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Central African Republic Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.

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CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

The Central African Republic became a democracy in 1993 following free and fair elections in which Ange Felix Patasse, candidate of the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People, was chosen President. Citizens also elected an 85-member National Assembly; no party holds a majority. In 1994 a Constitution providing for multiparty democracy was accepted in a national referendum. The judiciary is subject to executive interference.

In January following the killing of two French military officers by rebel troops, French troops seized key installations in and around the cities of Lakouanga and Bimbo, effectively ending the latest in a series of 1996 rebellions by forces opposed to the Patasse Government. A January 25 accord formally ended the November 1996 mutiny. President Patasse appointed Michel Gbezera-Bria as Prime Minister and established the Government for the Defense of Democracy. It included both the ruling party and members of the opposition political coalition. The African Mediation Coalition sent an Inter-African peacekeeping force, MISAB, to the capital, Bangui, in late January. MISAB established a procedure for reintegration of ebels at Camp Kasai and collection of weapons distributed by rebels to civilians. In June rebel factions attacked MISAB troops, renewing the violence in the Bangui area. In fighting during late June, 500 persons were killed and 70,000 civilians were forced to flee the area. In July talks mediated by Amadou Toumani Toure, a former president of Mali, resulted in an agreement between the Government and the mutineers that ended the June mutiny.

Military forces, the National Gendarmerie under the Minister of Defense, the National Research and Investigation Force (CNRI), the civilian police force, share internal security responsibilities under the direction of the Minister of Public Security. After the 1996 mutinies, the Presidential security guard increased in size and responsibility. MISAB helps maintain order in the capital. Security forces committed serious human rights abuses. Some members of MISAB also committed serious abuses.

The Central African Republic is a landlocked and sparsely populated country, most of whose inhabitants practice subsistence agriculture. Annual per capita gross domestic product is estimated at $357. Principal exports are coffee, cotton, timber, tobacco, and diamonds. The military and civil unrests during the year resulted in further significant decreases in public revenues and higher unemployment.

The Government's human rights record remained poor, and serious human rights abuses continued in certain areas. There were credible reports of routine summary executions of suspected bandits by security forces, and of the death of prisoners due to security force abuse. Police torture and beatings of detainees and prisoners continued. The President in March granted amnesty to the rebel forces for acts that they had committed during the November 1996 mutiny. The Government did not prosecute members of the armed forces who were accused of abuses during any of the 1996 mutinies. It granted amnesty to participants in the November 1996 mutiny. Other human rights abuses included harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without trial, limits on judicial independence, infringements on citizens' right to privacy, restrictions on freedom of assembly, some limits on freedom of religion, restraints on press freedom to criticize the Government, a pattern of discrimination and violence against women, female genital mutilation, and discrimination against Pygmies.

In March President Patasse granted amnesty to former senior officials of the Kolingba regime who were charged with corruption. These people had been held in detention for an extended period.

According to credible sources, members of the Chadian contingent of the MISAB reportedly committed human rights abuses, including the killing of civilians and the looting of residences.

Many human rights abuses were reported in the areas controlled by the rebels. Rebel forces were responsible for killings, disappearances, robberies, carjackings, rape, arson, and other abuses committed against civilians.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no known political killings (former Interior Minister Grelombe was killed by unknown persons during the November mutiny). There were credible reports that the army and the gendarmerie routinely executed suspected bandits and other persons.

In May three former rebels, arrested for the alleged killing of a presidential guard and his wife were killed while in the custody of the gendarmerie. Opposition parties accused the Presidential Guard and some military personnel of this killing which took place in gendarmerie headquarters; the Government conducted a judicial investigation, but results have not been released. The Government did not prosecute members of the security forces for these or other killings. Approximately 10 prisoners died in custody at the police antibanditry station in Bangui in connection with repression of banditry, according to the Central African Republic Human Rights League (see Section 1.c.).

Gendarmes and military loyalists dispersed a December 1996 demonstration, killing and injuring many protesters (see Section 2.a.).

Soldiers reportedly killed an estimated 200 persons during the four mutinies. President Patasse granted amnesty to all soldiers who had mutinied in April, May, and November. The Government neither investigated nor prosecuted members of the armed forces for the killings and other reported abuses committed during the 1996 military mutinies.

Rebel forces killed numerous persons, often targeting, torturing, and killing civilians (see Section 1.g.).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the Penal Code prohibits torture and specifies sanctions for those found guilty of physical abuse, the police continue to beat and otherwise abuse criminal suspects and prisoners. At one police station, police reportedly tortured and abused all the individuals detained. Members of the security forces also tortured and beat journalists (see Section 2.a.). Many deaths of prisoners due to official abuse were reported to the courts by family members and by the Human Rights League executive committee, with no evident official response taken. In May, three former rebels died in the custody of the gendarmerie (see Section 1.a.). The August-September 1996 National Conference on Defense (Etats-Generaux) recommended the abolition of special secret police units due to abusive treatment of detainees and their operation as a parallel and secret army outside the normal enforcement structure. There was no further government action on this recommendation.

