Togo is a republic governed by President Faure Gnassingbe, whom voters peacefully re-elected on February 22 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 a boycott by the opposition.
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 Defense but also reports to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection on many matters involving law enforcement and internal security. The Ministry of Armed Forces 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. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by security force members; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and the internet, including threats of violence, and the existence of criminal libel laws; interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and reports of crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons.
Impunity was a problem. The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses.
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 were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Human rights organizations reported that some of these abuses occurred while Joint Pandemic Task Force security personnel enforced a state of emergency COVID-19 curfew. For example on April 23, in Be-Adakpame, a neighborhood in Lome, family members reported a relative found dead after he left home during the curfew to relieve himself. On April 30, the minister of security and civil protection announced an investigation into the killing.
On May 21, a security officer in the Anti-Crime Brigade reportedly shot at close range and killed a man pulled over for speeding. One report indicated that the man’s young daughter was in the car at the time. Minister of Security and Civil Protection Damehane Yark announced an investigation into the killing. One human rights organization reported authorities might have imprisoned the officer allegedly responsible for the killing.
In April 2019 security force members in Bafilo beat a protester who was participating in an unauthorized demonstration organized by the opposition Pan-African National Party (PNP). He died in transit to the hospital. Human rights organizations reported the government opened an investigation into the death, but as of August the government had not released any results or pursued any charges. The family was reportedly filing a complaint against the state.
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 opens investigations into high-profile cases but rarely publishes the results. The Ministry of Justice recommends appropriate cases for prosecution to the Public Prosecutors’ Office. The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) also investigates security force killings.
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 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. There were several abuses reported similar to the examples noted below.
On April 11, security personnel enforcing the COVID-19 state of emergency reportedly assaulted an elderly woman, Nyanuwoede Drafoe, living in Agbodrafo, an area approximately 20 miles from Lome. Her family members reported she was beaten for not respecting the curfew. Human rights organizations noted, however, the curfew was not in force in the area at that time and that the use of force was excessive and amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The human rights organizations referred the case to the CNDH, which began an investigation.
On April 23, in Lome security forces detained without charge businessman Koko Langueh, who provided digital communication services to opposition presidential candidate Agbeyome Kodjo. Human rights organizations reported that security forces at the CDJP facility handcuffed him to a bench; took his money, bankcards, and two cell phones; did not allow him to communicate with his lawyer for five days; and beat him so severely that he lost consciousness. At one point an officer put his foot on the victim’s neck and another held his feet so that he could not move. Human rights organizations reported that the victim provided photographic evidence of his injuries. On April 30, authorities released the businessman when his lawyer arrived at the CDJP.
Impunity was a problem in the security forces, including police, gendarmes, and the armed forces. The factors that contribute to impunity include politicization, lack of political will, corruption, and insufficient training. Human rights organizations reported they filed dozens of complaints since 2005, but the government rarely investigated or punished those involved. Following allegations of excessive force in relation to enforcement of the COVID-19 state of emergency and curfew, the government in April instructed the Ministry of Justice to open an investigation. As of August the government has not published any results of this investigation. 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 13, there were 4,117 convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees (including 96 women) in 13 prisons and jails designed to hold 2,720 inmates. For example, Tsevie Prison was at least 360 percent above capacity with more than 200 inmates held in a prison designed to hold 56.
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 the government-supported private nursery. Officials held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners.
From January 1 to August 13, there were 26 prison deaths from illnesses linked to overcrowding and malaria. The government reported that no prisoners had died from COVID-19. Medical facilities, food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate or nonexistent, prisoners did not have access to potable water, and disease was widespread.
On May 12, a riot reportedly broke out at the Civil Prison of Lome following the discovery of 19 positive cases of COVID-19. Security forces used tear gas in response.
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 from other sources.
Independent Monitoring: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) accredited by the Ministry of Justice visited prisons. 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 alleged mistreatment by prison guards. Security forces monitored visits to the Central Criminal Research and Investigation Service (SCRIC) predetention facility and did not allow NGO representatives and prisoners to speak in confidence. 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 realities of prison life.
The NMPT conducted multiple prison visits and conducted awareness campaigns on their mission.
On April 13, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government suspended prison-monitoring visits by NGOs to limit the spread of the virus. This made independent monitoring of prison conditions significantly more difficult.
Improvements: To protect prisoners from COVID-19, the government released 1,048 prisoners on April 3. Other measures included: isolation of new prisoners; quarantine of prisoners with potential exposure to COVID-19; increase in food rations of detainees; increased accessibility of medicine; and sick detainees isolated or sent out of detention centers for treatment. Nonetheless, overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions made it difficult to guard effectively against infection.
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 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. Abuses of legal protections are subject to internal disciplinary investigations and criminal prosecution by the Ministry of Justice, but investigations and prosecutions seldom occurred.
