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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Equatorial Guinea

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Equatorial Guinea, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3014.html [accessed 24 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis 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.
EQUATORIAL GUINEA

 

Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty constitutional republic, but in reality power has been exercised by President Teodoro Obiang through a small subclan of the majority Fang tribe which has ruled since the country's independence in 1968. Despite the formalities of a multiparty form of government, President Obiang, in power since 1979, together with his associates, dominates the Government. The President's Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE) controls the judiciary and the legislature, the latter through fraudulent elections.

President Obiang exercises control over the police and security forces through the Minister of Interior. The security forces committed serious human rights abuses.

The majority of the population of 400,000 lives by subsistence agriculture, supplemented by hunting and fishing. Barter is a major aspect of an economy in which the small monetary sector is based on exports of petroleum, increasing quantities of timber, and declining quantities of cocoa. Most international assistance has been suspended due to the lack of economic reform and the Government's continued violation of human rights. Substantial new oil deposits were discovered in 1995 and will provide important additional revenue in the future.

Serious human rights abuses continue. After some progress in 1994, the humans rights situation deteriorated in 1995. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. Principal abuses by the security forces included: arrests and physical abuse of prisoners in their custody; several extrajudicial killings; torture; beatings of detainees; arbitrary arrest and detention; and searches without warrants. With few exceptions, the authorities took no action against any security force members suspected of human rights violations. Prison conditions are life threatening. The judicial system does not ensure due process and is subject to executive influence. The Government severely restricts freedom of speech and the press and effectively limits the right of assembly. In September municipal elections, the Government used arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, and beatings with impunity in an unsuccessful attempt to restrain active political opposition.

Discrimination and violence against women are problems.

The only mass media in the country are the government-owned television and radio stations. There are no print media, and no newspapers or magazines from abroad are available.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were several political and extrajudicial killings. On September 17, the day of the municipal election, a policeman shot and killed a member of the political opposition in the town of Mbibiyiin. The policeman was in turn severely beaten by a mob.

In January a police commissioner killed a farmer near Malabo, then cut open his abdomen and chest to remove several organs used in witchcraft-related rituals. Although the commissioner was tried by a court and found guilty, he was sentenced only to house arrest for 20 years. His movement, however, is apparently unrestricted.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

These abuses are serious, frequent, and widespread. The police routinely beat detainees severely, and victims often require hospitalization after release. Access to prisoners is not generally permitted. The security forces arrested prominent members of the opposition and beat and tortured them. The Government uses the psychological effect of arrest, along with the fear of future beating, to intimidate opposition party members. The Government has not prosecuted or punished any security officials for these abuses. In the year's most celebrated arrest case, Severo Moto, a leading opposition figure, and three other members of his Progressive Party were arrested in February for treason, along with six retired and active duty military officials. At the trial in April, Moto was the only defendant who did not show evidence of torture. The others could barely walk or sit because of beatings to their feet and buttocks. One defendant, Pedro Massa Mba, had two broken arms; another, Norberto Nculo, had one broken arm. According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, all of the military personnel showed evidence of having been hung by their wrists for extended periods of time. During the September election campaign, a guard at the former U.S. Embassy was arrested by police and beaten. Police released him after high level diplomatic intervention. His late uncle, a political opponent of the regime, had been beaten to death in Malabo's Blackbeach Prison 2 years before.

Prison conditions are extremely primitive and life-threatening. Rations are inadequate, and sanitary facilities are practically nonexistent. Prison authorities do not normally target women for harassment, but female prisoners are not housed separately from men. Prison conditions are not monitored by independent organizations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Police routinely hold persons in incommunicado detention. The Government arrested political figures and detained them for indeterminate periods. There were also credible reports that around five members of the Movement for the Autodetermination of the Island of Bioko (MAIB), an ethnically based political opposition group, were detained in prison for several weeks. At least 15 members of the opposition were arrested for political activity during the year.

In February, opposition leader Severo Moto and nine additional opposition and military figures were arrested and charged with treason. At their trial in April (which lasted only 7 hours), one defendant was acquitted. The others were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. Moto received a 28-year sentence. The trial was held in a military court which did not have jurisdiction over Moto, a civilian. After extensive international criticism and an international campaign for his release, he and his fellow defendants were pardoned and released in August. Although the Government did not force Moto to leave the country, he left to reside abroad soon after his release.