Rebel forces used torture and rape, particularly against civilians (see Section 1.g.).

Prison conditions are extremely harsh. Cells are overcrowded, and the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, and medical care, are in short supply. Available supplies are reportedly routinely diverted to prison officials for their personal use. Prisoners are frequently forced to perform uncompensated labor at the residences of government officials. Male and female prisoners are confined in separate facilities in Bangui but housed together elsewhere. Minors are routinely housed with adults and subjected to physical abuse. The infamous Ngaragba prison is still in use despite promises in 1996 to construct a new facility.

The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law provides for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but security forces often ignore these provisions.

The law stipulates that persons detained in cases other than those involving national security must be brought before a magistrate within 96 hours. In practice, the authorities often do not respect this deadline, in part due to inefficient judicial procedures. Judicial warrants are not required for arrest. By law, national security detainees, defined as "those held for crimes against the security of the State," may be held without charge for up to 2 months. Previous governments used the national security provision of the law to arrest their opponents. The Patasse Government has not detained political opponents under this provision, although presidential guards arbitrarily arrested people suspected of support of the mutineers; they were released within days. Presidential guards also arrested the editor of an independent newspaper (see Section 2.a.).

Prolonged pretrial detention is a problem. Roughly one-half the male prison population are pretrial detainees. Officials of the Kolingba regime (1981-1993), who had been officially charged with corruption and in some cases detained more than 18 months without trial, were released during the November 1996 mutiny. In late March, as required by the Bangui Accords, President Patasse granted amnesty to those officials and all rebels. According to the Government prosecutor, about 100 civilians arrested by the gendarmes and security guards and accused of participating in the rebellion were also released under the pressure of the International Follow-up Committee.

The law does not permit the use of exile, and the Government has not employed it in practice. The Government has repeatedly stated that any person in exile for strictly political, rather than criminal, reasons may return without fear of persecution. At the end of the year, there were no known political self- exiles.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but there are reliable reports of periodic executive interference.

The judiciary, which consists of regular and military courts, was reorganized in the 1994 Constitution. Legislation implementing this reorganization was enacted in 1996. New courts of justice were created during the year in both urban and rural areas.

In criminal cases, the accused are presumed innocent and have the right to legal counsel, to public trial, to be present at their trials, and to confront witnesses. The Government generally respects these safeguards in practice, but inefficient administration of the law, shortages of trained personnel, and material resources hinder the process. The criminal court, for example, did not convene for 3 years for lack of money. The Constitutional Court also has not yet met for lack of office facilities. Court proceedings are open to the public and broadcast on national radio.

A July meeting on the reconciliation and reintegration of the former rebels into the army, chaired by General Amadou Toumani Toure, addressed many abuses in the military justice system and established recommendations for long-term improvement. No action had been taken on recommendations made at a similar meeting in 1996.

There were no reports of political prisoners, although some observers note that anticorruption statutes at times appear to have been applied more rigorously to officials of the Kolingba regime than to current officials.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Government on rare occasions abused the law that prohibits invasion of homes without a warrant in civil and criminal cases. Police did, however, use provisions of the Penal Code governing certain political and security cases that allow them to search private property without special authorization. The Government also monitored the telephones of some opposition figures and cut their telephone lines during the 1996 mutinies. In January security guards, operating of the orders of the Government, cut the telephone lines of former Prime Minister Ngoupande and his director of staff, Karim Meckassoua.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law In Internal Conflicts

During the four mutinies from April 1996 to June 1997, both loyalist and insurgent factions in the rebellion inflicted more harm on noncombatants than on each other. Both deliberately targeted, tortured, and killed civilians, ransacked villages in areas under their control, and confiscated goods and food supplies. Most villagers took refuge in the forest. According to the President of the Human Rights Observatoire, some loyalists based in Mbaiki tortured, raped, and killed civilians. At year's end, the Government had not punished anyone for the offenses. Some members of the MISAB also committed such abuses (see Section 1.a.).

In late June, rebels attacked MISAB troops based in the controlled areas and subjected residents of Bangui to a week of shooting, bombing, and heavy mortar fire. Several buildings in the southern section of the capital were destroyed. Rebels without military uniforms used civilians as human shields. The June 20-27 fighting between MISAB and the rebels resulted in the heaviest loss of life of the four rebellions. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), 500 persons died in the conflict and 70,000 were driven from their homes. Many took refuge in rural areas north and west of Bangui. Media witnesses and human rights groups reported that MISAB soldiers disregarded citizens' human rights.

