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Title:  Comoros Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State 
Date:  March 1996 
 
 
 
 
                               COMOROS* 
 
*There is no U.S. Embassy in the Comoros.  Information available on the 
human rights situation is limited. 
 
 
The Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros comprises three islands and 
claims a fourth, Mayotte, which is still governed by France.  The 
Comoros has a constitutional government but has been prone to coups 
since independence in 1975.  The most recent came on September 28 when 
foreign-led mercenaries and disaffected Comorian troops attempted to 
overthrow the elected government of President Said Mohamed Djohar.  
French military forces sent to the island 1 week later arrested the 
mercenaries, reinstalled the elected Prime Minister, and freed Djohar 
but removed him for "medical treatment" to the French Department of 
Reunion.  Citing constitutional provisions that take effect when the 
President is unable to rule, Prime Minister Caabi El Yachroutou declared 
himself Acting President, formed a coalition Government, and pledged to 
hold new presidential elections.  In January 1996, President Djohar 
returned to Comoros to assume his ceremonial duties in accordance with 
an agreement brokered by the Organization for African Unity (OAU).  
Presidential elections were scheduled for March 6 and 16.   
 
The Comorian Defense Force (FCD) and the Gendarmerie are responsible for 
internal security.  Both are under civilian control, but their loyalty 
is suspect as shown by the participation of several hundred soldiers in 
the September 28 coup.  During the 1991 elections there were reports of 
interference by members of the military acting on behalf of the Djohar 
Government.  French officers serve as advisers to the FCD. 
 
The economy of this extremely poor country is dominated by agriculture, 
but there is a shortage of arable land; soil erosion exacerbates this 
problem.  Revenues from the main crops--vanilla, essence of ylang ylang, 
and cloves--continue to fall, while the population (about 500,000) is 
growing at an extremely high rate of 3.56 percent.  The per capita 
income is approximately $400.  The Comoros is a part of the French franc 
monetary zone, but the 1994 devaluation of the franc did not improve the 
import-dependent economy, and it has had serious short-term consequences 
on government finances.  The Comoros depends heavily on financial 
assistance from France and the European Union. 
 
The human rights situation did not improve in 1995.  The Djohar 
Government abridged freedoms of the press and travel and continued to 
hold soldiers who had allegedly participated in the 1992 coup attempt 
against the Government.  They were released by the mercenaries who 
carried out the September 28 coup, and the coalition Government has 
granted them amnesty.   
 
The 1993 trial in the State Security Court of 16 other persons, 
including two sons of former president Abdallah, for participation in 
the 1992 coup attempt did not meet international standards for a fair 
trial.  The Government did permit officials of the International 
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit Abdallah's sons in prison.  
Prison conditions remained harsh, and societal discrimination against 
women continued to be a serious problem.   
 
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.   
 
As far as known, there has been no official investigation into the 
deaths of two persons reportedly killed and secretly buried by the 
Gendarmerie on the eve of the legislative elections in December 1993 on 
the island of Anjouan. 
 
  b.  Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
The Constitution provides for security of the person, and there were no 
substantiated reports of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading 
treatment or punishment. 
 
Prison conditions continued to be poor.  A lack of proper sanitation, 
overcrowding, inadequate medical facilities, and poor diet are common 
problems.  The Government admits these problems but has taken no action 
to remedy them.  Those persons imprisoned in connection with the 1992 
coup attempt reported that they were held in cramped, humid, and poorly 
ventilated cells without sanitary facilities, especially at Kandani 
barracks in Moroni.  The Government claimed to have moved them to the 
regular prison, but press reports of the coup explicitly stated that 
they had been freed from Kandani barracks.  While the Government would 
not permit diplomats to visit the two sons of former president Abdallah, 
who were implicated in the 1992 coup attempt, it did permit an ICRC 
official and some political associates to visit them.  There were no 
reports of abuse of women in prison. 
 
  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The Constitution does not specify a time limit between arrest and 
appearance before a magistrate; however according to usual procedure the 
time limit is 48 hours.  The law is silent about how long prisoners held 
for security reasons may be detained without being charged.  The 
soldiers arrested after the 1992 coup were apparently tried, but details 
of that trial are sketchy.  Their exact number remained unknown, but 
reliable estimates were about 17.  Those released by the mercenaries in 
September have been granted amnesty.  The Government does not use forced 
exile as a means of political control. 
 
