Vanuatu

Free
82
100
PR Political Rights 33 40
CL Civil Liberties 49 60
Last Year's Score & Status
82 100 Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

While regular multiparty elections have taken place since 1992, Togo’s politics have been controlled since 1963 by the late Gnassingbé Eyadéma and his son, current president Faure Gnassingbé. Advantages including security services dominated by the president’s ethnic group and malapportioned election districts have helped Gnassingbé and his party retain power. Opposition calls for constitutional and electoral reforms have been harshly repressed for years.

header2 Key Developments in 2020

  • President Gnassingbé secured a fourth term in a February election, but the political opposition rejected the official results, alleging fraud. Agbéyomé Kodjo, the main opposition candidate, was arrested in April along with multiple members of his party after he claimed to be the legitimate president. He subsequently went into hiding.
  • Beginning in March, the government adopted temporary measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including international travel restrictions, curfews, and a ban on large gatherings. Some of the rules remained in place through the end of the year, by which time about 3,600 confirmed cases and nearly 70 deaths had been reported.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 3.003 4.004

The president, who serves as head of state and holds most executive power, is elected for five-year terms. The president appoints the prime minister, who serves as head of government. Presidential term limits were eliminated in 2002, then restored through a constitutional amendment in 2019; they did not apply retroactively, meaning the incumbent could seek two additional terms. The two-round presidential election system, requiring a runoff if no candidate wins a majority in the first round, was also restored.

Faure Gnassingbé—who was initially installed as president by the military after the death of his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, in 2005—secured a fourth term in the February 2020 election, credited with 71 percent of the vote in the first round against six challengers. Permits for domestic civil society groups to deploy observers were denied or revoked, representatives of the US-based National Democratic Institute were expelled before the election, and mobile messaging applications were blocked on election day. A relatively small number of observers from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were granted entry and produced largely uncritical reports.

The runner-up, former prime minister Agbeyome Kodjo of the opposition Patriotic Movement for Democracy and Development (MPDD), was credited with 19 percent of the vote. He and other opposition members alleged that the election was stolen, accusing the government of using fake polling stations and engaging in ballot-box stuffing. In the aftermath of the voting, security forces surrounded Kodjo’s house and that of a retired archbishop to prevent them from leading demonstrations.

Jean-Pierre Fabre of the National Alliance for Change (ANC), who won 35 percent of the vote in the 2015 presidential election and whose party placed second in 2019 local elections, received less than 5 percent, according to official results. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) reported that turnout had increased from 61 percent in 2015 to over 76 percent in 2020; critics questioned those figures given the scale of recent antigovernment protests.

After Kodjo’s lawsuit challenging the election results was rejected by the Constitutional Court in March, his parliamentary immunity was lifted, and he was arrested and temporarily detained in April—along with other members of his party—for asserting that he was the legitimate president. Upon his release, Kodjo went into hiding, and the government issued an international warrant for his arrest in July. He reportedly remained in hiding at year’s end.

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the presidential election was marred by the exclusion of civil society observers, the blocking of communication tools, and allegations of fraud and vote rigging.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 4.004 4.004

The constitution calls for a bicameral legislature, but the Senate has never been established. Members of the current 91-seat National Assembly, which exercises all legislative powers, were elected for five-year terms through proportional representation in multimember districts. In the 2018 elections, the main opposition parties led a 14-party boycott, citing a number of unmet demands regarding constitutional and electoral reform. Gnassingbé’s Union for the Republic (UNIR) won 59 of the 91 seats, down from 62 in 2013. A party that led the opposition before aligning itself with the government in 2010, the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), won 7 seats. Independents took 18 seats, and smaller parties captured the remainder. Observers from the African Union and ECOWAS said the elections had been held “properly” in a “calm environment,” though opposition protests had been violently suppressed in the weeks before the balloting, and voter turnout was low in opposition-leaning areas.