In January after the killing of two French military officers, French troops attacked the rebels using heavy artillery in the neighborhoods of Lakouanga and Petevo. An estimated 100 civilians were killed during these actions, and thousands fled to a safe area north of the capital, according to ICRC officials. Many people were arrested and jailed at the Presidential Guard headquarters under inhuman conditions.

Chadian members of the MISAB force allegedly committed violent crimes in Fatima, Petevo, and elsewhere. Former Communication Minister Felix Bougalama was killed in front of his home in Bangui at this time. A Catholic priest in the Fatima church reported the killing of old people, children, and women by soldiers wearing MISAB uniforms. Residents and others alleged that the Chadian contingent was responsible. During a press interview, the MISAB commander denied these allegations, suggesting that criminal elements had masqueraded as MISAB members. There were incidents in which local residents attired as MISAB members committed violent crimes.

The rebels attacked the women's jail in Bimbo and reportedly raped 20 women. Witnesses reported that in the village of Nzila the rebels killed civilians and buried their bodies. They also destroyed private residences, hospitals, factories, and gas stations in the neighborhoods of Petevo and Bimbo, forcing the non-Yakomas to leave. They erected barricades across the major roads of Petevo and Boganda, restricting the free passage of the local population and humanitarian organizations such as the ICRC and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Rebels reportedly restricted free access to the major hospitals. This resulted in women and infants dying for lack of medical care. The population had no access to the public cemetery in N'dres near Camp Kasai, where the bodies of the victims were reportedly buried.

Parallel state military forces, such as security guards (SERD, CNRI) and some political militia (Karako) reportedly used excessive force and committed other abuses. Civilians were killed based on their ethnicity.

In the November 1996 mutiny, the rebels organized civilians into city guerrilla groups. They reportedly forcibly recruited hundreds of teenagers and younger boys and distributed guns to the recruits and other civilians. According to credible reports, these newly organized groups committed a number of killings and robberies during the mutiny.

The ICRC reported that there were several hundred killed and wounded and 70,000 displaced in June. The June fighting ended with the unconditional surrender of the rebels. Rebels signed the cease-fire and returned most heavy weapons and guns to the French army under the auspices of the International Follow-up Committee and submitted by returning to their barracks. The MISAB forces had some success in disarming civilians as a result of the efforts of neighborhood leaders, religious groups, and some NGO's. Some civilians returned guns and ammunition.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press. Although the Government generally allows the press to operate freely, it restricts press freedom to criticize the Government.

Citizens speak freely and publicly, criticizing the Government, the President's handling of certain issues, and political parties. Opposition leaders, in particular, use press statements, manifestos, and copies of open correspondence to the Government, to circulate their views. During the year, not all of this documentation was published by the government-controlled media. However, the Government made no apparent effort to censure, seize, or halt printing and circulation of these materials elsewhere.

More than a dozen private newspapers were published over varying intervals; only four were published on a regular basis during the year. These newspapers were often outspoken in their criticism of the President, the Government, corruption, and economic policies. They openly discussed a wide variety of views on political and social issues. The Government sued several newspapers following accusations of corruption published by their newspapers. Many journalists regarded this as official harassment.

During the mutinies, private journalists were harassed and persecuted by government security guards who accused them of being manipulated by the opposition. In February Richard Bagouma, editor of Nikpa, was kidnaped by security guards. He was beaten, tortured, and later released, following pressure from human rights observers and political parties. Jean-Rigobart Maka Gbossokoto, editor and publisher of the satirical La Tortue Dechainee, was threatened with death by government security guards. His articles had severely criticized the management of the Government and its policies.

The editor of the independent Le Novateur was arrested by Presidential Guards and detained for 5 days without charge. He was subsequently rearrested by the CNRI, accused of defamation, tried, and sentenced to 3 months' imprisonment for having published an article on the arbitrary detentions and abuses committed by the Presidential Guards.

Television and radio included weekly programs that provided an opportunity for those political parties represented in the National Assembly to present their views. The opposition welcomed this new access to the public media. The Government owns and controls one newspaper, Acap Bulletin, which appears only sporadically. A wire service news bulletin and a radio and television station operated more regularly.

A private radio station, Africa No.1, is based in Libreville, Gabon and has been operating since 1995. A church-affiliated station began operations the same year. Radio France Internationale began broadcasting in June. The opposition parties are free to establish private stations but lack the money to do so. Although its formation had been announced in 1994, the Government has still not yet set up the High Council of Communication to regulate the management of private media and help enforce press ethics; a bill for its creation was pending in Parliament at year's end. The Government does not impede foreign journalists in their work.

