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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Mauritius

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Mauritius, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4e2a.html [accessed 21 September 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.
 

Mauritius is a parliamentary democracy governed by a Prime Minister, a Council of Ministers, and a National Assembly. Mauritius declared itself a Republic on March 12, 1993. 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. There are four major political parties and several smaller parties. Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth's current coalition received a broad mandate in general elections in September 1991.

A paramilitary Special Mobile Force of some 1,200 men and a 240-man Special Support Unit are responsible for internal security. These forces, under the command of the Commissioner of Police, are backed by a general duty police force numbering over 6,000. They are largely apolitical and generally well trained, but police abuse of suspects apparently increased during the year.

The economy is based on export-oriented manufacturing (mainly textiles), sugar, and tourism. The rapid economic growth of the mid-1980's has slowed as a result of labor shortages and the global economic slowdown. The Government, with the help of international donors, is attempting to diversify the industrial base to favor high-technology, capital-intensive production, and new sectors, such as financial services.

Political and civil rights are protected under the Constitution and respected in practice. The work of the Garrioch Committee, established by the Prime Minister in 1990 to conduct an independent review of several controversial laws, led to significant reforms. These included expansion of the freedom of assembly and abolition of the repressive Public Order Act, which permitted detention without charge or trial. The Government continued to delay the release of the Garrioch Committee's recommendations on amendments to the Industrial Relations Act, which effectively disallows the right to strike. The Government determines wages and benefits; collective bargaining is not practiced. Societal discrimination and violence against women continued.

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 extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearance.

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

Torture and inhuman punishment are prohibited by law and generally are not practiced. However, there were increased press allegations, confirmed by attorneys handling civil rights cases, of police mistreatment of suspects. The abuse ranged from use of excessive force during arrests to beatings of suspects in custody. In September, in a well-publicized case, two police officers were charged with having caused the death of a person in their custody. Some victims of police mistreatment have sued and been financially compensated for their personal injuries. No police officers accused of abuse were brought to trial in 1993.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Under the Constitution, detained persons have the right to a judicial determination of the legality of their detention. Although the time limit for making this determination is not specified in law, in practice it is usually made within 24 hours. Bail is commonly granted. The Public Gathering Act, which replaced the Public Order Act on the basis of recommendations from the Garrioch Committee, no longer allows for indefinite detention without charge or trial.

Exile is legally prohibited and not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Mauritius' judicial system, modeled on that of Great Britain, 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, and this is routine in the cases of death sentences. There are no political or military courts.

The President, in consultation with the Prime Minister, nominates the Chief Justice and, in consultation with the latter, nominates the senior puisne (associate) judges. The President nominates other judges on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commissions. The legal system has consistently provided fair, public trials for those charged with crimes. Defendants have the right to private or court-appointed counsel. The judiciary is also charged under the Constitution with ensuring that new laws are consistent with democratic practice.

While a number of recent legal decisions went against the Government, the most significant being the Supreme Court's rejection of an attempt by the Prime Minister to strip the leader of the opposition of his seat in the National Assembly, legal specialists and opposition politicians have warned against undue influence by the executive over the judiciary. These concerns were highlighted by the resignation in August of a Supreme Court justice. The justice resigned after his stay of deportation of a woman who was 8 months pregnant was overruled on the direct order of the Prime Minister.

There were no political prisoners in Mauritius in 1993.

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

The sanctity of the home is guaranteed by law and generally respected in practice, but credible reports hold that the Government's intelligence apparatus occasionally opens mail and carries out surveillance of local opposition leaders and other major figures. In September 1992, after a staff member of the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) alleged that a letter addressed to him had been opened, the Supreme Court ruled that the MBC and other government organizations could not open the personal mail of their employees. The search of personal property or premises is allowed only under clearly specified conditions by court order or by police decision if an illegal act has been committed.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and press is protected by the Constitution and local tradition and is largely respected in practice. Debate in the National Assembly is lively and open. While there are occasional complaints of government influence in editorial policies, over a dozen privately owned daily, weekly, and monthly newspapers present varying political viewpoints and freely express partisan views. However, newspapers are subject to the constraints of strict libel laws, which, under the 1984 Newspaper and Periodicals (Amendment) Act, inhibit the ability of the press to criticize the Government. In 1991 two journalists were charged with giving out false information concerning a sea captain accused of fishing in Mauritian waters. The charges against the journalists were dropped in February 1992, but in March of the same year an appeal was filed by the Director of Public Prosecutions. This appeal was still pending at the end of 1993.

