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Equatorial Guinea

Executive Summary

Equatorial Guinea is nominally a multiparty constitutional republic. Since a military coup in 1979, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has dominated all branches of government in collaboration with his clan and political party, the Democratic Party of Equatorial Guinea (PDGE), which he founded in 1991. In April 2016 President Obiang claimed to have received 93.7 percent of the vote in a presidential election that many considered neither free nor fair. In November 2017 the country held legislative and municipal elections that lacked independent domestic or international monitoring and verification of the voter census, registration, and the tabulation of ballots. The ruling PDGE party and its 14 coalition parties won 92 percent of the vote, taking all 75 Senate seats, 99 of 100 seats in the lower chamber, and all except one seat in municipal councils. The voter registration process was not transparent. The government restricted opposition party access to media and blocked access to social media and opposition websites during the electoral campaigns. Official observer communication was restricted on the day of the elections by a shutdown of the internet. Authorities later suspended the one unaligned opposition party that won a seat, preventing it from participating in the legislature.

The vice president (the son of President Obiang) has overall control of the security forces. Police generally are responsible for maintaining law and order in the cities, while gendarmes are responsible for security outside cities and for special events. Both entities report to the minister of national security. Military personnel, who report to the minister of defense, also fulfill police functions in border areas, sensitive sites, and high-traffic areas. Both ministers report to the vice president directly. Additional police elements are in the Ministries of Interior (border and traffic police), Finance (customs police), and Justice (investigative/prosecuting police). Presidential security officials also exercise police functions at or near presidential facilities. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: torture; arbitrary detention by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; significant problems with independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive laws on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons (LGBTI); and violence against women and girls, including rape, with limited government action to investigate or prosecute those responsible.

The government took few steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government, and impunity was a serious problem.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the government has extensive legal powers to restrict media activities. The government restricted journalistic activity through prepublication censorship. Media remained weak and under government influence or control. Persons close to the president, including his son, the vice president, owned the few private media outlets that existed. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance, arrests, and threats.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, and security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, Radio-Television of Equatorial Guinea. Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely. During the legislative and municipal elections in 2017, the government censored all international channels.

The government denied or left pending requests by political parties to establish private radio stations. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including the French-language Africa24 television channel, which the government partially owned.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers in the country. As most foreigners need visas to visit the country, the time-consuming nature of the process effectively dissuaded some journalists from travelling, although international media covered major events. In other cases, the government may have prevented reporters from obtaining visas.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, intimidated, and harassed journalists. The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who harassed journalists.

On August 27, police in Bata arrested presenter Milanio Ncogo and reporter Ruben Dario Bacale, employees of Asonga TV, and held them without charge until September 8, when both were released from jail and fired from their jobs. The arrests were retaliation for an interview Bacale conducted with Nazario Oyono Kung, a judge suspended by the president of the Supreme Court.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, although the constitution and law provide for these freedoms.

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, but the government often restricted these rights. Multiple members of the opposition reported that the authorities delayed the renewal of their identity documents, effectively limiting their ability to travel within the country and abroad. Gabriel Nze Obiang of CI stated in December that after one and a half months there was no update on his documents renewal, and that his application was not listed in the system, although the regular period of time to receive a new document was approximately two weeks.

In-country Movement: Police at roadblocks routinely checked travelers and some engaged in petty extortion. Frequent roundups of foreign nationals that the government claimed were necessary to counter irregular immigration, delinquent activities, and coup attempts also occurred at roadblocks.

Foreign Travel: The government has been known to issue temporary travel prohibitions on senior government officials due to alleged national security concerns.

On March 15, authorities detained human rights defender Alfredo Okenve Ndo at the airport in Malabo, handcuffed him, put him on a military flight to his home in Bata, placed him under house arrest, confiscated his passport and cellular telephone, and temporarily banned him from travel outside the country. Authorities had banned him the same day from receiving the “Franco-German prize for human rights,” which had been announced in 2018.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government did not generally cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern. UNHCR did not maintain an office in country.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government severely limited this right.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides severe criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not effectively implement the law. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year, as the president and members of his inner circle continued to amass personal fortunes from the revenues associated with monopolies on all domestic commercial ventures, as well as timber and oil exports. Corruption at all levels of government was a severe problem.

Numerous foreign investigations continued into high-level official corruption. According to Freedom House, the budget process was “opaque.” The government implemented a number of IMF recommendations to improve fiscal transparency during the year, including auditing state-owned enterprises and public debt using international accounting firms, and publishing data on public sector debt in the budget.

There are no specific laws about conflict of interest or nepotism.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution and law require public officials to declare their assets to the National Commission on Public Ethics, although no declarations were made public and the government did not effectively enforce the law. There are no formal procedures to control submission of asset disclosures and no penalties for noncompliance.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The law restricts NGO activity. The country’s few domestic NGOs mainly focused on issues such as health, women’s empowerment, and elder care. CEIDGE was one of the few NGOs that made public statements about government corruption and human rights abuses. Authorities suspended its activities multiple times since 2016 and in March arrested or detained some of CEIDGE’s leaders. After authorities revoked its charter in July, CEIDGE resigned from the commission leading the government’s effort to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

In October 2018 four individuals detained and beat civil society leader and human rights activist Alfredo Okenve Ndo of the CEIDGE. Initial reports suggested security force members may have carried out the attack, mistaking him for his brother Celestino Okenve Ndo, who was a member of an unregistered opposition party. Authorities arrested no one in the case.

The government was generally suspicious of human rights activities, claiming human rights concerns were largely prompted by antigovernment exile groups and hostile foreign NGOs. Government officials rarely were cooperative and responsive to their views. Government officials used media outlets to try to discredit civil society actors, categorizing them as supporters of the opposition and critics of the government. The few local activists who sought to address human rights risked intimidation, harassment, unlawful detention, and other reprisals.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The United Nations maintains an office and has several programs in the country. The government funds the majority of local UN operations. Amnesty International, Freedom House, EG Justice, the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch focused on human rights. No international NGOs, however, maintained offices in the country. Members of international human rights NGOs continued to report difficulties obtaining visas to visit the country.

Government officials responsible for human rights issues functioned more to defend the government from accusations than to investigate human rights complaints or compile statistics.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to establish unions, affiliate with unions of their choice, and collectively bargain. The law also allows unions to conduct activities without interference. The law requires a union to have at least 50 members from a workplace to register, effectively blocking most union formation. The government, however, did not generally allow unions to organize.

The government did not enforce laws providing freedom of association or the right to collective bargaining. All unions must register with the government, but the registration process was costly, burdensome, opaque, and slow. The Union Organization of Small Farmers was the only legal, operational labor union. Authorities refused to recognize other unions, including the Workers Union of Equatorial Guinea, Independent Service Union, Teachers’ Trade Union Association, and the Rural Workers Organization. Most often those seeking to organize were co-opted into existing party structures by means of pressure and incentives. Penalties were not applied and were insufficient to deter violations.

The law broadly acknowledged the right to engage in strikes, but no implementing legislation defines legitimate grounds for striking. No law requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity, although such dismissal may fall under wrongful termination. The government has never authorized a strike.

The government did not protect the right of unions to conduct their activities without interference.

Labor NGOs faced restrictions and were unable to operate.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security conducted numerous workplace inspections to verify adherence to laws on forced labor. Despite creating an online tool to report cases of forced labor and promoting its efforts online, the government did not effectively enforce the law, did not take sufficient action on ending slavery, and forced labor occurred. Neither penalties nor the government’s inspection efforts were sufficient to deter violations.

Employees in the public and private sector were often paid months late. Some workers, especially those from overseas, quit their jobs because of nonpayment, having effectively worked for months without compensation.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits some of the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits employment of children younger than 18, except that with the authorization of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and their parents or guardians, minors between ages 16 and 18 may perform light work that does not interfere with their schooling.