There are nominal but unenforced legal procedural safeguards regarding detention, the need for search warrants, and other protections of prisoners' rights. Judicial warrants are required. Generally, however, the police arrest suspects without having obtained warrants.

Authorities also continued to hold citizens of Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, and other countries to secure bribes.

The Government does not force citizens into exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is not independent; judges serve at the pleasure of the President and are appointed, transferred, and dismissed for political reasons. Corruption is rampant.

The court system, composed of lower provincial courts, appeals courts, and a Supreme Court, is rarely used. The President appoints members of the Supreme Court, and they are responsive to him. There are traditional courts in the countryside, in which tribal elders adjudicate civil claims and minor criminal matters.

The Constitution and laws passed by the Chamber of Deputies provide for legal representation and the right of appeal. In practice, authorities do not uniformly respect these provisions. Civil cases rarely come to public trial.

The trial of Moto and his codefendants was an example of the way the courts operate. Apart from statements that were extracted by torture, the only evidence presented by the prosecution was a letter that Moto had written in 1992 which discussed the military's possible reaction to a democratic change of government. This type of evidence is an example of how the courts respond to political imperatives. The quick guilty verdict, handed down by a judge appointed by the President, was a foregone conclusion.

There were no reports of long-term political prisoners, but during the year the Government arrested political figures and detained them for indeterminate periods (see Section 1.d.).

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

The Government does not enforce the law requiring judicial warrants for searches, and security forces arbitrarily search homes.

The Government does not overtly force officials to join the PDGE, but for lawyers, government employees, and others, party membership is necessary for employment and promotion. The party banner is prominently displayed with the national flag in government offices, and many officials wear PDGE lapel pins. Foreign firms are often pressured to hire party members.

There is reportedly some surveillance of members of the opposition parties, but there does not appear to be systematic interference with correspondence.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, but the Government severely restricts these rights in practice. No publications of any kind are openly available. The country has no press, and foreign publications are not sold. Shortwave broadcasts and government-controlled television and radio stations are the only media available to citizens. Opposition pamphlets and statements circulate.

Television is Government-controlled and broadcasts only a few hours per day. The Government withholds even minimal access to broadcasting from opposition parties. It also refused to grant permits to foreign news media, including Spanish television. However, Spanish reporters were working in Malabo during the September municipal elections. It is not known if they had Government permission.

There are no universities or other institutions of higher learning; the question of academic freedom is largely irrelevant.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The right of assembly and association is provided for in the Constitution. However, even for meetings in private homes, government authorization must be obtained for any gathering of more than 10 persons for discussions that the regime considers political.

The Government generally permits opposition parties to hold conferences and private meetings. It requires permits for public events, which it routinely grants but usually quickly cancels, effectively undermining the right of assembly. In the September municipal elections, opposition parties were largely free to campaign, although there was some intimidation. The M.A.I.B. movement formally chose not to be a political party and it did not take part in the election.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Government generally respects freedom of religion. There is no state religion, and the Government does not discriminate against any faith. However, a religious organization must first be formally recognized by the Ministry of Justice and Religion before its practice is allowed.

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

The Government does not restrict internal travel. Local police may demand bribes from occupants of cars, taxis, and other vehicles traveling outside the capital. Members of opposition parties often travel abroad with no restrictions on their right to return. There are no refugees or asylum seekers.

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

Citizens have not had the right to change their government by democratic means. The Constitution nominally provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, but in fact there have been no free presidential elections since independence in 1968. The President exercises complete power as Head of State, commander of the armed forces, and leader of the government party, the PDGE. Leadership positions within the government are in general restricted to the president's subclan and closest supporters. While there is an elected Chamber of Deputies, it is not representative and is dominated by the Government.

Municipal elections in September drew considerable attention. The Government used arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, and beatings in an unsuccessful effort to control a sudden upsurge in opposition political activity. Despite these impediments the opposition parties were able to campaign effectively.

According to U.N.-coordinated international observers, the local diplomatic community and other well-informed individuals, the PDGE was soundly defeated at the polls in the municipal election, with the opposition winning from two-thirds to three-fourths of all votes cast. The Government announced the vote totals 11 days later, claiming that it had won control of 18 of 27 municipal councils with a 52 percent overall majority of the vote. Most observers believe the national government, using its authority as the sole arbiter of the election process, altered the vote count after the election.

