerous sections of the old Code. The previous legislation recognized COSYGA as the only official labor organization, despite the fact that the Gabonese Confederation of Free Unions (CGSL) has been functioning and actively recruiting members for nearly 3 years. Other provisions of the new Labor Code establish clearer procedures governing negotiations and strikes, areas which were vague under the 1978 Code. At year's end, the Ministry of Labor had not yet implemented the new Labor Code. Under current regulations, strikes are legal if they occur after an 8-day notice advising that outside arbitration has failed. The 1978 Labor Code prohibits direct government action against individual strikers who abide by the arbitration and notification provisions and also provides that charges may not be pressed against a group as a whole for criminal activities committed by individuals. In 1994, however, the Government took action against strikers and union leaders on a number of occasions. In February, following the devaluation of the CFA franc, COSYGA called a general strike aimed at forcing the Government to negotiate wage adjustments. The strike succeeded in stopping work in Port Gentil, the center of the petroleum sector. At one point labor demonstrations became violent. The Government responded by arresting COSYGA's Port Gentil representative and two other union members, holding them for 3 days. Five days later, CGSL also called on its members to join the strike. Opposition parties rallied along with strikers, and violence broke out in Libreville and the north. The Government arrested a number of persons, including union members, detaining many for up to 2 months without charge (see Sections l.a., l.c. and l.f.). In March the leader of Libreville's postal and telecommunications union was dismissed, ostensibly for political and labor activities. Unions and confederations are free to affiliate with international labor bodies and participate in their activities. COSYGA is directly affiliated with the Organization of African Trade Union Unity, while CGSL is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. Both COSYGA and CGSL have strong ties with numerous other international labor organizations. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The Labor Code provides for collective bargaining. Labor and management meet to negotiate differences, and the Ministry of Labor provides an observer. This observer does not take an active part in negotiations over pay scales, working conditions, or benefits. Agreements also apply to nonunion workers. While no laws specifically prohibit antiunion discrimination, the court may require employers found guilty by civil courts of having engaged in such discrimination to pay compensation. Unions effectively used collective bargaining provisions to negotiate wage increases following the devaluation of the CFA franc. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor The law prohibits forced labor. Despite this, there were numerous reports of prisoners and detainees--principally foreigners--being forced to provide unpaid labor. Security forces routinely "sweep" the large African neighborhoods to check residence and identity documents, and at times they even detain without charge foreigners in possession of valid paperwork. Police or gendarmes often hold these persons in prison overnight and force them to work at government facilities, on public grounds, or even in the homes of ministers, military officers, or other members of the Government. d. Minimum Age for the Employment of Children Gabonese children below the age of 16 may not work without the express consent of the Ministries of Labor, Education, and Public Health. These ministries rigorously enforce this law, and there are few Gabonese under the age of 18 working in the modern wage sector. A significant number of expatriate African children work in marketplaces or perform domestic duties. The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other concerned organizations have reported that government officials often privately use foreign child labor, mainly as domestic or agricultural help. These children do not go to school, have little means of acquiring medical attention, and are often victims of abuse. Laws forbidding child labor theoretically extend protection to foreign children as well, but abuses often are not reported. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The 1978 Labor Code and the 1982 General Convention of Labor govern working conditions and benefits for all sectors and provide a broad range of protection to workers. The Code stipulates a 40-hour workweek with a minimum rest period of 48-consecutive hours. Employers must compensate workers for overtime work. Foreign and local companies in the modern wage sector pay competitive wages and grant generous fringe benefits, including maternity leave and 6 weeks of annual paid vacation. Despite austerity measures and difficulties in servicing foreign debt, the Government and the private sector have generally met their payrolls on time. Each year representatives of labor, management, and Government meet to examine economic and labor conditions. They recommend a minimum wage rate within government guidelines to the President, who then issues an annual decree. Following the 50 percent devaluation of the CFA franc, the Government and most private sector employers instituted a 14.9 percent wage increase, the maximum amount allowed under the tentative agreement reached with international lending institutions. This increase was not applied to the monthly minimum wage, which remained approximately $125 (approximately 64,000 CFA). Inflation following the devaluation caused a significant decrease in purchasing power. The Ministry of Health has established occupational health and safety standards but does not effectively enforce or regulate them. Industry application of labor standards varies greatly depending upon company policy. The Government reportedly did not enforce Labor Code violations in sectors where the bulk of the labor force is African. Foreigners, both documented and undocumented, may be obliged to work under substandard conditions, may be dismissed without notice or recourse or, especially in the case of illegal aliens, be physically mistreated. Employers frequently require longer hours of work and pay less, often hiring on a short-term, casual basis only in order to avoid paying taxes, social security, and other benefits. (###)
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