- As the Togolese government is trying to convince the European Union (EU) of its progress in advancing human rights and democracy, rights groups today published a report denouncing the "arbitrary standards during 37 years of dictatorship" in Togo. The situation remains "alarming", the report says.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) - organising a large number of human rights groups all over the world - today presented what it called "an alarming assessment of the human rights situation in Togo." The report comes as a warning to the EU, not to take rapid improvements for granted.
According to the FIDH report, 37 years of dictatorship under President Gnassingbé Eyadéma has left a pattern of arbitrary human rights violations. The report documents "systematic torture in police stations done with impunity, justice by the orders of the government, over-populated prisons, close monitoring of the press and the opposition, unfulfilled elections."
- Violence is omnipresent in Togo, virtually reduced into a system by the government, the FIDH document concludes. The rights federation notes that the Togolese dictatorship still does not accept any form of disagreement, thus cracking down on human rights defenders, the press and the political opposition.
Following these aims, the Togolese judiciary had merely become a zealous arm of government repression, the FIDH report holds. To further enhance control, legislation regulating the press had become increasingly repressive and government control over civil society had been enhanced.
It is now more than ten years ago that the EU halted its cooperation with the Eyadema regime in response to the ailing human rights situation and a violent crackdown on the opposition. In April his year, however, the Togolese government invited the EU to negotiate a resumption of aid, pledging to improve the human rights situation and embark on democratisation.
On 14 April, Togo's Prime Minister Koffi Sama went to Brussels to open negotiations according to article 96 in the Cotonou Agreement, defining the EU's development cooperation with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. This article constitutes that EU aid recipients need to uphold democratic institutions and basic human rights. Prime Minister Sama was to convince the EU that Togo now was complying with the Cotonou Agreement.
Mr Sama in Brussels pledged to satisfy 22 commitments following a time schedule of six weeks to twelve months, aiming at promoting a democratic climate and the rule of justice in the country. As a response, an EU mission visited Togo from the 3 to 5 June to follow-up on these engagements. No conclusion was however made and an EU spokeswomen declared it was yet "much too early to make an assessment" of developments in Togo.
FIDH today issued a statement saying it agreed with the EU conclusion that more time was needed to see whether the Togolese government would live up to its promises. "It will be necessary to evaluate over a longer period whether national authorities have a real will to reform the country towards an unconditional respect of human rights," FIDH said.
Nevertheless, the human rights federation was not encouraged by developments in Togo since April 14, the statement said. The grouping had registered several serious human rights violations since Prime Minister Sama visited Brussels.
This included violent clashes between students supporting the opposition and national security forces at the camps of the University of Lomé on 30 April. Students were demanding state allowances to finance their studies. The university was closed on 30 April. According to FIDH, six students were sentenced to 18 months of prison.
In May, ten opposition members were given prison sentences of between one and seven years by a Lomé court. The activists represented the opposition Forces of Change (UFC), which had disputed the results of the controversial 2003 presidential elections. Nonetheless, President Eyadema only last month claimed "Togo has no political prisoners."
Further, FIDH holds, the Togolese government is responsible for the continued refusal of the country's three principal opposition parties to take part in the national political dialogue. The opposition holds that the framework of this dialogue neither is structured nor transparent. Further, opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio is still hindered from participating due to his Paris exile.
The Togolese government, on the other hand, earlier this week claimed substantial progress in meeting the pledges made by Prime Minister Sama in Brussels. Some of these had already been carried out, "including the revision of the electoral code and the opening of talks with the opposition," the government said on Monday.
FIDH is not convinced by these government claims. The human rights federation urges the EU await the proper implementation of the promised reforms and to remain vigilant. In particular, FIDH demands that Togo presents proof of an end to torture practices in its prisons; the release of political prisoners and arbitrary arrested people; abolition of the death penalty; and a revision of the press act.
The federation also urges the long-term monitoring of possible human rights improvements in Togo. This, FIDH holds, could best be done by an obligation to present periodic reports to regional and international human rights bodies.
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