Freedom in the World
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Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Legislative elections that were to have taken place in October 2001 were postponed until at least March 2002 following a report from the United Nations that said the Independent Electoral Commission was unprepared to conduct a poll. This is the second time the elections have been delayed. Prime Minister Agbeyome Kodjo attributed the delay to insufficient funds. The elections are to replace the 1999 vote that was boycotted by the opposition over allegations of fraud. Efforts at political reconciliation suffered in 2001 following the jailing of two prominent opposition figures. Yawovi Agboyibo and student union leader Hounjo Mawudzuro were detained after publicly criticizing Togolese officials. There were a series of street protests, despite a ban on public marches, that were severely repressed by security forces. Adding to the political tension was Kodjo's call for the constitution to be amended to allow President Gnassingbe Eyadema, Africa's longest-serving head of state, to run for a third term in 2003.
Togoland was a German colony for more three decades until France seized it at the outset of World War I. It was held as French territory until its independence in 1960. The country's founding president, Sylvanus Olympio, was murdered in 1963 as Eyadema, then a demobilized sergeant who had served in France's colonial wars, led an army coup to topple the country's democratically elected government. After assuming direct power in 1967, Eyadema suspended the constitution and extended his repressive rule through mock elections and a puppet political party. In 1991, free political parties were legalized, and multiparty elections were promised. The transition faltered, however, as soldiers and secret police harassed, attacked, or killed opposition supporters. Eyadema won fraudulent elections in 1993 and 1998.
Another UN report in 2001 said that there were strong reasons to believe that serious violations had occurred during the 1998 presidential election, emphasizing that allegations by London-based Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings "must be taken into consideration." The UN report said the victims were mainly members of opposition parties and that there were indications that the perpetrators of the crimes were police, other security officers, and militias under their control. The violations included executions, torture, degrading treatment, rape, and kidnappings.
Eighty percent of Togolese are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Corruption, military spending, and large, inefficient state-owned companies impede economic growth.
The Togolese people cannot choose their representatives freely. In the 1993 presidential election, which the opposition boycotted, President Gnassingbe Eyadema claimed to have won 96 percent of the vote. His June 1998 reelection was blatantly fraudulent, with the government claiming he had won approximately 51 percent of the vote, thereby enabling him to avoid a runoff election against a single opposition candidate. Electoral rolls were suspect, and multiple voter cards were issued. The National Election Commission was not independent and was either unable or unwilling to provide adequate logistical support. Hundreds of domestic, European Union-trained observers were denied accreditation. Eyadema spent lavishly and used state resources for his campaign.
Violence and intimidation marred the 1994 legislative elections. Opposition parties won a majority in the national assembly, but splits and flawed 1996 by-elections allowed Eyadema's Rally of the Togolese People party to regain control of the legislature. The opposition boycotted March 1999 legislative polls, which were marred by fraud and saw the ruling party win 79 out of 81 contested seats. The remaining two seats went to independent candidates. Togo's Independent Electoral Commission was created in 2000, replacing the National Election Commission, and is composed of ten ruling-party members and ten members from opposition parties.
The judiciary is still heavily influenced by the president. Traditional courts handle many minor matters. Courts are understaffed and inadequately funded. Pretrial detentions are lengthy, and prisons are severely overcrowded. Killing, arbitrary arrest, and torture continue, although they have abated. Security forces commit abuses with impunity, and illegal detention is common. Human rights groups are closely monitored and sometimes harassed.
A number of private newspapers publish in Lome, but independent journalists are subject to harassment and the perpetual threat of various criminal charges. There are more than a dozen independent newspapers that publish sporadically, and at least 20 private radio stations. Most of the independent broadcast media outlets, however, offer little vibrant local news coverage or commentary. The government controls the state broadcast media and allows little opposition access. The Press and Communication Code of 1998 declares in its first article that the media are free, but restricts press freedom in most of the 108 other articles. It is libelous to "offend the honor, dignity or esteem" of the president and other government leaders; offenders can be sentenced to up to six months in prison. The Togolese Media Observatory, which includes both government and private journalists, was established in November 1999 and is charged with protecting press freedom and improving the professionalism of journalists.
There were several attacks on the press in 2001. At least four journalists were detained, a radio station was temporarily closed, and a weekly newspaper seized. Three of the four journalists were released in November. In January, Radio Jeunesse Espoir, which is run by the Roman Catholic Church, was sealed off by authorities after it announced that a memorial mass would be held for Sylvanus Olympio, the country's first president.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom is generally respected. Freedom of assembly is allowed, but is often restricted among the government's political opponents. Demonstrations are often banned or violently halted. Ethnic discrimination is rife among the country's 40 ethnic groups. Political and military power is narrowly held by members of a few ethnic groups from northern Togo, especially Eyadema's Kabye ethnic group. Southerners dominate the country's commerce, and violence occasionally flares between the two groups.
Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, women's opportunities for education and employment are limited. A husband may legally bar his wife from working or may receive her earnings. Customary law bars women's rights in divorce and denies inheritance rights to widows. Violence against women is common. Female genital mutilation is widely practiced by the country's northern ethnic groups. A 1998 law prohibiting the practice is not enforced. Several organizations promote the rights of women. Child trafficking is a problem.
Togo's constitution includes the right to form and join unions, but essential workers are excluded. Health care workers may not strike. Only 20 percent of the labor force is unionized. Unions have the right to bargain collectively, but most labor agreements are brokered by the government in tripartite talks with unions and management.