U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Benin
|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 - Benin, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1f1c.html [accessed 21 September 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
BENINThe Republic of Benin is a constitutional democracy headed by President Mathieu Kerekou, who was inaugurated on April 4, 1996, after elections generally viewed as free and fair. President Kerekou, who ruled Benin as a Socialist military dictator from 1972-1989, succeeded his democratically elected predecessor and continued the civilian, democratic rule begun in the 1990-1991 constitutional process that ended his previous reign. There are 18 political parties represented in the unicameral, 82-member National Assembly; no party or political grouping commands a majority of seats. The Government respects the constitutional provision for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary is inefficient and susceptible to corruption. The civilian-controlled security forces consist of the armed forces, headed by a Minister Delegate for Defense Matters in the office of the President, and the police force under the Interior Minister. The two Ministers also share authority over the gendarmerie, which exercises police functions in rural areas. The armed forces continued to play an apolitical role in government affairs despite concerns about morale within its ranks and its ethnic imbalance. An extremely poor country with average yearly per capita income below $450, the economy is based largely on subsistence agriculture, cotton production, regional trade (including transshipment of goods to neighboring countries), and small-scale offshore oil production. The port of Cotonou serves as a major conduit for goods entering neighboring Nigeria legally and illegally. The new Administration continued, and in some cases stepped up, the austerity program begun by its predecessor; privatized state-owned enterprises; reduced fiscal expenditures; and deregulated trade. In spite of its bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, high debt servicing costs, and widespread unemployment, Benin's economic recovery continues under liberal economic policies instituted since the return to democracy. Inflation in 1997 was less than 3 percent with real growth estimated at between 5 and 6 percent. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. The major human rights problems continued to be the failure by police forces to curtail acts of vigilantism and mob justice; serious administrative delays in processing ordinary criminal cases with attendant denial of timely, fair trials; judicial corruption; harsh and unhealthy prison conditions; societal discrimination and violence against women; and the trafficking in and abuse of children. The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is also a problem. The Constitutional Court continued to demonstrate independence. In one high-profile case, it struck down provisions of the new media law as unconstitutional.