Arbitrary Arrest: On April 21, security forces detained two human rights defenders from the Collective of Associations against Impunity in Togo and a journalist for more than 10 hours at the SCRIC facility. They had no access to a lawyer or their cell phones and could not communicate with their families. Security forces did not give a reason for their arrest. The individuals were conducting a monitoring mission during the arrest of presidential election runner-up Agbeyome Kodjo.
Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees and persons in preventive detention constituted 62 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 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. 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. Although authorities in many cases respected these rights, there were numerous exceptions, including long delays in trials and denial of access to attorneys (see Political Prisoners and Detainees). These rights 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 reports of 52 political prisoners or detainees, all released by year’s end. They did not receive the same protections given to other detainees. Human rights and humanitarian organizations did not have access to them.
On April 21, security forces detained runner-up opposition presidential candidate Agbeyome Kodjo together with 51 of his supporters. The government detained Kodjo reportedly for “aggravated disturbance of public order, dissemination of false news, slanderous denunciation, and breach of the internal security of the state” due to his continued claims months after the election in various media sources that he was the country’s rightful president, and his unlawful use of state symbols. Authorities released Kodjo on April 25, but 16 of the 51 individuals arrested with him remained in detention. Human rights organizations reported authorities on June 1 convicted these 16 individuals on charges of rebellion and complicity in rebellion, noting the trial occurred without a lawyer present and thus deprived them of the right to defend themselves. On August 26, local media reported that the government had released the 16 individuals.
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 February 22, the evening of the presidential election, a large contingent of security forces surrounded the homes of opposition presidential candidate Agbeyome Kodjo and former archbishop Monsignor Philippe Kpodzro. The minister of security and civil protection claimed the government had information about threats to Kodjo and Monsignor Kpodzro, but the government reportedly did not inform the individuals about the nature of the threat, and the two men and their supporters perceived the security presence as an intimidation tactic.
On April 25, security forces raided the offices of an opposition businessman and took two computers and two USB keys (see section 1.c).
On August 3, international news sources reported six citizens, including religious figures and opposition supporters, had their mobile phones infiltrated by spyware technology created by NSO Group, an Israeli private surveillance firm. These six were part of a larger group of 1,400 individuals found internationally to have faced such spyware attacks. The firm refused to release a list of its clients but stated it sold the spyware to a number of governments. Several of the victims reportedly believed the government conducted the spyware attack.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government restricted these rights. The law imposes penalties on journalists deemed to have committed “serious errors.”
Violence and Harassment: On April 30, the Media Foundation for West Africa expressed concern regarding acts of violence committed by authorities against journalists while covering the arrest of political leader Agbeyome Kodjo on April 21. Members of the security forces fired tear gas at the reporters, then reportedly detained one of them without cause.
On August 18, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) condemned “judicial harassment and threats” against the editor of the newspaper L’Alternative and called on authorities to defend the right of freedom of expression. L’Alternative had published an article on June 9 regarding alleged embezzlement in the oil sector. The individuals accused in the article then filed a lawsuit against the newspaper and its editor for defamation. The FIDH reported that the editor was subsequently subjected to “threats, including death threats, and acts of intimidation, including through anonymous telephone calls.” The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reportedly also expressed concern following reports of an intimidating phone call on July 21 pressuring the L’Alternative editor to stop reporting allegations of corruption related to the oil sector.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In April the Togolese section of the International Union of the Francophone Press and the CPJ expressed concern regarding two High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) disciplinary decisions made on March 23. Following defamation complaints filed by the French ambassador, the HAAC imposed a two-month suspension on the privately owned biweekly newspaper L’Alternative for an article that criticized the French president’s Africa advisor. The HAAC also imposed a 15-day suspension on the privately owned daily newspaper Liberte for an article describing the French ambassador as an enemy of democracy. In its decision the HAAC accused the two opposition newspapers of not complying with professional rules.
In April the Independent Union of Togolese Journalists expressed concern over another HAAC disciplinary action suspending the privately owned newspaper Fraternite for two months. The HAAC sanctioned Fraternite for publishing an article denouncing the sanctions against L’Alternative and Liberte and criticizing the members of the HAAC. Human rights organizations regarded the HAAC’s suspension decisions as disproportionate.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. Unlike in previous years, there were no cases filed under these laws.
The law criminalizes the dissemination of false information online 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. Although no cases were prosecuted, human rights organizations reported the law continued to contribute to an atmosphere of “restricted civic space,” an environment in which citizens self-censor due to their fear of being punished for sharing actual thoughts and opinions.
The government restricted access to the internet on the day of the presidential election, February 22, and the following day, February 23.