Although there are no legal restrictions on women's participation in politics, women are seriously underrepresented in politics. There are 2 women in the 42-member Cabinet, and 5 in the 80-member legislature.

The Government does not overtly limit participation by ethnic minorities, but the monopolization of political power by the President's Mongomo subclan of the Fang ethnic group persists.

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

The U.S. Embassy prior to its October closing was not aware of the existence of local human rights nongovernmental organizations.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights visited once this year, receiving grudging government cooperation. The Government refused to permit the International Committee of the Red Cross to establish an office or visit prisons or detainees.

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

Both governmental and societal discrimination continue. These are reflected in traditional restraints on women's education and in the circumscribed opportunities for professional and occupational achievement of ethnic minorities. The Government deliberately limits potential opportunities for ethnic minorities.

Women

Societal violence against women, particularly wife-beating, is common. Medical professionals estimate that 30 to 35 percent of women experience violence in the home. The Government does not maintain records of such incidents, nor does it prosecute perpetrators.

Although the Constitution and laws provide for equal rights for women, they are largely confined by custom to traditional roles, especially in agriculture. Polygyny, which is widespread among the Fang, contributes to women's secondary status, as does limited educational opportunity; women receive only one-fifth as much schooling as men.

There is no discrimination against women with regard to inheritance and family laws, but there is discrimination in traditional practice. For an estimated 90 percent of women, including virtually all ethnic groups except the Bubi, tradition dictates that if a marriage is dissolved, the wife must return the dowry given her family by the bridegroom at the time of marriage, and the husband automatically receives custody of all children from the union.

Similarly, in the Fang, Ndowe, and Bisio cultures, primogeniture is practiced, and as women become members of their husband's families upon marriage, they usually are not accorded inheritance rights. According to the law women have the right to buy and sell property and goods, but in practice the male-dominated society permits few women access to sufficient funds to engage in more than petty trading or to purchase real property beyond a garden plot or modest home.

Children

There are no legislated provisions for the welfare of children. The Government devotes little attention to children's rights or welfare and has no set policy in this area.

People with Disabilities

There is no constitutional or legal provision for the physically disabled with respect to discrimination in employment or education. There is no legislation mandating accessibility for the disabled to buildings or government services.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There is no legal discrimination against ethnic or racial minorities, but in practice some members of minorities face discrimination because they do not come from the Fang ethnic group, or belong to a subclan other than the President's, which controls the country's political life. Minorities do not face discrimination in inheritance, marriage, or family laws.

The MAIB, (see Section 1.d.) composed of ethnic Bubi, has become a target of government security forces. In early October, at least five MAIB members were detained for their membership in the organization.

Several thousand citizens of Nigeria and Ghana reside in the country. Most are small traders and business people and are harassed and persecuted by the police. A high percentage of the market traders are foreigners. Their merchandise is commonly seized, and they are often jailed until they or their families pay bribes to the authorities.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Although the Constitution provides for the right to organize unions, the Government has not passed enabling legislation. In the small wage economy, no labor organizations exist, although there are a few cooperatives with limited power. The law prohibits strikes. The Labor Code contains provisions to uphold workers' rights, but the Government generally does not enforce them.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There is no legislation regarding these rights or prohibiting antiunion discrimination and no evidence of collective bargaining by any group. Wages are set by the Government and the employers, with little or no input by workers. Employers must meet the minimum wages set by the Government, and most companies pay more than the government-established minimum.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law forbids forced labor and slavery, and there is no evidence that such activity takes place. Convicted felons do, within the law, perform extensive labor outside prison without compensation.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum age for child employment is 16 years, but the Ministry of Labor does not enforce this law. The Government also does not enforce the law which stipulates mandatory education up to the age of 18. Underage youth perform both family farm work and street vending.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law prescribes a standard 40-hour workweek and a 48-hour rest period which are observed in practice in the formal economy. The minimum monthly wage is approximately $46 (cfa 27,500). The Labor Code provides comprehensive protections for workers from occupational hazard, but the Government does not enforce these in practice. Employees who protest unhealthy or dangerous working conditions risk loss of their jobs.

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