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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Seychelles

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Seychelles, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3818.html [accessed 15 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.
 

 

President France Albert Rene and his Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) have governed the Seychelles 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 won reelection, and the SPPF won 27 of the 33 National Assembly seats, 21 by 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 jobs, government 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). Security forces used excessive force in a number of instances, although police brutality is not widespread. The authorities investigated complaints of police abuse and punished officers found guilty.

In recent years, the Government accelerated its program to privatize the economy, imposed deep cuts in domestic spending to improve its foreign exchange position, and passed laws with tax cuts and abatements to encourage private businesses to expand and attract foreign investment. In addition, the Government moved to reduce the high dependence on tourism-- approximately 70 percent of hard currency earnings--by promoting the development of fishing, farming, and small-scale 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. There was one incident in which police beat and tortured an employee of the Seychelles Broadcasting Company. Violence against women and child abuse remained serious problems.

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 other extrajudicial killings.

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. However, in February police reportedly tortured an employee of the Seychelles Broadcasting Company (SBC) and detained him without charge for 14 days. (He was suspected of involvement in a break-in at the radio station.) Police reportedly beat the man on his face, back, and sexual organs in order to coerce a confession, but the authorities never formally charged him with a crime. The police did not take disciplinary action against the perpetrators of this abuse, and at year's end the SBC employee had begun a civil action against the Government for damages.

Conditions at Police Bay prison are Spartan, but not life- threatening. Family members are allowed weekly visits, and prisoners are given access to reading materials. There is no regular system of independent monitoring of prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Penal Code provides that persons arrested must be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours. This provision is applied in practice to the extent possible (residents of the outer islands are detained for longer than 48 hours, as the boat trip to Victoria, where the courthouse is located, can take 3 or more days from such islands as Assumption and Aldabra). 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.

Other than the case of the SBC employee (see Section 1.c.), there were no reports of arbitrary arrest or unlawful detention. There were no political detainees or cases of forced exile. A number of former exiles who returned were able to reacquire their property. However, 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 judicial system includes magistrate's courts, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, and the Court of Appeals. Criminal cases are heard by a magistrate's 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 Seychellois lawyers. The Constitutional Court convenes twice a year to consider constitutional issues only.

Defendants generally have the right to a fair trial. However, the judiciary has been criticized for not prosecuting senior-level government officials, and there are questions about the judiciary's independence. Judges are appointed through the Constitutional Appointments Authority (CAA) system, and the President appoints the CAA chairman. The current chairman is a staunch SPPF supporter, and the President's influence extends to judicial appointments. All judges are appointed for 5 years and were hired from other Commonwealth countries; none is Seychellois. Some observers criticized expatriate judges for a lack of sensitivity on issues such as domestic violence.

There were no 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.

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 legal action can be taken to penalize journalists for alleged libel through civil law suits. 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 only limited coverage.

In 1994 there were four independent weeklies, which in the past have criticized official policies and the President's closest advisers. However, at year's end, the most important independent weekly, the Regar, had suspended publication due to a libel action brought by the Deputy Commander of the army against the newspaper's publisher. On December 12, the Supreme Court found the Regar guilty of defamation and awarded the Deputy Commander damages of $34,879 (SR 173,000). The newspaper is appealing the judgment. Also, a second weekly, the Independent, shifted to monthly publication in late December, reportedly due to low circulation and financial constraints.

Academic freedom is limited. There are no universities; secondary school teachers are largely apolitical. The Government controls access to the Polytechnic, the most prestigious learning institution, by requiring all students to participate 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. In September students at the NYS held a series of demonstrations to protest budgetary cuts. The demonstrations escalated into violence, which resulted in extensive property damage. In response, the political opposition proposed legislation in the National Assembly to abolish the NYS. The President opposed the legislation, and the measure was defeated.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for these freedoms, and in practice the Government permitted peaceful assembly and association without interruption or interference. The police handled student demonstrations at the NYS camp with professional restraint.