On February 21, the chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) stated that an internet shutdown could occur during the voting process. The Open Observatory of Network Interference reported blocked access to several instant-messaging applications, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram for Togo Telecom and Atlantique Telecom subscribers shortly after polls closed on February 22. In March, the NGO Access Now reported that the government prevented access to those several internet services during the election.
On June 25, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice ruled that the 2017 internet shutdown ordered by the government due to opposition party protests was illegal. The court ordered the government to pay approximately $3,500 in compensation to the plaintiffs and to implement safeguards to protect the right to freedom of expression in the country.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government sometimes restricted these rights.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. As in 2019, the government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly.
The law regarding peaceful public demonstrations imposes restrictions on the time, place, frequency, and application process for holding public demonstrations. The law prohibits demonstrations on all major roads, in urban centers, zones of economic activity deemed key, and areas close to government institutions, military sites, and diplomatic buildings. Protests may only take place between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and protesters must follow a single route designated by authorities.
On February 28, the minister for territorial administration banned demonstrations called by opposition candidate Agbeyome Kodjo and former archbishop Philippe Kpodzro, claiming that the group was not a registered organization. Small demonstrations took place, nonetheless, and human rights organizations reported security force mistreatment of protesters, including caning and the use of other excessive force to disperse the demonstrations.
On August 1, the minister for territorial administration once again banned demonstrations called by former archbishop Kpodzro. Security forces reportedly dispersed protesters with force and detained eight persons for their participation in the protest. Authorities released them the same day.
Freedom of Association
The law potentially restricts freedom of political association since it grants broad powers to the government to target suspected terrorists. According to human rights organizations, the law could be misapplied to restrict lawful activity by opposition party members and their supporters.
In the pre-election period, human rights organizations received reports of political parties unable to campaign freely because of undue restrictions by local government officials or security forces. Additionally, following continuing government interference with the activities of the opposition PNP in 2019, party members reported they no longer tried to hold meetings.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: Traffic police and gendarmes routinely stopped motorists on fabricated traffic-law offenses in order to obtain bribes.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR reported two cases of physical violence against refugees and referred both cases to the government and its partners.
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 August 31, the government assisted in the repatriation of four refugees. UNHCR reported the number of refugees was lower than previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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: On February 22, President Faure Gnassingbe won re-election to a fourth five-year term with 71 percent of the vote. Main opposition candidate Agbeyome Kodjo of the Patriotic Movement for Democracy and Development won 19 percent and prevailed in the Maritime Region, which includes the capital city of Lome. International observation delegations from ECOWAS and the African Union monitoring the election declared it generally free and fair.
The government excluded groups from observing the election including the Episcopal Council for Justice and Peace. On February 18, the government also revoked the accreditation of the NGO Togolese National Civil Society Platform (CNSC). CENI had previously approved CNSC to observe the elections. On February 19, the government expelled three foreign staff who arrived to support the CSNC’s observation efforts.
Following the announcement of the election results, opposition supporters, including Agbeyome Kodjo, alleged widespread fraud. Although presenting no credible evidence of such fraud, Kodjo declared himself the rightful winner of the election, proclaimed himself head of state, began misusing state symbols such as the seal and motto, made proclamations as a public official, and announced a cabinet. On March 16, the National Assembly stripped Kodjo of his immunity as a member of parliament. Authorities then detained him on April 21 after he failed to respond to two prosecutorial summonses. Authorities released him on April 25, and he went into hiding on July 10, reportedly due to fear of government security forces detaining him again. He remained in hiding as of October.
An opposition businessman detained by security forces on April 23 had his offices raided and materials seized (see section 1.c.). Human rights organizations believed the detention and seizure were politically motivated, and the political opposition claimed this seizure of data prevented them from documenting the widespread fraud they alleged occurred.
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 UNIR party won a majority with 59 of 91 seats. The government-aligned UFC 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 (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees, and section 2.b., Freedom of Association).
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minority groups 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). Nevertheless, the president of the National Assembly was a woman, as were 11 ministers in the 34-member cabinet, including the prime minister herself. 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 (HAPLUCIA), 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.
Local newspaper L’Alternative reported on one prominent case of alleged corruption in June (see section 2.a.). The director of the Committee to Monitor Fluctuations in the Prices of Petroleum Products (CSFPP) and his son (also a committee member) reportedly embezzled up to $900 million in petroleum products over several years. The CSFPP, a government body, manages orders and sets prices for petroleum products. Neither HAPLUCIA nor other enforcement offices took any action in the case.
HAPLUCIA continued working on a 2017 African Cup of Nations corruption case begun in 2019. It prepared to transfer to the public prosecutor a case concerning a director general of Road and Rail Transport accused of embezzling approximately $800,000 from fairground vehicle registration operations in 2015, but the accused director general died on August 3.
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.