Only two years after the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in the country's history, the Union of the Comoros has many elements of a democracy. However, its institutions are weak, and democratic progress to date is susceptible to setbacks. The union government generally respected the human rights of its citizens on the two islands under its effective control, Grande Comore and Moheli, although there were some areas of concern. In Anjouan, the third island, former island president Mohamed Bacar illegally seized power in June 2007 in a sham election. During his tenure Anjouan citizens were denied the right to change their island's president through free and fair elections, and forces loyal to Bacar arbitrarily detained, imprisoned, and beat opposition supporters. In March 2008 Comoran and African Union (AU) forces took back the island and inaugurated Laili Zamane as the interim president. Anjouan presidential elections are scheduled to take place between May and July 2008. The following human rights problems were also reported on all three islands: poor prison conditions, restrictions on freedom of religion, official corruption, discrimination against women, child abuse, and child labor.
The country represents a real opportunity for the promotion of freedom and democracy. Following a history of multiple coups, coup attempts, and secession efforts, the free and fair election of President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi in 2006 and subsequent democratic transfer of power brought new hope for a brighter and more stable future. One of the ambassador's key priorities is promoting prosperity, but the inability to hold free elections on the island of Anjouan until recently presented a significant roadblock by undermining political stability and slowing economic development. Thus, the embassy's strategy to promote democracy, governance, and human rights has focused on intense advocacy for all parties to solidify and respect the fledgling democratic tradition of free, fair, and transparent elections. The United States has also worked to address the confusion surrounding institutional competences that consistently undermine democracy, governance, and development.
To ensure the conduct of free, fair, and transparent elections, the United States sent embassy teams to observe both the union presidential elections in 2006 and island presidential elections in 2007. Preceding the island presidential elections, the ambassador traveled to the country to personally encourage election administrators, government officials, and candidates on two of the three islands to respect transparent elections. The United States significantly intensified its advocacy following Mohamed Bacar's seizure of power in Anjouan, starting with a press conference in the days following to condemn his violation of Anjouan residents' right to elect their leader. The United States worked both independently and in concert with the international community to pressure Bacar to hold new elections and encourage the union government to seek a peaceful solution to the problem, most recently through a U.S. official's travel to Anjouan to urge Bacar to hold new elections. The United States supported the AU in its operation to restore order on Anjouan and is working with the union government and the international community to ensure the upcoming elections on Anjouan will be free, fair, and credible.
Much of the political instability in the country stems from the constitution's unclear division of responsibilities and revenue between union and island governments. To curb political conflict and promote good governance, the United States brought in international conflict resolution experts to identify textual discrepancies and areas of conflict. The findings and recommendations will be offered to political leaders as a potential roadmap for federalism and constitutional reform in the near future. They will also be presented to the international community as a potential plan for support. The embassy also funds a program to strengthen the capacity of civil society organizations in the fields of human rights and good governance.
In a country often cut off from the world by its geographic isolation, embassy activities focus on enhancing press freedom by developing journalists' professionalism and increasing their access to information. The American Corner offers American books and periodicals, Internet service for research purposes, and a forum for discussion about a wide range of topics. The first-ever World Press Freedom Day events in the country in 2007 included a conference on "Journalistic Ethics in the Upcoming Island Presidential Elections." Journalists also benefited from U.S.-funded training on election reporting and other topics, both in the country and in Madagascar.
The embassy actively promotes the rights of women and persons with disabilities through the funding of education and literacy projects. The United States sent a female academician to the Pan-African Summit on Women's Leadership; she later gave a press conference on her experience for International Women's Day. The embassy also sent two exchange visitors to the United States through the International Visitor Leadership Program to study the democratic political process and conflict resolution.
U.S. programs that encourage civilian control of the military and military professionalism also work to enhance the rule of law.