2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Seychelles
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor|
|Publication Date||11 March 2008|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Seychelles, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47d92c23c.html [accessed 24 April 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2008
Seychelles is a multiparty republic of approximately 81,000 citizens. In July 2006 President James Michel, who assumed power in 2004 when former president France Albert Rene resigned, was elected in a process deemed credible and organized by international observers; however, there were complaints of unfair campaign practices. The president and the Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF) dominated the country through a pervasive system of political patronage and control over government jobs, contracts, and resources. The May National Assembly elections did not result in any change in the balance of power between the ruling SPPF and the opposition Seychelles National Party (SNP). International observers found the elections to be credible. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. However, the following human rights problems were reported: prolonged pretrial detention; abuse of detainees; an inefficient and politically influenced court system; restrictions on speech, press, and assembly; official corruption; violence against women and children; violations of and restrictions on labor rights; and discrimination against foreign workers.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but prison officers were accused of inhumane treatment of detainees. On July 6, Le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly reported that a prisoner was physically abused at the Montagne Posee Prison after he became involved in an argument with a prison warden. The prisoner, who had converted to Islam, had his beard shaved and was told that Muslims were not tolerated in prison. The same newspaper reported that a supreme court judge expressed concerns over the increasing number of physical abuse cases involving detainees reported in court every week.
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that police forcibly dispersed demonstrators.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Detention centers included the Grand Police High Security Prison for violent inmates and the Montagne Posee Prison for all other prisoners and those awaiting trial or sentencing. On June 23, the Grand Police High Security Prison was relocated to Montagne Posee Prison, and was the only prison in the country. Prison officials stated that staff shortages forced guards to limit prisoner time outside their cells. The new facility housed high security and other prisoners, female prisoners, as well as those on pretrial. The prison, which had a maximum capacity of 400, held 221, including 74 men in pretrial detention and 15 women.
The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups and diplomats. However, no request for prison visits was made by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The president has complete control over the security apparatus, which includes the National Guard, army, Presidential Protection Unit, Coast Guard, and police. The police commissioner, who reports to the president, commands the unarmed police and the armed paramilitary Police Mobile Unit, which together have primary responsibility for internal security. When necessary, the police were assisted by the army on matters of internal security, as police resources were limited. The Special Support Unit (SSU), a division of the police force, is responsible for crowd and riot control. Corruption remained a problem. The Enquiry Board, a police complaint office, existed but was rarely used. In practice private attorneys filed complaints or published them in the opposition party newspapers Regar and Le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly. Although human rights is included as a core precept in officer training, such training was limited in practice.
Arrest and Detention
The constitution and law provide that persons arrested must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours, with allowances made for boat travel from distant islands; however, police did not always uphold this requirement. The constitution and law also provide for detention without charge for up to seven days if authorized by court order, and police generally respected this provision. Detainees have the right to legal counsel. Free counsel is not a legal right, but courts usually provided it to the indigent. Courts provided bail for most offenses. Although warrants are required by law, police made some arrests and detentions without a warrant.
Although SNP supporters alleged that the October 2006 detention of one of its members, Roger Mancienne, was arbitrary, the police accused Mancienne of organizing an unlawful assembly.
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that police arrested demonstrators.
Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem. Prisoners often waited more than two years for trial or sentencing due to the inefficiency of the judicial system. Approximately a third of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary was inefficient and subject to executive influence. Both civil and criminal court cases generally lasted years. There were no reports of judicial corruption.
The judicial system includes magistrates' courts (or small-claims court), the Supreme (or trial) Court, the Constitution and Law Court, and the Court of Appeal.
One supreme court judge, one appeals court judge, and two magistrate court judges were citizens of the country by birth. All others were either naturalized citizens or citizens of other Commonwealth countries. The bar association criticized the government for not advertising domestically that judicial positions were available. Critics widely believed that some foreign justices bent to the will of the executive branch due to fear of deportation.
Several justices of the peace were responsible for small-claims cases, and there were allegations that many of the justices were appointed because of their affiliation with the SPPF.
An 18-member, part-time family tribunal heard and decided all matters relating to the care, custody, access, and maintenance of children, except paternity cases, which remained under the courts. The government empowered the family tribunal to offer protection orders to victims of family violence. Most members of the tribunal were not legally trained and were affiliated with the SPPF.
