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Title:  Mauritius Human Rights Practices, 1995   
Author:  U.S. Department of State    
Date:  March 1996    
 
 
 
 
                           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, most recently on December 20.  The 
judiciary is independent, there are numerous political parties, both 
large and small, and partisan politics are open and robust. 
 
A paramilitary Special Mobile Force and Special Supporting Units under 
civilian control 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 the police committed some human rights abuses.   
 
The economy is based on labor-intensive, export-oriented manufacturing 
(mainly textiles), sugar, and tourism.  About 85 percent of arable land 
is planted with sugar cane.  There is a generally high standard of 
living; annual per capita income is approximately $3,250.  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 electronics, and developing Mauritius as a regional 
financial center. 
 
The Government's human rights record improved, but problem areas 
remained.  There continued to be occasional reports that police abused 
suspects and detainees.  The Government continued to use the National 
Intelligence Unit to monitor opposition party activities.  Violence 
against women and child labor appeared to be on the rise, despite 
government efforts to address these problems.  The Government made 
progress in addressing police brutality and advancing the legal status 
of women.   
 
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS 
 
Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 
from: 
 
   a.   Political and Extrajudicial Killing 
 
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings. 
 
The investigation into the 1994 death of a suspect in police custody who 
burned to death in his cell is complete but the results had not been 
released by year's end.   
 
   b.   Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
Torture and inhuman punishment are prohibited by law, but there were 
several reports of police brutality, involving mistreatment of 
individuals on the street as well as of suspects in custody.  The 
Commissioner of Police continued to display a willingness to pursue such 
reports of abuse.   
 
Because of the Police Commissioner's crackdown on crime, prisons have 
become overcrowded and prison sanitation inadequate.   
 
   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile and the 
Government generally observes these prohibitions.  Last year's 
constitutional amendment which would allow the Government to detain 
suspected drug traffickers indefinitely without trial or the possibility 
of bail came into force in November (see Section 1.e.).   
 
The Government does not use exile as a means of political control.   
 
   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the 
Government generally respects this provision in practice.  Some critics 
believed that the executive interfered with the judiciary.  Legal 
experts noted concern about overt manipulation of the judiciary as well 
as political influence over the Commissioner of Police, the Director of 
Public Prosecutions, and the Anticorruption Tribunal.   
 
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 was 
routine in the case of death sentences until the Abolition of the Death 
Penalty Act was passed in July.  At year's end, the act had not been 
signed by the President, but the judiciary has stopped issuing death 
sentences.  There are no political or military courts.  The judiciary 
provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process. 
 
Defendants have the right to private or court-appointed counsel.  
However, in November the Assembly passed the Dangerous Drugs Act, which 
would permit law enforcement authorities to hold suspected drug 
traffickers for a limited time without access to bail or legal counsel.  
The constitutionality of the law may be questioned.   
 
There were no reports of political prisoners. 
 
   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 to stop a crime in progress.  The Government's intelligence 
apparatus continued to carry out illegal surveillance of local 
opposition leaders and other major figures.  In April the opposition 
proposed a bill to establish a code of conduct for the intelligence arm 
and define the "subversion and national security" clauses under which 
the Government claims to use the unit.  The bill was soundly defeated. 
 
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 generally respects these rights in practice.  Debate in 
the National Assembly is lively and open.  There were occasional 
complaints of government influence in editorial policies, but more than 
a dozen privately owned daily, weekly, and monthly newspapers presented 
varying political viewpoints and they expressed partisan views freely.  
In 1995 three editors of independent newspapers resigned to accept 
government positions, fueling speculation that the press was less 
independent than previously believed.  However, there was no evidence of 
loss of independence in subsequent reporting by those newspapers.  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 1995.  Libel suits between private parties are common. 
 
The Government used the Official Secrets Act in October 1994 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 
more than a year.  Opposition and press criticism led the Prime Minister 
to say that the Commissioner of Police had acted legally but 
overzealously; within 24 hours, the police released the three on bail.  
While the case was pending at year's end, the three remained under an 
"objection to departure" restriction for overseas travel.   
 
The Government controls television and radio--the most important media.  
Programming and editorial policies generally reflect government 
interests.  The Government gave opposition politicians slightly more 
broadcast time in 1995 than in years past.  However in February, the 
Mauritius Broadcast Corporation director interrupted a talk show program 
which had been discussing the controversial Nationality Law; it was 
widely believed that the order to stop the broadcast was because of 
comments critical of the Government.  In December 1994, the Government 
authorized the private use of "television reception only" satellite 
dishes.  Ownership and operation of private television and radio 
stations is not permitted.  However, foreign television broadcasts, 
specifically "Skynews" from the United Kingdom and "Canal Plus" from 
France became available to the general public via a subscriber service. 
 
The Government generally respects academic freedom but has occasionally 
censored books, usually citing national security reasons. 
 
   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally 
respects them in practice.  Police permission is required for 
demonstrations and mass meetings; such permission is rarely refused and 
groups have the right to challenge denials.   
 
   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. 
 
There are no refugees in Mauritius, and the Government deals with asylum 
requests on a case by case basis.   
 
