Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997.
Mauritius is a parliamentary democracy governed by a Prime Minister,
a Council of Ministers, and a National Assembly. The Head of
State is the President, who is nominated by the Prime Minister
and confirmed by the Assembly, and whose powers are largely ceremonial.
Fair and orderly national and local elections, supervised by
an independent commission, take place at regular intervals, most
recently in 1995. The judiciary is independent, there are numerous
political parties, both large and small, and partisan politics
are open and robust.
A paramilitary Special Mobile Force and Special Supporting Units
under civilian control are responsible for internal security.
These forces, under the command of the Commissioner of Police,
are backed by a general duty police force. They are largely apolitical
and generally well-trained, but the police committed some human
The economy is based on labor-intensive, export-oriented manufacturing
(mainly textiles), as well as sugar and tourism. About 85 percent
of arable land is planted with sugar cane. There is a generally
high standard of living; annual per capita income is approximately
$3,195. The country weathered well the global economic slowdown
of the early 1990's and is now attempting to diversify its economy
by promoting investment in new sectors, such as electronics, and
developing the country as a regional financial center.
The Government's human rights record improved, but problem areas
remained. There continued to be occasional reports that police
abused suspects and detainees. The Government continued to use
the National Intelligence Unit to monitor opposition party activities.
On at least two occasions the police denied demonstration permits,
which are normally routinely granted. Violence against women
and child labor appeared to be on the rise, despite government
efforts to address these problems.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings.
The investigation into the 1994 case of a suspect in police custody
who burned to death in his cell is complete but the district magistrate
has not communicated his findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In December a suspect held in a police holding cell for 3 nights
died of multiple blows. The Commissioner of Police called for
an investigation, but observers complained that the police should
not be responsible for investigating themselves in such matters.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
The law prohibits torture and inhuman punishment, but there were
several unofficial reports of police brutality, involving mistreatment
of individuals on the street as well as of suspects in custody.
One prisoner died in custody as result of multiple blows. (See
Because of the Police Commissioner's crackdown on crime, prisons
have become overcrowded and prison sanitation inadequate.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile
and the Government generally observes these prohibitions. A 1994
constitutional amendment allows the police to hold a person arrested
or detained for a drug offense without bail until a final determination
has been made in the case. Parliament has not enacted implementing
legislation or otherwise specified which drug offenses will be
covered by this amendment (see Section 1.e.).
The Government does not use exile as a means of political control.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the
Government generally respects this provision in practice. Some
critics believed that the executive interfered with the judiciary.
Legal experts noted concern about overt manipulation of the judiciary
as well as political influence over the Commissioner of Police,
the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Anticorruption Tribunal.
The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, which has appellate
powers, and a series of lower courts. Final appeal may be made
to the Judicial Committee in the United Kingdom (the Privy Council).
There are no political or military courts. The judiciary provides
citizens with a fair judicial process.
Defendants have the right to private or court-appointed counsel.
The 1995 draft dangerous drugs act, which would permit law enforcement
authorities to hold suspected drug traffickers for up to 36 hours
without access to bail or legal counsel, is being examined by
a select committee before it is considered by the National Assembly.
The constitutionality of the law may be questioned.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home,
The sanctity of the home is provided for in law and generally
respected in practice. Search of personal property or premises
is allowed only under clearly specified conditions by court order
or by police action to stop a crime in progress. The Government's
intelligence apparatus continued to carry out illegal surveillance
of local opposition leaders and other major figures.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press,
and the Government generally respects these rights in practice.
Debate in the National Assembly is lively and open. There were
occasional complaints of government influence in editorial policies,
but more than a dozen privately owned daily, weekly, and monthly
newspapers presented varying political viewpoints, and they expressed
partisan views freely. The Government has the ability to counter
press criticism by using strict libel laws; however, the Government
did not use these laws to inhibit the press in 1996. Libel suits
between private parties are common.