Defendants have the right to a fair public trial, and trials were public in practice. A magistrates' court or the Supreme Court heard criminal cases, depending on the gravity of the offense. Cases involving murder or treason use juries. Defendants were considered innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, to confront witnesses, and to appeal.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters; however, the judiciary was inefficient and subject to executive influence. There were no reports of any problems regarding enforcement of domestic court orders.
There is no institution set up to examine cases of human rights abuses. However, citizens have turned to the Ombudsman Office to investigate human rights abuses and to seek redress for other issues.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice. However, there remained widespread suspicion of government monitoring of private communication without legal process.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government did not respect these rights in practice. The law provides restrictions "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." As a result, civil lawsuits could be filed to penalize journalists for alleged libel. Journalists practiced self-censorship.
The only daily newspaper was the government-owned Nation, which adhered closely to the government's position on policy issues and gave limited attention to the opposition and news adverse to the government. There were three weekly political party newspapers; Regar, The People, and le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly.
The law allows the minister of information technology to prohibit the broadcast of any material believed to be against the "national interest" or "objectionable." The law also requires telecommunications companies to submit subscriber information to the government.
Agents of the State House Security Unit, a detachment of the army, reportedly harassed employees of Le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly on their work site. In August one agent physically assaulted the editor in public.
On August 24, the Court of Appeal overturned a supreme court conviction of libel against Regar, which had alleged in 2006 that a government official was fishing in protected waters. Regar which had closed in October 2006 due to its inability to pay the $43,730 (350,000 rupees) fine associated with the libel suit, resumed operations. At year's end no one had been charged in the 2005 arson at the Regar office, which Reporters Without Borders criticized as "politically motivated."
The government continued to own the only television station and all radio stations. The law allows for independent radio and television, but the exorbitant licensing fee of approximately $100,000 (800,000 rupees) per year discouraged the opening of any independent outlets. Following the July 2006 elections, the opposition SNP collected funds for the radio licensing fee and announced plans to apply for a license. The National Assembly subsequently passed an amendment to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Act which prevents political parties and religious groups from obtaining radio licenses. An appeal to the amendment was pending before the Constitutional Court.
During the year the president established a law and order committee in response to an October 2006 SNP demonstration against an amendment to the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Act. At the demonstration three SNP members were beaten by the SSU. One SSP member was detained and accused of organizing an unlawful assembly, according to the provisions of the Public Order Act. The Law and Order Committee, which was composed of government officials, representatives of opposition parties, and members of the clergy, recommended that the Public Order Act be amended to conform to the constitution and the country's international obligations. At year's end the Committee had not made recommendations on the amendment to the Telecommunications Act.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet; however, there were reports that the government monitored e-mail and Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups engaged in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. Internet access was widely available to and used by citizens.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government limited academic freedom so that persons could not reach senior positions in the academic bureaucracy without demonstrating at least nominal loyalty to the SPPF. The government controlled faculty appointments to the Polytechnic, the most advanced learning institution; there were no universities.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly and association; however, the government did not always respect it.
Unlike in the previous year, no demonstrations were forcibly dispersed.
No action was taken against SSU members who forcibly dispersed an October 2006 demonstration resulting in the hospitalization of an opposition leader and the editor of Regar.
Freedom of Association
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association; however, the government did not always respect this right. There were complaints that government officials intimidated and harassed civil servants who participated in opposition political party activities. These civil servants were then dismissed after the May Legislative Assembly elections.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution and law provide for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were fewer than 10 individuals in the Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2007 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. Although it was not used during the year, the law allows the government to deny passports to any citizen if the minister of defense finds that such denial is "in the national interest."
According to foreign exchange regulations, citizens could exchange only $400 (3,200 rupees) worth of foreign currency, without having to resort to the growing black market, which severely hindered their ability to pay for foreign travel.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides for the granting of refugee status or asylum in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice, the government provided protection against "refoulement," the return of persons to a country where there is reason to believe they feared persecution. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year, as the issue did not arise.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution and law provide citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in the July 2006 presidential elections and May National Assembly election, both deemed credible by international observers.
Elections and Political Participation
Approximately 87 percent of eligible voters participated in the May 10-12 National Assembly elections, resulting in no change in the balance of power between the ruling SPPF and the opposition SNP. The SPPF won 23 seats, just one seat shy of being able to amend the constitution, and the SNP retained 11 seats. International observers found the elections to be credible. Minor complaints of electoral irregularities were filed with the Electoral Commissioner.