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, and citizens exercise this right in practice.  Free 
and fair elections based on universal suffrage were held on December 20.  
The opposition coalition won all of the elected seats in the National 
Assembly, and Labor Party leader Navinchandra Ramgoolam was sworn in as 
Prime Minister, replacing Anerood Jugnauth, who had led the Government 
since 1982.   
 
The remote and isolated islands of Agalega and St. Brandon are an 
exception to universal suffrage.  Their nearly 500 citizens are not 
registered as voters and have no representation in Parliament.   
 
In the National Assembly, up to eight members are appointed through a 
"best loser" system 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.   
 
Six of the 66 members of the Assembly are women.   
 
Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
A variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, 
investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.  
Government officials are cooperative and responsive to their views. 
 
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, creed, or sex.  
The Government generally respects these provisions.   
 
   Women 
 
Violence against women, particularly spousal abuse, is widespread and 
increasing, according to the Ministry of Women's Rights and Family 
Welfare, attorneys, and nongovernmental organizations.  In March the 
National Council of Women reported a 43 percent increase in registered 
cases of domestic violence in 1994 over 1993.  To address this issue, 
the Ministry requested consultative assistance from the United Nation's 
Children's Fund.  There are no special provisions in Mauritian law 
concerning family violence.  Police are generally reluctant to become 
involved in cases of spousal abuse. 
 
Women have traditionally occupied a subordinate role in society, and 
societal discrimination continues.  The National Assembly addressed one 
facet of this problem in 1995 when it amended the Citizenship Act to 
permit women to transmit citizenship to their children and obtain 
residence and work permits for their spouses, as do men.  Nearly half of 
Mauritian women work outside the home.  The Government also moved to 
promote greater equality by amending the Constitution to prohibit 
discrimination against women.   
 
   Children 
 
The Government placed a strong emphasis on the health and welfare of 
children, and displayed a commitment to expand educational opportunities 
for children.  Reported incidents of child abuse are infrequent and 
isolated, although 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 as well as takes "remedial action" to protect affected 
children. 
 
   People with Disabilities 
 
There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment, 
education, or in the provision of other state services.  The 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 difficult for people with disabilities to fill many 
jobs.  There is no law mandating access to public buildings or 
facilities. 
 
   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities 
 
Tensions between the Hindu majority and Creole and Muslim minorities 
persist.  In 1995 the Supreme Court struck down a Government proposal 
which would have favored the Hindu majority in educational opportunities 
as violating the constitutional right to equal protection.  This ruling 
appeared to be a factor in the Government's decision to call new 
elections at the end of the year.  However, public attention to the 
issue faded during the course of the campaign.   
 
Section 6   Worker Rights 
 
   a.   The Right of Association 
 
The Constitution explicitly protects the right of workers to associate 
in trade unions, and Mauritius has an active trade union movement.  
Almost 300 unions represent over 100,000 workers, more than 20 percent 
of the total work force.  With the exception of members of the 
"disciplined force" (i.e., the police and the Special Mobile Force) and 
persons in state services who are not public officers (e.g., 
contractors), workers are free to form and join unions and to organize 
in all sectors including in the export processing zone (EPZ).  Employers 
sometimes intimidated prospective union members.  Labor unions are 
independent from the Government and in 1995 successfully appealed to the 
Government to withdraw proposed legislation which would have further 
curbed the ability of unions to strike.  Unions can and do press wage 
demands, establish ties to domestic political parties, and address 
political issues.  Unions are free to establish federations. 
 
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 an unlawful strike is sufficient grounds for 
dismissal.  According to Ministry of Labor statistics, there were seven 
strikes. 
 
Under the law, unions may and do establish ties with international labor 
bodies. 
 
   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively 
 
The law protects the right of employees to bargain collectively with 
their employers.  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, whose chairman 
is appointed by the Minister of Labor.  About 12 percent of the labor 
force works for national or local government.  The IRA prohibits 
antiunion discrimination.  There is an arbitration tribunal which 
handles any such complaints. 
 
Mauritius' export processing zone (EPZ) 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 years.  The 
Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement and conducts frequent 
inspections.  In June inspections revealed 46 underage workers and in 
July 25 more.  These findings led the Government to review its 
inspection program and implement more systematic inspections, 
particularly of smaller firms that tend to hire underage workers.  
According to the Government's report, child labor in homes, on farms, 
and in shops is common in Rodrigues, where inspection procedures are 
less effective.   
 
   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 about $12.25 (218.58 rupees) per week 
effective July 1, while the lowest weekly wage for a non-EPZ worker is 
about $13.25 (236.25 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. 
 
In 1995 the Mauritius Labor Congress filed a complaint with the 
International Labor Organization (ILO) regarding the wages and living 
conditions of foreign workers.  The ILO and the Government are both 
investigating the complaint.   
 
The Government sets health and safety standards and Ministry of Labor 
officials inspect working conditions and ensure compliance with the 1988 
Occupational Safety, Health, and Welfare Act.  The small number of 
inspectors limits the Government's enforcement ability, but the number 
of occupational accidents has been cut nearly in half since the Act's 
passage.  Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous 
situations without jeopardy to continued employment. 
 
(###)

[end of document]

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