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









                           MAURITIUS


Mauritius is a parliamentary democracy governed by a Prime 
Minister, a Council of Ministers, and a National Assembly.  The 
Head of State is the President, who is nominated by the Prime 
Minister and confirmed by the Assembly, and whose powers are 
largely ceremonial.  Fair and orderly national and local 
elections, supervised by an independent commission, take place 
at regular intervals.  There are numerous political parties, 
both large and small, and partisan politics are open and
unrestrained.

Under civilian control, a paramilitary special mobile force and 
a special supporting unit are responsible for internal 
security.  These forces, under the command of the Commissioner 
of Police, are backed by a general duty police force.  They are 
largely apolitical and generally well trained, but police abuse 
of suspects in custody continued to be a problem.

The economy is based on labor-intensive, export-oriented 
manufacturing (mainly textiles), sugar, and tourism.  About 85 
percent of cultivable land is planted with sugar cane.  The 
country weathered well the global economic slowdown of the 
early 1990's and is now attempting to diversify its economy by 
promoting investment in new sectors, such as offshore companies 
and electronics, and developing Mauritius as a regional 
financial center.

Although political and civil rights are protected under the 
Constitution and generally respected in practice, some human 
rights abuses occurred in 1994.  One drug-trafficking suspect 
died under unexplained circumstances of injuries suffered while 
in police custody.  In fighting drug trafficking, the National 
Assembly passed a constitutional amendment that would give the 
Government authority to detain without charge or trial those 
persons suspected of illegal drug operations.  The Government 
controls the electronic media tightly, and it used the Official 
Secrets Act in October to detain briefly three journalists for 
publishing an internal memorandum which had long been in the 
public domain.  Worker rights continued to be a controversial 
area, and the right to strike remains extremely limited.  
Several highly publicized court cases illustrated the problem 
of 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

There were no reports of political killings, but a suspect in 
police custody on drug charges burned to death in his cell.  
The police initially called the death a suicide, but the 
circumstances surrounding the death led human rights groups to 
call for an independent investigation.  As a result, the 
Commissioner of Police imposed disciplinary transfers on the 
two officers in charge of the station where the death occurred, 
and the Prime Minister called for a judicial inquiry into the 
death.  This inquiry was scheduled to begin in early 1995.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
         Treatment or Punishment

While torture and inhuman punishment are prohibited by law, 
there were regular well-founded reports of police brutality, 
involving mistreatment of individuals on the street as well as 
of suspects in custody.  The newly appointed Commissioner of 
Police displayed a willingness to pursue such reports of abuse.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under the Constitution, detained persons have the right to a 
judicial determination of the legality of their detention.  
Although the time limit for making this determination is not 
specified in law, in practice it is usually made within 24 
hours.  Bail is commonly granted.

In July the National Assembly passed legislation to amend the 
Constitution to allow the Government to detain suspected drug 
traffickers indefinitely without trial or the possibility of 
bail.  At year's end, the President had not signed the 
legislation, and it had not come into force.

Exile is legally prohibited and not practiced.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, which has 
appellate powers, and a series of lower courts.  Final appeal 
may be made to the Judicial Committee in the United Kingdom 
(the Privy Council), and this is routine in the case of death 
sentences.  There are no military or political courts.

The legal system has consistently provided fair, public trials 
for those charged with crimes.  Defendants have the right to 
private or court-appointed counsel.  The Supreme Court is also 
charged under the Constitution with ensuring that new laws are 
consistent with democratic practice.  The new legislation 
allowing for the indefinite detention of drug traffickers (see 
Section 1.d.) would amend the Constitution and therefore not be 
subject to Supreme Court review.  There were a number of drug 
trafficking trials held in 1994, and they were generally fair.

There were no instances in 1994 of executive interference with 
the judiciary.  While legal experts express few worries about 
overt manipulation of the judiciary by the executive, they are 
concerned about political influence over the Commissioner of 
Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and a newly 
established anticorruption tribunal.  Nevertheless, the 
Government was responsive to publicity and public concern about 
particular instances of corruption and cronyism.

There were no political prisoners in 1994.

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

The sanctity of the home is provided for in law and generally 
respected in practice.  The search of personal property or 
premises is allowed only under clearly specified conditions by 
court order or by police action in stopping a crime in 
progress.  There were reliable reports that the Government's 
intelligence apparatus continued to carry out illegal 
surveillance of local opposition leaders and other major 
figures.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and press is protected by the Constitution 
and local tradition and is largely respected in practice.  
Debate in the National Assembly is lively and open.  While 
there are occasional complaints of government influence in 
editorial policies, over a dozen privately owned daily, weekly, 
and monthly newspapers present varying political viewpoints and 
freely express partisan views, most recently in articles 
hitting at corruption in government.

