61st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights
Written statement on agenda item 9
The situation in Togo
The signatory NGOs, Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme, the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (FIACAT), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Franciscans International, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in conjunction with ACAT-France, Secours Catholique - Caritas France and Survie, which have come together in a Coalition of NGOs for Togo, wish to alert the Human Rights Commission of the disturbing human rights situation in Togo, and call on the Commission to adopt a resolution on Togo.
On 5 February 2005, a few hours after the death of President Eyadéma was announced, the army transferred power to his son, in breach of the Constitution. In an attempt to legitimise this coup d’état, the National Assembly adopted by a show of hands a series of amendments to the Constitution, contravening article 144 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the Constitution cannot be amended during a period of transition.
These amendments affect article 65 which governs the transition period : the organisation of free and pluralist elections within 60 days is cancelled, whilst the interim period, during which the president of the National Assembly assumes presidential duties, is extended "to the term of his predecessor’s mandate", in this case to June 2008. For these arrangements to benefit Fauré Gnassimgbé, the deputies elected him as president of the National Assembly to replace the current president, Fambaré Natchaba Ouattara.
The Coalition condemns this coup d’état and the amendments made to the Constitution contrary to the rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenants of 1966, the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Bamako Declaration and the provisions made in the so-called Cotonou Agreements, in particular article 96.
Moreover, the Coalition is greatly disturbed by the serious violations of human rights observed since the coup d’état : banning of all public demonstrations for two months, dispersing a student demonstration using live ammunition, suppression of all radio broadcasts on the political situation, and intimidation of journalists.
The military coup and the resultant disturbing human rights situation render meaningless any commitments made by the national authorities in their political dialogue with the European Union under article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement to enhance the State of law and establish prompt, open and credible dialogue between politicians and the civilian population.
In this context, despite encouraging moves made by the Togolese authorities (partial removal of the usual obstacles preventing opposition political parties to hold meetings ; adoption on 24 August 2004 of a new press code which decriminalises violations of press law and abolishes custodial sentences for defamation and attacks on personal honour ; etc.), the adoption on 19 January 2005 of a new electoral code entrusting the organisation of elections to the Ministry of the Interior throws doubt over the likelihood of transparency of future elections.
Continuing violations of human rights remain a cause for great concern :
Violation of the right to life
On 20 November 2004, as a result of misinformation from the public media and manipulation by the authorities, a large crowd had gathered in front of the residence of the Head of State to greet what was publicised as a decision by the European Union to restart economic cooperation with Togo.
According to several different sources in agreement, there was a disturbance in the crowd, resulting in around 60 dead and over 200 injured, due to Lomé II security forces’ failure to prevent this tragedy.
Torture, arbitrary arrests and appalling prison conditions
As stated in several recent reports by the organisations signatory to this intervention, torture and other forms of punishment or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are commonly used during arrests, in detention centres such as police and gendarme stations and army camps.
Arbitrary arrests are also frequent. Our organisations have established that although the Togolese authorities seemed to bow to pressure from the EU to free several political prisoners, they managed a selective process, deliberately keeping hundreds of people locked up, including many military personnel, purely for their opinions.
Prison conditions are particularly disturbing. Overpopulation in detention centres is aggravated by an ageing infrastructure and appalling sanitary conditions and levels of hygiene. Deaths occur regularly as a result of the extreme conditions and harsh treatment of detainees.
Repression of freedoms of expression, assembly, information and opinion
Despite the recent adoption of a new press code deemed more respectful of freedoms of expression and information, journalists, trade unions and political parties are still being subjected to intimidation, death threats and judicial persecution for their activities.
Furthermore, the State media, and Togolese television in particular, leave little airtime for opposition parties and are becoming platforms for repeated denigration of opposition politicians and representatives of civilian society, all under the watchful eye of the High Audiovisual and Communications Authority (HAAC), reputed for the abusive sanctions it imposes on the private media.
Persecution of civilians
Civilians are having to put up with almost daily interference from the authorities in going about their normal business : semi-permanent police surveillance, intimidation, persecution, denigration, arbitrary arrests and harassment. Their families are also discriminated against when it comes to schooling, entitlement to jobs or promotion in public office.
Violation of economic, social and cultural rights
Many Togolese have not received their salaries, family allowances or pensions for months. Yet any attempt to speak out or demand better working conditions is seen as political manipulation and considered an attack on State security, even though articles 38 and 84 of the Constitution expressly acknowledge trade union rights.
The implementation of the right to education has suffered from the absence of a coherent strategy from the State. While the percentage of children in education is high in urban areas, it remains low in rural areas, especially in the savannah region to the north of the country. The authorities should seek to improve poor conditions of study at the university, instead of regarding students who speak up about them as enemies of the government. The freedom to teach has always been difficult to implement because of poor management practice and the semi-permanent presence of the security forces on university campus at Lomé, to prevent any student demonstrations.
Therefore, the Coalition of NGOs calls on the Human Rights Commission to adopt a resolution :
Condemning the coup and arbitrary amendments made to the Constitution, and demanding a return to Constitutional rule ;
Calling for a return to normal transition protocol in accordance with the Togolese Constitution and the prompt organisation of free, transparent and pluralist elections ;
Appointing a Special Rapporteur to lead an enquiry into the human rights situation in Togo and to report to the next session of the Human Rights Commission ;
While calling on the Togolese authorities to :
Invite the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders ;
Ratify the international and regional instruments on the protection of human rights and the struggle against impunity ;
Create an independent body to harmonise effectively international instruments ratified by Togo with national legislation, to oversee the submission of initial and periodic reports to the Treaty bodies and ensure that the recommendations and conclusions made therein regarding Togo are implemented ;
Make a declaration under article 34.6 of the Additional Protocol to establish the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights to enable Togolese nationals and non-governmental organisations to use this instrument immediately in the struggle against impunity ;
Respect all commitments in full as made on 14 April 2004 at the start of discussions with the European Union, under article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement ;
To launch immediately impartial investigations into all cases of suspicious death of detainees and allegations of torture ;
To pursue through the courts all who have engaged in torture and to act according to the stipulations of the Convention Against Torture to which Togo is party ;
To provide adequate reparation to victims of torture and their families, and to put into place official programmes of reparation, rehabilitation and readaptation of victims ;
Considering that prison conditions could be described as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, undertake immediately the reforms necessary to improve living conditions ;
Respect all principles in the United Nations Declaration of 1998 on Human Rights Defenders ;
Guarantee all fundamental freedoms of expression and information, in accordance with the provisions set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
11 February 2005