The Government monopoly in broadcasting continued, after the Ramgoolam
Government took office in December 1995 and postponed introduction
of legislation to liberalize the radio and television industries,
saying that it needed to review the 1995 report that the previous
Government had commissioned. Television and radio news reporting
maintained a progovernment slant which drew sharp criticism from
newspaper editors. Under a new management team, Mauritius Broadcasting
Corporation began to allow opposition figures slightly more air
time. "Sky News" from the United Kingdom and "Canal
Plus" from France are available to the public on a subscription
The Government generally respects academic freedom but has occasionally
censored books, usually citing national security reasons.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government
generally respects them in practice. Police permission is required
for demonstrations and mass meetings; such permission is rarely
refused and groups have the right to challenge denials. The Commissioner
of Police denied at least two permits for demonstrations. One
denial was based on a parliamentary act disallowing public gatherings
on days during which the Parliament is sitting, although exceptions
to the act had been made in the past. The permit denial was not
delivered at least 48 hours prior to the planned demonstration,
as is customary, and police arrested 11 labor leaders who attended.
Their cases were pending.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government
respects this right in practice.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel,
Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government
respects them in practice.
There are no refugees, and the Government deals with asylum requests
on a case by case basis. The issue of the provision of first
asylum has never arisen. There were no reports of forced return
of persons to a country where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right peacefully to
change their government, and citizens exercise this right in practice.
Free and fair elections based on universal suffrage were held
in December 1995. The opposition coalition won all elected seats
in the National Assembly, and Labor Party leader Navinchandra
Ramgoolam was sworn in as Prime Minister, replacing Anerood Jugnauth,
who had led the Government since 1982.
The remote and isolated islands of Agalega and St. Brandon are
an exception to universal suffrage. Their nearly 500 citizens
are not registered as voters and have no representation in Parliament.
In the National Assembly, up to eight members are appointed through
a "best loser" system to ensure that all ethnic groups
are represented. Political parties often match the ethnicity
of their candidates to the ethnic composition of particular electoral
Six of the 66 members of the Assembly are women.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human
A variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction,
investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.
Government officials are cooperative and responsive to their
In October Mauritius hosted the 20th Ordinary Session of the African
Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. Mauritian NGO's actively
participated in the NGO workshop that preceded the event. Issues
such as the Dangerous Drug Act and stringent immigration policies
were debated openly.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution specifically prohibits discrimination on the
basis of race, caste, place of origin, political opinion, color,
creed, or sex. The Government generally respects these provisions.
Violence against women, particularly spousal abuse, is widespread
and increasing, according to the Ministry of Women's Rights and
Family Welfare, attorneys, and NGO's. In 1995 the number of reported
cases of domestic violence against women rose to 966 compared
with 425 in 1994. In the first half of 1996, 1,062 cases were
reported to Children and Women Protection unit. The Government
is working to increase awareness of the problem and to provide
relief for victims by providing counseling and temporary shelter.
It is also promulgating a law that would specifically address
domestic violence. There are no special legal provisions concerning
family violence. Police are generally reluctant to become involved
in cases of spousal abuse.
Women have traditionally occupied a subordinate role in society,
and societal discrimination continues. Nearly half of Mauritian
women work outside the home.
The Government placed strong emphasis on the health and welfare
of children, and displayed a commitment to expand educational
opportunities for children. Reported incidents of child abuse
are infrequent and isolated, although private voluntary organizations
claim that the problem is more widespread than publicly acknowledged.
At present, most government programs are administered by the
state-funded National Children's Council, which provides counseling
and investigates reports of child abuse as well as remedial action
to protect affected children.
People with Disabilities
There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment,
education, or in the provision of other state services. The law
requires organizations which employ more than 10 people to set
aside at least 3 percent of their positions for people with disabilities.
The law does not, however, require that work sites be accessible
to the disabled, making it difficult for people with disabilities
to fill many jobs. There is no law mandating access to public
buildings or facilities.
