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Seychelles

Executive Summary

Seychelles is a multiparty republic governed by a president, Cabinet of Ministers, and National Assembly. In joint presidential and legislative elections from October 22-24, voters elected six-time presidential candidate Wavel Ramkalawan of opposition party Linyon Demokratik Seselwa with 54.9 percent of the vote. The Linyon Demokratik Seselwa party also won 20 of 26 seats in the National Assembly. International election observers determined the elections to have been free, credible, and transparent, despite some reports of vote buying and voter intimidation.

The Seychelles Police Force, which includes unarmed police and an armed paramilitary Police Special Support Wing, the Anti-Narcotics Bureau, and the Marine Police Unit, have primary responsibility for internal security and report to the minister of internal affairs. The Seychelles People’s Defense Forces–composed of the infantry, the special forces, the coast guard, and the air force–are responsible for external security and assist police with internal security as needed. These military services report to the president, who acts as minister of defense. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

The October 22-24 election was the first time that Seychellois voters elected an opposition party candidate as president since 1976. Former president Danny Faure of the United Seychelles Party immediately accepted the election results, conceded, and supported a peaceful and smooth transfer of power. On October 26, President Ramkalawan was sworn into office.

Significant human rights issues included: lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women, trafficking in persons, and the worst forms of child labor.

The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights 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 no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding government-run prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns. Prison conditions improved during the year with a decrease in the inmate population, an expansion of prison facilities, and fewer incidents of prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

Physical Conditions: According to Montagne Posee Prison superintendent Raymond St. Ange, the inmate population at the 400-inmate capacity Montagne Posee Prison was 270 prisoners as of October, a decrease from 392 in 2019. As of November the countrywide inmate population was 318 including those on remand, also a decrease from 2019. A separate holding facility for pretrial male detainees is situated in Victoria. Juvenile pretrial detainees and juvenile convicted prisoners continued to be held together with adult prisoners. Women were held separately from men. In October, St. Ange announced the building of a separate juvenile detention facility for up to 50 juveniles.

The Seychelles Prison Service announced investigations into the few incidents of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. In September the minister of home affairs initiated an investigation after a female inmate was discovered to be pregnant. Conjugal visits were not permitted for inmates.

There were two reported inmate deaths during the year. In June, one inmate died following a long illness, and in October another prisoner died, which the prison authorities determined to have been a suicide.

Administration: Authorities allowed religious observance throughout the year. Between mid-April and mid-May, the Seychelles Prison Services suspended inmate access to visitors due to COVID-19 prevention measures and suspended faith-based volunteer visits between April and June, also due to COVID-19 prevention measures.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), local nongovernmental organizations, and community groups visited the facilities during the year.

Improvements: Improvements to the Montagne Posee prison facilities continued during 2020. In October, St. Ange announced that the Montagne Posee prison reception facility became operational, providing a reception area for visitors, a shop for visitors, three search rooms, a security control room, and holding cells for visitors caught attempting to smuggle illegal items into the prison. The Seychelles Prison Service continued to expand the staff barracks and install ramps and handrails to provide access for persons with physical disabilities. In October, St. Ange also announced the addition of a drone to the Seychelles Prison Service’s security system.

The Seychelles Prison Service added 18 staff in August and two more in September. The prison service also announced it was reviewing its Coetivy prison facility operations after receiving reports of possible security breaches. Inmates were transferred to the Montagne Posee prison during the review, while 15 officers remained assigned to the Coetivy facility. In September the prison service announced that all prison staff completed the online “Nelson Mandela Rules” UNODC course on the UN standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires warrants for arrests, except for persons arrested under the Misuse of Drugs Act that allows police to arrest and detain persons suspected of drug possession, use, importation, and trafficking. Individuals arrested must be brought before a magistrate within 24 hours, with allowance made for travel from distant islands. Police generally respected this requirement. The law provides for detention without criminal charge for up to 14 days if authorized by court order. Authorities generally notified detainees of the charges against them and generally granted family members prompt access to them. Detainees have the right to legal counsel, and indigents generally received free counsel on all cases, including felony cases. Courts allowed bail in most cases.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides that remand (pretrial) prisoners be released on bail after six months of detention if their cases have not been heard. Court backlogs led to lengthy pretrial detention in previous years, but the government continued effective reforms instituted in 2019 to decrease the prison population. Supreme Court processes for both civil and criminal cases continued to improve, decreasing the average duration of civil cases from 499 days in 2019 to 389 days in early 2020, and the average duration of criminal cases from 427 days in 2019 to 328 days in early 2020.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. The government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Authorities generally respected court orders.