The Government has the ability to counter press criticism by 
using strict libel laws; however, the Government did not use 
these laws to inhibit the press in 1994.  The Director of 
Public Prosecutions dropped its appeal in the 1991 case of two 
journalists charged with giving out false information 
concerning a sea captain accused of fishing in Mauritian 
waters.  Libel suits between private parties are quite common.

The Government used the Official Secrets Act in October to 
arrest two editors and the managing director of the weekly 
magazine Le Mag, ostensibly for publishing an internal 
document.  The document, which was embarrassing to a public 
official, had been in the public domain for over a year.  
Amidst an outcry from the opposition and the press, the Prime 
Minister subsequently said the Commissioner of Police had acted 
legally but overzealously.  After less than 24 hours, the 
police released the three on bail, but with charges and 
possible court action still pending at year's end.

The Government controls the most important media, television 
and radio.  These remain an official political and cultural 
tool, with programming and editorial policies generally 
reflecting government interests.  The Government gives 
opposition politicians negligible broadcast time.  Although 
there has been much discussion about liberalization of the 
airwaves, private organizations (commercial or political) are 
not authorized to own or operate broadcast stations.  In 
December the Government decided to authorize the importation of 
"television reception only" (TVRO) satellite dishes.  
Regulations implementing the decision, including provision for 
a registration fee, had not been issued at year's end.

The Government generally respects academic freedom but from 
time to time censors books.  In 1994 the Government banned the 
sale of the book "The Rape of Sita," charging that the title of 
the book (which refers to the Hindu goddess) would offend the 
country's Hindu population.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Political, cultural, and religious assemblies are commonplace.  
Under the 1991 Public Gathering Act, police permission is 
required for holding demonstrations and mass meetings.  The 
grounds for denial are very specific, and such permission is 
rarely refused.  Groups have the right to challenge police 
denials but complain that the time involved in the appeals 
process often renders the final outcome moot.  The police did 
not interfere with an unauthorized gathering in front of 
Parliament of journalists and others who were protesting the 
arrest of three media colleagues (see Section 1.d.).

Mauritians enjoy the right to form associations, including 
political parties, trade unions, and religious organizations, 
although in practice such organizations need government 
approval in order to operate officially.  There are six 
political parties represented in the National Assembly and a 
comparable number of smaller parties without Assembly seats.  
There are a multitude of other private organizations in the 
country.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

There is no state religion, and the Government does not 
restrict or interfere with worship by any religious 
denomination.

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

There are no restrictions on freedom of movement within the 
country, foreign travel, or emigration.  However, there is no 
blanket guarantee of repatriation of former citizens of 
Mauritius.  Applications from Mauritians abroad who lost their 
citizenship after acquiring a second nationality are handled on 
a case-by-case and sometimes arbitrary basis.  There are no 
refugees in Mauritius.

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

Citizens have the right and ability to change their government 
through democratic means.  Parliamentary, municipal, and 
village council elections are held at regular intervals.  All 
citizens 18 years of age and over have the right to vote and 
run for office.

In the National Assembly up to eight members are appointed 
through a "best loser" system, designed in part to ensure that 
all ethnic groups are represented.  Political parties often 
match the ethnicity of their candidates to the ethnic 
composition of particular electoral districts.

While there are no legal impediments to women assuming 
leadership roles, there are practical barriers.  Only 2 of the 
National Assembly's 66 members are women, and there are few 
women in leadership positions.  Neither the Government nor the 
political parties have seriously tried to address this 
imbalance.  There has been little public pressure for change in 
this area, and few women are eager to enter the political fray, 
preferring to pursue other careers.

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

Local human rights groups monitor developments without 
governmental restriction or interference.  There have been no 
known requests by international organizations to investigate 
human rights violations in Mauritius.

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

The Constitution specifically prohibits discrimination on the 
basis of race, caste, place of origin, political opinion, 
color, or creed.  It is silent on questions of sex, disability, 
or language (although the latter is essentially covered under 
the provisions concerning race and place of origin).

     Women

Women have traditionally occupied a subordinate role in 
society, and legal and societal discrimination continue.  
Mauritian women cannot transmit citizenship to their 
foreign-born children (as can Mauritian men), and foreign 
husbands of Mauritian women cannot automatically obtain 
residence and work permits (as can foreign wives of Mauritian 
men).

