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

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 - Seychelles, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4f34.html [accessed 30 October 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.
 

In June 1993, 73 percent of voters approved a new Constitution providing for a multiparty system of government, after an open bipartisan drafting process. Both the Seychelles People's Progressive Party (SPPF) of President France Albert Rene and the Democratic Party (DP) of former President James Mancham campaigned actively for the Constitution's adoption. Presidential and national assembly elections, which were judged free and fair by national and international observers, were held on July 23, the first such multiparty elections since Rene came to power in a June 1977 military coup.

Rene's party decisively defeated the opposition parties, with only one opposition candidate from the DP gaining a directly elected seat in the National Assembly. Due to an additional number of seats distributed on the basis of the percentage of the total vote, the final composition of the National Assembly was 27 SPPF members and 8 opposition members.

The security forces, including about 400 Army personnel, a National Guard of undisclosed confidential size, and the armed "Police Mobile Unit" of 95 officers, have close ties to the ruling party.

Although private enterprise and private property are permitted, the public and quasi-public sectors drive the economy. The Government, through the Seychelles Marketing Board, other state organizations, and the use of banking regulations, controls the importation, licensing, and distribution of virtually all goods and services and exercises significant control over all phases of the economy. Tourism is the most important sector, directly accounting for over 10 percent of the gross domestic product.

In 1993 Seychelles made substantial progress in respecting the rights of its citizens. The Government became responsive to human rights issues and placed considerable political effort into reforming governmental institutions to accord with international standards of human rights practice. One remaining problem is an excessively legislated regard for the "privacy" of public figures, which serves as a veiled threat to press freedom.

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 such killings in 1993.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance.

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

The Constitution expressly forbids torture, and in 1993 this prohibition was respected in practice. There was one instance of police brutality in late 1993 when the police beat up a imprisoned juvenile offender. At year's end an investigation was in progress. There was also one abuse of deadly force, when police officers, mistaking a passer-by for an escaped convict, shot at his car and severely wounded him. The policemen were subsequently jailed.

Living conditions at Police Bay prison are Spartan. Access to the facility is limited. SPPF and opposition members of the committee drafting the Constitution were allowed to visit the prison in 1993, and both delegations expressed satisfaction with conditions there. Family visitation is allowed on a weekly basis, and prisoners are allowed access to reading materials.

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 in practice 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 can effectively seek judicial review of the legality of detention. Bail is available in most cases, as is free legal counsel for indigents. Defense attorneys have ready access to detainees.

The new Constitution guarantees that "every person has a right to liberty and security of the person," to privacy, to freedom of conscience, and to freedom of expression. However, the Constitution allows the curtailment of the right to freedom of expression "for protecting the reputation, rights, and freedoms of private lives of persons."

In 1992 most dissidents who desired to return to Seychelles, including former President Mancham, returned from exile.

In late 1992 and again in 1993, President Rene pledged to reexamine land acquisition cases of individuals whose lands were not used by the Government after being expropriated. Cases were taken up by the court in 1993. No final dispositions were made by year's end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system is patterned on English common law (e.g., public trial by jury) but influenced by the Napoleonic Code, particularly in civil matters (e.g., torts and contracts). The judiciary includes the Magistrate's (or small claims) Court, the Supreme (or trial) Court, and the Court of Appeals. Criminal cases are heard by a magistrate or by the Supreme Court, depending on the gravity of the offense. A jury is called only in cases of murder or treason. Trials are public, and the State bears the burden of proving the defendant's guilt. The defendant has the right to be present at the trial, to confront witnesses, and to appeal. Indigent defendants are provided free legal counsel.

The Constitutional Commission lauded the principle of an independent judiciary. However, under certain conditions the mechanism set up for judicial appointments, the Constitutional Appointments Authority (CAA), allows the ruling party to control appointments.

Participants in President Rene's 1977 coup d'etat and high government officials (and those related to them) are generally shielded from prosecution by the judicial system. In addition, an investigation by an opposition paper indicated that, on at least one occasion, President Rene intervened with the chairman of the CAA in order to expedite a case of personal interest before the courts.

Seychelles law requires that a member of the armed forces be tried by court-martial unless the President decrees otherwise. In the past, this allowed criminals with military ties to protect themselves from prosecution for offenses committed against civilians. In 1993 there were no reported cases of abuses by military personnel, although the failure of the Government aggressively to pursue criminal charges against the brother of a high-ranking Coast Guard official raised questions about governmental resolve in prosecuting family members of the political and military establishment.

In 1993 there were no political detainees or prisoners.

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

The new Constitution provides for a wide variety of individual, family, and home protections, and establishes a series of fundamental rights which are largely inalienable, including the "right to liberty and security of the person" and to privacy.