In addition to the SPPF, there are a number of other political parties. The Government regularly granted permits required for all public gatherings.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and this right is respected 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 1994, 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 1994 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 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.

The President's SPPF party has utilized its political resources 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.

There are no legal restrictions against the participation of women or minority groups in politics. Women hold 3 ministerial positions in the 11-person Cabinet and 8 seats in the 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, the churches 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. 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

Seychelles is a largely matriarchal society, and women have the same legal, political, economic, and social rights as men. There is no discrimination in education or employment, and women are fairly well represented in the political process and in business. According to law enforcement sources, violence against women, particularly wife beating, is common. 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.

Children

The Constitution provides for the rights of minors but the Government has failed to address effectively key issues such as child abuse. Sexual abuse of young girls, usually in low-income families, is a serious problem. While the total dimension of the problem is not known, 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. The press has also begun to address the issue, calling for suitable facilities to house abused children, including foster homes, as well as increased public awareness of the problem.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There is a historical educational gap between Creoles (Seychellois of African origin) 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.

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.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Under the 1993 Trade Union Industrial Act, which took effect in February, workers have the right to form and join unions of their own choosing. Police and fire employees may not unionize. Under the Act, the former government-controlled union, the National Workers Union (NWU), lost its monopoly position, and during the year, workers formed six new unions, all registered, organized, and run by former officials of the NWU. In addition, in June the Government recognized and registered the Public Service Union (PSU), with a membership of 236 teachers, airport employees, and police civilian employees, among others. The Government refused to recognize another proposed union, the Seychelles Union of Public Employees (SUPE), objecting to its goal of organizing all state employees.

The six new unions formed after the demise of the NWU continue to be dominated by the Government and the SPPF. The Trade Union Industrial Act prohibits retribution against strikers, but the Government has not enforced the law. For instance, in May stevedores formerly employed by the Union Lighterage Company (ULC) were locked out by the new private owners of the port facility. As the new owners reduced the work force, they refused to honor the workers' claim that under their contract, they were entitled to 1 hour's pay per each day of work lost due to the privatization. The ULC claimed that the workers had gone on strike and refused them further work or the pay claimed. The workers are planning to challenge the decision in court.

Unions can freely affiliate with international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The 1993 Trade Union Industrial Act gives workers 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 70 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 frequently pay more than the Government in order to attract qualified workers.

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination by employers against union members. The Government may intervene to redress such complaints but has not done so for members of unions that do not have governmental approval. The Employment Act of 1985, 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.

There are no export processing zones.

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, and children are required to attend school until the l0th grade or the age of 17, whichever occurs first. The Government strongly encourages children to fulfill a year of National Youth Service before entering the work force at the age of l6 or the Polytechnic School for Vocational Training, and it discourages public or private sector employment of workers under l6 years of age. The Government offers voluntary 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 effectively enforces its child labor laws through regular 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. Given the free public services that are available, primarily in the areas of health and education, a single salary at the low end of the pay scale provides a family with a decent, if Spartan, standard of living.

Many families deal with the high cost of living by earning two or more incomes. However, due to a labor shortage, the prevailing wage rates in the private sector are considerably higher than the legal minimum, and workers have little reason to accept a lower than minimum wage. In recent years there has been a growing trend for the Government to import foreign workers, primarily from India and Asia, to work in the construction and industrial fishing sector. Although it is difficult to determine the living and working conditions of these workers, there is strong empirical 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.

The legal maximum workweek varies from 45 to 52 hours, depending on the economic sector. 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 is responsible for enforcing these regulations. 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 do not visit job sites. In June two teenagers working in a large metal storage tank expressed to their employers fear of some loose metal girders falling on them but were ignored. A girder later fell on them, resulting in severe injuries requiring hospital stays of 2 months. The parents of one of the youths has filed suit in court.

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