Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
In 2010, the Seychelles’ economy improved due in part to increased tourism and direct foreign investment. The government also made efforts to counter piracy on the Indian Ocean. In July, the Supreme Court convicted 11 Somali men on piracy charges, the first ruling of its kind in any Indian Ocean nation.
The Seychelles gained independence from Britain in 1976 as a multiparty democracy and remained a member of the Commonwealth. In 1977, Prime Minister France-Albert René seized power from President James Mancham. René then made his Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF) the sole legal party. In 1992, however, the SPPF passed a constitutional amendment legalizing opposition parties, and many exiled leaders returned. René won multiparty elections in 1993.
The Seychelles National Party (SNP), led by Wavel Ramkalawan, emerged as the strongest opposition group in 1998 elections. René won a narrow victory in the 2001 presidential election, engendering opposition complaints of fraud. René dissolved parliament in 2002 and called for early legislative elections. Although the SPPF won, the SNP made significant gains.
René stepped down as president in 2004 and was replaced by Vice President James Michel. The Indian Ocean tsunami struck later that year, causing about $30 million in damage to public infrastructure; the vital tourism and fishing industries also suffered. Michel defeated Ramkalawan in the July 2006 presidential election.
The SPPF’s majority of 23 seats was left unchanged by the May 2007 legislative elections, and the SNP took the remaining 11 seats. Michel subsequently restructured his government, placing an emphasis on environmental issues that could affect the country’s reputation as a tourist destination.
In recent years, the Seychelles’ economy has been harmed by rising food and fuel costs, as well as the expanding reach and incidence of piracy on the Indian Ocean. Recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) missions have found that the country has one of the highest debt burdens in Africa and continues to suffer from rising inflation and depletion of the central bank’s foreign reserves. However, the economy improved in 2010, due in part to increased tourism and direct foreign investment. According to the IMF, the Seychelles’ economic growth exceeded 6 percent in 2010.
In July 2010, the Supreme Court convicted eight Somali men of piracy and three others of aiding and abetting the act of piracy. Their trials marked the first successful prosecutions of piracy in any Indian Ocean nation. Another 29 Somali men were awaiting trial as of December.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
The Seychelles is an electoral democracy. The 2006 presidential election and the 2007 parliamentary polls were generally viewed as having met basic international norms.However, the ruling SPPF’s control over state resources and most media gives its candidates a significant advantage. The president and the unicameral National Assembly are elected by universal adult suffrage for five-year terms. The head of government is the president, who appoints the cabinet. Of the National Assembly’s 34 members, 25 are directly elected and 9 are allocated on a proportional basis to parties gaining at least 10 percent of the vote.
The SPPF remains the dominant party, and the opposition SNP has claimed that its sympathizers are harassed by police and victimized by job-related security investigations in the public sector.
Concerns over government corruption have focused on the lack of transparency in the privatization and allocation of government-owned land. Seychelles was ranked 49 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The government controls much of the islands’ media, operating radio and television stations. The daily newspaper, theNation, is government-owned, and at least two other newspapers support, or are published by, the SPPF. The opposition weekly, Regar, has been sued for libel by government officialsunder broad constitutional restrictions on free expression.The other major independent newspaper, Le Nouveau Seychelles Weekly, has also faced state interference in its functioning. The board of directors of the officially multipartisan Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation includes several non-SPPF members. A controversial 2006 law restricts private radio-station ownership. High licensing fees have also discouraged the development of privately owned broadcast media. The government does not limit internet access.
Religious freedom is constitutionally protected and respected in practice. Churches in this predominantly Roman Catholic country have been strong voices for human rights and democratization, and they generally function without government interference.
The constitution endorses freedoms of assembly and association. Private human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in the country. Public demonstrations are generally tolerated, although the government has occasionally impeded opposition gatherings. Workers have the right to strike. However, the Seychelles Federation of Workers' Unions, which is associated with the ruling party, has been the only active trade union since the Seychelles National Trade Union ceased operations in 2007.
Judges generally decide cases fairly but face interference in those involving major economic or political interests. The majority of the members of the Seychellois judiciary are foreign nationals, and the impartiality of the non-Seychellois magistrates can be compromised by the fact that they are subject to contract renewal.In September 2009, newly-appointedChief JusticeFrederick Egonda-Ntende from Uganda outlined a policy to reduce the number of pending court cases and accelerate judgment of new cases; in 2010, he committed to resolving cases within six months. Security forces have at times been accused of using excessive force, including torture and arbitrary detention.
Nearly all of the country’s political and economic life is dominated by people of European and South Asian origin. Islanders of Creole extraction face de facto discrimination, and prejudice against foreign workers has been reported. The government does not restrict domestic travel but may deny passports for unspecified reasons of “national interest.”
The Seychelles in recent years has boasted one of the highest percentages of women in parliament in Africa at 24 percent, despite the lack of a quota system. Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women. In general, however, women are less likely than men to be literate, as they enjoy fewer educational opportunities. While nearly all adult females are classified as “economically active,” most are engaged in subsistence agriculture. Domestic violence remains a widespread problem.The government adopted a National Strategy on Domestic Violence in 2008 aimed at decreasing its incidence, but it has had little success to date. According to Family Tribunal, a local NGO, 473 cases of domestic violence were reported in 2009.