U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Mauritius
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||8 March 2006|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Mauritius , 8 March 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4418218821.html [accessed 17 September 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 8, 2006
The Republic of Mauritius is a constitutional, parliamentary democracy of approximately 1.2 million citizens governed by a prime minister, a council of ministers, and a national assembly. In the July national elections, the Social Alliance, led by Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolan, defeated the incumbent Mauritian Militant Movement (MMM)-Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) coalition in elections judged by all international and local observers to be free and fair. In October the Social Alliance also won municipal elections, reducing the strength of the opposition party. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. The following human rights problems were reported:
- police abuse of suspects and detainees
- prison overcrowding
- violence and discrimination against women
- abuse of children
- child prostitution and child labor
- some restrictions on workers in the Export Processing Zone (EPZ)
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 law prohibits such practices; however, there continued to be reports of police abuses. In September the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found three policemen guilty of brutality after they assaulted a suspect after accusing him of being a drug addict. At year's end the Disciplined Forces Service Commission was determining disciplinary action against the police officers. The NHRC received 131 complaints of police abuse, of which 33 were alleged cases of police brutality and 10 related to verbal abuse by officers. The police department Complaints Investigation Bureau (CIB) received 383 complaints, of which 128 were allegations of police brutality or abuse.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally met international standards, although there were reports of drug abuse, sex commerce, and overcrowding. The Central Prison, which has a capacity of 677, housed more than one thousand prisoners. Food, water, and medical care were available to all prisoners, and sanitation was adequate. In September authorities installed video cameras in the two Youth Rehabilitation Centers to monitor allegations of abuse. In November rioting damaged the cameras in the girl's Youth Rehabilitation Center.
In July according to press reports, rival gangs fought at Grande Riviere Prison, leading to the death of a prisoner and serious injury to two other prisoners. Paramilitary soldiers suppressed the conflict. According to the Commissioner of Prisons, 10 deaths in prison were from natural causes or HIV/AIDS-related complications. On September 11, authorities found a detainee, Ranjit Jeebodh, hanged by his vest; a police investigation continued at year's end.
Authorities separated prisoners deemed to be dangerous to the prison population and placed them in a high-security prison. Behavior of the prisoner rather than a conviction or a sentence determined prisoner placement.
The government permitted prison visits by independent observers including the press, the NHRC, diplomats, and the UN. At least one nongovernmental organization (NGO) was actively involved in rehabilitation of prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Mauritius Police Force is a national force headed by a commissioner of police who has authority over all security and police forces, including the Special Mobile Forces, a paramilitary unit that shares responsibility with police for internal security. The NHRC, an independent organization, investigates allegations of police abuses and may report such cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), an independent entity.
There were reports of police corruption in the forms of bribery and internal corruption within the force. Complaints could be filed either directly through the CIB or to the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC). The CIB received one complaint of bribery or corruption.
Arrest and Detention
The law requires that all arrested persons must be charged under warrants, read their rights, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, and brought before the local district magistrate within 48 hours; police generally respected these rights. However, in some cases police delayed suspects' access to defense counsels. Minors and those who did not know their rights were more likely not to be provided prompt access. A suspect can be detained for up to a week, after which the issue of bail is brought before a magistrate. Alternatively, with police approval, the accused may be released on bail the same day as the arrest. Individuals charged with drug trafficking may be detained for up to 36 hours without access to legal counsel or bail.
Since 2003 authorities have detained popular seggae artist Ras Natty Baby (Joseph Nicolas Emilien) on allegations of drug trafficking. Baby was known for critical social commentary in his music. At year's end he had not been charged.
There were no reports of political detainees.
Due to a backlogged court system, authorities occasionally held prisoners in remand up to three or four years before they were tried. Time served in remand did not apply to subsequent sentences. Out of the total prison population of 2,437, 865 were being held on remand.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and it was independent in practice.
