Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty constitutional republic. The government has long been dominated by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and his clan from the majority Fang ethnic group. The country's most recent elections, in 2002 (presidential) and 2004 (parliamentary), were judged as seriously flawed. Numerous human rights problems were reported, including: limits on rights to change the government; abuse of detainees by security forces; poor conditions in detention facilities; impunity; arbitrary and incommunicado detention; mistreatment of foreign residents; judicial corruption and lack of due process; restrictions on the right to privacy, speech, press, assembly, association, and movement; government corruption; violence and discrimination against women; suspected trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities; and restrictions on labor rights.
The U.S. strategy to promote democracy and human rights aims to strengthen the key government and civil institutions necessary for democratic progress in preparation for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Successful elections will underline the government's political will to pursue democratization and open the door for additional engagement. The U.S. government focuses on supporting anticorruption efforts, promoting fiscal transparency in government ministries, and strengthening the capacity of civil society groups and opposition parties. The embassy uses this influence to promote positive change both in terms of wise utilization of the billions of dollars coming in from oil and also in terms of a more open, democratic society in which the benefits of the oil boom are widely shared.
Given the start-up status of the embassy, a significant portion of efforts have been directed to building an effective staff and establishing requisite infrastructure needed to advance U.S. goals. However, visits in 2007 by other high-level U.S. diplomatic officials, including a deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, representatives of the U.S. Senate, and senior U.S. military officers fostered increased engagement with the government.
The upcoming May 2008 municipal and nationwide legislative elections and the presidential elections scheduled for late 2009 or early 2010 offer specific opportunities to promote significant progress toward democratization and respect for human rights. The embassy is cooperating with the government and opposition parties to achieve these objectives and will seek to provide the resources for public diplomacy, NGO activities, and self-help and democracy projects to complement U.S. advocacy work. In addition, to promote development of the legal system, the embassy provides small grants for printed legal texts for rural courts.
U.S. officials maintain outreach to journalists and saw some topics covered that had previously been treated as taboo. U.S. officials meet frequently with press association members, encourage networking with international journalists' associations, distribute supporting materials, host workshops, and utilize public speaking opportunities to convey the importance of the media's role in building a democratic society.
The embassy vigorously and continuously promotes respect for human rights and addresses allegations of torture and women's and minority rights. For example, a U.S.-implemented three-year project to improve the performance of the military and police also incorporates human rights and trafficking in persons training components. The ambassador regularly communicates U.S. concerns to government officials regarding the declining number of individual cases of reported abuse of human rights. These interventions allowed U.S. officials to visit a high-level prisoner detained in the recently renovated Black Beach prison. The embassy also witnessed the effectiveness of its antitrafficking advocacy, with international agencies reporting a "dramatic decrease" in associated activity. The United States continues to advocate for the establishment of formal mechanisms to support victims and active measures against any traffickers.