Municipal councillors were elected in 2019 in the first local elections since 1987. The UNIR won more than 60 percent of the council seats; the ANC placed second.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 3.003 4.004

Elections are organized and supervised by CENI, whose membership by law should be balanced between the ruling party and the opposition. For the 2020 presidential election, however, only two of the 19 members were from the opposition. Among other irregularities on election day, opposition members were reportedly denied access to some polling places to monitor the vote, and CENI refused to publish detailed results for each precinct. The Constitutional Court, responsible for verifying election results, is also considered to be stacked with close allies of the president. Prominent civil society groups have joined major opposition parties in their calls for a reliable electoral register, fairly apportioned legislative districts, a reorganized CENI, a more independent Constitutional Court, and the announcement of precinct-based election results.

In 2019, the new UNIR-dominated National Assembly adopted a constitutional amendment that established a two-term limit for the presidency with no retroactive effect, allowing Gnassingbé to seek reelection in 2020 and 2025. Other amendments included two-round presidential elections, six-year terms and a two-term limit for lawmakers, and immunity for former presidents regarding acts committed during their terms.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 4.004 4.004

There is a multiparty political system, and opposition parties are generally free to form and operate. Candidates can also run as independents. However, the dominance of the UNIR undermines the visibility and competitiveness of other parties. Opposition members are sometimes arrested in connection with peaceful political activities.

In 2017 and 2018, antigovernment protests organized by opposition parties were suppressed with deadly force, and opposition supporters were arrested and tortured. During the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, opposition candidates faced obstacles such as denial of permits to hold rallies. In the weeks after the balloting, several opposition leaders were arrested.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 4.004 4.004

Gnassingbé’s family has controlled Togo’s powerful presidency since the 1960s. He and the UNIR have retained power thanks in large part to the structure of the electoral system, including district malapportionment in legislative elections and their de facto control over institutions such as the CENI and the Constitutional Court. The return to the two-round presidential election system was not helpful in unifying the opposition during the 2020 contest, as Gnassingbé claimed an outright victory in the first round.

Genuine opposition parties have no presence in the National Assembly following their boycott of the 2018 elections, though they did gain mayoralties and municipal council seats in the 2019 local elections.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 4.004 4.004

The government is dominated by members of Gnassingbé’s Kabyé ethnic group, who also make up the vast majority of security personnel. In 2005, the military installed Gnassingbé as president, in violation of the constitution. Since 2017, increased activity by the opposition has been met with increased use of force by the security apparatus. Hundreds of activists have been arrested, and many tortured. In the weeks before the 2018 elections, security forces repeatedly used live ammunition against opposition protesters, killing several people. After the 2020 presidential election, troops surrounded the houses of Kodjo and retired archbishop Philippe Kpodzro after they called for protests.

While security forces defend the regime through intimidation, the UNIR has been accused of relying on patronage and financial incentives, including the distribution of benefits to buy votes at election time.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3.003 4.004

The Éwé, Togo’s largest ethnic group, have historically been excluded from positions of influence; they are prominent within the opposition. Since 2010, the community has been politically split, as the Éwé-dominated UFC reached a power-sharing agreement with the government while the majority remained loyal to opposition forces.

Women face some societal pressure that discourages their active and independent political participation. Only 16 percent of the National Assembly members elected in 2018 were women. Candidate registration fees were halved for women ahead of the 2019 local elections. In September 2020, Victoire Tomegah Dogbé became the first woman to serve as Togo’s prime minister, and she named women to a record 30 percent of the ministerial posts in her cabinet.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 3.003 4.004

The president holds most policymaking power, and the National Assembly, which is controlled by the ruling party, does not serve as an effective check on executive authority. A pattern of flawed elections has undermined the legitimacy of both the executive and the legislature.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 2.002 4.004