The country's judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, which has appellate powers, and a series of lower courts. The Supreme Court has a chief justice and six other judges who also serve on the Court of Criminal Appeal, the Court of Civil Appeal, the Intermediate Court, the Industrial Court, and 10 district courts. Final appeal may be made to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom.
The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The DPP determines which court hears particular cases based on the severity of the crime and anticipated punishment. All crimes carrying the death penalty or life imprisonment are sent to the Supreme Court, crimes of a medium level of severity are sent to the intermediate courts, and lesser crimes are heard before district courts. Juries are only used in murder trials.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were four daily and six weekly newspapers and three private radio stations that offered diverse political viewpoints and expressed partisan views freely. The government owned and regulated the domestic television network, but international networks were available by subscription or via a cable box.
The government has the ability to counter press criticism by using strict libel laws but did not use these measures.
There were no government restrictions on the Internet or academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. During the year citizens submitted 593 applications for public gatherings; authorities denied 12 due to nonconformity with the Public Gatherings Act.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
Religious organizations and faiths present in the country prior to independence, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Presbyterian Church, the Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus, and Muslims, receive an annual lump-sum payment from the finance ministry based upon the number of adherents, as determined by a 10-year census. The Registrar of Associations registered newer religious organizations (which must have a minimum of seven members) and recognized them as legal entities with tax-free privileges. At least two individuals, missionaries from the Church of the Latter Day Saints, reported being refused work and residency permits.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Underlying tensions between various ethnic and religious groups persisted, but there were no violent confrontations during the year. In October newspapers reported that an unknown person threw a rock through the window of a Muslim primary school.
There were approximately 50 resident Jewish persons, largely expatriates, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it.
Protection of Refugees
The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government had no need to provide protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum on the grounds that the country was small, had limited resources, and did not wish to become a haven for large numbers of refugees.
The government cooperated with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in assisting refugees and asylum seekers by donating money.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
According to international and local observers, the July national elections were free and fair, with the opposition Social Alliance defeating the ruling MMM-MSM party.
There were 12 women in the 70-seat National Assembly, and there were 2 female ministers in the 20-member cabinet.
Although historically the Hindu majority dominated politics, there were no groups excluded from the political system. Authorities required candidates for the National Assembly to identify themselves with one of four distinct ethnic groupings – Hindu, Muslim, Sino-Mauritian, or general population. For these purposes, "general population" described primarily the Creole and Franco-Mauritian communities. Based on these four categories, the 70-seat National Assembly had 42 Hindus, 19 members of the general population, 8 Muslims, and 1 Sino-Mauritian. Among the 20 members of the cabinet, there were 13 Hindus, 3 Muslims, 3 general population, and 1 Sino-Mauritian.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The public perceived that corruption existed in the legislative and executive branches. The ICAC and the media were the primary outlets to report acts of corruption. The 2002 Prevention of Corruption Act regulated such complaints.
The law provided for access to government information, and the government generally complied with requests.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were often cooperative and responsive to their views.
The NHRC is composed of a commissioner, who must be a former judge of the Supreme Court, and three other members. The NHRC is authorized to investigate abuses by any public servant, but it could not investigate complaints that were already the subject of an inquiry by the DPP, the Public Service Commission, or the Disciplined Forces Service Commission. The NHRC had the authority to visit detention centers or prisons and to assess and make recommendations on conditions. The NHRC tried to resolve complaints through conciliation, but if that was unsuccessful, it could forward cases to the DPP (if criminal in nature), to the service commissions, or to the responsible authority in question.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, caste, place of origin, political opinion, color, or sex, and the government generally enforced these provisions. Some societal discrimination occurred.
The law criminalizes domestic violence and provides the judicial system with power to combat this problem; however, in practice domestic violence against women, particularly spousal abuse, was a major problem. Many victims chose not to prosecute or report their attacker, presumably due to cultural pressures. The law also criminalizes the abandonment of one's family or pregnant spouse for more than two months, the nonpayment of court-ordered food support, and sexual harassment, although many women remained in abusive situations for fear of losing spousal financial support. A magistrate can order a spouse to pay child support, but there were reports that some spouses stopped working to avoid payment.