Tensions between the Hindu majority and Creole and Muslim minorities
persist. A 1995 law that would have favored Hindu children in
educational opportunities brought racial tension to the forefront
during the December 1995 electoral campaign. The law was struck
down by the Supreme Court and the tension eased, but bitterness
remains, and the Creole and Muslim minorities attempted to keep
public attention focused on alleged societal injustices against
them. In March a soccer match erupted into a riot when spectators
realized that Mauritian Muslims were cheering for an Egyptian
team instead of the Mauritian team. Creole political groups claimed
that cases of brutality by the predominantly Hindu police force
are perpetrated almost exclusively against Creoles. There were
numerous credible reports of the predominantly Hindu police force
mistreating the predominantly Creole population of Rodrigues.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution explicitly protects the right of workers to associate
in trade unions, and there is an active trade union movement.
More than 300 unions represent over 100,000 workers, more than
20 percent of the total work force. With the exception of members
of the "disciplined force" (i.e., the police and the
Special Mobile Force) and persons in state services who are not
public officers (e.g., contractors), workers are free to form
and join unions and to organize in all sectors including in the
export processing zone (EPZ). In the EPZ, however, only 10 percent
of the work force is unionized, and employers continued to intimidate
prospective union members. Labor unions are independent from
the Government. Unions press wage demands, establish ties to
domestic political parties, and address political issues. Unions
are free to establish federations.
Under the Industrial Relations Act (IRA), unions have the legal
right to strike. In practice, however, the IRA requires a prestrike
21-day cooling-off period, followed by binding arbitration, which
has the effect of making most strikes illegal. Moreover, the
IRA states that worker participation in an unlawful strike is
sufficient grounds for dismissal, but workers may seek remedy
in the industrial court if they believe that their dismissal is
unjustified. According to Ministry of Labor statistics, there
were five work stoppages.
Statutory minimum wage levels in the export processing zone (EPZ)
are somewhat lower than elsewhere, but due to the country's labor
shortage, actual wage levels are nearly double the minimum wage.Under
the law, unions may and do establish ties with international labor
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law protects the right of employees to bargain collectively
with their employers. However, the collective bargaining process
is weakened by excessive government intervention in the form of
wage-setting in the state sector, which is generally used as the
basis for private-sector pay. Wages are set by the National Remuneration
Board, whose chairman is appointed by the Minister of Labor.
About 12 percent of the labor force works for national or local
government. The IRA prohibits antiunion discrimination. There
is an arbitration tribunal which handles any such complaints.
The EPZ employs about 90,000 people. While there are some EPZ-specific
labor laws, such as provisions allowing EPZ employers to require
up to 10 hours per week of paid overtime from their employees,
workers in this sector enjoy the same basic protections as non-EPZ
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law, and not practiced
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The legal minimum age for employment of children is 15 years.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement and conducts
frequent inspections. A threefold increase in the number of underage
workers found by government inspectors in latter half of 1995
over the same period in 1994 led to increased government inspections.
Inspectors issued warnings to the culpable employers. The Government
estimated that children make up 0.7 percent of the work force.
Child labor in homes, on farms, and in shops is common in Rodrigues,
which remained difficult to monitor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government administratively establishes minimum wages, which
vary according to the sector of employment, and it mandates minimum
wage increases each year based on inflation. The minimum wage
for an unskilled worker in the EPZ is about $11.55 (231.28 rupees)
per week effective July 1, while the lowest weekly wage for a
non-EPZ worker is about $12.50 (250.05 rupees). While this is
significantly below the level needed to provide an acceptable
standard of living, the actual market wage for most workers is
much higher due to the present labor shortage.
The standard legal workweek in the industrial sector is 45 hours.
In the EPZ an employee may be required to work an additional
10 hours per week, although at a higher hourly wage.
The Government responded to a 1995 complaint to the International
Labor Organization regarding the wages and living conditions of
foreign workers by increasing the number of inspections carried
out by the Foreign Labor Inspection Squad. Observers complain
that the inspectors are easily bribed and are the only people
allowed access to foreign workers who are not being otherwise
protected by the labor laws.
The Government sets health and safety standards, and Ministry of Labor officials inspect working conditions and ensure compliance with the 1988 Occupational Safety, Health, and Welfare Act. The small number of inspectors limits the Government's enforcement ability, but the number of occupational accidents has been cut nearly in half since the act's passage. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous situations without jeopardy to continued employment.
[end of document]
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