Corruption is a serious and long-standing problem. The government has adopted legislation that is ostensibly designed to reduce corruption, such as a 2018 law on money laundering and the funding of terrorism, but these legal changes have not been followed by effective enforcement or convictions of high-ranking officials. The majority of members of the High Authority for the Prevention and Fight against Corruption and Related Offenses (HAPLUCIA) are presidential appointees, raising concerns about the body’s independence. HAPLUCIA cannot prosecute cases itself and must make referrals to the public prosecutor. In recognition of its disappointing performance, the president included a reorganization of the body among his campaign promises ahead of the 2020 election.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 3.003 4.004

A 2016 freedom of information law guarantees the right to access government information, though some information is exempted, and the government does not always respond to requests. Most public officials are not required to disclose their assets.

There is a lack of transparency regarding state tenders. French billionaire Vincent Bolloré was indicted in France in 2018 for allegedly helping Gnassingbé win the 2010 presidential election in exchange for contracts to operate container ports in Lomé. Separately, an investigative media report in June 2020 alleged that officials had embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars in a scheme involving petroleum import contracts. While the government moved to audit the import system in response, the newspaper responsible for the exposé was prosecuted and found guilty of defamation in November.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2.002 4.004

Freedom of the press is guaranteed in the constitution but inconsistently upheld in practice. Although numerous independent media outlets offer a variety of viewpoints, restrictive press laws and a history of impunity for those who commit crimes against journalists encourage self-censorship. There is no mechanism to appeal decisions made by the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC), which can suspend outlets for violations of broadly worded regulations. In March 2020, two newspapers were temporarily suspended for critical reporting on the French government, and a third was suspended for criticizing the first two suspensions. In November, the newspaper L’Alternative and its editor were each convicted of defamation and ordered to pay fines for their June report on embezzlement in the petroleum sector. The director of another newspaper, L’Indépendant Express, was arrested in late December 2020 after it published a story alleging theft by government ministers.

Police have engaged in violence and other acts of intimidation to discourage press coverage of opposition protests. Authorities have also hampered reporting by cutting mobile phone and internet service during protests; instant messaging apps were blocked on election day in February 2020.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 4.004 4.004

Religious freedom is constitutionally protected and generally respected in practice. Islam, Roman Catholicism, and Protestant Christianity are recognized by the state as religions; other groups must register as religious associations to receive similar benefits. The registration process has been subject to long delays and a large backlog; approximately 900 applications were pending as of 2020. Senior Catholic clergy are among the government critics who have reportedly been targeted with surveillance software.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 4.004 4.004

Academics are generally able to engage in political discussions. However, security forces have repeatedly used violence and arrests to quell student protests.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 4.004 4.004

Citizens are able to speak openly in private discussion, but they may be arrested on incitement or other charges for speaking critically about the government to journalists or human rights organizations.

A 2018 cybersecurity law criminalized publication of false information and breaches of public morality, among other problematic provisions that could affect freedom of expression online. The law also granted police greater authority to conduct electronic surveillance. It was reported in 2020 that some government critics have been targeted with surveillance software on their mobile devices.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 4.004 4.004

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, a number of laws allow for its restriction, and police have periodically used deadly violence to disperse assemblies in practice. A 2011 legal reform retained problematic rules on prior notification for demonstrations and limits on their timing. A 2015 revision of the criminal code penalized participation in and organization of protests that had not gone through the necessary administrative procedures. In 2019, the parliament imposed new limits on the timing and location of public demonstrations, and allowed authorities to restrict protests based on the availability of security personnel.

Protests organized in 2017 and 2018 to demand the restoration of presidential term limits attracted hundreds of thousands of participants. Authorities responded with temporary bans and other administrative restrictions, and in some cases police used disproportionate force, resulting in multiple deaths, arrests, and cases of torture.

