U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Gabon
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Gabon, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa423c.html [accessed 21 September 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
GABONA one-party state until 1990, Gabon held its first multiparty elections in 1991, with President Omar Bongo's party retaining a large majority in the National Assembly. President Bongo, in office since 1967, was reelected in 1993 in an election marred by serious irregularities. After several months of contention and civil unrest, political parties supporting the President and the principal opposition parties negotiated in October 1994 the "Paris Accords." These agreements included promises of reforms to amend electoral procedures, to include opposition leaders in government, and to assure greater respect for human rights. These were approved by a national referendum in July 1995. Opposition parties won disorganized municipal elections in the capital in October and November, while in December parties supporting the President won more than two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly in poorly run, fraudulent elections. Regional councils later elected 91 members of the new national Senate, more than half of whom represent the President's party. The judiciary is independent but remains vulnerable to government manipulation. The national police and the gendarmerie enforce the law and maintain public security. In conformity with the Paris Accords, the National Assembly reassigned authority over these security forces from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of the Interior and redesignated as the "Republican Guard," an elite, heavily armed corps that protects the President. In 1994 the Defense Minister used this corps for violent repression of public dissent; there have been no reported incidents since that time. Security forces on occasion beat persons in custody. The Government generally adheres to free market principles, particularly in the export sector, in which trade is dominated by petroleum, timber, and minerals. A majority of workers in the formal sector are employed by the Government or by large, inefficient, state-owned organizations, although the country did make progress in 1997 toward its privatization goals. Per capita income is approximately $4,600 annually, and income distribution is badly skewed in favor of urban dwellers and a small economic elite. Immigrants from other African countries dominate the informal sector. The rural population is poor and receives few social services. Financial mismanagement and corruption have resulted in significant arrears in domestic and external debt. The Government continued to meet most of its structural adjustment performance goals. The Government generally respected the rights of its citizens in many areas; however, longstanding human rights abuses continued. The security forces beat and tortured prisoners and detainees, and prison conditions remained abysmal. Societal discrimination and violence against women, and exploitation of expatriate children as domestic and agricultural workers remained problems.