  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
In regular civil and criminal cases, the judiciary is largely 
independent, and trials are public.  The Supreme Court has the power to 
review the decisions of lower courts, including the Court of Appeals.   
 
The 1992 Constitution provides for the equality of all citizens before 
the law and the right of all accused persons to defense counsel.  
However, there are few lawyers in the country, making it difficult to 
obtain legal representation.  The Government does not provide free legal 
counsel to the accused.  The legal system incorporates Islamic law as 
well as French legal codes.  Most disputes are settled by village elders 
or by a civilian court of first instance.   
 
The number of political prisoners held by the Government was not known 
at year's end.  Omar Tamou and M'tara Maecha, who admitted to staging 
the 1992 coup attempt, were released September 28.  The State Security 
Court trial of 16 persons (4 in absentia), including the 2 sons of 
former president Abdallah, held in April 1993, was judged unfair by 
international human rights monitors.  There was evidence of executive 
interference during the trial (see the 1993 report), and defense lawyers 
had limited access to the defendants and case information.  At year's 
end, how many, if any, of these people were still being held was 
unclear.   
 
  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of home and property.  
There were no known cases of arbitrary interference with privacy or 
correspondence. 
 
Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: 
 
  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of expression, thought, and 
conscience, and the Government generally respected this right in 
practice with one important exception (see below).  Comorians discuss 
and criticize the Government and its leading personalities openly.  The 
several small independent newspapers and weekly semiofficial newspaper 
freely criticize the Government, but the latter's editors are selected 
by the Minister of Information and are usually his allies. 
 
The government-controlled radio station, Radio Comoros, is the only 
station in the country following last year's closure by the Government 
of the only independent station.  Credible sources cite the station's 
frequent criticism of the Government and ties to opposition politicians 
as the reasons for its closure.  Comorians receive broadcasts from 
Mayotte Radio as well as from French television without interference, 
but these carry only limited news about Comoros developments.  Satellite 
antennas are popular and amateur radio licenses are issued without 
hindrance.  Foreign newspapers are available, as are books from abroad. 
 
Although there is no university in the Comoros, secondary level teachers 
and students speak freely, and students occasionally engaged in meetings 
which criticized the Government. 
 
  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and 
the Government generally respects these rights in practice. 
 
  c.  Freedom of Religion 
 
An overwhelming majority of the population is Sunni Muslim.  The 
Constitution designates Islam as the state religion.  The Government 
permits non-Muslims to practice their faith, and Christian missionaries 
work in local hospitals and schools but are not allowed to proselytize. 
 
  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation 
 
There are no restrictions on travel within the country or abroad, and 
exit visas are generally freely granted.  However, before the September 
coup, ex-presidential candidate Mohamed Taki was refused an exit visa, 
which he requested in order to visit an organization's inauguration in 
France.  The Government claimed that he was conspiring to overthrow the 
Government.   
 
There are no refugees in the Comoros. 
 
Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
Citizens have this right, but it has not yet been fully demonstrated 
that they, in fact, have the ability peacefully to change their 
government through free and fair elections.  The Constitution gives 
legal status to a multiparty system and provides for other fundamental 
rights.  Nevertheless, the political system remains unstable, and many 
democratic institutions established by the Constitution, such as the 
constitutional council, the senate, and the island councils, have not 
been created.   
 
The new coalition Government is made up of President Djohar's ruling 
Rally for Democracy and Renewal (RDR) Party and all major opposition 
parties, including those that participated in the coup.  In January 
1996, the OAU brokered an agreement between the Caabi coalition 
government and President Djohar under which Djohar returned to the 
Comoros and assumed his symbolic and ceremonial functions as President.  
Presidential elections were scheduled to be held on March 6 (first 
round) and March 16 (second round).   
 
Village chiefs and Muslim religious leaders tend to dominate local 
politics.  Traditional social, religious, and economic institutions also 
importantly affect the country's political life. 
 
Traditionally, Comorian society is male-dominated, making it very 
difficult for women to become involved in politics.  Women have the 
right to vote and participate in the political process; however, there 
are no female ministers or members of the National Assembly. 
 
Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
The Comoros Human Rights Association, established in 1990, continues to 
function, but many members are unwilling to criticize the Government 
vigorously for fear of losing their civil service positions.  The 
Government cooperates with international human rights organizations, 
including the ICRC.  However, it turned down a request by a foreign 
diplomatic mission to visit prisons (see Section 1.c.). 
 
Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The Constitution formally provides for the equality of citizens 
regardless of race, sex, origin, or religion.  The Government generally 
respects these provisions in practice but discourages the practice of 
religions other than Islam.   
 
  Women 
 
Violence against women occurs, but medical authorities, the police, and 
women's groups believe that it is rare.  In theory a woman could seek 
protection through the courts in the case of violence, but in reality 
the issue would most likely be addressed within the extended family or 
at the village level. 
 
Despite constitutional provisions for equality, men have the dominant 
role in Comorian society, and few women hold positions of responsibility 
in government or business.  Societal discrimination against women is 
most apparent outside the major towns where women carry heavy farming 
and child-rearing duties, with fewer opportunities for education and 
wage employment.  In contrast, change in the status of women is most 
evident in the major towns, where growing numbers of women are in the 
labor force and generally receive wages comparable to those of men 
engaged in similar work.  While legal discrimination exists in some 
areas, in general, inheritance and property rights do not disfavor 
women; for example, the house the father of the bride traditionally 
provides to the couple at the time of their marriage remains her 
property even in the case of divorce. 
 
  Children 
 
The Government, while committed to the protection of children's rights 
and welfare in theory, has an extremely limited ability to put this into 
practice.  Population pressure and poverty force some families to place 
their children into the homes of others.  These children, often as young 
as 7 years of age, typically work long hours as domestic servants in 
exchange for food and shelter.  The few legal instruments which address 
the rights and welfare of children are not enforced because of a lack of 
inspectors. 
 
Female genital mutilation is not generally practiced, and child abuse 
appears to be rare. 
 
  People with Disabilities 
 
The Constitution provides that the disabled should not be abandoned by 
the State, and there is no evidence of widespread discrimination against 
the disabled in the provision of education or other services.  No 
legislation is in force or pending concerning accessibility to public 
buildings or services for people with disabilities. 
 
Section 6  Worker Rights 
 
  a.  The Right of Association 
 
The Constitution allows workers, including most public sector workers, 
to form unions and to strike.  Farming on small landholdings, 
subsistence fishing, and petty commerce make up the daily activity of 
most of the population.  Hence, the wage labor force is small; less than 
7,000 including government employees, and less than 2,000 excluding 
them.  Teachers, civil servants, and dock workers are unionized.  Unions 
are independent of the Government.  Teachers and hospital workers go on 
strike intermittently, mostly because they do not get paid for months at 
a time.  There are no laws protecting strikers from retribution, but 
there were no known instances of retribution. 
 
There are no restrictions on unions joining federations or affiliating 
with international bodies. 
 
  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
Unions have the right to bargain collectively, and strikes are legal.  
Wages are set by employers in the small private sector and by the 
Government, especially the Ministries of Finance and Labor, in the 
larger public sector.  The Labor Code, which is only loosely enforced, 
does not set up a system for resolving labor disputes, and it does not 
prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers.   
 
There are no export processing zones. 
 
  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
Forced or compulsory labor is forbidden by the Constitution and is not 
practiced. 
 
  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
The Labor Code defines 15 years as the minimum age for the employment of 
children.  The Ministry of Labor has few resources to enforce this 
provision, but outside of domestic work child labor is not an issue due 
to the general lack of wage employment opportunities.  Children 
generally help with the work of their families in the subsistence 
farming and fishing sectors. 
 
  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work 
 
The Government mandates minimum wage levels.  The rates, which vary by 
occupation, have not been changed in over a decade and no longer reflect 
economic realities.  The minimum wage for a laborer is about $11 (4,600 
Comorian francs) per month.  The Government periodically reminds 
employers to respect the Labor Code, which specifies 1 day off per week, 
plus 1 month of paid vacation per year, but does not set a standard 
workweek.  There are no safety or health standards for the minuscule 
manufacturing sector.   
 
(###)

[end of document]

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