The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date.  This site is not updated so external links may no longer function.  Contact us with any questions about finding information.

NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Department Seal

flag
bar

Title: Benin Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996




                           BENIN


The Republic of Benin is a constitutional democracy headed by President 
Nicephore Soglo.  The Government respects the constitutional provisions 
for an independent judiciary in practice, including the Constitutional 
Court's ruling upholding the National Assembly's establishment of a new 
autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA).  Elections held in 
March for the National Assembly were generally free and fair and open to 
international observers.  There were, however, a few instances of 
government interference with opposition political campaigning, and the 
Constitutional Court annulled the results in 2 of the 18 electoral 
districts, resulting in a special round of elections in May for these 2 
districts.  There are 18 political parties represented in the new 
National Assembly whose membership was increased from 64 to 83 by a new 
electoral law.  No party or grouping commands a majority of seats.

The civilian-controlled security forces consist of the armed forces 
under the direction of the Minister of Defense and the police force 
under the Minister of Interior.  The two Ministers also share authority 
over the gendarmerie, which exercises police functions in rural areas.  
The military continued to play an apolitical role in government affairs, 
but there were some concerns about morale within its ranks, its ethnic 
imbalance, and the depth of its commitment to constitutional rule.

Benin is a poor country with an annual per capita Gross National Product 
of approximately $400.  The economy is largely characterized by 
subsistence agriculture in rural areas and informal services in urban 
areas.  Approximately 70 percent of the population is engaged in 
farming, fishing, forestry, and livestock raising.  The leading exports 
are cotton and crude oil from small-scale offshore oil production.  The 
Government continued implementing an austere economic policy to 
privatize state-owned enterprises, eliminate price controls, increase 
exports, and reduce fiscal expenditures.  Its policy is aimed at setting 
the foundation for a market economy and fostering growth in the private 
sector.  Foreign aid is an important source of national income.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens as 
provided for in the 1990 Constitution.  The major human rights problems 
continued to be the failure by police forces to curtail acts of 
vigilantism and mob justice; serious administrative delays in processing 
criminal cases with attendant denial of timely fair trials; harsh and 
unhealthy prison conditions; societal discrimination and violence 
against women, and some abuse of children.



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.  
However, a rising crime rate and a lack of police responsiveness led to 
more reports of mob justice.  There was an increase in citizen groups 
killing or inflicting severe injuries on suspected criminals, 
particularly thieves caught in the act.  Although a number of these 
incidents took place in urban areas, there were no indications that the 
Government investigated or prosecuted anyone involved.

The government investigation into the killing of seven nomadic children 
in the interior in 1994 is apparently closed and did not result in any 
prosecutions.

  b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no confirmed 
reports that government forces employed them.  The Government continued 
to make payments to victims of torture under the previous military 
regime which ruled from 1972 to 1989.

Prison conditions continue to be harsh.  Extensive overcrowding and lack 
of proper sanitation and medical facilities pose a risk to prisoner's 
health.  The prison diet is grossly inadequate, and malnutrition and 
disease are common among prisoners.  Prisoners are allowed to meet with 
visitors.

  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and 
the Government generally observes this prohibition.  The Constitution 
prohibits detention of persons for more than 48 hours without a hearing 
before a magistrate, whose order is required for continued detention.  
However, there were credible reports that authorities exceed this 48-
hour limit in many cases, sometimes by as long as a week, using the 
accepted practice of holding a person without specified time limit "at 
the disposition of" the public prosecutor's office before presenting the 
case to a magistrate.  There were no reports of incommunicado detention.  
Approximately 75 percent of prisoners are pretrial detainees.  Arbitrary 
arrest is not routine but does occur occasionally.

The Constitution prohibits forced exile of its citizens, and many who 
went into exile under previous governments have returned.

  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the right to 
a fair public trial, and the Government generally respects these 
provisions in practice.  Judges are answerable only to the law in 
carrying out their duties.  However, the executive has important powers 
in respect of the judiciary.  The President appoints career magistrates 
as judges in civil courts, and the Constitution gives the Ministry of 
Justice administrative authority over judges, including the power to 
transfer them.

A civilian court system operates on the national and provincial levels.  
Military disciplinary councils deal with minor offenses by military 
members.  The Supreme Court is the court of last resort in all 
administrative and judicial matters.  The Constitutional Court is 
charged with passing on the constitutionality of laws and decides 
disputes between the President and the National Assembly.  Its rulings 
against both the executive and legislative branches of government 
indicated its independence from these two branches of government.  The 
Constitution also provides for a High Court of Justice to convene in the 
event of crimes committed by the President or government ministers 
against the State.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law.  
A defendant enjoys the presumption of innocence and has the right to be 
present at trial, to have an attorney--at public expense if necessary--
to confront or question witnesses, and to have access to government-held 
evidence. 

