Togo is a republic governed by President Faure Gnassingbe, whom voters re-elected in 2015 in a process international observers characterized as generally free and fair. On December 20, parliamentary elections took place under peaceful conditions. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) considered them reasonably free and transparent, despite a boycott by the opposition. On December 31, the country’s Constitutional Court announced the ruling Union for the Republic party (UNIR) won 59 of 91 seats; the government-aligned party, Union of Forces for Change (UFC), won seven seats; independent candidates aligned with the government and smaller parties split the remaining 25 seats.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; criminal libel; interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; violence against women and inadequate government efforts to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold perpetrators accountable; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; trafficking in persons; and forced child labor.
The government took limited steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses. Impunity was a problem.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There was one report that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On May 15, media reported 10 prison guards beat a detainee to death in the Kpalime Civil Prison. The government detained the guards. One was released and nine remained in detention in Lome but had not been charged by year’s end.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were several reports, however, that government officials employed cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. In February civil society associations reported that police units detained dozens of protesters in Lome and chained them together in a field next to a police station. Police left the detainees without shelter overnight before releasing them.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to serious overcrowding, poor sanitation, disease, and unhealthy food.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. As of October 10, there were 5,109 convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees (including 165 women) in 13 prisons and jails designed to hold 2,720. Men often guarded women. There were 66 juveniles held in the Brigade for Minors facility. Authorities placed the infants of female pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in the care of government-supported private nurseries. Officials held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.
From January to October 10, there were 28 prison deaths from various causes, including malaria. Medical facilities, food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent, prisoners did not have access to potable water, and disease was widespread.
Administration: There were no ombudsmen to assist in resolving the complaints of prisoners and detainees. Although authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, they rarely investigated complaints and, when they did, did not release any findings. The government rarely monitored and investigated allegations of inhuman prison and detention center conditions.
Independent Monitoring: Representatives of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) accredited by the Ministry of Justice visited prisons. Such NGOs were generally independent and acted without government interference. Authorities generally denied requests by journalists to visit prisons. The government required international NGOs to negotiate an agreement to obtain access. The International Committee of the Red Cross and other international human rights organizations had access through such agreements. The government holds an annual Week of the Detainee program, during which all prisons are open to the public, allowing visitors to witness the harsh, sometimes deplorable, realities of prison life.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. The government did not always observe these requirements.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The national police and the gendarmerie are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The gendarmerie is also responsible for migration and border enforcement. The National Intelligence Agency provided intelligence to police and gendarmes but did not have internal security or detention facility responsibilities. Police are under the direction of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, which reports to the prime minister. The gendarmerie falls under the Ministry of Defense but also reports to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection on many matters involving law enforcement and security. The Ministry of Defense, which reports directly to the president, oversees the military.
Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the armed forces, gendarmerie, and police, and government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse were often not effective. Corruption and inefficiency were endemic among police, and impunity was a problem. There were reports of police misusing arrest authority for personal gain. Abuses by security forces were subject to internal disciplinary investigations and criminal prosecution by the Ministry of Justice, but investigation and prosecution seldom occurred. The government generally neither investigated nor punished effectively those who committed abuses.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
There were no reports of persons arbitrarily detained in secret without warrants. The law authorizes judges, senior police officials, prefects, and mayors to issue arrest warrants. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them, and police generally respected this right. The law provides for a suspect to be brought before a judicial officer within 72 hours of arrest. Although the law stipulates that special judges conduct a pretrial investigation to examine the adequacy of evidence and to decide on bail, authorities often held detainees without bail for lengthy periods regardless of a judge’s decision. Attorneys and family members have the right to see a detainee after 48 to 96 hours of detention, but authorities often delayed, and sometimes denied, access. All defendants have the right to an attorney, and the bar association sometimes provided attorneys for indigents charged with criminal offenses. The law gives indigent defendants the right to free legal representation, but the government provided only partial funding for implementation. No detainees were held incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: On October 4, police detained nine civil society members who were distributing pamphlets encouraging participation in a protest. Although authorities stated police were only checking their identities, the nine were held for 12 hours before release.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees and persons in preventive detention totaled 3,212, or 63 percent of the total prison population. A shortage of judges and other qualified personnel, as well as official inaction, often resulted in pretrial detention for periods exceeding the time detainees would have served if tried and convicted, in many cases for more than six months.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and law provide for the right of an arrested or detained person to challenge the lawfulness of detention, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds. An individual found to have been unlawfully detained may file for damages.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. The executive branch exerted control over the judiciary, and judicial corruption was a problem. There was a widespread perception lawyers bribed judges to influence the outcome of cases. The court system remained overburdened and understaffed.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but executive influence on the judiciary limited this right. The judicial system employs both traditional law and the Napoleonic Code in trying criminal and civil cases. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. They have a right to a trial without undue delay, to be present at their trial, to communicate with an attorney of their choice or be provided with one at public expense if unable to pay, and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Trials were open to the public and juries were used. Defendants have the right to confront prosecution witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Those convicted have the right to appeal. Authorities generally respected these rights, which are extended to all defendants including women, members of indigenous groups, older persons, and persons with disabilities.
In rural areas the village chief or a council of elders has authority to try minor criminal and civil cases. Those who reject traditional authority may take their cases to the regular court system.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were was one report of a political prisoner or detainee.
On August 22, authorities arrested civil society leader Folly Satchivi–spokesperson of the human rights organization Under No Circumstances that promotes setting presidential term limits–for conducting an unauthorized press conference. The government charged Satchivi with disruption of public order and other offenses. He was denied bail and no trial date had been set by year’s end.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution and law provide for civil and administrative remedies for human rights violations, but the judiciary did not respect such provisions, and most citizens were unaware of them.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions. Unlike in prior years, there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government restricted these rights. The law imposes penalties on journalists deemed to have committed “serious errors” as defined in the media code.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The High Authority of Audiovisuals and Communications is a constitutionally mandated body charged with allocating frequencies to private television and radio stations and providing for press freedom and ethical standards of journalism. For violations of the press code, it has the power to impose penalties, including suspending publications for up to six months, withdrawing press cards, and seizing equipment from journalists.
Libel/Slander Laws: On April 4, the government arrested the president of the political association Youth Movement for Democracy and Development after the organization published a report on the repression of protests in which it claimed the government had killed approximately 100 demonstrators. The government charged the president with libel for spreading false news, insulting authorities, and calling for genocide. By year’s end the case had yet to be prosecuted and the president remained incarcerated.
Unlike in prior years, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were media reports the government acquired sophisticated electronic eavesdropping equipment from a foreign provider; however, there were no credible reports, the government eavesdropped without appropriate judicial authority.
On December 7, the National Assembly passed a cybersecurity law that criminalizes the dissemination of false information and the production and sharing of data that undermine “order, public security, or breach human dignity.” A person convicted of violating the law may be sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, 12.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government did not consistently respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Organizers of demonstrations must obtain permission from the Ministry of Territorial Affairs, which may prescribe the route marchers may take. In September 2017 the government implemented a ban on public demonstrations in the cities of Sokode, Bafilo, and Mango, citing a risk of violence. The ban continued during the year.
For example, citing a law prohibiting the disruption of political campaigns, during the two weeks prior to the December 20 parliamentary elections, the government banned all gatherings and demonstrations of political parties promoting a boycott of the elections.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
While the law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government restricted some of these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
In-country Movement: Traffic police routinely stopped motorists on fabricated traffic law charges in order to obtain bribes.
Foreign Travel: On October 2, the government prevented an opposition politician on a hunger strike from leaving the country for medical treatment. On October 9, authorities allowed the politician to leave.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection for refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government cooperated with UNHCR to assist in the safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries. From January 1 to October 10, the government assisted in the repatriation of 236 refugees.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens exercised that ability.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2015 President Faure Gnassingbe was re-elected to a third five-year term with 59 percent of the vote. International and national observers monitoring the election declared it generally free, fair, transparent, and peaceful, although there were logistical shortcomings. Security forces did not interfere with voting or other aspects of the electoral process; they played no role and remained in their barracks on election day.
On December 20, parliamentary elections were held. Fourteen parliamentary and nonparliamentary opposition parties chose to boycott the elections. Prior to the elections, the parties called for equal representation on the election commission, a neutral administrator, more transparency in the voter registration process, and the right for citizens residing abroad to vote. The parties withheld participation in the electoral commission and urged supporters not to register to vote.
International observers noted the parliamentary elections took place under generally peaceful conditions. Although it expressed regret regarding the decision of the coalition of 14 opposition parties to boycott the elections, on December 22, ECOWAS commended “the effective conduct of free and transparent legislative elections.” The Constitutional Court announced on December 31 that the ruling UNIR party won a majority with 59 of 91 seats. The government-aligned UFC won seven seats. Smaller parties and independent candidates aligned with the government won the remaining 25 seats.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The UNIR party dominated politics and maintained firm control over all levels of government. UNIR membership conferred advantages such as better access to government jobs.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed cultural and traditional practices prevented women from voting, running for office, serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men. For example, only 18 percent of parliamentarians were women (16 of 91) during the year. Members of southern ethnic groups remained underrepresented in both government and the military.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
The body officially responsible for combating corruption, the High Authority for Preventing and Combating Corruption and Related Offenses, is an independent body that works with the judiciary on strengthening countercorruption practices and oversees adherence of public officials to anticorruption statutes. It also has a public outreach function that includes raising public awareness and referring complaints for legal action. The authority, however, lacked a specific anticorruption legal mandate and was inactive. Other state entities, such as the Government Accounting Office and the Finances Inspectorate, investigated and audited public institutions, but because their resources were limited, they reported few results. Authorities maintained toll-free and text-messaging lines for citizens to report cases of corruption.
Corruption: Government corruption was most severe among prison officials, police, and members of the judiciary. For example, there were credible reports that judges accepted bribes to expedite and render favorable decisions in land dispute cases.
Financial Disclosure: Only the Togo Revenue Authority requires its officers to disclose their income and assets. No provisions in the constitution, law, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often met with human rights groups and participated in NGO-sponsored public events but typically were not responsive to NGO recommendations.
Government Human Rights Bodies: A permanent human rights committee exists within the National Assembly, but it did not play a significant policy-making role or exercise independent judgment. The National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) is the government body charged with investigating allegations of human rights abuses. CNDH representatives visited prisons, documented prison conditions, and advocated for prisoners, especially those in need of hospital medical attention. The CNDH also provided training in the preparation and submission of cases for investigation and redress.