|Publisher||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||1 May 1991|
|Cite as||Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Update, 1 May 1991, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8640.html [accessed 29 January 2015]|
The trend towards democracy in Africa has also reached Seychelles. Faced with strong pressure from both inside and outside the country, the militant Seychelles People's Progressive Front (SPPF), the only legally-recognized political party, decided in December 1991 to restore the multiparty system (Le Nouvel Afrique Asie Feb. 1992, 24; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 7 Dec. 1991). Three main factors influenced this decision: the collapse of communism, which ended the Cold War and the strategic importance of this region; President Mitterrand's La Baule speech, which tied aid from France to a return to democracy (Le Monde 7 Jan. 1992); and the economic effects of the Gulf War on Seychelles, which no longer benefits from the preferential oil supply tariff (20 percent less than the market price) and which in 1991 experienced a 60 percent drop in revenues from tourism, a sector that accounts for almost 30 percent of the gross national product (The Financial Times 12 Feb. 1992).
This former British colony, situated in the Indian Ocean northeast of Madagascar, became independent in June 1976 (La grande encyclopédie 1987, 5100). In 1977, the elected President of the Republic, James Mancham, was overthrown in a coup staged by then Prime Minister France-Albert René. One year later the SPPF became the archipelago's only legal party. Under the 1979 Constitution, power is concentrated in the hands of the President, who is concurrently head of state, government and the armed forces (Ibid.).
Since 1 January 1992, political parties may be formed, provided that they have "a leader, a program and a minimum of 100 members" (Le Nouvel Afrique Asie Feb. 1992, 24). At least three parties have been accredited since then (BBC Summary 12 Feb. 1992).
The process of democratization will be carried out in three stages: a constitutional commission will be elected by proportional representation in July 1992 (Le Monde 7 Jan. 1992; Le Nouvel Afrique Asie Feb. 1992, 24); a new constitution, to be drafted by parties which obtain at least five per cent of the vote, will be submitted to a national referendum (Le Monde 7 Jan. 1992); and general elections for a new government will be held at the end of the year (Ibid.). President René has offered certain guarantees, including the presence of Commonwealth observers to supervise the holding of the elections and referendum (Ibid.; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 7 Dec. 1991).
2. SEYCHELLES UNDER ONE-PARTY RULE
An article in Jeune Afrique reports that, since taking power, President René has clearly demonstrated his leaning toward socialism by nationalizing land and collectivizing agriculture (4-10 Sept. 1991, 28). The same article claims that, despite economic hardship,
Not one Seychellois suffers from hunger or lacks shelter. The
health care system uses modern, sophisticated equipment, the phone system works and the roads are in good repair (Ibid.).
The opposition has never disputed the achievements of the René government in the area of social development, and particularly housing, health and education (Le Monde 7 Jan. 1992). The per capita gross national product in Seychelles, estimated at US$5,000, surpasses that of some European countries, including Portugal (Ibid.).
The political system is essentially authoritarian socialism and leaves no room for freedom of expression. The one-party system put in place by President Albert René has been responsible for such human rights violations as arbitrary arrest of opponents, muzzling of the press and banning of all forms of opposition to the regime (Country Reports 1991 1992, 327).
From the age of 15, young Seychellois are "encouraged" to participate for two years in the National Youth Service (NYS) (Le Nouvel Observateur 26 Mar.-1 Apr. 1992, 46). Access to higher education or to a government job depends on success in this training programme (External Affairs 9 Mar. 1992, 3). The Catholic Church, long considered an opposition force, has had frequent quarrels with the Seychelles government. In December 1990, Reverend Wavel Ramkalawan, whose sermons had strongly criticized President René's regime, was "banned from the airwaves" (La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 15 Dec. 1990, 4). In a June 1991 editorial in the Church's monthly, Father Giulio went even further, stating that the coming to power of the René government was part of a "communist plan" leading straight to the establishment of a "totalitarian regime." Moreover, he characterized the celebrations marking the anniversary of the 5 June 1977 coup as a "funeral of freedom" (La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 8 June 1991).
During the 14-year one-party regime of President René, Seychellois who wished to denounce or oppose this totalitarian system faced exile (Jeune Afrique 4-10 Sept. 1991, 29). Approximately 6,700 people, or 10 percent of the archipelago's population, have fled the country since the regime was installed (The Washington Times 23 Mar. 1992). According to Sir James Mancham, former President of Seychelles, these "years of dictatorship" have prompted the exodus of 80 percent of the country's intelligentsia (Reuters 12 Jan. 1992). However, the opposition in exile remains divided and appears to suffer from the lack of a charismatic leader to mobilize its energies (Jeune Afrique 4-10 Sept. 1991, 29). Faced with the SPPF's power and experience, the opposition parties have only a slim chance of forming a new government after the next elections.