Under the previous Constitution, which was law until mid-1993, the authorities had broad powers for search and seizure without a warrant and used this authority to suppress dissenting opinion. In early 1993, the Government harassed a resident foreigner married to a Seychellois for allegedly supporting the Democratic Party. After the foreigner proved that he was not involved in politics, he was allowed to continue to work and reside in Seychelles. The Government could also legally open domestic and international mail, but this practice appears to have ended with the advent of the new Constitution.

Responding to public opinion, the Government in 1993 abolished the requirement that all students applying to the Polytechnic, Seychelles' most prestigious learning institution, attend National Youth Service (NYS). NYS is a year-long paramilitary, political, and social training program run by SPPF partisans who attempt to indoctrinate the young to support the Rene regime.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Guarantees of freedom of speech as provided for under the new Constitution were respected. However, the Constitution allows the curtailment of the right to freedom of expression "for protecting the reputation, rights, and freedoms of private lives of persons." Thus, freedom of speech and press is constrained by the legal ease with which journalists can be penalized for alleged libel through civil law suits. Certain subjects, such as high-level corruption, remain largely taboo.

The Ministry of Information publishes the only local daily newspaper, The Nation, which presents the news with a government bias and does not publish independent viewpoints on political matters. Despite oblique threats from the Minister of Communications, criticism of the President (including innuendo regarding corruption) was widely seen in political posters and carried in the opposition press, including Regar and the Seychelles Weekly (former President Mancham's newspaper). The Catholic Church published a monthly magazine, Echo des Iles, which often ran editorials and letters criticizing the Government. International political journals and general interest magazines (except those with nudity) are imported without hindrance.

Through an independent, bipartisan Board of Directors endorsed by the leader of the opposition, the Government controls all local radio and television broadcasting. The meetings of the Constitutional Commission prior to the June referendum were televised daily for many weeks, and fierce criticism of the Government's position was routinely heard.

However, towards the end of 1993 some observers noted a subtle chilling of the move towards a more objective media, and it appeared that state-owned radio and television were discreetly adopting a less critical, more partisan tone in their news stories. The Government determined that any attempt to import satellite antennas capable of receiving international broadcasts would have to be approved on a case-by-case basis and expensively licensed.

All films shown, rented, or sold in Seychelles must be approved by the National Censorship Board. This is increasingly a rubberstamp process, although government laws restrict the distribution of pornography.

There are no universities in Seychelles; higher education is generally limited to practical training and vocational school. Faculty members are largely apolitical, as most opponents of the Rene regime fled abroad during the worst period of oppression. Most of these opponents have not returned, and the current teachers are generally either politically silent or supportive of the party in power.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association were honored in 1993. The Government tolerated opposition parties and organizations and permitted political demonstrations and meetings. Political parties planning to hold rallies are required to submit notice to the police beforehand; there were no known denials of rallies in 1993.

c. Freedom of Religion

There is no religious persecution in Seychelles, and church services are widely attended. The Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other Christian denominations worship freely, and Muslims and Hindus are not restricted in their religious practices. The Government routinely approves local church requests to bring in foreign missionaries, provided that they are working solely to preach a religious message. The Government does not accept, however, missionaries who apply to come as social workers, family counselors, or Sunday school teachers. Roman Catholics make up about 90 percent of the population, and Anglicans account for another 5 percent. There are also active and growing Pentecostal, Seventh-Day Adventist, and other evangelical Protestant churches.

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

The 1991 Passport Act allowed the Government to deny passport services to any Seychellois citizen if the Minister of Defense found this in "the national interest." The new Constitution, however, expressly guarantees the right of freedom of movement to Seychelles citizens. There were no known asylum requests in 1993.

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

Although in 1993 President Rene and the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) continued to dominate the political process, Seychellois exercised their right to change their government in the June 1993 referendum on the Constitution and the July 1993 national assembly and presidential elections. These were held by international and national observers to have been free and fair. While the Government continued to be heavily dominated by a single party, this domination reflected the party's considerable popularity, as well as the Government's pervasive influence on employment and housing opportunities. Under laws passed under the authority of the new Constitution, the "Leader of the Opposition," James Mancham, was made a government employee with official status, a salary, financial allowances, and an annual gratuity.

There are no legal restrictions against the participation of women or minority groups in politics. 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. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Tourism are women, and there are women in other high positions. The Geneva-based Inter- Parliamentary Union cited Seychelles as having the world's highest percentage of female representation in its Parliament (at 45.8 percent of the total delegates).

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 in Seychelles. However, the churches have been strong voices for human rights and democratization. They and other organizations critical of the Government have not been harassed by the Government for their activities.