Violence against women is widespread, particularly wife 
beating, according to the Ministry of Women's Rights and Family 
Welfare, attorneys, and nongovernmental organizations.  There 
are no special provisions in Mauritian law concerning family 
violence.  The police are generally reluctant to become 
involved in cases of spousal abuse.  The issue received some 
attention during 1994 through several highly publicized court 
cases of alleged spousal murder.

The Government has tried to promote equality by eliminating 
legal differentiations based on gender, e.g., in laws dealing 
with emigration, inheritance, and jury service.  The Government 
has appointed "desk officers" in most ministries who are 
responsible for ensuring that gender issues are taken into 
account in policy decisions, but it has undercut their 
effectiveness by failing to give them enforcement powers.

     Children

Reported incidents of child abuse are infrequent and isolated, 
though private voluntary organizations claim that the problem 
is more widespread than publicly acknowledged.  At present, 
most government programs are administered by the state-funded 
National Children's Council, which provides counseling and 
investigates reports of child abuse.  At the end of the year 
the Government passed legislation which should provide it with 
improved means of protecting child welfare.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or caste is 
prohibited by law, actively discouraged by the Government, and 
not generally practiced.

     People with Disabilities

Mauritian law requires organizations which employ more than 10 
people to set aside at least 3 percent of their positions for 
people with disabilities.  The law does not, however, require 
that work sites be accessible to the disabled, making it 
effectively impossible for people with disabilities to fill 
many jobs.  There is no law mandating access to public 
buildings or facilities.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The Constitution explicitly protects the right of workers to 
associate in trade unions.  Mauritius has an active trade union 
movement.  Almost 300 unions represent over 100,000 workers, 
more than 25 percent of the total work force.  With the 
exception of essential workers, including police and military, 
workers are free to form and join unions and to organize in all 
sectors, including in the export processing zone (EPZ).  Labor 
unions are independent from the Government.  Unions can and do 
press wage demands, establish ties to domestic political 
parties, and address political issues.  Unions are free to 
establish federations or confederations.

Under the industrial relations act (IRA), unions have the legal 
right to strike.  In practice, however, the IRA requires a 
prestrike 21-day cooling-off period, followed by binding 
arbitration, which has the effect of making most strikes 
illegal.  Moreover, the IRA states that worker participation in 
a strike not approved by a court is sufficient grounds for 
dismissal.  According to Ministry of Labor statistics, there 
were four strikes in 1994.

Under the law, unions may and do establish ties with
international labor bodies.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right of employees to bargain collectively with their 
employers is protected by law.  However, the collective 
bargaining process is weakened by excessive government 
intervention in the form of wage-setting in the state sector, 
which is generally used as the basis for private-sector pay.  
Wages are set by the National Remuneration Board (NRB), whose 
chairman is appointed by the Minister of Labor.  About 12 
percent of the labor force (480,000) works for national or 
local government.  The IRA prohibits antiunion discrimination.  
There is an arbitration tribunal which handles any such 
complaints.

Mauritius has an export processing zone (EPZ) which currently 
employs about 90,000 people.  While there are some EPZ-specific 
labor laws, such as provisions allowing EPZ employers to 
require up to 10 hours per week of paid overtime from their 
employees, workers in this sector enjoy the same basic 
protections as non-EPZ workers.  Statutory minimum wage levels 
in the EPZ are somewhat lower than elsewhere, but due to the 
country's labor shortage actual wage levels are nearly double 
the minimum wage.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law and not 
practiced.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum age for employment of children is 15.  The 
Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement.  Reports of 
underage children working illegally are uncommon.  While there 
have been cases of children under 15 working in the EPZ, the 
large, established EPZ factories do not hire children under 15.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government administratively establishes minimum wages, 
which vary according to the sector of employment, and it 
mandates minimum wage increases each year based on inflation.  
The minimum wage for an unskilled worker in the EPZ is $11 (188 
Mauritian rupees) per week, while the lowest weekly wage for a 
non-EPZ worker is about $12 (200 rupees).  While this is 
significantly below the level needed to provide an acceptable 
standard of living, the actual market wage for most workers is 
much higher due to the present labor shortage.

The standard legal workweek in the industrial sector is 45 
hours.  In the EPZ an employee may be required to work an 
additional 10 hours per week, although at a higher hourly wage.

The Government sets health and safety standards, and Ministry 
of Labor officials inspect working conditions.  The small 
number of inspectors limits the Government's enforcement 
ability.  Workers have the right to remove themselves from 
dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued 
employment.(###)

[end of document]

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