The Government owns the 2 television and 3 radio stations, which broadcast in 12 languages and dialects. Television and radio, which in the past tended to reflect government editorial and programming policies, have developed more independent, professional news reporting. Opposition politicians are given more air time than previously and new current events programs featuring interviews with politicians from across the political spectrum have been well received.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Mauritians enjoy the right to form associations, including political parties, trade unions, and religious organizations, although in practice all such organizations need government approval in order to operate officially. Mauritius has a multitude of such private organizations.

Political, cultural, and religious assemblies are commonplace. Under the 1991 Public Gathering Act, police permission is required for holding demonstrations and mass meetings. Such permission is rarely refused. Although groups have sucessfully challenged police denials of permits, in 1993 no appeals were made. Groups complained that the time involved in the appeals process often makes the final outcome moot.

c. Freedom of Religion

There is no state religion. Hindus are a majority, but Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and others openly practice, teach, and proselytize. All religious institutions receive state subsidies in proportion to their memberships. There is no state-sponsored discrimination against any ethnic or religious community. The Government facilitates the travel of Mauritians who make the hajj. Foreign missionaries are not allowed to enter the country without a prior request from a local religious organization. Missionaries have faced the same difficulties as other foreigners in obtaining residence permits.

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

There are no restrictions on freedom of movement within the country. Foreign travel and emigration are also unrestricted. However, there is no blanket guarantee of repatriation, and there are no general criteria for processing repatriation applications. Applications from Mauritians abroad who lost their citizenship after acquiring a second nationality (estimated to be several thousand) are handled on a case-by-case and sometimes arbitrary basis. This remains an issue of political debate as more Mauritians abroad seek to reclaim their Mauritian citizenship.

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

Citizens have the right and ability to change their government through democratic means. Mauritius is governed by a freely elected, unicameral National Assembly, with executive direction coming from the Council of Ministers, currently headed by Prime Minister Sir Anerood Jugnauth, whose Alliance coalitions won elections in 1983, 1987, and 1991. The President, in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, has the right to designate the person charged with forming a new government following parliamentary elections or in a parliamentary crisis. Parliamentary, municipal, and village council elections are held at regular intervals. All citizens 18 years of age and over have the right to vote and run for office.

In the National Assembly, up to eight members are appointed through a complex "best loser" system designed in part to ensure that all ethnic groups are adequately represented. The governing (three-party) Alliance coalition controls 49 of the 66 seats. The political parties often match the ethnicity or religion of their candidates to the composition of particular electoral constituencies.

Only 2 of Mauritius' 66 members of Parliament and 1 of its 25 ministers are women. There are no legal impediments to women assuming leadership roles. The Government is not actively trying to address this imbalance.

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

Local human rights groups monitor developments without governmental restriction. There have been no known requests by international organizations to investigate human rights violations in Mauritius.

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

Women

Traditionally, women have occupied a subordinate role in society, but the Government has tried to promote equality by eliminating various legal restrictions, e.g., in laws dealing with emigration and inheritance and, in 1990, by removing a legal bar to women serving on juries. Also, in 1989 the Government appointed "Equal Employment Opportunity Officers" in the major ministries to ensure the promotion of women's interests. However, the lack of a body of law mandating equal treatment for women limits these officers' effectiveness. Despite the growing number of women in the work force, there is no legislation requiring equal pay for equal work, nor are there any specific provisions against sexual harassment in the workplace. Additionally, women still cannot transmit citizenship to their foreign-born children, and foreign husbands of Mauritian women cannot automatically obtain residence and work permits (as can foreign wives of Mauritian men).

According to the Ministry of Women's Rights and Family Welfare, physicians, attorneys, and religious and charitable organizations, violence against women is widespread. There are no special provisions in Mauritian law concerning family violence. Police are generally reluctant to become involved in cases of wife beating. The Government in 1989 established a family counseling service, managed by the National Council of Women, one of whose principal tasks is to provide counseling and legal advice in cases of spousal abuse. S.O.S. Women, a nongovernmental organization which provides assistance to abused women and works to sensitize the Mauritian population on women's rights issues, estimates that it is contacted by more than 150 abused women each month. Rape and Incest Aid, a Mauritian nongovernmental organization, has made progress in sensitizing Mauritians to these issues. Victims are frequently informally referred to this group by the Mauritian police.

Children

The Government's programs in the area of children's rights and welfare are limited. Most are handled by the National Children's Council, a parastatal organization attached to the Ministry of Women's Rights. Most of the Government's resources in this area are concentrated on family counseling and sensitization on child abuse.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although Mauritius has a Hindu majority, the country's active press and strongly egalitarian traditions mitigate against discrimination in all forms. Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or caste is also prohibited by law. Nonetheless, underlying social tensions based on ethnicity and caste continued in 1993.