Requests for information from foreign organizations are sent to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who acts as an interlocutor between human rights groups and the Government. There were no known international requests for investigations in 1993.

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

There is no overt discrimination in housing, employment, education, or other social services based on sex or racial, ethnic, national, or religious identification.

Women

Women have the same legal, political, economic, and social rights as men. There are female government ministers, businesspeople, doctors, and attorneys.

Violence against women, particularly wife beating, occurs, but according to medical personnel, is not widespread and not tolerated by the Government or the courts. Women frequently use a procedure providing for a bond "to keep the peace" of up to $200 on someone using or threatening violence. Married women may easily obtain exclusion orders against abusive husbands and frequently do. Violence against women, whether domestic or otherwise, is considered assault and is subject to criminal prosecution. Police have no hesitation in intervening in domestic disputes in which violence has occurred or is threatened.

Children

Children in Seychelles are protected from labor abuse by law, and are required to attend school. Children are also protected from abusive parents by legislation.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There is a historical educational gap between Creoles (Seychellois of African origin) and Seychellois of white and 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 and Asian. The Government is attempting to close this gap through universal access to public education. Empirical evidence suggests that this gap is gradually closing, and that increasing numbers of young Creoles are receiving higher education.

People with Disabilities

People with disabilities are not discriminated against either de facto or de jure in housing, jobs, or education. There is no legislation guaranteeing universal access to public buildings.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

As a result of the new Trade Union Industrial Act passed by the National Assembly in November 1993, Seychellois workers now have the right to form and join unions of their own choosing. However, the Act limits unions' ability to organize on a large scale so that they cannot become competitors of the government- run National Workers' Union (NWU), formerly the only legal union. The Government is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has ratified ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association.

Under the law in place for most of 1993, all workers (except for some temporary workers) had to belong to the National Workers Union (NWU), and a percentage of their social security contributions financed the NWU. The SPPF still controls the NWU's funds and appoints its leaders. The NWU sought to coerce Seychelles employers to sign closed shop agreements. Furthermore, strikes were illegal unless approved in advance by the SPPF Central Committee. The only strike in 1993 was a brief action in November by Indian contract workers protesting that their contract violated Seychelles' labor laws. It ended when the Government decreed that their employer was exempt from these laws and threatened to deport the workers.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

With only one party-dominated union confederation permitted, there were serious limitations on workers' rights to organize for most of 1993. Following the passage of the Trade Union Industrial Act, other unions were permitted, but the NWU retained a dominant position due to the character of the legislation (see above). One independent union formed in late 1993.

The NMW Constitution calls for union members to be protected "from victimization in the carrying out of legitimate trade union activity" and requires its executive board to investigate shop steward dismissals to ensure that the dismissals are not based on union-related activities. In the event of a disagreement between the NWU and a company over a shop steward's dismissal, the SPPF would make the final determination.

Free collective bargaining is not practiced in Seychelles. The Government has the right to review and approve all collective bargaining agreements from the public and private sectors. There is little flexibility in the setting of wages. The Government and state-owned companies, which employ about 70 percent of the labor force, have mandatory wage scales for their employees, based on job classification. Most private employers run very small establishments, and wages in the private sector are generally set by individual agreements between employer and employee; however, in the few larger businesses where collective bargaining is used, wage scales are subject to the Government's right of review and approval.

In practice, private employers often follow public sector wage scales when setting salary levels, although they frequently pay more than the Government in order to attract qualified workers. The Employment Act of 1985, Seychelles' basic labor law, vests the Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs with authority to establish and enforce employment terms, conditions, and benefits. Workers have frequently obtained recourse against their employers through the Ministry. Although amendments passed in 1990 resulted in a modest simpli- fication and liberalization of the basic labor law, they did not significantly modify the Governments' dominant role in setting terms and conditions of employment.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law and 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 (NYS) before entering the work force at the age of 18 or the Polytechnic School for Vocational Training, and it discourages public or private sector employment of workers under 18 years of age. The Government offers voluntary short-term (up to 6 months) work programs for school leavers not participating 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, administratively regulated by the Government, which covers the public and parastatal (state-owned) sectors and differentiates among various job classifications. 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 Seychelles' high cost of living by earning two or more incomes. The Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs enforces minimum wage regulations. The official minimum wage is about $120 (600 Seychelles Rupees) a month. 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 Seychelles labor laws are routinely flouted by their employers, with government knowledge (see Section 6. a.). These workers are paid lower wages and forced to work longer hours than Seychellois.

The legal maximum workweek varies from 25 to 40 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 enforces these ceilings, though it is possible that occasional abuses occur. 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. Inspectors enforce safety standards through regular workplace visits, and the Government protects the identity of workers who complain of hazardous conditions. Occupational injuries are most common in the construction and marine and port industries.

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