In July 2006 approximately 88 percent of eligible voters elected incumbent and SPPF presidential candidate James Michel with 54 percent of the vote; SNP candidate Wavel Ramkalan received 45 percent, and independent candidate Philip Boulle received 1 percent. International observers characterized the electoral process as credible and well-organized despite reports that campaign and electoral practices were not fair.
The ruling SPPF, which assumed power in a 1977 coup, continued to use its political resources and those of the government to develop and maintain a nationwide organization that extended to the village level. Opposition parties have been unable to match the SPPF's organization and patronage, in part because of financial limitations.
There were reports that SPPF membership conferred advantage. Some members of opposition parties claimed that they lost their government jobs because of their political beliefs and were at a disadvantage when applying for government licenses and loans.
There were 10 women in the 34-seat National Assembly, seven elected by direct election and three by proportional representation. Following the July cabinet reshuffle, there were two women in the cabinet.
Government Corruption and Transparency
There was widespread public perception of corruption at all levels of government. The World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a problem. In particular, there were reports of rewards to SPPF supporters in the form of job assistance, land distribution, free building materials, and monetary payments. An ombudsman has legal authority to investigate and report on allegations of official fraud and corruption. He investigated 91 cases during the year involving problems such as labor law litigations, allegations of fraud and corruption, human rights abuse, and land and property litigations.
There are laws allowing public access to government information, although the government did not enforce them, and citizens routinely did not have access to such information.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A small number of international human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and one domestic human rights group, the Centre for Rights and Development (CEFRAD), generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to the views of international NGOs; however, cooperation with CEFRAD, which was perceived as being aligned with the opposition, was limited. For example, the government refused to permit CEFRAD and other local groups to observe the July 2006 presidential election as well as the legislative elections in May.
A government-run National Humanitarian Affairs Committee (NHAC) operated with a range of members from both civil society and the government. The ICRC acted as a technical adviser to the NHAC.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution and law affirm the right to be free from all types of discrimination, but do not prohibit discrimination based on specific factors. In practice there was no overt discrimination in housing, employment, education, or other social services based on race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, or disability.
Rape, spousal rape, and domestic abuse are criminal offenses punishable by a maximum 20 years' imprisonment. During the year the Family Tribunal registered 74 domestic violence complaints. The police registered 56 rape cases and four cases of attempted sexual assault. The Social Affairs Division of the Ministry of Health and Social Development and Women in Action and Solidarity Organization, a local NGO, provided counseling services to rape victims.
Domestic violence against women was a continuing problem. Police rarely intervened in domestic disputes unless it involved a weapon or major assault. The authorities often dismissed the few cases that reached a prosecutor, or the court gave the perpetrator a light sentence. There was growing societal concern about domestic violence and increased recognition of the need to address it.
Prostitution is illegal but remained prevalent. Police generally did not apprehend prostitutes unless their actions involved other crimes.
The law prohibits sexual harassment but was rarely enforced.
The society is largely matriarchal. Unwed mothers are the societal norm, and the law requires fathers to support their children. There was no officially sanctioned discrimination in employment and women were well represented in business. Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women.
The Division of Social Affairs in the Ministry of Health and Social Development worked to protect children's rights, and in practice they were somewhat effective.
The government requires children to attend school through the 10th grade and made tuition-free public education available through the secondary level until age 18. Students had to buy school uniforms but did not have to pay for books. According to government figures, all children between the ages of six and 16 attended school, and the percentages of boys and girls enrolled were roughly equal. There is a noncompulsory fifth year of secondary school. After completing secondary school, students can attend the Polytechnic School for Vocational Training, travel abroad for university studies, or go to apprenticeship or short-term work programs. Children in the apprenticeship or short-term work programs received a training stipend, which was less than the minimum wage.
Boys and girls have equal access to healthcare, which is free for all citizens.
The law prohibits physical abuse of children. Sexual abuse of children, usually perpetrated by stepfathers and older brothers, was a problem. Rape of girls under the age of 15 continued to be a problem, according to the Ministry of Health and Social Development. Authorities prosecuted very few child abuse cases in court due to lack of efficient working relations among government agencies and departments. The strongest public advocate for young victims was a semiautonomous agency, the National Council for Children.