3. CURRENT HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION
The Seychelles Constitution, in force since 1979, contains no specific provisions governing human rights. The issue is merely touched upon in the preamble, which guarantees certain rights and freedoms to each citizen (Country Reports 1991 1992, 327).
According to Country Reports 1991, opposition movements were still not allowed in Seychelles in 1991 (1992, 327). Only late in the year, at the special congress held on 4 December, did the SPPF institute a pluralistic political system, which should come into effect in January 1992 (La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 7 Dec. 1991).
The President can invoke the 1978 Public Security Act to order indefinite detention of persons constituting a threat to public security (Country Reports 1991 1992, 327). This Act has reportedly been used to intimidate government opponents. The authorities are said to have arrested and detained several people for circulating anti-government tracts, and there are also reports that security forces have harassed or used force against individuals suspected of supporting a new underground political party (Ibid., 327-28).
Twice in April 1991, dissident Jean-François Ferrari was reportedly arrested and assaulted by security forces while distributing documents supporting democracy and a multiparty system. Shortly thereafter, on 4 July 1991, he was attacked by two individuals apparently working for the security forces (Country Reports 1991 1992, 328; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 13 Apr. 1991, 2).
Amnesty International has reported the case of Frank Kilindo, who is said to have been arrested and detained on 17 May 1991 for distributing the literature of a new political group, the Seselwa Party (Seychellois Party). He was apparently imprisoned in the Mahé military police prison and denied access to his lawyer (Amnesty International Urgent Action 12 June 1991; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 25 May 1991). Living conditions in the prison are harsh: prisoners must perform hard labour, and unco-operative inmates may be subjected to corporal punishment or solitary confinement (Country Reports 1991 1992, 328). Frank Kilindo was released on 14 June 1991, after being detained for three weeks in this maximum security facility (Amnesty International Urgent Action 14 June 1991).
According to Country Reports 1991, there were only a small number of politically motivated detentions in 1991. In the above two cases, the persons in question were reportedly arrested and detained under the Penal Code and the Public Security Act (1992, 328-29). However, according to External Affairs Canada, attorneys have excellent access to detainees and can readily ascertain whether the police are conducting an active investigation (External Affairs 9 Mar. 1992, 2).
A letter from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) states that information currently available at the UN's documentation centre in Geneva confirms the existence of opposition parties in exile, but adds that the information does not refer to the repression of political opponents (UNHCR 30 Mar. 1992). However, Seychellois sometimes claim refugee status in Kenya and Tanzania on the grounds of "harassment for belonging to an opposition network or expressing anti-government political opinions" (Ibid.).
On 15 February 1992, Michael Scheele, Seychelles' honorary consul in Munich from 1978 to 1987, was reportedly detained for several hours upon his arrival on Mahé. A few hours later, following the signing of a petition by the German consul and two Seychelles bishops, President René ordered Scheele's interim release. The next day, he was deported to Mauritius (The Indian Ocean Newsletter 22 Feb. 1992, 2).
4. EXIT AND RETURN
According to the U.S. Department of State's Country Reports 1991, there are no restrictions on internal travel. In the past, citizens could also obtain passports without difficulty (1992, 331).
On 12 March 1991, however, the People's Assembly replaced the 1976 Passport Act with a new Passport Act. Under the new Act, the government may refuse to issue a passport to, or renew the passport of, "any person in debt to the State or having some other obligation towards the government," and may also refuse "by invoking the national interest" (La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 5 Jan. 1991, 5; Country Reports 1991 1992, 331). Under this new Act, "the courts will no longer have the right to receive the evidence of a complainant or rule on a refusal by the administration to issue or renew a passport" (La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 5 Jan. 1991; 16 Mar. 1991). The law was introduced in the People's Assembly shortly after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of an opponent in exile who was contesting the government's refusal to renew her passport (Country Reports 1991 1992, 331; La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 16 Mar. 1991).
During the fourteen years of one-party rule, a large number of dissidents chose exile as an alternative to President René's regime. At the end of the special congress in December 1991, the President declared that all exiles were free to return if they gave up their claims for political asylum abroad, asked Seychelles authorities to return their passports, and withdrew the accusations they had levelled at the government to justify their asylum requests in certain countries (La Lettre de l'Océan Indien 2 Nov. 1991).