The Sex Discrimination Division of the National Human Rights Commission received 59 complaints, of which 12 related to sex discrimination and 18 related to sexual harassment.
The law prohibited rape, including spousal rape, and the police and judicial system enforced the laws.
Prostitution is illegal, but there were reports of prostitution. There were no reports of the country as a destination for sex tourism. However, there were instances of prostitutes targeting tourists in addition to wealthy citizens. In December police uncovered a pornography and prostitution ring in the tourist areas of Trou aux Biches and Grand Baie.
Women played subordinate roles in society, and societal discrimination continued. However, women had equal access to education, employment, and government services. The new government had triple the number of women in parliament and double the number of female ministers than had its predecessor.
The Sex and Discrimination Act affords women broadly defined wage protections, and authorities generally respected the law in practice.
In the agricultural sector, the law protects women from being forced to carry loads above certain weight limits; however, managers determined remuneration by the amount that one was able to carry during a period of time. As a result, women working in agriculture were often paid less than men because they carried loads that weighed less.
The government placed strong emphasis on the health and welfare of children and displayed a commitment to expand educational opportunities for children. The Ombudsman for Children's Issues ensured that the rights, needs, and interests of children were given full consideration by government, private authorities, individuals, and associations.
During the year the Education Act increased the age of free, universal, and compulsory education from age 12 to age 16. Authorities treated girls and boys equally at the primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels. The majority of children finished secondary education. More than 90 percent of primary students attended school.
The government provided full medical care for both boys and girls.
Under the law, certain acts compromising the health, security, or morality of a child are crimes, although the government was unable to enforce complete compliance with the law. Private voluntary organizations claimed that child abuse was more widespread than was acknowledged publicly. The state-funded National Children's Council and the Ministry of Women's Rights, Family Welfare, and Child Development administered most government programs. Both provided counseling, investigated reports of child abuse, and took remedial action to protect affected children.
Child prostitution was a problem, and the government targeted the practice as a law enforcement and prevention priority. There were reports that some schoolgirls, independent of third party involvement, engaged in prostitution for spending money (see section 5, Trafficking).
Child labor occurred (see section 6.d.).
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons, and in December the legislature amended the Child Protection Act, increasing the maximum punishment for trafficking to 15 years and expanding the definition of trafficking. There were reports that children were trafficked within the country for child prostitution. There were reports that some schoolgirls worked in conjunction with prostitution rings or family members. The government continued a five-year action plan to combat child prostitution, and the Ministry of Women, Child Development, and Family Welfare ran a hotline for reporting cases of child prostitution. Government officials and agencies in the Ministry of Women's Rights, in the Attorney General's office, and in the police department sought ways to prevent and prosecute child prostitution. NGOs and the government drop-in center provided shelters, counseling, and education for victims of child prostitution.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, and the Training and Employment of Disabled Persons Board effectively enforced it. However, the law does not require that work sites be accessible to persons with disabilities, making it difficult for persons with disabilities to fill many jobs, and there is no law mandating access to buildings for persons with disabilities. However, the law requires organizations that employ more than 35 persons to set aside at least 3 percent of their positions for persons with disabilities. There were no reports of overt discrimination in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services against persons with disabilities, including mental disabilities.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law explicitly protects the right of workers to associate in trade unions, and workers exercised this right in practice. With the exception of police, the Special Mobile Force, and persons in government services who were not public officers, workers were free to form and join unions and to organize in all sectors, including in the EPZ (see section 6.b.). Approximately 350 unions represented 115 thousand workers, and 10 major labor federations served as umbrella organizations for smaller unions.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
According to the Mauritius Labor Congress (MLC), labor unions are free to conduct their activities without interference, and in practice the government protected this right. The law protects collective bargaining, and workers exercised this right. The National Remuneration Board (NRB), whose chairman was appointed by the minister of labor, set minimum wages for nonmanagerial workers, although most unions negotiated wages higher than those set by the NRB. There were no cases in which unions' activities were prohibited or limited by the government.
The law provides for the right to strike, but the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) requires a 21-day cooling-off period followed by binding arbitration; in practice, this made most strikes illegal. The government has 21 days to respond to any labor dispute and refer it to either the Permanent Arbitrary Tribunal or to the Industrial Relations Commission. If the government does not respond within 21 days, the proposed strike can be carried out. The IRA states that worker participation in an unlawful strike is sufficient grounds for dismissal, but workers may seek remedy in court if they believe that their dismissals are unjustified. The IRA grants the prime minister the prerogative to declare any strike illegal if he considers that it "imperils the economy."
Since foreign workers often did not speak English, French, or Creole, it was difficult for them to demand their rights, which were the same as those of citizen employees. Those who participated in strikes faced the possibility of deportation. Authorities deported illegal foreign workers when they could be identified.
National labor laws cover EPZ workers, although unions had organized only 10 percent of EPZ workers. There are some EPZ-specific labor laws, including the provision for 10 hours per week of mandatory paid overtime at a higher wage than for ordinary working hours. Some employers reportedly established employer-controlled work councils for EPZ workers, effectively blocking union efforts to organize at the enterprise level. Approximately 70 thousand persons worked in the EPZ.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports that such practices occurred (see section 5).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the employment of children under age 15 and limits employment by youth between ages 15 and 18. While the government generally respected this law in practice, child labor occurred. According to the law, the penalties for employing a child are a fine of no more than approximately $72 (2,200 rupees) and a term of imprisonment not to exceed one year.
The law makes education compulsory for children up to the age of 16, reducing instances of child labor. Child labor in homes, on farms, and in shops decreased on the island of Rodrigues, and, although the Child Development Unit actively investigated allegations of child labor there, the labor ministry received no cases.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for the enforcement of child labor laws and in practice effectively conducted frequent inspections. The ministry employed 45 inspectors to investigate all reports of labor abuses, including those of child labor. There were 19 child labor cases reported within the year.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The government administratively established minimum wages, which varied according to the sector of employment, and mandated that the minimum wage rise each year based on the inflation rate. The minimum wage for an unskilled worker in the EPZ was approximately $17 (492 rupees) per week, while the minimum wage for an unskilled factory worker outside the EPZ was approximately $22 (644 rupees) per week. These wages did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, but the actual market wage for most workers was much higher due to a labor shortage and collective bargaining. In July minimum wages for employees earning less than approximately $93 (2,700 rupees) increased by approximately $6 (170 rupees) per month.
The standard legal workweek in the industrial sector was 45 hours. According to the MLC, 10 hours of overtime a week is mandatory at certain textile factories in the EPZ (see section 6.b.) In accordance with the Labor Act, no worker is bound to work more than eight hours a day, six days a week. Those who work more than their stipulated hours must be remunerated at one and a half times the normal salary. Those who work during their stipulated hours on public holidays are remunerated at double their normal salary. For industrial positions, workers are not permitted to work more than 10 hours a day. If the worker has worked up to or past 10 p.m., the employer cannot require work to resume until at least 11 hours has lapsed. These standards were generally enforced.
The government set health and safety standards, and ministry of labor officials inspected working conditions; however, the small number of inspectors limited the government's enforcement ability. Inspections were announced and unannounced. Voluntary employer compliance with safety regulations helped reduce the number of occupational accidents, with the ministry reporting a general trend downward in the number of industrial accidents over the past 10 years. In 2004 authorities reported 3,431 industrial accidents. From January to April, authorities reported 765 industrial accidents. Workers had the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardizing their continued employment, and they did so in practice.