UN Commission for Human Rights 2004
Item 9 : The human rights situation in Togo
Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme, the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT), Franciscans International (FI) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), in cooperation with Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture - France (ACAT - France), Misereor, Secours Catholique (Caritas France) and Survie wish to express their serious concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Togo.
Although Togo - a Member State of the Human Rights Commission - has ratified most of the international and regional human rights instruments, this group of NGOs, set up in May 2003, nevertheless draws attention to violations of these instruments by the national authorities and the failure of the latter to cooperate with the United Nations’ monitoring mechanisms and procedures aimed at protecting human rights.
Violations of the freedom of expression, information and opinion
The authorities are making a mockery of freedom of expression and information, in blatant violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Togo has ratified.
In August 2002, the press code was altered to place tighter restrictions on such freedom. The new text introduces more severe penalties than those of the 2000 text for infringements of legislation on the press, in particular libel and defamation of character, offences for which prison sentences may now be passed. Sweeping powers are now granted to the Ministry of the Interior, which may order the seizure of any newspaper deemed to pose a threat to law and order. This step is in flagrant violation of Article 26 of the Constitution of Togo, which states that no publication may be banned except by order of the courts. Since August 2002, journalists have increasingly been intimidated, harassed and threatened.
Several have been sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Some have had to go into hiding or flee the country to escape this kind of repression. The situation was particularly bad around the time of the presidential elections of 1 June 2003.
The High Authority for Audiovisual Media and Communications (HAAC), made up of representatives of the party in power, exhibits an obvious lack of independence, even though, according to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, this kind of regulatory mechanism is supposed to be immune from outside interference, in particular any of a political or economic nature. It is supposed to work openly and publicly to take due account of civil society and should not be controlled by any political party.
Peaceful demonstrations are regularly banned (unlike marches in support of and organised by the party in power) and the authorities do not hesitate to use force to disperse them.
Churchmen are likewise frequently intimidated by the authorities if they elect to take a stance. They are harassed, their telephones are tapped, they are sent messages anonymous messages and in some cases even threatened with physical violence.
Human rights defenders in danger
In general, the daily lives of human rights defenders are severely restricted : they are under constant police surveillance as they carry out their activities and regularly suffer intimidation, harassment and arbitrary arrest. Many defenders have had to leave their homeland in order to flee this repression. Even when they have gone into exile, their friends and families continue to be harassed.
In November 2002, the Human Rights Committee urged the government of Togo to "adopt legislative or other measures to combat and prevent the perpetration of such violations, in keeping with articles 6 and 9 of the Covenant". (CCPR/CO/76/TGO, p.3).
Torture and arbitrary detention
Persons under arrest and those held in most prisons or other places of custody, particularly detainees in solitary confinement in premises such as police or gendarmerie stations and military camps, are systematically ill-treated, beaten up and tortured. The centres in Kara (the home town of the Head of State in the north of Togo) have a particularly bad reputation for the inhuman treatment meted out there.
There have been deaths resulting from the poor conditions in which prisoners are held and from their ill-treatment. It is government agents who are responsible, in violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ratified by Togo. Most victims are members of the public who have protested against the current regime, who are said to have been "manipulated", and members of the armed forces whose conduct is deemed "disloyal".
Noting with concern "the many allegations that torture is common practice in Togo", in November 2002 the Human Rights Committee urged the Togolese government to ensure that all acts of torture constitute offences under its criminal law, that persons who have been arbitrarily arrested are released as soon as possible, and that judicial proceedings are instituted against the perpetrators of such violations.. (CCPR/CO/76/TGO, p. 4)
Lack of independence of the judiciary and impunity
The principle of the separation of powers is being flouted, within the legal system in particular, in contravention of Article 113 of the Constitution of Togo, which states that the judiciary is independent of the legislative authority and of the executive authority, that in carrying out their duties judges are to be subject only to the authority of the law and that the judiciary authority stands surety for the individual freedoms and basic rights of the citizens of the country. Despite this, most judges are in fact acting under government control and are given orders and instructions. Some trials are simply a farce.
Impunity is widespread in the country owing to the lack of any political will to take the necessary steps to ensure that investigations are impartial and that trials are fair. Further reasons are the lack of independence of the judiciary, corruption and the fear and disillusionment of the victims, who dare not complain. Bringing the guilty to justice is, however, a prerequisite for the establishment of a state governed by the rule of law, without which there can be no respect for human rights.
The Group of NGOs urges the Togolese authorities to :
• 1) ratify the international and regional instruments relating to the protection of human rights and combating impunity, in particular the additional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, the Statute of the International Criminal Court and the additional Protocol setting up the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights ;
• 2) harmonise national legislation with international instruments relating to human rights which the country has ratified ;
• 3) comply with the provisions of the 1998 United Nations Declaration on defenders of human rights and guarantee the physical safety of all Togolese human rights defenders ;
• 4) implement forthwith the recommendations (CCPR/CO/76/TGO) made in November 2002 by the Human Rights Committee and all those previously adopted by the other bodies responsible for monitoring treaty implementation and to cooperate effectively with UN monitoring mechanisms, in particular when its initial report to the Committee against Torture is examined in November 2004 ;
•5) invite immediately the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders and the members of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to visit Togo and guarantee them free access to individuals, communities and places.