Dr. Maxime Ferrari, president of the Rassemblement du peuple seychellois pour la démocratie (RPSD), opened a party information office in Paris "to echo the struggle for democracy in Seychelles" (Jeune Afrique 19-25 June 1991). He has now returned to the country after seven years in exile (Jeune Afrique 4-10 Sept. 1991). James Mancham, who was exiled in London, did not want to return without certain guarantees, including air time on radio and television (Le Nouvel Afrique Asie Feb. 1992). He arrived on Mahé on 12 April 1992, accompanied by bodyguards (The Toronto Star 14 Apr. 1992).
Since the collapse of the communist bloc, countries under one-party rule are increasingly isolated at the international level. Moreover, the threat to cut off international aid has been the decisive factor prompting certain economically dependent countries to turn to democracy. Seychelles is one such country. It has experienced increasing economic difficulties since the recent reduction of foreign aid, and discontent is evident at all levels of society (Jeune Afrique 4-10 Sept. 1991).
In this context, it is difficult to determine whether these political changes will have any lasting effects on the political system. At present, it is unclear whether the "national interest" can still be invoked to silence an opposition that is already fairly divided, whether the new Passport Act, passed barely a year ago, will be repealed, and whether the detention camps will all be closed. Furthermore, no one knows what will become of media ownership and access. Reverend Ramkalawan has denounced the "unjust conditions" imposed on the opposition, condemning in particular the authorities' control over the media (Indian Ocean Newsletter 15 Feb. 1992). In short, there is no way to predict how the transition to democracy will occur.
The main problem of democratization in Seychelles remains the divisions within the opposition. Given the political inexperience of its militants, its lack of access to the media and its underfunding, the opposition's influence remains limited, at least for the time being. Its greatest weakness is that it operates from abroad. Will the opposition be welcomed by the people of Seychelles? Will its leaders be able to enter the country without difficulty? The true strength of the opposition parties, which do not yet have a strong political base in the country, will no doubt be revealed by the 1992 referendum on the Constitution. It remains to be seen whether this move towards democracy will be sufficient to re-establish the confidence necessary for the resumption of foreign aid and investment, which, in the past, helped to make Seychelles a prosperous archipelago.
The Financial Times [London]. 12 February 1992. George Graham. "Seychelles Happy to Reach UN Needy List." (NEXIS)
La grande encyclopédie du monde. 1987. Vol. 11. Montréal: Éditions Atlas Canada Ltée.
The Indian Ocean Newsletter [Paris]. 22 February 1992. "Seychelles: The Difficult Steps to Democracy."
The Indian Ocean Newsletter [Paris]. 15 February 1992. "Opposition Leaders Moving into Gear."
Jeune Afrique [Paris]. 4-10 September 1991. Frédéric Dorce. "La contagion démocratique."
Jeune Afrique [Paris]. 19-25 June 1991. "Maxime Ferrari : président des Seychelles."
La Lettre de l'Océan Indien [Paris]. 7 December 1991. "Seychelles : Albert René opte pour le pluralisme."
La Lettre de l'Océan Indien [Paris]. 2 November 1991. "Seychelles : Conditions au retour des exilés."
La Lettre de l'Océan Indien [Paris]. 8 June 1991. "Seychelles : Acculé au changement?"
La Lettre de l'Océan Indien [Paris]. 25 May 1991. "Seychelles : Apparition d'un parti clandestin."
La Lettre de l'Océan Indien [Paris]. 13 April 1991. "Seychelles : Maintien du parti unique."
La Lettre de l'Océan Indien [Paris]. 16 March 1991. "Seychelles : Vote de la loi sur la délivrance des passeports."
La Lettre de l'Océan Indien [Paris]. 5 January 1991. "Seychelles : Nouvelle loi sur la délivrance des passeports."
La Lettre de l'Océan Indien [Paris]. 15 December 1990. "Seychelles : Querelles entre l'Église et le gouvernement."
Le Monde [Paris]. 7 January 1992. Jean-Pierre Langellier. "Vent de démocratie aux Seychelles."
Le Nouvel Afrique Asie [Paris]. February 1992. "Seychelles : L'ouverture."
Le Nouvel Observateur [Paris]. 26 March-1 April 1992. "Marx va mourir aux Seychelles."
Reuters. 12 January 1992. BC Cycle. "Former Seychelles President Cautious on Promised Reforms." (NEXIS)
The Toronto Star. 14 April 1992. "Exiled Ex-president Returns to Seychelles."
United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). 30 March 1992. Letter to IRBDC.
The Washington Times. 23 March 1992. "US Influence: The Future of the Seychelles." (NEXIS)