The age of consent for marriage is 15 years. Girls were not allowed to attend school when they were pregnant, and many did not return to school after the birth of a child. Unlike in 2005 when a young girl attempted suicide to avoid a forced marriage, there were no reports of early marriage cases.
There was no report of street children.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law provide for the right of persons with disabilities to special protection, including reasonable provisions for improving the quality of life; however, there were no laws providing for access to public buildings, transportation, or state services, and the government did not provide such access for persons with disabilities. There was no discrimination reported against persons with disabilities in housing, employment, or education, or in the provision of other state services.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation or against persons with HIV/AIDS.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides workers with the right to form and join unions of their choosing; however, police, military, prison, and fire fighting personnel may not unionize. The law is silent regarding the rights of foreign or migrant workers to join a union. Some citizens were reluctant to join the non-government-sponsored labor union due to fear of government reprisal. Unions organized between 15 and 20 percent of the workforce, and the law prohibits antiunion discrimination.
The Seychelles Federation of Workers Union (SPPF-associated) is the only trade union still in operation, while the Seychelles National Trade Union (SNTU, SNP-associated) ceased operations in February. Despite the legal provisions allowing workers to form and join unions, membership in the SNTU had continued to decrease because workers feared losing their jobs. The SNTU claimed that employers did not reinstate workers fired for union activity.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law allows for unions to organize and conduct their activities without interference. The law provides workers with the right to engage in collective bargaining, but collective bargaining seldom occurred. The government has the right to review and approve all collective bargaining agreements in the public and private sectors. There was little flexibility in setting wages. In the public sector, which employed over 50 percent of the labor force, the government set mandatory wage scales for employees. The employer generally set wages in the private sector through individual agreements with the employee, but the government set wage rates in the few larger businesses.
The law authorizes the Ministry of Employment and Human Resource Development to establish and enforce employment terms, conditions, and benefits, and, in practice, workers frequently obtained recourse against their employers through the ministry.
Unions engaged in collective bargaining in the private sector; however, observers noted that private sector employers were reluctant to engage in collective bargaining.
Strikes are illegal without first exhausting arbitration procedures. Observers noted that the Industrial Relations Act provisions regarding the holding of strikes hinder unions' strike initiative. It took six months for a union to gain permission to hold a strike. Unlike the previous year, there was no report that authorities denied permission to hold a strike.
There is one export processing zone, the Seychelles International Trade Zone (SITZ), with 25 participating companies. Only the Seychelles Trade Zone Act applied in the SITZ, and the government did not require the SITZ to adhere to labor, property, tax, business, or immigration laws.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law states that the minimum age for employment is 15, "subject to exceptions for children who are employed part time in light work prescribed by law without harm to their health, morals, or education;" in practice, the government followed these requirements. It is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of $750 (6,000 rupees) to employ a child under the age of 15. The Ministry of Employment and Human Resource Development enforced child labor laws. The ministry handled such complaints within its general budget and staffing and did not report any case requiring investigation. No children were found working in the fishing, tourism, agricultural, boat building, and processing industries, as the Ministry of Education carried out regular checks to ensure that children were actually attending school.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no official private sector minimum wage. The government encouraged but did not require the private sector to grant the minimum public sector wage. The minimum public sector wage was $290 (2,325 rupees) per month as of January. Even with free public services, primarily health care and education, a single salary at the low end of the pay scale did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Private employers generally paid higher wages than the government to attract qualified workers.
The legal maximum workweek varied from 45 to 55 hours, depending on the economic sector; in practice, some workers worked up to 60 hours per week. Government employees worked fewer hours. Regulations entitled each full-time worker to a 30-minute break per day and a minimum of 21 days of paid annual leave. The government permitted workers to work overtime up to 60 additional hours per month. The government generally enforced these regulations.
Foreign workers did not enjoy the same legal protections as citizens and were employed in the construction and commercial fishing sectors. Companies sometimes paid foreign workers lower wages, forced them to work longer hours, and provided them with inadequate housing.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development has formal responsibility for drafting the government's comprehensive occupational health and safety regulations, and the ministry enforced these standards, although safety and health inspectors rarely visited job sites. Occupational injuries were most common in the construction, marine, and port industries. The law has been amended to allow workers to remove themselves from dangerous or unhealthy work situations, report the employer to the Health and Safety Commission, and seek compensation without jeopardizing their employment.