During the 2020 presidential election campaign, authorities denied permits for several opposition rallies as well as civil society events to protest flawed electoral procedures. In the postelection period, after Kodjo and Kpodzro called for protests, security forces surrounded their homes and restricted access to parts of the capital. Demonstrators who attempted to assemble were dispersed by police, reportedly using excessive force.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 4.004 4.004

Nongovernmental organizations are subject to registration rules that have sometimes been enforced arbitrarily to suppress activism on sensitive topics, such as torture and the rights of LGBT+ people. Several civil society leaders have been arrested and detained for their roles in the protest movement that began in 2017. In April 2020, two members of an antitorture organization were arrested while observing security forces near Kodjo’s home, then released without charge. The mobile phones of prodemocracy activists have been targeted with surveillance software.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 3.003 4.004

The government generally protects workers’ rights to form and join labor unions, though unions have fewer legal protections in the country’s special export-processing zone.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 4.004 4.004

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but in practice courts are heavily influenced by the presidency. The Constitutional Court in particular, a majority of which is appointed by the president and the UNIR-controlled National Assembly, is believed to be partial to the ruling party. Judges on other courts are appointed by the executive based on the recommendations of a judicial council, which in turn is dominated by senior judges.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 3.003 4.004

Executive influence and judicial corruption limit constitutional rights to a fair trial. Dozens of people arrested for participating in antigovernment protests in recent years have been charged, tried, and convicted in hasty proceedings. Detainees in general often have no access to counsel.

Corruption and inefficiency are widespread among the police, and there are also reports of arbitrary arrest. The 2018 cybersecurity law contains vague terrorism and treason provisions with heavy prison sentences, and grants additional powers to the police without adequate judicial oversight.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 3.003 4.004

Prisons suffer from overcrowding and inadequate food and medical care, sometimes resulting in deaths among inmates from preventable or curable diseases. The government periodically releases prisoners to address overcrowding, but the process by which individuals are chosen for release is not transparent.

The 2015 penal code criminalizes torture, and a 2016 revision defined torture in line with the UN Convention against Torture. However, instances of torture by security forces continue to be reported, including against participants in recent antigovernment demonstrations.

Islamist militants may present a growing threat to security in Togo, with some fighters from Burkina Faso reportedly taking refuge in the country.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 3.003 4.004

Although women and men are ostensibly equal under the law, women continue to experience discrimination, and their opportunities for employment and education are limited. Official and societal discrimination has persisted against people with disabilities, certain regional and ethnic groups, and LGBT+ people, to whom antidiscrimination laws do not apply. Same-sex sexual activity is a criminal offense, and while the law is rarely enforced, LGBT+ people face police harassment.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 4.004 4.004

The law provides for freedom of internal movement and foreign travel, but these rights are sometimes restricted by the authorities in practice. Domestic travel can involve arbitrary traffic stops at which police collect bribes.

The government’s response to COVID-19 during 2020 included some international travel restrictions and curfews. Security personnel allegedly used excessive force while enforcing these rules, resulting in several reports of civilian deaths.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 3.003 4.004

The country has made regulatory improvements to ease processes such as the registration of companies and property, but in general the business environment is poorly administered, creating opportunities for corruption and driving much economic activity into the informal sector. Women and men do not have equal inheritance rights under traditional or customary law, which is observed mainly in rural areas.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2.002 4.004

Customary law puts women at a disadvantage regarding matters such as widowhood, divorce, and child custody. Polygamy is widely practiced and legally recognized. Child marriage remains a problem in some regions. Rape is illegal but rarely reported and, if reported, often ignored by authorities. Domestic violence, which is widespread, is not specifically addressed by the law. UN data from 2017 indicated that about 3 percent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 have undergone genital mutilation or cutting, which is illegal and less prevalent among younger girls.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 2.002 4.004

Protections against exploitative labor conditions, including rules on working hours, are poorly enforced, and much of the workforce is informally employed. Child labor is common in the agricultural sector and in certain urban trades; some children are subjected to forced labor. According to the US State Department, the government has made efforts to address human trafficking for forced labor and sexual exploitation, but it has struggled to secure convictions against perpetrators.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    82 100 free