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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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[end of document]

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