In October former chief justice Mathilda Twomey stated the judicial appointment process was problematic and that the appointment institution itself was not fit for its purpose. Twomey stated the country continued to fall short of international best practices.

Trial Procedures

Both the constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty, have the right to be present at their trials, and to appeal convictions. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the first court appearance through all appeals. The law makes provision for defendants to present evidence and witnesses and to cross-examine witnesses in court. The law provides for defendants to consult with an attorney of choice, to have one provided at public expense in a timely manner if unable to afford one, and to be provided adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts.

Property Restitution

The government established the Truth, Reconciliation, and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) in 2017 to investigate and settle claims of forced land acquisitions and human rights abuses stemming from the 1977 military takeover. As of November 10, the TRNUC had conducted hearings for 180 of 425 cases (see also section 5, Government Human Rights Bodies). Regarding land acquisition claims, claimants demanded compensation for properties seized by the government without due process beginning in 1977. The former government generally targeted supporters of opposition political parties or private citizens deemed a threat to the government’s control. The government refused to consider the claims for many years but established the TRNUC as a result of international and domestic pressure and to unify the country’s population.

In June former president Danny Faure established a commission of inquiry to investigate the sale of the Plantation Club Hotel. In 2008 the government petitioned the courts to dissolve Ailee Development Corporation (ADC) and dispose of its assets, the Plantation Club Hotel, on the basis of a license renewal denial by the Seychelles Licensing Authority (SLA). The SLA determined that the Plantation Club fell into disrepair and could not properly operate as a hotel anymore. The ADC strongly opposed the SLA’s determination and the government’s petition and believed that it was an expropriation attempt by the government. The government subsequently sold the property to a foreign investor, who had reportedly tried to purchase the property from ADC.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

In March the president signed the Anti-Money Laundering and Beneficial Ownership Acts into law, increasing transparency into the offshore sector. In August the Ministry of Finance, Trade, Investment, and Economic Planning launched its 2020-2023 National Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Strategy.

The Anti-Corruption Act, as amended in 2019, gives the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) law enforcement powers, authority, and privileges. The ACC may investigate and prosecute cases of corruption outside the purview of the Attorney General’s Office. As of November the ACC conducted no prosecutions in 2020. As of May the ACC recorded 187 cases, of which 66 were closed for either not falling within its mandate or insufficient evidence.

In 2018 an access to information law came into force. In 2019 the government appointed a chief executive officer for the Seychelles Information Commission, and appointed information officers in all ministries and departments. The law makes provisions on how citizens may access government information that is not classified sensitive for security and defense reasons, how agencies should respond to requests, mandates proactive disclosure and a duty to assist requestors, and defines information that is deemed classified for security and defense. In October a manual to guide citizens on how to use the Freedom of Information Act and access information was published.

Financial Disclosure: Government ministers, members of the National Assembly, and senior public servants and board members of government agencies and parastatals are required to declare assets. In June the Public Persons Declaration of Assets, Liabilities, and Business Interests Act of 2016 came into effect, and a commissioner was appointed to obtain asset declarations from the president, vice president and other high-ranking officials. Asset declarations are not published. Declarations may be made public upon request to the ethics commissioner. In September former president Danny Faure publicly declared his assets, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) Transparency Initiative Seychelles conducted a workshop on ethics in the public service and declaration of assets.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, spousal rape, and domestic abuse are criminal offenses for which conviction is punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Nevertheless, rape was a problem, and the government generally did not enforce the law effectively. Authorities in general did not prioritize domestic abuse cases and police were undertrained in handling sexual assault cases. Many victims did not report rape due social stigma and a reluctance to enter into lengthy court cases.

Domestic violence against women was a widespread problem. On May 26, the National Assembly passed the Domestic Violence Act, which prohibits verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, economic, or psychological abuse and prescribes penalties for perpetrators convicted of domestic violence. A key feature of the law is that plaintiffs may not withdraw a complaint after it is filed with police. Prior to the passage of the Domestic Violence Act, police investigated domestic violence cases as assault. In February, 25 police officers attended a week-long interactive training workshop on handling rape and serious sexual assault cases.

A gender-based violence survey published in 2018 indicated that 58 percent of women had been assaulted, mainly by their partners, with one in 10 women having been raped. In 2019 the minister for family affairs reported receiving 371 reports of domestic violence, an increase from 2018. Media continued to draw attention to the problem.

