Mauritius is a multiparty democracy governed by the prime minister, the Council of Ministers, and the National Assembly. International and local observers judged elections for the prime minister and legislators on November 7 to be free and fair. The coalition headed by the incumbent prime minister won a majority of seats.
A police commissioner heads the police and has authority over all police and other security forces, including the Coast Guard and Special Mobile Forces (a paramilitary unit that shares responsibility with police for internal security). The national police report to the Ministry of Defense. The Coast Guard and police handle external security, reporting to the Ministry of Defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included allegations of security force abuse of suspects and detainees; government corruption; crimes of violence against women and girls; and restrictions on labor rights.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Enforcement of prosecution and punishment was inconsistent and sometimes politically influenced, resulting in impunity.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, a related law was amended in October 2018 to prevent internet users from posting anything that could cause “annoyance, humiliation, inconvenience, distress or anxiety to any person” on social media. Anyone found guilty faces up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.
The government owned the sole domestic television network, MBC TV. Opposition parties and media commentators regularly criticized the station for its allegedly progovernment bias and unfair coverage of opposition parties, as well as alleged interference in the network’s daily operations by the prime minister’s senior adviser. International television networks were available by subscription or via cable. Stringent limitations on foreign investment in local broadcast media contained in the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act were deterrents to the establishment of independent television stations.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: On July 31, the United Arab Emirates deported Mauritian citizen Shameem Korimbocus for posting offensive comments on social media directed at the Mauritian government. Media reported in 2018 that a senior member of the Mauritian government requested that the Dubai government intervene. Authorities did not charge Korimbocus with any crimes on his return.
The government maintained its 1989 ban of The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie and the Rape of Sita by Lindsey Collen. While bookstores could not legally import the book, purchasers could buy it online without difficulty.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. There were continuing unsubstantiated claims that police tapped cellphones and email of journalists and opposition politicians.
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, and the government generally respected these rights.
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 constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Foreign Travel: In cases where individuals were arrested and released on bail, the government generally seized the person’s passport and issued a prohibition order prohibiting such individuals from leaving the country.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system providing protection to refugees. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there were no registered refugees or asylum seekers in the country.
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.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: International and local observers characterized National Assembly elections held on November 7 as free and fair. The coalition headed by the incumbent prime minister won a majority of seats. The constitution provides for filling 62 National Assembly seats by election. The constitution also allows the Electoral Supervisory Commission to allocate up to eight additional seats to unsuccessful candidates from minority communities that are underrepresented, based on the 1972 census, through a procedure known as the Best Loser System (BLS).
Various political observers claimed the BLS undermined national unity and promoted discrimination. In 2012 the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that a requirement obliging citizens running for election to declare their ethnic and religious status violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In response to that ruling, the government amended the constitution in 2014 to exempt candidates in the 2014 legislative elections from having to declare themselves as belonging to one of four recognized communities: Hindu, Muslim, Sino-Mauritian, or General Population (those who do not belong to one of the other three categories). The growth of the Muslim and General Population groups relative to the other two communities since 1972 was a particular source of concern to some, and critics proposed reforms to eliminate the BLS system altogether after the 2014 election. Candidates who did not declare their membership in a specific community during the most recent election were not eligible for a BLS seat, since the 2014 exemption was not extended to the 2019 elections.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction or outside interference. That said, opposition parties have long alleged that government-owned television station MBC favored whichever group was in power. Several opposition parties made the same complaint during the October-November election campaign.
Participation of Women and Minorities: The law provides equal rights for women and minorities to vote, run for office, serve as electoral monitors, and otherwise participate in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens. In 2015 Ameenah Gurib-Fakim became the first female president of the country. She resigned in 2018 due to allegations of corruption. The law promotes the participation of women in local government by requiring that at least one of three candidates contesting elections in each ward or village be of a gender different from the others. One-third of elected candidates in the 2012 village and municipal elections were women. The law is silent, however, concerning gender balance in national legislative elections. Following the November 7 legislative elections, women constituted 20 percent of elected members of the National Assembly and 12 percent of the cabinet.
The constitution mandates that candidates for legislative elections declare their ethnicity to calculate the BLS. One political party and several independent candidates refused to declare their ethnicities before the November elections on the grounds that it was undemocratic. The Supreme Court ruled against them, and they were unable to be included on the ballots.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The constitution and law provide for the rights of workers, including foreign workers, to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes.
Civil servants have the right to bargain collectively with the Pay Research Bureau. Workers are free to form and join unions and to organize in all sectors, including in the export-oriented enterprises (EOE), formerly known as the export-processing zone. The Police (Membership of Trade Union) Act allows police officers to form and join unions. The law grants authorities the right to cancel a union’s registration if it fails to comply with certain legal obligations; however, there were no reports that the government exercised this right. The law provides for a commission to investigate and mediate labor disputes, and a program to provide unemployment benefits and job training. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference.
The law establishes a mandatory, complex, and excessively lengthy process for declaring a legal strike. This process calls for labor disputes to be reported to the Commission for Conciliation and Mediation only after meaningful negotiations have occurred and the parties involved have reached a deadlock–a process that is not to exceed 90 days unless the parties involved agree. If the parties reach no compromise, the workers may call a strike. Even if workers follow this procedure, the law allows the government to prohibit a strike and refer the dispute to arbitration if the strike could seriously affect an industry or service or threaten employment. Strikes are not generally legal on issues that are already covered in a collective bargaining agreement. The law requires workers in many sectors to provide minimum service levels in the event of a strike, including sectors that international standards do not classify as “essential services.” The law prohibits strikes and other demonstrations during the sittings of the National Assembly and does not allow unions to organize strikes at the national level or concerning general economic policy issues.
Worker participation in an unlawful strike is sufficient grounds for dismissal, but workers may seek a remedy in court if they believe their dismissals were unjustified. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, but it does not provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Dismissed workers can turn to the Industrial Relations Court to seek redress.
National labor laws cover all workers in the formal and informal sectors, with exceptions in the EOE pertaining to overtime. Despite growth in the informal economy over the years, there was no research on or estimate of the size of the informal economy, which traditionally includes street “hawkers” involved in vending of food and clothing.
The government effectively enforced applicable laws, but there were a few delays in procedures and appeals. Penalties for violations by employers were insufficient to deter violations.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were generally respected, and workers exercised these rights. Most unions collectively negotiated wages higher than those set by the National Remuneration Board (NRB). Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. There were no reports of government interference in union activities.
Despite the law antiunion discrimination and dismissal remained a problem in the private sector. Some employers in the EOE reportedly continued to establish employer-controlled work councils for EOE workers, effectively blocking union efforts to organize. Approximately 59,000 persons worked in the EOE; only 10 percent belonged to unions.