Despite constitutional safeguards, defendants do not always receive 
timely trial.  Inadequate facilities and overcrowded dockets result in 
slow administration of justice.  The relatively low salaries of 
magistrates and clerks have a demoralizing effect on their commitment to 
efficient and timely justice and make them susceptible to corruption.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and government authorities 
generally respect these prohibitions.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and 
the Government respects these rights in practice.  An independent and 
active private press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning 
democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of 
the press, including academic freedom.  Nevertheless, the Government 
continued to own and operate the local radio and television stations and 
a daily newspaper, the media most influential in reaching the public.

There is no government censorship of the media, books, or art.  The High 
Authority for Audio-Visual and Communications (HAAC), a new 
constitutionally mandated body, requires broadcasters to submit weekly 
lists of planned programs and requires publishers to deposit copies of 
all publications with them.  The HAAC solicited bids from private 
operators to develop private radio stations but at year's end had not 
approved any licenses.  Journalists criticized the HAAC's published 
criteria for awarding licenses.

  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the rights of peaceful assembly and 
association, and the Government generally respected these rights in 
practice.  The Government requires permits for use of public places for 
demonstrations and requires associations to register.  Although it 
routinely grants both permits and registrations, the Government in some 
instances interfered with activities of political candidates during the 
campaign for legislative elections.  For example, the Government seized 
the vehicles of an opposition party during the campaign period.  It also 
broke up a political rally held by another opposition figure.  The 
Constitutional Court has consistently and effectively ruled against 
government interference with the freedom of assembly and association.

The Government did not take any actions against nonregistered 
organizations for failure or refusal to register.

  c.  Freedom of Religion.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 
respects this right in practice.

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

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects 
them in practice.  The presence of police, gendarmerie, and illegal 
roadblocks, however, impedes domestic movement.  Though ostensibly meant 
to enforce automotive safety and customs regulations, many of these 
checkpoints serve as a means for officials to exact bribes from 
travelers.

The Government announced a more restrictive policy toward transhumance 
and attempted to enforce it against nomadic herders at more strictly 
designated entry points.  Previous policy allowed migratory Fulani 
herdsman from other countries to enter freely.  Friction between native 
farmers and foreign herders occasionally leads to violence.

The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for 
Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.  
There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim 
to refugee status.  At the end of 1995, there were less than 40,000 
refugees in Benin, mainly from Togo, compared to about 60,000 at the 
beginning of 1995.

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

The Constitution provides citizens with the right peacefully to change 
their government.  Citizens exercised this right by secret ballot on the 
basis of universal suffrage in free and fair elections in 1991 and 
legislative elections in 1995.  A new law, upheld by the Constitutional 
Court in 1995, created an independent National Electoral Commission 
(CENA) which effectively improved the fairness and transparency of the 
voting process.

There were a few instances of government interference with these 
political rights during the legislative campaign (see Section 2.b.), and 
a lack of coordination between the Government and CENA resulted in 
administrative deficiencies at some polling stations, e.g., some voting 
stations ran out of ballots.  The Constitutional Court proclaimed the 
winners only after judging whether the irregularities were so widespread 
as to warrant a new election.  In two of the electoral districts, 
including the Cotonou district, the Court annulled the results and 
ordered new elections.  This second round of elections was much more 
orderly, and the Court proclaimed the results officially a few days 
after the vote.

The Constitution provides for a 5-year term of office for the President 
(who is limited to two terms) and 4-year terms for National Assembly 
members (who may serve unlimited numbers of terms).

Thirty-one political parties fielded candidates for the legislative 
elections, and 18 parties won seats.  In a fluid political environment, 
three major political groupings have formed in the National Assembly, 
but none has a majority.  Presidential elections are scheduled for 1996.  
The National 

Assembly has demonstrated its independence by passing laws, such as the 
new election laws, which have been upheld by the Constitutional Court 
against challenges by the President.

Women participate actively in the political parties but are 
underrepresented in government positions.  There are now 4 women (there 
were previously 2 in 1994) in the 20-member Cabinet.  There are 6 female 
deputies in the 83-member National Assembly.  The President of the 
Constitutional Court is a woman, and the HAAC and the Economic and 
Social Council each have one female member.  The Government and National 
Assembly appointed women to 7 of the 17 positions in the National 
Electoral Commission.

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

A number of human rights groups operate without government restriction, 
investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.  
Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their 
views.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, and 
religion, but societal discrimination against women continues.

  Women

While no statistics are available, violence against women, including 
wife beating, occurs.  The press sometimes reports incidents of abuse of 
women, but judges and police are reluctant to intervene in domestic 
disputes, considering such abuse a family matter.

Although the Constitution provides for equality for women in the 
political, economic, and social spheres, women experience extensive 
societal discrimination, especially in rural areas, where they occupy a 
subordinate role and are responsible for much of the hard labor on 
subsistence farms.  In urban areas, women dominate the trading sector in 
the open-air markets.  By law, women have equal inheritance and property 
rights, but local custom in some areas prevents them from inheriting 
real property.  Women do not enjoy the same educational opportunities as 
men, and female literacy is about 16 percent (male 32 percent).