Minors are permitted to work only during the day, and their workday is limited to six hours, for which they are paid the equivalent of an eight-hour daytime work rate. The penalty for employing children younger than 16 is a fine equal to 15 months of the minimum wage per minor, which is doubled for repeat infractions. Penalties are higher for minors younger than 18 who perform night work or work in hazardous environments. The government has yet to publish any list of the hazardous types of work prohibited for children.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but labor inspectors focused mainly on the construction industry and not on child labor. The laws were not effectively enforced, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The government does not have data on the worst forms of child labor.

Children were reportedly transported from nearby countries–primarily Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Togo, and Gabon–and forced to work as domestics, market laborers, ambulant vendors, launderers, and beggars. Increasingly there were reports of local children brought from rural areas to work as domestic servants in Malabo and Bata. The government occasionally provided social services on an ad hoc basis to children found working in markets. In January government officials called attention to children working in markets and as street vendors and increased oversight. In February the government issued a decree prohibiting children from working as vendors in the street in an attempt to reduce child labor.

Attention to school attendance generally focused more on citizen children than on their foreign peers.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin, social status, or union affiliation. Labor laws do not prohibit discrimination based on age, disability, sexual orientation, language, HIV/AIDS status, or refugee or stateless status. The government did not effectively enforce these laws and regulations. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to political affiliation, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, disability, and HIV/AIDS status. Discrimination against foreign migrant workers occurred. High-ranking members of independent opposition parties were unable to find work and were barred from government employment.

The government does not have an agency responsible for the protection of persons unable to work due to permanent or temporary illness or other health conditions. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security did not effectively enforce the legal mandate to employ a specific percentage of persons with disabilities in companies with 50 employees or more, nor did the government take steps to accommodate them in the workplace.

The country continued to have large gender gaps in education, equal pay, and employment opportunities. Deep-rooted stereotypes and ethnic traditions impeded women’s employment opportunities. Women mostly worked in the informal sector where they did not have access to benefits or social security. The lack of enforcement left women vulnerable to discrimination, but they rarely complained due to fear of reprisals. The government did not maintain accurate or updated statistics on unemployment generally, nor by segment of society.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law requires employers to pay citizens at the same rate as foreigners and to pay domestic workers not less than 60 percent of the national minimum wage. In reality, neither is enforced.

The standard work week is eight hours a day and 48 hours a week for daytime work, six hours a day and 36 hours a week for night work, and seven hours a day and 42 hours a week for mixed day and night work. Offshore workdays are a minimum of 12 hours, of which eight hours are considered regular work and four hours are counted as overtime. The workday includes one hour for meals and breaks. The law also requires paid leave for government holidays, annual leave, and bonuses of 15 days’ pay twice yearly. Overtime is not mandatory, except as provided by law or special agreement, and is prohibited for pregnant workers. The law allows overtime for night work. Premium pay is required for overtime and holidays. Women had six weeks pre- and postmaternity leave that could be extended for medical reasons. The law provides for two paid daily breaks of one hour each to breast feed.

Occupational safety and health (OSH) standards provide for protection of workers from occupational hazards, but they were not consistently observed. The law permits workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for setting and enforcing minimum wage, workweek rules, and OSH standards. The ministry conducted numerous workplace inspections to verify adherence to labor laws regarding pay, benefits, and working conditions. When inspectors found violations, the government required some employers to correct the problem, pay fines, or pay reparations to the employees.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations, and the small number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively. The ministry does not publish the results of its OSH inspections.

Legal protections exist for employees who are injured or killed on the job and for those who were exposed to dangerous chemicals, but these protections were generally extended only to those in the formal sector. Protections in the hydrocarbons sector exceeded minimum international safety standards.

The government did not monitor the informal sector, which employed a majority of workers. No credible data or statistics were available.

Foreigners, including migrants from other parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, were sometimes subjected to poor working conditions. Some workers were exposed to hazardous chemicals, supplied with insufficient safety gear, and subjected to excessively long hours. The ministry established a website in 2018 and a phone line during the year for workers to report workplace irregularities and violations, including safety concerns and forced labor.

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