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.