There are active women's rights groups that have been effective in 
drafting a family code which would improve the status of women under the 
law.  The Government approved the draft family 

code, but the National Assembly had not passed it by year's end. 

  Children

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for the 
protection of children's rights, primarily in the areas of education and 
health.  In particular, the Government is trying to boost primary school 
enrollment which is only about 66 percent.  In some parts of the 
country, girls receive no education at all.

There is no broad pattern of societal abuse against children, nor is 
there child prostitution.  There are some traditional practices that 
inflict violence on children which the Government has been vigorous in 
its efforts to end, including prosecuting offenders.  These practices 
include the killing of deformed babies (thought to be sorcerers in some 
rural areas) and a tradition in which a groom abducts and rapes the 
prospective (under 14 years of age) bride.  Criminal courts mete out 
stiff sentences to criminals convicted of crimes against children.

The Government has been less successful in combating female genital 
mutilation (FGM), which is not illegal.  FGM is widely condemned by 
international health experts as damaging to both physical and 
psychological health.  In Benin it is practiced on females at a young 
age as well as on teenage girls and women up to age 30.  Studies suggest 
that at least 4 percent of Beninese women are affected by this practice, 
mostly in the northern provinces.  Recent research by a nongovernmental 
organization found that those who perform such operations, often elderly 
women, have a strong profit motive in the continued practice.  The 
Government has cooperated with an inter-African committee working 
against the practice of FGM by making available locally produced posters 
and pamphlets at government health clinics.

  People With Disabilities

Although the Constitution mandates that the State "look after the 
handicapped," the Government does not mandate accessibility for disabled 
persons.  It does operate a number of social centers for disabled 
persons to assist their social integration.  Nonetheless, many are 
unable to find employment and must resort to begging to support 
themselves.

  National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Benin has a long history of regional rivalry.  Although southerners 
dominate the Government's senior ranks, northerners dominate the 
military.  The south has enjoyed more advanced 

economic development, a larger population, and has traditionally held 
favored status.

Section 6  Worker Rights

  a.  The Right of Association

The Constitution provides workers with the freedom to organize, join 
unions, meet, and strike, and the Government usually respects these 
rights in practice.  The labor force of about 2 million is primarily 
engaged in subsistence agriculture and other primary sector activities, 
with less than 2 percent of the population engaged in the modern (wage) 
sector.  Approximately 75 percent of the wage earners belong to labor 
unions.  There are four union confederations, and unions are generally 
independent of government and political parties.  The Economic and 
Social Council, a constitutionally mandated body installed in 1994, 
includes four union representatives.  In 1995 the Constitutional Court 
overruled a 1994 government decision blocking the formation of a 
national student union.

There were several instances in which labor unions threatened to go on 
strike, and there were a number of orderly sit-ins (measured in hours), 
but there were no strikes.  There were no known instances of efforts by 
the Government to retaliate against union activity.  Laws prohibit 
employer retaliation against strikers, and the Government enforces them 
effectively.

Unions may freely form or join federations or confederations and 
affiliate with international bodies.

  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Code provides for collective bargaining, and workers freely 
exercised these rights.  Wages in the private sector are set in 
negotiations between unions and employers.  A tripartite group, composed 
of unions, employers, and the Government, discussed and agreed to 
revisions in the Labor Code, but the new code had not yet been enacted 
into law by the end of the year.  The Government sets wages in the 
public sector by law and regulation.

The Labor Code prohibits employers from taking union membership or 
activity into account regarding hiring, work distribution, professional 
or vocational training, or dismissal.  The Government levies substantial 
penalties against employers who refuse to rehire workers dismissed for 
lawful union activities.

There are no export processing zones.

  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and such labor is 
not practiced.

  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code prohibits the employment or apprenticeship of children 
under the age of 14 in any enterprise.  However, the Ministry of Labor 
enforces the Code in only a limited manner (and then only in the modern 
sector), due to the lack of inspectors.  Child labor continues on rural 
family farms, on construction sites in urban areas, and as domestic 
servants.  Children also commonly work as street vendors.

  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government administratively sets minimum wage scales for a number of 
occupations.  The minimum wage is approximately $40 per month (CFA20,300 
), which is insufficient to cover the costs for food and housing of even 
a single worker living in an urban area.  Many workers must supplement 
their wages by subsistence farming or informal sector trade.  Most 
workers in the wage sector, however, earn more than the minimum wage.

The Labor Code establishes a workweek of from 40 to 56 hours, depending 
on the type of work, and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period 
per week.  The authorities generally enforce legal limits on workweeks.  
The Labor Code establishes health and safety standards, but the Ministry 
of Labor does not enforce them effectively.  The Labor Code does not 
provide workers with the right to remove themselves from dangerous work 
situations without jeopardy to continued employment.  The Ministry of 
Labor has the authority to require employers to remedy dangerous work 
conditions but does not do so effectively.


(###)

[end of document]

flag
bar

Department Seal

Return to 1995 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.