Freedom in the World

Togo

Togo

Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores

Status

Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

4
Ratings Change: 


Togo’s political rights rating improved from 5 to 4 due to successful elections for the national legislature, which suffered from alleged irregularities but were generally deemed fair by international observers and did not feature serious violence.

Overview: 


Legislative elections intended for October 2012 were finally held in July 2013 after being postponed due to disagreement over electoral reforms. Talks between opposing political parties were facilitated by Nicodème Barrigah-Bénissan, former president of Togo’s Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), and U.S. ambassador to Togo Robert Whitehead.

The electoral proceedings were largely conducted peacefully and considered to be credible and transparent by international observers. However, the results were contested by the opposition, as recent redistricting meant that President Faure Gnassingbé’s allies in the Union for the Republic (UNIR) party won fewer votes but significantly more seats (62 of the total 91). In addition to zone borders favoring UNIR candidates, many observers attributed opposition losses to divisions between the various opposition parties.

Given Togo’s recent history of electoral violence and human rights violations, the peaceful nationwide legislative election was cautiously applauded. Nonetheless, the controversy around electoral reforms was only temporarily fixed rather than resolved. Outstanding issues include the composition of the electoral commission, the distribution of electoral seats among electoral zones, access to state media for civil society and the political opposition, the number of election rounds, and presidential term limits.

Deadly market fires in January in Lomé and Kara were a controversial issue throughout the year, as 39 members of the opposition were arrested in connection with the fires. Some of the most high profile detainees were released on bail after a month, and ten others were released in May. The others remained in prison at year’s end, one of whom died in prison due to poor medical care. Amnesty International and a number of European governments condemned the arrests were condemned, and the investigation into the cause of the fires has produced no publicly available results by the end of the year. Representatives of the opposition Save Togo Collective (CST), including failed former presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre, accused the police of staging the fire as an excuse to crack down on opposition activities.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

 

Political Rights: 18 / 40 (+2)

A. Electoral Process: 5 / 12 (+1)

The president is elected to a five-year term and appoints the prime minister. In March 2010, Gnassingbé won reelection with more than 60 percent of the vote amid numerous irregularities, including vote buying and partisanship within the electoral commission. However, the problems were not considered serious enough to have influenced the outcome of the vote. The unicameral National Assembly is elected to five-year terms, but the previous elections were held in 2007. Progress was seen in 2013 when legislative elections were finally held. The election itself was considered to be credible and transparent by international observers, though the opposition protested the results in the streets and with the Constitutional Court. UNIR won 62 of the total 91 seats, as well as 23 of the country’s 28 electoral zones, including some opposition strongholds. The CST won 19 seats, the Rainbow Alliance won 6 seats, the Union of Forces for Change (UFC) won 3, and an independent candidate won 1 seat.

Notwithstanding the negotiations that enabled the legislative elections to take place, a number of controversial electoral reforms—including electoral district allocations and presidential term limits—remain unresolved. In protest, newly elected opposition members boycotted the vote for the president of the National Assembly, which UNIR member Dama Dramani won by a large margin.

 

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 8 / 16

Although opposition parties are free to operate, the structure of the electoral system, including districting as well as the single round of elections, help ensure that Gnassingbé and his party remain in power. Gnassingbé’s family has ruled the country for nearly 50 years, and the likelihood that the opposition will gain power remains slim. The 2013 electoral process weakened the opposition’s electoral clout due in part to divisions within the opposition, as well as district allocations dramatically favoring UNIR.

 

C. Functioning of Government: 5 / 12 (+1)

The new National Assembly was freely elected and has influence over policy, but corruption remains a serious problem. The anticorruption commission was reformed under the current president so its members would be appointed by the National Assembly rather than the president, but it has been slow to make progress and appears to still be aligned with President Eyadéma and UNIR. Togo was ranked 123 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

 

Civil Liberties: 29 / 60 (+2)

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 9 / 16 (+1)

Freedom of the press is guaranteed by law, though often disregarded in practice. Impunity for crimes against journalists and frequent defamation suits encourage self-censorship, but 2013 saw a reduction in the number of attacks against journalists and the availability of diverse and critical voices in the media has been increasing. Most notable among the improvements in 2013 was when when the Constitutional Court rejected a proposed amendment to the 2009 Press Law that would have given the state broadcasting council, the High Authority of Broadcasting and Communications (HAAC), the power to shut down media outlets without a court order. The decision followed peaceful protests against the proposed amendment in which three journalists were reportedly injured by security forces. However, the HAAC can still impose severe penalties—including the suspension of publications or broadcasts and the confiscation of press cards—if journalists are found to have made “serious errors” or are “endangering national security,” and is known for cracking down on opposition voices. During the year, the HAAC shut down the private station, Legende FM, for a month starting midway through election day in 2013, and closed it completely in August. Legende had previously been targeted by the HAAC for inciting ethnic hatred; while the station’s director believed they were being reprimanded for coverage of antigovernment protests, other observers believe the accusations of ethnically fractious content were warranted.

