Gabon is a republic of approximately 1.4 million people dominated by the strong presidency of President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba, who has held office since 1967. The president's ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) has been in power since 1968. Multiparty democracy was introduced to Gabon in 1991. The PDG won more than two—thirds of the seats in the 2006 legislative elections, which observers deemed to be generally free and fair despite irregularities. Significant human rights problems in the country include the limited ability of citizens to change their government; use of excessive force; arbitrary arrest and detention; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, association, and movement; widespread government corruption; harsh prison conditions; trafficking in persons, particularly children; forced labor and child labor; and violence and societal discrimination against women, non—citizen Africans and others.
The United States actively promotes the development of democracy, good governance, and transparency in the country. The U.S. government uses its diplomatic influence to promote stronger democratic institutions, continued stability, and a peaceful, democratic transition after President Bongo leaves office. The ambassador meets with both government and opposition leaders, and with representatives from a wide swath of Gabonese society, and ensures that other U.S. officials do the same. The ambassador has spoken publicly on behalf of democratic reform and a free press. The United States supports a variety of local NGOs active on human rights issues including groups combating trafficking in persons, restrictions on the press, and violence against women.
The U.S. government's support for democracy, good governance, and transparency occurs on many levels. The United States has fielded observers during local and national elections, and expects to do so again in 2008. The U.S. government participates in efforts to coordinate democracy and governance initiatives with other international donors. Training in human rights and the law of war is included in U.S.—provided training to military and police officials. The United States also supports the development of a more vibrant civil society by supporting self—help and other groups that include environmental organizations, women's farming collectives, and activists advocating on behalf of minority and women's rights.
The U.S. embassy carries out an effective public diplomacy program that includes frequent appearances by the U.S. ambassador in the local media. In these appearances, the ambassador has spoken out on behalf of women's rights, democratic reform, and a free press. The embassy also organizes programs to promote press freedom and good journalistic ethics. The United States has been successful in identifying journalists, politicians, and leaders of civil society with a wide range of backgrounds and political perspectives for participation in international visitor's programs and other activities.
To address the problem of trafficking of persons, the United States supported an antitrafficking media campaign, pressed the government to carry out legislative reforms, and engaged the government in a continuing dialogue to encourage a more effective response to the problem.
The U.S. government supports civil society organizations and others combating the problem of "ritual crime," in which individuals-—often children--are killed by those seeking fetishes and ritual power. The United States also supports organizations advocating on behalf of widows and orphans, whose rights are violated in some communities, particularly with respect to the inheritance of wealth from a deceased husband or father.