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Title: Seychelles Human Rights Practices, 1995 Author: U.S. Department of State Date: March 1996 SEYCHELLES President France Albert Rene and his Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) have governed since a 1977 military coup. In the 1990's the SPPF guided the return to a multiparty political system, which culminated in July 1993 in the country's first free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections since 1977. President Rene was continued in power, and the SPPF won 27 of the 33 National Assembly seats, 21 by direct election and 6 by proportional representation. Despite the elections, the President and the SPPF continued to dominate the country through a pervasive system of political patronage and control over government jobs, contracts, and resources. The President has complete control over the security apparatus, which includes a national guard force, the army, and the police. There is also an armed paramilitary Police Mobile Unit (PMU). Members of the security forces committed a few human rights abuses. In recent years, the Government continued unsystematically its program to privatize the economy, imposed cuts in domestic spending, reintroduced import licensing to improve its foreign exchange position, and passed laws with tax cuts and abatements to encourage and attract foreign investment. In addition, the Government looked to reduce the high dependence on tourism--approximately 70 percent of hard currency earnings--by promoting the development of fishing and light manufacturing. Despite these efforts, the public and quasi-public sectors continued to drive the economy, and the Government, through the Seychelles Marketing Board, other state organizations, and the use of banking regulations, continued to dominate most aspects of the economy. The human rights situation continued to improve, and the Government generally respected the rights of its citizens. However, despite parliamentary formalities, the President continued to wield power virtually unchecked. Security forces used excessive force in a few instances, although police brutality is not widespread. The authorities investigated complaints of police abuse and punished officers found guilty. Violence against women and child abuse remained cause for concern. 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 politically motivated killings. In March a prisoner was shot to death at Police Bay Prison. The army guard who was responsible for the shooting received a 6-year sentence from a military court (see Section 1.c.). b. Disappearance There were no reports of disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The Constitution expressly forbids torture, but there have been instances of excessive use of force by police. The authorities have investigated and punished offenders in the past. In August a woman allegedly was repeatedly beaten on the feet and legs at police headquarters. A doctor confirmed that her injuries were consistent with this allegation. In another case, an inquiry is underway into a charge that a detainee was beaten at a district police station in November. Conditions at the two prisons are Spartan. Family members are allowed monthly visits, and prisoners have access to reading but not writing materials. However, there is no regular system of independent monitoring of prisons. At the Police Bay Prison (which closed in late 1995), attorneys were not allowed access to the grounds, and requests to visit by foreign diplomats were not honored. In March a prisoner was shot to death by a guard at the Police Bay Prison. Civilian judicial authorities held one hearing on the shooting, and another hearing is scheduled (see Section 1.a.). In an instance of alleged medical neglect, a prisoner died at the Long Island Prison in 1994 shortly after having arrived at the prison reportedly in extremely poor medical condition. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The Constitution provides that persons arrested must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours. This provision is applied in practice to the extent possible (with allowances for boat travel from distant islands). In October the National Assembly amended this to allow, with a court order, 4-days detention without a formal charge. With a judge's approval this period can be extended to 7 days. Detainees have access to legal counsel, and free counsel is provided for the indigent. The law provides for judicial review of the legality of detention, and bail is available for most offenses. Several persons have brought civil cases against the police for unlawful arrest or entry, with limited success. There were no cases of forced exile in 1995. Following the 1977 coup, a number of persons went into voluntary exile, and others were released from prison with the proviso that they immediately leave the country. A number of these former exiles who returned were able to reacquire their property, but the large majority have not. There were some instances in which the Government rejected valid compensation claims for confiscated properties of returning exiles, apparently for political reasons. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but there are questions about its independence. The judicial system includes magistrates' courts, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, and the Court of Appeal. Criminal cases are heard by a magistrates' court or the Supreme Court, depending on the gravity of the offense. A jury is used in cases involving murder or treason. Trials are public, and the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to counsel, to be present at their trial, to confront witnesses, and to appeal. The Government provides free counsel to the indigent, although there are only a few well-trained lawyers. The Constitutional Court convenes twice a year to consider constitutional issues only. The Court of Appeal convenes twice a year to consider appeals from the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court only. Defendants generally have the right to a fair trial. All judges are appointed for 5 years, and can be re-appointed by the Constituional Appointment Committee. All were hired from other Commonwealth countries, and none is Seychellois. Some observers criticized expatriate judges for a perceived lack of sensitivity on issues such as domestic violence. Legal organs of the Government, such as the Attorney General's office and the Ombudsman, are reluctant to pursue charges of wrongdoing or abuse of power against senior officials. There were no reports of political prisoners. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Constitution provides for the right to privacy and freedom from arbitrary searches. The law requires a warrant for police searches, and the authorities generally respected this requirement in practice. The law requires that all wiretaps be justified on the grounds of preventing a serious crime and be approved by a judge. There are credible reports the government maintains phone taps on some political personalities. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, but it also provides for restrictions on speech "for protecting the reputation, rights, and freedoms of private lives of persons" and "in the interest of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health." Both freedom of speech and the press are thus constrained by the ease with which civil law suits can be filed to penalize journalists for alleged libel. In most instances, citizens speak freely, including in Parliament, although the President is rarely criticized. The Government has a near monopoly on the media, owning the only television and radio stations, the most important means for reaching the public, and the only daily newspaper (the Nation). The official media adhere closely to the Government's position on policy issues and give the opposition and news adverse to the Government only limited coverage. While both of the opposition parties publish an assortment of newsletters and magazines, only one full-fledged independent newspaper, the weekly Regar, is currently in circulation. Government figures have sued Regar for libel five times in the past 2 years. Regar temporarily suspended publication for 1 month at the beginning of the year when it lost a libel suit brought by a government official, so that its staff could devote their efforts to raising funds for legal expenses. In November an Appeals Court judge sustantially reduced its fine. A second weekly, The Independent, was forced to cease publication because of dwindling circulation and the financial effect of losing a libel suit brought by a government official. Independent publications are also potentially vulnerable to government pressure now that the only printing press has been sold to an SPPF National Assemblyman. Academic freedom is limited since, for example, one cannot reach senior positions in the academic bureaucracy without demonstrating at least nominal loyalty to the SPPF. There are no universities; secondary school teachers are largely apolitical. The Government controls access to the Polytechnic, the most prestigious learning institution, and public school graduates wishing admission are given preference for participating in the National Youth Service (NYS), a year-long program which now emphasizes educational instruction, although in the past it has stressed paramilitary training and SPPF ideology. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association The Constitution provides for these freedoms, and in practice the Government generally permitted peaceful assembly and association without interruption or interference. The police handled student demonstrations in 1994 with professional restraint. In addition to the SPPF, there are two other political parties. In 1995 the Government twice denied permission to the United Opposition Party to hold public assemblies. In March government security forces barred Christopher Gill, the only directly elected member of the National Assembly from the opposition Democratic Party, from entering the hall where the party's convention was taking place (see Section 3). Opposition parties cited several cases in which supporters lost government jobs solely because of their political beliefs. Political criteria also appear to weigh in government decisions regarding licenses and loans. 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 freedom of movement, and there was no known abridgement of domestic or international travel. Although it was not used in 1995, the 1991 Passport Act allows the Government to deny passports to any citizen if the Minister of Defense finds such denial "in the national interest." There were no known requests for asylum in 1995 and no refugees in the Seychelles. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Citizens freely exercised the right to change their government in the July 1993 National Assembly and presidential elections, which were judged by international and national observers to have been free and fair. However, President Rene and the SPPF dominated the electoral process and continued to rule--as they have since 1977. The elections served to provide a voice to other parties. The President's SPPF party has utilized its political resources and those of the Government to develop a nationwide organization that extends to the village level. The opposition parties have been unable to match the SPPF's organization and patronage, in part because of resource limitations. The main opposition party, the Democratic Party, is led by Sir James Mancham, the country's first elected president, who was forced into a 15-year exile in 1977. Mancham was reelected President of the Democratic Party by acclamation at a controversial party convention in March. The party's sole directly elected member of the National Assembly was barred by government security forces from attending the convention, allegedly on Mancham's orders (see Section 2.b.). Critics of Mancham alleged that his ties to the ruling SPPF were too close and that he discouraged his own party members from criticizing the Government. There are no legal restrictions on the participation of women or minority groups in politics. Women hold 3 ministerial positions in the 11-person Cabinet and 8 seats in the 33-member National Assembly. The white minority of Seychelles continues to dominate governmental institutions, but some Creoles (African Seychellois) have risen to senior positions of responsibility, particularly in the military. Of the six members of the Defence Forces Council, four are Creole. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights There are no private groups devoted exclusively to investigating human rights practices. However, both the churches and some nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) have been strong voices for human rights and democratization, and the Government has not interfered with their activities. There were no known requests by international human rights groups to visit the Seychelles. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The Constitution affirms the right to be free from all types of discrimination, but does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on these factors. In practice, there is no overt discrimination in housing, employment, education, or other social services based on race, sex, ethnic, national, or religious identification. Women Violence against women, particularly wife beating, remains a concern. Police seldom intervene in domestic disputes, unless the dispute involves a weapon or major assault. The few cases that reach a prosecutor are often dismissed, or if a case reaches court, a perpetrator is usually given only a light sentence. There is a lack of societal concern about domestic violence, and there are no nongovernmental groups that address this issue. This society is largely matriarchal, and women have the same legal, political, economic, and social rights as men. There is no officially sanctioned discrimination in education or employment, and women are fairly well represented in the political process and in business. Children Children have legal protection from labor and physical abuse and are required to attend school. Free public education is available. In June the Government announced the National Program of Action for Children, which creates an institutional framework for aiding children. Sexual abuse of young girls, usually in low-income families, is a serious problem. While complete statistics are not available, Ministry of Health data and press reports indicate that there are a significant number of rape cases of girls under the age of 15. Very few child-abuse cases are actually prosecuted in court. The strongest public advocate for young victims is a semiautonomous agency, the National Council for Children, not the Government. There is criticism that the police fail to investigate charges of child abuse with vigor. People with Disabilities The Government does not discriminate against people with disabilities in housing, jobs, or education. However, there is no legislation providing for access to public buildings, transportation, or government services. The Government promised the International Labor Organization (ILO) that it would implement a law providing for more jobs for disabled workers. However, there were no signs by year's end that such a law will be introduced. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities There is a historical educational gap between Creoles and Seychellois of white or Asian origin, which has been a factor in the continuing political and economic domination of Seychelles by whites and Asians. Despite a significant Creole majority, the President, the Health Minister, the Foreign Minister, most principal secretaries, and almost the entire merchant and financial class are white or Asian. The Government is attempting to close this gap through universal access to public education, but the formalization and teaching of Creole has made it more difficult for Creole students to learn English and French at a competitive level. Further, the political domination by whites seems unyielding since the elected leadership of the majority party, and that of most of the several opposition parties, is white. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Under the 1993 Industrial Relations Act (IRA), which took effect in January 1994, workers have the right to form and join unions of their own choosing. Police, military, prison, and fire-fighting personnel may not unionize. Under the Act, the former government-controlled union, the National Workers Union (NWU), lost its monopoly position. There are currently four registered unions: two dominated by the SPFF and two independents. An attempt to organize an independent union incorporating employees from both governmental ministries and government-owned entities was thwarted by government legal action. Unions can freely affiliate with international bodies. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The IRA provides workers with the legal right to engage in collective bargaining. However, in practice free collective bargaining does not normally take place. The Government has the right to review and approve all collective bargaining agreements in the public and private sectors. There is little flexibility in the setting of wages. In the public sector, which employs about 60 percent of the labor force, the Government sets mandatory wage scales for employees. Wages in the private sector are generally set by the employer in individual agreements with the employee, but in the few larger businesses, wage scales are subject to the Government's right of review and approval. Private employers historically have paid more than the Government in order to attract qualified workers. However, economic problems this year have led to downward pressures on wages. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union members. Independent unions allege that their members in the public sector have been discriminated against on the job because of their affiliation with non-SPFF unions. The Employment Act of 1989, which remains the basic labor law, authorizes the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs to establish and enforce employment terms, conditions, and benefits. Workers have frequently obtained recourse against their employers through the Ministry. However, the 1995 Employment Act, intended to help attract foreign investment, appears to have weakened some workers rights. There are no export processing zones, but the Government is actively attempting to create one. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and it does not exist. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The minimum age for employment is 15 years, and children are encouraged to attend school until the l0th grade or age 17, whichever occurs first. The Government strongly encourages children to fulfill a year of NYS before entering the work force at age l6 or the Polytechnic School for Vocational Training, and it discourages public or private sector employment of workers under age l6. The Government sponsors aprenticeships and short-term (up to 6 months) work programs for those who leave school and do not participate in NYS. Children in these programs receive a training stipend which is below the minimum wage. The Government enforces child labor laws through inspections by the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work Seychelles has a complicated minimum wage scale, which is administratively regulated by the Government; it covers the public and state-owned sectors and differentiates among various job classifications. The Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs enforces minimum wage regulations. The official minimum wage is about $320 (1,600 Seychelles rupees) a month. Trade unions say that government entities are paying some workers at less than the legal minimum. Even with the free public services that are available, primarily health and education, independent labor unions dispute that a single salary at the low end of the pay scale provides a family with even a Spartan standard of living. Many families deal with the high cost of living by earning two or more incomes, although the number of households with two persons employed has reportedly dropped to 30 percent. In recent years there has been a growing trend for the Government to import foreign workers, primarily from India and elsewhere in Asia, to work in the construction and industrial fishing sectors. Although it is difficult to determine the living and working conditions of these workers, there is strong evidence that the labor laws are routinely flouted by their employers, with the Government's knowledge. These workers are paid lower wages and forced to work longer hours than Seychellois, sometimes with the express consent of the Government. The legal maximum workweek varies from 45 to 52 hours, depending on the economic sector, while government employees work shorter hours. Each full-time worker is entitled to a half-hour break per day and a minimum of 21 days of paid annual leave. Workers are permitted to work overtime up to 60 additional hours per month. The Government generally enforces these ceilings. As noted above, foreign workers do not enjoy the same legal protections. The Government issued comprehensive revised occupational health and safety regulations in October 1991. The Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs has formal responsibility for enforcing these regulations; however the Ministry of Health seeks a role in this area. An ILO team which visited in early 1995 found serious deficiencies in the management and effectiveness of government monitoring and enforcement efforts. Occupational injuries are most common in the construction, marine, and port industries. A worker who removes himself from a potentially dangerous situation on the job is considered to have resigned. Safety and health inspectors rarely visit job sites. In 1994 there were four deaths and 162 on-the-job injuries officially reported. In 1995 there were two deaths and 57 on-the-job injuries. (###)
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