In 2019 the Family Squad, a special police unit that addresses domestic violence and other family problems, became part of the Criminal Investigation Unit. The Social Affairs Division of the Ministry of Family Affairs as well as NGOs provided counseling services to victims of rape and domestic violence. The ministry’s Gender Secretariat conducted anti-GBV outreach campaigns. A shelter for victims of GBV run by an NGO was rarely used, due to a lack of procedure for admission and a no children policy. Women may also receive medical assistance, legal advice, and counseling at the shelter.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, but enforcement was rare. The penal code provides no penalty for conviction of sexual harassment, although a court may order a person accused of such conduct to “keep a bond of peace” that allows a court to assess a fine if the harasser fails to cease the harassment. In the workplace the Employment Act states that an employer may not harass a worker.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Health clinics and local NGOs operated freely in disseminating information on family planning under the guidance of the Ministry of Health. There were no restrictions on access to contraceptives for persons over the age of 18, but the law prohibits access to contraceptives for individuals under 18 even though the legal age of consent is 15. Abortions are only permitted under special circumstances subject to the approval of a medical board. First-time mothers from the country’s outer islands are required to travel to the main island of Mahe to give birth. Midwives were used for delivery unless the services of a doctor were required due to health concerns involving either the mother or the child, or a cesarian section was required. Nurses are also responsible for both prenatal and postnatal care unless the mother or child have health concerns.

Men and women had access to diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases; no legal, social, cultural, or other barriers limited access to these services. The country’s high adolescent birth rate of 61.22 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 19 was a concern. All services related to reproductive health as well as other health matters were free of cost in state-operated facilities. Information on government assistance to victims of sexual assault was not available.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: Although society is largely matriarchal, the law provides for the same legal status and rights for men as for women, including equal treatment under family, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. While unwed mothers traditionally bear the burden of supporting their children, the law requires fathers to support their children financially. The Employment Act provides fathers with 10 days of paid paternity leave upon the birth of a child; mothers are provided with 112 days of leave. An amendment to the civil code signed into law in November by the president provides equal rights to children. The revision applies to the sharing of inheritance as well as the responsibilities of parents to their children regardless of whether they are married. The revised civil code also addresses the sharing of property in married or unmarried intimate-partner relationships.

There was no officially sanctioned economic discrimination against women in employment, access to credit, equal pay for equal work, or owning or managing a business. Women were well represented in both the public and private sectors. Inheritance laws do not discriminate against women.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth in the country or, if born abroad, from Seychellois parents, and births in the country were generally registered immediately.

Child Abuse: Although the law prohibits physical abuse of children, child abuse was a problem. According to NGOs, physical abuse of children was prevalent. The strongest public advocate for young victims was a semiautonomous agency, the National Council for Children. The law prohibits corporal punishment in schools. On May 19, the president signed an amendment to the Children’s Act that bans and criminalizes corporal punishment of children and provides for two years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine if a perpetrator is convicted.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Child marriage was not a significant problem. In October 2019 the National Assembly set the minimum age for marriage at 18 for men and women and rescinded a provision that had permitted girls as young as age 15 to marry with parental consent. In November the president signed the bill into law.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penal code and other laws define a child as a person younger than age 18 and criminalize practices related to child pornography and the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, and procurement for prostitution of children. The law provides for a sentence of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for conviction of producing or possessing child pornography, as well as for a first conviction of sexual assault on a child younger than age 15, and a minimum 28 years’ imprisonment for a second conviction within 10 years of the first conviction. The law prescribes penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine for conviction of child trafficking. In April the Supreme Court convicted three men on 26 charges including child trafficking, extortion, and possession of pornographic materials against 75 girls, sentencing the perpetrators to 45 years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered fewer than 10 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

Although the constitution and law provide for special protections for persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including reasonable provisions for improving quality of life, no laws address access to public buildings, transportation, or government services, and the government did not provide such services. Most children with disabilities were segregated in specialized schools. The National Council for the Disabled, a government agency under the Ministry of Family Affairs, developed work placement programs for persons with disabilities, although few employment opportunities existed.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

In 2016 consensual same-sex sexual activity between men was decriminalized. Same-sex sexual activity between women was never criminalized. There were few reports of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, although activists stated discrimination and stigma were common. LGBTI persons stated that the government discriminated against them when applying for social housing.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. An independent National AIDS Council oversees all laws, policies, and programs related to HIV and AIDS.

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