During the 2013 election, official media outlets, which have the largest reach of any media outlet in the country, remained inaccessible for opposition candidates. Nonetheless, the number of attacks on journalists reported was particularly low for an election year in Togo; most took place during coverage of opposition demonstrations or during the journalists’ demonstration against the proposed amendment to the Press Law.

Private print and broadcast outlets have low capacity, are often politicized, and journalists are often easily corruptible due to low pay. Access to the internet is generally unrestricted, but few people use the medium due to high costs.

Religious freedom is constitutionally protected and generally respected. Islam and Christianity are recognized as official religions, and other religious groups must register as associations. In September 2012, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ranked Togo among the highest in the world in a study on global religious tolerance. While political discussion is prohibited on religious radio and television outlets, citizens are increasingly able to speak openly. Government security forces are believed to maintain a presence on university campuses and have cracked down on student protests in the past, though no such overt repression took place in 2013.

 

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 6 / 12

Freedom of assembly is sometimes restricted. A 2011 law requires that demonstrations receive prior authorization and only be held during certain times of the day. After the arrest of opposition supporters in connection with the market fires, opposition-led protests in May calling for their release ended with police using tear gas. At the end of that month, the government temporarily banned protests led by either the CST or the Rainbow Alliance. These parties then led street demonstrations beginning in August protesting the July election results and accusing the Constitutional Court, which confirmed the results, of corruption. The closing of Legende FM provoked angry protests from the opposition, who fought with security forces and briefly took two police officers hostage until Nicodème Barrigah-Bénisson intervened.

Freedom of association is largely respected, and human rights organizations generally operate without government interference. Togo’s constitution guarantees the right to form and join labor unions. In April, a spontaneous student protest in the northern Togolese city of Dapaong erupted in support of a teacher’s strike. Local authorities violently dispersed protesters, and two students were killed, including a 12-year-old boy.

 

F. Rule of Law: 7 / 16 (+1)

The judicial system lacks resources and is heavily influenced by the presidency, though the Constitutional Court demonstrated some independence when it declared the amendment to the media law, which was favored by the president, unconstitutional. Lengthy pretrial detention is a serious problem. Prisons suffer from overcrowding and inadequate food and medical care. The government moved to reduce prison overcrowding in 2012 by releasing hundreds of prisoners on parole. A year later, persistently poor prison conditions came into the national spotlight with the death of Etienne Kodjo Yakanou, one of the opposition activists arrested in connection with the market fires. While the official statement was that he died of malaria, the opposition accused the prison authorities of withholding medical care. Months after his death, another of the detainees in relation to the market fires, Abass Kaboua, was released for health reasons. The International Federation for Human Rights also made accusations of torture and mistreatment of detainees.

The TJRC—which was tasked with investigating the political violence and human rights violations that occurred in Togo between 1958 and 2005, particularly during the 2005 election—recommended in April 2012 financial and medical compensation for victims, the abolition of the death penalty, the implementation of mechanisms for the prevention of torture, constitutional reform ensuring the separation of powers, a return to a two-term limit for the presidency, and improved oversight of the police and the military. According to the 2013 Afrobarometer survey, nearly half of Togolese respondents believe that the government will enact none or very few of the TJRC recommendations.

Ethnic tensions have historically divided the country between the north and south along political, ethnic, and religious lines. Discrimination among the country’s 40 ethnic groups occurs though was not widely reported in 2013. Same-sex sexual activity is punishable by fines and up to three years in prison.

 

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 7 / 16

While the majority of Togo’s economy comprises of agriculture employing more than 60% of the population, it is increasingly seen as a western-friendly investment environment and has made moves to privatize a number of industries including telecommunications and the banking sector. Starting a business in Togo also improved slightly in 2013 as the government lifted some of the bureaucratic restrictions and reduced of some of the fees associated with the process.

In May, Gnassingbé submitted a law to the National Assembly guaranteeing equal representation of women in the legislature, and a 2013 amendment to the Electoral Code now requires that women have equal representation on the lists of electoral candidates submitted by political parties. The Law on Political Party and Electoral Campaign Funding, passed after the legislative election this year, also requires that public campaign funding be distributed to political parties in proportion to the number of women elected from each party in this year’s election. In the 2010 presidential election, Togo saw its first female presidential candidate, and of the 91 seats in the National Assembly, 16 are currently held by women, up from just 6 previously. Despite constitutional guarantees of equality, women’s opportunities for education and employment are limited. Customary law discriminates against women in divorce and inheritance, giving them the legal rights of minors, and children can only inherit citizenship from their father. Spousal abuse is widespread, and spousal rape is not a crime. Child trafficking for the purpose of slavery remains a serious problem, and prosecutions under a 2005 child-trafficking law are rare.

 

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology