Freedom in the World - Comoros (2004)
|Publication Date||18 December 2003|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World - Comoros (2004), 18 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473c5483c.html [accessed 21 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 4
Status: Partly Free
Life Expectancy: 56
Religious Groups: Sunni Muslim (98 percent), Roman Catholic (2 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava
Internal tensions and rivalries between the leaders of the three constituent islands and the federation president in 2003 resulted in continued political instability. In September an agreement was reached that would result in legislative polls in December 2003, although it has yet to be implemented. Key terms of the accord have the central government maintaining control over the country's army, while the police will be administered by local presidents. Another key compromise was the decision to set up a provisional customs council to facilitate the fair distribution of revenue among the three islands.
Two mercenary invasions and at least 18 other coups and attempted coups have shaken the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros since independence from France in 1975. In 1990, in the country's first contested elections, Supreme Court justice Said Mohamed Djohara won a six-year term as president. French soldiers reversed a 1995 attempted coup by elements of the Comoros security forces, who were aided by foreign mercenaries. An interim government ruled for five months until President Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim was elected in 1996 in internationally monitored elections that were considered free and fair. Tadjidine Ben Said Massonde became the interim ruler when Taki died suddenly in November 1998.
Three islands comprise Comoros: Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli. Anjouan voted for self-determination in a 1997 referendum, repulsed an attempted invasion by the government, and then dissolved into violence as rival separatist groups took up arms against each other. Separatists on Moheli also declared independence. Mayotte Island, the fourth island of the Comorian archipelago, had voted to remain a French overseas territory in a 1974 referendum and today enjoys a far higher, French-subsidized standard of living than do the other islands.
Efforts to end the separatist crisis began with the 1999 Antananarivo agreement. Anjouan's refusal to sign the agreement led to violence on Grande Comore and a subsequent coup by Colonel Azali Assoumani. A reconciliation agreement, known as the Fomboni Declaration, was signed in 2000 between the Assoumani government and Anjouan separatists. A national referendum was approved in December 2001 for a new constitution that gave greater autonomy to the three islands of Comoros within the framework of a confederation and provided for a rotating executive presidency among the islands every four years.
In 2002, while elections for the president of each of the three islands that make up the new federation appeared to have been largely free and fair, the poll for the executive leader of the federation was not. President Assoumani won the executive presidency with 75 percent of the vote. He was, however, the only candidate as his two opponents had claimed fraud and dropped out of the race. After the country's electoral commission concluded that the 2002 vote for the executive presidency was not fair, the commission was dissolved and a body of five magistrates ruled that the election would stand.
Internal tensions and rivalries between the leaders of the three constituent islands and the federation president in 2003 resulted in continued political instability. Lengthy negotiations took over minimum conditions for holding postponed legislative elections. In September, an agreement was reached that would result in legislative polls in December 2003, although it has yet to be implemented. Key terms of the accord have the central government maintaining control over the country's army, while the police will be administered by local presidents. Another key compromise was the decision to set up a provisional customs council to facilitate the fair distribution of revenue among the three islands.
Comorians are among the world's poorest people. The country relies heavily on foreign aid and earns a small amount through exports of vanilla, ylang-ylang, and cloves. The political troubles have affected the country's economic relations with the outside world. In March 2003, two of the island presidents signed a resolution calling upon the European Union to "temporarily delay" its payments to the central government for fishing rights. They also asked ComoreTel, the largest telecommunications company on the island, to suspend its revenue payments. This tense political situation created confusion among Comorians who did not know whether to pay their taxes to their island government or to the central government.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Comorians have the constitutional right to change their government democratically, although this right has been only partially realized. Presidential elections held in 2002 for each of the archipelago's three islands were considered to be largely fair, while the vote for the executive presidency turned into a one-horse race whose outcome was not contested. Comorians exercised their constitutional right to change their government democratically in open elections for the first time in the 1996 parliamentary and presidential elections. Mohamed Taki Abdoulkarim won the presidency in a runoff election with more than 60 percent of the vote. The conservative Islamic main opposition party held several seats in the National Assembly. Parliament has not met since Assoumani's 1999 coup, and parliamentary elections have been postponed until at least December 2003.
The leader of a major opposition party was arrested in September on grounds of destabilization, threatening state security and inciting violence. He was subsequently released from detention, but placed under house arrest and forbidden from undertaking political activities.
Freedom of expression is generally, but not fully, respected. The semiofficial weekly Al-Watwan and several private newspapers sharply critical of the government are published in the capital, but they appear only sporadically because of limited resources. All are believed to exercise extensive self-censorship. Two state-run radio stations broadcast, and about 20 regional radio stations and five local private television stations operate without overt government interference. Academic freedom is generally respected.
Islam is the official state religion. Non-Muslims are legally permitted to practice, but there were reports of restrictions, detentions, and harassment. Detainees are sometimes subjected to attempts to convert them to Islam. Christians are not allowed to proselytize.
The government generally respects the rights of freedom of assembly and association. The former is explicitly recognized in the constitution, although the latter is not. Occasionally the police have violently dispersed protesters. Unions have the right to bargain and strike, but collective bargaining is rare in the country's small formal business sector.
The Comorian legal system is based both on Sharia (Islamic law) and on parts of the French legal code and is subject to influence by the executive and other elites. Most minor disputes are settled by village elders or a civilian court of first instance. Harsh prison conditions are marked by severe overcrowding and the lack of adequate sanitation facilities, medical attention, and proper diet.
Women are active in politics and community organizations. Sexual harassment and domestic violence are still severe problems. The law prohibits rape and other forms of sexual violence, including by a spouse. However, it remains a serious problem, as does the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation.