Togo is a republic governed by President Faure Gnassingbe, whom voters peacefully re-elected in February 2020 in a process that international observers characterized as generally free and fair. Opposition supporters alleged fraud but did not provide any credible evidence. The international community accepted the election results. The 2018 parliamentary elections also took place under peaceful conditions. The Economic Community of West African States considered those elections reasonably free and transparent, despite an opposition boycott.
The national police and 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 provides intelligence to police and gendarmes but does 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 the Armed Forces but also reports to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection on many matters involving law enforcement and internal security. The armed forces have some internal security duties and report also to the Ministry of the Armed Forces. 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. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by government or on behalf of government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media including the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence and child, early, and forced marriage; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.
Corruption and impunity for abuses were problems. The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses or corrupt acts.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Security and Civil Protection announced investigations into several reports of killings by security forces in 2020, but the results of these investigations remained pending. For example, the April 2020 death of a Lome man after leaving his home during the COVID-19 curfew remained unresolved as of September.
On February 24, parents demanding justice for children killed during opposition protests in 2017 and 2018 launched the Collective of Victims’ Families in Togo, calling on the government to bring the perpetrators to justice. As of September, authorities had not announced any investigations into those deaths.
Government offices formally empowered to investigate security force killings include the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police (CDJP) and the Inspectorate of the Judicial Police. The Ministry of Security also investigates high-profile cases but rarely publishes the results. The Ministry of Justice recommends appropriate cases for prosecution to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) also investigates security force killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of the government.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were multiple reports, however, that government officials employed cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
Human rights organizations reported systemic physical mistreatment of uncharged detainees. The CNDH serves as the National Mechanism to Prevent Torture (NMPT), and human rights organizations invited the NMPT to engage more actively to prevent torture and abuse.
On December 29, 2020, gendarmes arrested Carlos Ketohou, publishing director of L’Independant Express, a private newspaper. He was held at the Central Intelligence and Criminal Investigation Service (SCRIC) until January 2. Human rights groups reported Ketohou suffered ill treatment and was denied clothing other than underwear. Security forces repeatedly interrogated him over the course of several hours with guns pointed at his face.
Authorities arrested Pan-African National Party Prefectural secretary Abdou-Moutawakilou Yakoubou in January 2020 on allegations of having participated in violent acts against gendarmes during the 2019 government raid on the “Tiger Revolution” group. Authorities granted him provisional freedom on health grounds in July, and he died on August 26 of a long-term illness. Human rights organizations reported he was subjected to torture and inhuman acts while in detention. The Committee for the Liberation of All Political Prisoners in Togo reported that five others arrested in early 2020 for participation in the Tiger Revolution group, Mourane Tairou, Alassani Issaka, Saibou Moussa, Seybou Alilou, and Djalilou Soulemane, died in prison in late 2020, and were also allegedly subjected to torture while in prison.
On October 20, the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States condemned the government for torture and ill-treatment of a woman arrested during political demonstrations in 2017. The court ordered the government to pay $53,000 restitution to the woman. The woman filed a complaint with the court in 2018 after domestic courts refused to consider her petitions.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one allegation submitted in October 2020 of sexual exploitation and abuse by a Togolese peacekeeper deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission. As of September, the United Nations had substantiated the allegation and repatriated the perpetrator, but the government had not disclosed the disciplinary or remedial measures taken.
Impunity was a problem in the security forces, including police, gendarmes, and the armed forces. The factors that contributed to impunity included politicization, lack of political will, corruption, and insufficient training. Human rights organizations reported they filed several complaints, but the government rarely investigated or punished those involved.
Offices tasked with investigating abuses include the CDJP, the Inspectorate of the Judicial Police, the Ministry of Security, the Ministry of Justice, the Public Prosecutors’ Office, and the CNDH.
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 insufficient and unhealthy food.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a serious problem. As of August 30, there were 4,990 convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees (including 132 women) in 13 prisons and jails designed to hold 2,720 inmates. For example, the Lome civil prison was more than one-third above capacity with approximately 900 inmates held in a prison designed to hold 666. These crowded conditions facilitated the spread of COVID-19.
Nursing mothers with infants were generally held together with other detainees. In some cases, nursing mothers chose to have their babies placed in the care of a government-supported private nursery. In September the national penitentiary director claimed there were no nursing mothers in prison. Officials held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.
As of September, the national penitentiary director confirmed there were 26 prison deaths from illnesses linked to overcrowding and malaria. The government reported no prisoners had died from COVID-19. Medical facilities, food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate. Prisoners did not have access to potable water, and disease was widespread.
Administration: Prisons lacked 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 their findings. The government rarely monitored and investigated allegations of inhuman prison and detention center conditions received from other sources.
Independent Monitoring: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Justice accredited nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives for prison visits. The government required international NGOs to negotiate an agreement to obtain access, and the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international human rights organizations had such agreements. Such NGOs were generally independent and acted without government interference. Nevertheless, some NGOs noted instances in which they had received authorization to conduct a visit but were denied access upon arrival, most often when visiting political prisoners alleging mistreatment by prison guards. Security forces monitored visits to the SCRIC predetention facility and did not allow NGO representatives and prisoners to speak in confidence. Authorities generally denied requests by journalists to visit prisons.
In April 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended prison-monitoring visits by NGOs to limit the spread of the virus. This measure complicated independent monitoring of prison conditions significantly. Authorities, however, permitted some selective visits.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not always observe these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
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 a judge 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 or 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 counsel. Abuses of legal protections are supposedly subject to internal disciplinary investigations and criminal prosecution by the Ministry of Justice, but investigations and prosecutions seldom occurred.
Arbitrary Arrest: On November 4, authorities arrested Geneva-based government critic Jean-Paul Oumolou during a family visit. Authorities held Oumolou without charge for eight days, then charged him with incitement to revolt, contempt of authority, dissemination of false news, and “crime apology.” Oumolou fled the country during the 2018 antigovernment protests, when he called on citizens and the military to prevent President Faure Gnassingbe from seeking another term.
In November 2020 authorities arrested leading officials Gerard Djossou and Brigitte Kafui Adjamagbo-Johnson from Dynamique Monseigneur Kpodzro (DMK), the political group that supported opposition figure and February 2020 presidential election runner-up Agbeyome Kodjo. The public prosecutor claimed the government had evidence the DMK planned to destabilize the state but did not present it nor detain others. In December 2020 the investigative judge charged the two with conspiracy and undermining the internal security of the state and later that month released them from prison under judicial supervision. The government continued to monitor their movements, and the two needed permission to travel outside the country. Opposition members and human rights groups asserted the charges were politically motivated.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees and persons in preventive detention constituted 60 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 by more than six months.
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 sometimes a problem. A widespread public perception existed that 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. 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. Although authorities in many cases respected these rights, there were numerous exceptions, including long delays in trials and denial of access to attorneys.
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
The Committee for the Liberation of All Political Prisoners in Togo stated there were more than 100 political prisoners or detainees. These persons did not receive the same protections given to other prisoners and detainees. Human rights and humanitarian organizations did not have access to them.
During a radio debate on April 27, Patriotic Democratic Front opposition leader and former communication minister Djimon Ore criticized France’s policies in Africa and said the acts the ruling Gnassingbe family committed exceeded the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide. On April 29, the Criminal Investigation Service arrested Ore at his home. The public prosecutor charged Ore with “attacking the honor, attempting aggravated disturbances of public order, and insulting representatives of the public authority.” He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on May 14. Various opposition leaders and civil society activists called for his release and declared his arrest was a violation of his freedom of expression. Ore remained in custody at year’s end.
On May 17, security forces detained Patriotic Movement for Democracy and Development party member Paul Missiagbeto for allegedly spreading fake news. Authorities reportedly held Missiagbeto for four days without charges at the SCRIC before transferring him to Lome Civil Prison 18 days after his arrest. On September 1, a court sentenced him to four years in prison for “threats, insults and disturbance of public order.” His legal counsel said the charges came from surveillance of his illegally acquired cell phone and violated constitutional protections.
The Association for Victims of Torture and the Mandela Awareness Movement highlighted 14 emblematic cases sent to the president in November 2020, calling for him to free political prisoners, particularly those arrested in the Tiger Revolution raid of 2019. In February the Committee for the Liberation of All Political Prisoners in Togo noted that Abdoul-Aziz Goma and 15 others were still in detention after their arrest in 2018, with two persons also still detained from a 2018 opposition protest, and 76 persons still in detention from the raid on the Tiger Revolution group.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The constitution and law provide for civil and administrative remedies for human rights abuses, 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, but there were reports such interference occurred.
On May 17, a dozen heavily armed gendarmes in civilian clothes reportedly broke into Djimon Ore’s home in western Lome and searched without a warrant. After conducting a search, they arrested Ore and returned to take photos (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).
On July 21, international media cited the use by authorities of Israeli software program Pegasus to spy on activists, opponents, and journalists. The government reportedly spied on several persons, including journalists Carlos Ketohou and Ferdinand Ayite, as well as opposition figures and human rights activists (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).
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 February 2020 President Faure Gnassingbe won re-election to a fourth five-year term with 71 percent of the vote, according to government estimates. The main opposition candidate Agbeyome Kodjo of the Patriotic Movement for Democracy and Development won 19 percent and prevailed in the Maritime Region, which includes Lome. International observation delegations from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union monitoring the election declared it generally free and fair, despite some irregularities. The government excluded some groups from observing the election, including the Episcopal Council for Justice and Peace.
In 2018 parliamentary elections took place. Fourteen opposition parties chose to boycott the elections. International observers noted the parliamentary elections took place under generally peaceful conditions. Although expressing regret regarding the opposition boycott, ECOWAS commended “the effective conduct of free and transparent legislative elections.” The Constitutional Court announced the ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) party won a majority with 59 of 91 seats. The government-aligned Union of Forces for Change party won seven seats. Smaller parties and independent candidates aligned with the government won the remaining 25 seats.
Political Parties and Political Participation: UNIR 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 Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups, including persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed cultural and traditional practices constrained women, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ persons from voting, running for office, serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as heterosexual men or nonminority citizens. For example, only 17 of 91 parliamentarians were women, one parliamentarian had a disability, and none openly identified as LGBTQI+. Nevertheless, the president of the National Assembly was a woman, as were 12 ministers in the 34-member cabinet, including the prime minister. 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 corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively. There were numerous allegations of government corruption, and some officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
The body 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 anticorruption 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.
Other state entities, such as the Government Accounting Office and the Finances Inspectorate, investigated and audited public institutions but 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. There were credible reports judges accepted bribes to expedite and render favorable decisions in land-dispute cases.
On February 26, Vincent Bollore, CEO of Bollore Group, and two senior company executives admitted in a French court to corruption and abuse of power related to the acquisition of a Port of Lome concession extension, tax exemptions, and construction permissions in exchange for drastically discounted communication services to President Faure Gnassingbe’s 2010 re-election campaign. The French court recommended a criminal trial for the executives. Bollore Group additionally paid nearly $15 million in damages.
In November 2020 a leaked Finance Inspectorate audit noted serious irregularities in the Committee to Monitor Fluctuations of the Prices of Petroleum Products, a government body tasked with managing orders and setting prices for those products. In 2020 L’Alternative reported $900 million in alleged embezzlement by the director of the committee and his son (see section 2.a., Libel/Slander Laws).
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses 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. Some NGOs, such as the Togolese League for Human Rights, reported experiencing intimidation and threats while conducting their work, particularly during election periods.
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 CNDH is the government body charged with investigating allegations of human rights abuses and is nominally independent and somewhat effective in its investigations and deliberations.
The CNDH undertook several activities, including organizing meetings with human rights organizations and visiting prisons. For example, on July 22 and 23, the CNDH organized a workshop in Kpalime on the implementation of its prison reform recommendations. The meeting brought together representatives from relevant ministerial departments. Human rights organizations encouraged the CNDH to take a more active role in mitigating human rights abuses.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women and men and addresses spousal rape, but authorities did not generally enforce it effectively. The law does not specifically address domestic or intimate partner violence. The law provides for five to 10 years’ imprisonment for rape and a substantial monetary fine. Spousal rape is punishable by up to 720 hours of community service and a smaller monetary fine. A prison term of 20 to 30 years applies if the victim is younger than 14; was gang raped; or if the rape resulted in pregnancy, disease, or incapacitation lasting more than six weeks. Although the government did not provide statistics on the incidence of rape or arrests for rape, some data were available from legal advocates for victims and NGOs.
Domestic violence against women was widespread. Police generally did not intervene in abusive situations, and many women were not aware of the formal judicial mechanisms designed to protect them. The government made some efforts to combat rape and domestic violence. For example, the government had several locations where abused women could shelter.
On July 30, a motorcycle taxi driver was convicted of a rape committed in 2017. After attempting to bribe a police officer, he received a 10-year sentence for rape and attempted corruption, in addition to a substantial monetary fine to compensate the victim.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for girls and women. According to UNICEF data from 2017, FGM/C had been performed on 3.1 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49. The most common form of FGM/C was excision, usually performed a few months after birth. The practice was most common in isolated Muslim communities in the sparsely populated Central and Savanes Regions.
The government sponsored educational seminars on FGM/C. Several domestic NGOs, with international assistance, organized campaigns to educate women on their rights and how to care for victims of FGM/C. NGOs also worked to create alternative labor opportunities for former FGM/C perpetrators.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was a problem. While the law states harassment is illegal and may be prosecuted in court, authorities did not enforce it. The law provides penalties of one to three years’ imprisonment and a potentially substantial fine. Penalties are increased for sexual harassment of a vulnerable person, defined as a minor, person of advanced age, pregnant woman, or person with an illness or disability.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Legal, social, and cultural barriers to sexual and reproductive health included poverty, the lack of education regarding sexual and reproductive health, and the classification of contraceptive services as nonemergency services, leading to delays in providing contraceptive services during the COVID-19 health emergency.
The government provided access to limited sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors. Emergency contraception was available as part of the clinical management of rape.
According to UNICEF, the maternal mortality rate was 396 deaths per 100,000 live births, and a woman’s lifetime risk of maternal death was one in 56 as of 2017. The most common causes of maternal mortality were hemorrhaging, adolescent pregnancy, and lack of access to skilled obstetric care during childbirth.
While there are no legal barriers related to menstruation and access to menstruation hygiene, social and cultural barriers impacted women and girls’ ability to participate equally in society.
A 2017 government-funded study surveyed 788 young women and girls from ages 10 to 24 on menstrual hygiene management. The study indicated women and girls experienced prohibition from performing activities during menstruation from their parents (62.5 percent of respondents) and from the culture (20.2 percent of respondents) in cooking, seeking water and wood, praying, eating with family, and engaging in sexual intercourse. Lack of private facilities in schools lead some women and girls to return home during menstruation out of a desire for privacy. The study reported girls leaving school entirely due to reasons related to menstrual hygiene management.
Discrimination: Although by law women and men are equal, women experienced discrimination in education, pay, pension benefits, inheritance, and transmission of citizenship (see section 6, Children). In urban areas women and girls dominated market activities and commerce but did not receive adequate legal protection in those activities. Harsh economic conditions in rural areas, where most of the population lived, left women with little time for activities other than domestic tasks and agricultural fieldwork. While the formal legal system supersedes the traditional system, the government did not enforce the law effectively, and the courts were slow, distant, and expensive to access; rural women were effectively subject to traditional or customary practices. By tradition a wife has no maintenance or child support rights in the event of divorce or separation. The formal legal system provides inheritance rights for a wife upon the death of her husband.
There are no restrictions on women signing contracts, opening bank accounts, or owning property. Women did not experience formal-sector economic discrimination in access to employment, credit, or business management. The law stipulates that 25 percent of public contracts must be awarded to young and female entrepreneurs.