People with Disabilities

Mauritian law requires organizations that employ more than 10 persons to set aside at least 3% of their positions for people with disabilities. The law does not, however, mandate that worksites be accessible to the disabled. Several nongovernmental organizations have expressed concern about this lack of accessibility, which makes it impossible for people with disabilities to fill many jobs.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Mauritius has an active trade union movement. Almost 300 unions represent about 110,000 workers, just under 30 percent of the work force. Of these, 110 have less than 50 members. Workers are theoretically free to form and join unions and to organize in all sectors, including in the export processing zone (EPZ) which employs about 90,000 workers. However, in practice there are a variety of constraints under the 1973 Industrial Relations Act (IRA), such as the need to obtain government approval to register new unions. In addition, five unions in the EPZ were deregistered in 1993 because they became inactive, or because their membership dropped below seven. Less than 10 percent of EPZ workers are believed to be unionized. Unions can and do press wage demands, establish ties to domestic political parties and international organizations, and address political issues.

In theory unions have the right to strike. However, in labor disputes the IRA requires a prestrike 21-day cooling-off period followed by binding arbitration, which has the effect of making most strikes illegal. Participation in a strike not approved by a court is sufficient grounds for dismissal.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

While the right of association is guaranteed by law, excessive government intervention has distorted the collective bargaining process. The IRA's provisions for establishing wages bear little resemblance to the traditional collective bargaining process, and the Government's restraints on that process render it ineffective.

A National Remuneration Board (NRB), whose chairman is appointed by the Minister of Labor, sets minimum wages by sector but also establish a wage structure based on length of service and job classification. The NRB thus sets wages for skilled and experienced workers whose earnings are well above the minimum wage. Wages and benefits for civil servants are established by the Pay Research Bureau (PRB) which prepares a wage scale for the civil service on the basis of the Sedgwick/Chesworth Report recommendations. After a 6-year hiatus, this report was published in May. While it gave wage increases which averaged 17 percent, labor groups criticized it for its inflexibility and opaqueness.

In 1993 the salary increases granted in the PRB also served as cost-of-living adjustments, which previously had been determined in tripartite negotiations. Ordinarily, the government-established tripartite committee, chaired by the Minister of Finance and including employer and trade union representatives, meets once a year. Its recommendations are not always unanimous, however, and the Government makes the final decision.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) noted again in 1991 that the IRA does not give workers' organizations sufficient protection against acts of interference as provided for by ILO Convention 98 on the right to organize and bargain collectively. The Garrioch Committee submitted its review of the IRA to the Government in May 1992. Despite government pledges to release the Committee's report and introduce amendments to the IRA by July 1993, at the end of the year neither had been done.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law and not practiced. However, under the IRA the Minister of Labor can refer industrial disputes to compulsory arbitration, enforceable by penalties involving compulsory labor provisions. The ILO continues to criticize this as being in conflict with ILO Convention 105 on forced labor. There were no such cases in 1993.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum work age for employment of children is 15. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but enforcement is minimal. While there are cases of children under the age of 15 working illegally in the EPZ, the large, established EPZ factories do not hire children under 15. In fact, it is unusual to see employees much younger than 18.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The NRB establishes minimum wages for 26 categories of private sector workers (sugar, tea, transport, etc.) which apply equally to workers in the EPZ. Although originally established to set minimum wages for nonunion workers, the NRB has broadened its powers and issues remuneration orders that establish minimum wages, bonuses, housing, and transportation allowances, and other benefits for almost all private sector workers. About 85 percent of all private sector workers (including unionized workers) are covered by NRB orders. Employers and unions are free to negotiate wages and benefits above the minimums established by the NRB, but this is rare.

Minimum wages are differ along employment sector and gender lines. Women are paid less in the agricultural sector on the stated assumption that their productivity is lower in this labor-intensive work. In the EPZ, the minimum wage is equal for men and women. The statutory minimum wage for an unskilled worker in the EPZ is $45 (approximately 800 Rupees) a month. The minimum wage for non-EPZ workers is about $54 (about 1000 Rupees) a month. However, given Mauritius' present labor shortage, the market rate is much higher, and most jobs include various benefits. The overall compensation package generally is sufficient to afford an acceptable standard of living. The Government mandates minimum wage increases each year based on inflation.

The standard workweek in the industrial sector is 45 hours, but excessive overtime continues to be a problem in the EPZ. An employee may be required by an employer to perform up to 10 hours per week of mandatory overtime (at a higher hourly wage). With the employee's consent, he or she may work up to 20 hours of overtime per week (i.e., 65 hours).

The Government sets health and safety standards, and working conditions are inspected by Ministry of Labor officials. While the total number of industrial accidents has declined in recent years, the number of fatal accidents has risen. Enforcement is minimal and ineffective due to the small number of inspectors.

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