The Government respects academic freedom. University faculty and students belong to many political parties and express their views without fear of reprisal.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of assembly, but the Government at times has restricted this freedom. A 1992 decree requires organizers of demonstrations and public meetings to register with the Government 48 hours in advance and also prohibits political meetings in schools or churches. The Government forbade public assembly and demonstrations in the aftermath of the April 1996 military revolt. No similar order was issued after the May or November 1996 crises, or during the June mutiny. Gendarmes and military loyalists dispersed a December 1996 demonstration by civilians, rebels, and politicians who supported the rebellion demanding the resignation of president Patasse. The gendarmes used tear gas and guns, reportedly killing four protesters and injuring several others (see Section 1.a.).

The Constitution provides for freedom of association and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Associations are required to register with the Government to enjoy legal status. All political parties must register with the Ministry of Public Security in order to participate legally in politics. The Government usually grants registration expeditiously.

There are more than 25 registered political parties and a variety of nonpolitical associations. The Government allows them to hold congresses, elect officials, and publicly debate policy issues without interference.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, but includes fixed legal conditions and prohibits what the Government considers religious fundamentalism and intolerance. A 1994 constitutional provision prohibiting religious fundamentalism is widely understood to be aimed at Muslims. There is no state religion, and a variety of religious communities are active. Religious organizations and missionary groups are free to proselytize, worship, and construct places of worship. However, religious groups must register with the Government. Any group whose behavior the Government considers subversive remains subject to sanctions, although the authorities imposed no sanctions during the year.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

People are free to move within the country, but police and other officials harass travelers unwilling or unable to pay bribes at checkpoints along major intercity roads and at major intersections in Bangui. Some citizens, when attempting to leave the country, were informed by immigration authorities that their names were on unspecified official lists that forbade their departure. For example, in February former Prime Minister Jean-Paul Ngoupande and his adviser and chief of staff, Karim Meckassoua were refused permission, for political reasons, to board an airplane to Paris to visit their families. After pressure from members of the diplomatic corps, the international press, and the Human Rights League, the authorities authorized them to leave the country.

During the military crisis the city of Bangui was divided in two parts. People in the rebels' area in the southwest were not free to leave that sector. They were also harassed for bribes by the rebels at checkpoints.

The Government continued to work with the office of the UNHCR in hosting Chadian, Sudanese, Rwandan and Congolese refugees. Most refugees were registered with the National Commission for Refugees. Most Chadian refugees returned to Chad. Many had been accused of criminal activity in the Central African Republic and were targeted by the rebels during the military crisis. Applicants for asylum are generally well-treated and often accepted. The issue of first asylum did not arise during the year.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens exercised their constitutional right to change their government by democratic means in 1993 through presidential and parliamentary elections. International observers deemed the elections free and fair. In 1995, for the first time in its history, the Parliament passed a vote of censure against the Government.

The Constitution provides for multiple political parties and increased the powers and independence of the legislative and judicial branches at the expense of the executive branch. The Government did not schedule local elections for 1994 due to budget restrictions. Since then, for financial reasons, the Government appointed four successive mayors of Bangui, which resulted in criticism from prodemocratic groups that the Government was reneging on the constitutional requirement to have local elections.

Of the 85 parliament members, three are women. Three of the 26 cabinet members are women. There are no Muslims in the Government. About 10 Muslims serve in the National Assembly.

Pygmies (Ba'aka), who represent from 1 to 2 percent of the national population, are not represented in the Government and have little political power or influence, although they voted in large numbers in the 1993 election.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Central African Human Rights League (LCDH) is a nongovernmental organization with multiple goals, including publicizing human rights violations and pleading individual cases of human rights abuses before the courts. The LCDH distributed its pamphlets describing individuals' rights and information on judicial access to the prisons, at police stations, courts, schools, and other NGO's.

In the April-May 1996 mutinies the LCDH played an important role as a mediator to help safeguard democratic institutions. In a letter to the President and government authorities, the LCDH criticized the Government's harassment of the press, excessive pretrial detentions in violation of the law, summary executions of suspected bandits, and other deaths of suspects while in police custody in Bangui. Several other NGO's, including the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights and Humanitarian Action and some religious groups, actively monitor human rights problems. Their activities include prison visits and assistance to civilians during the armed conflicts. The Central African Red Cross played a notable role during the mutinies. Despite difficulties caused by the rebels, the volunteers of Red Cross worked under fire to assist wounded persons, deliver babies, and provide humanitarian aid to thousands. They also assisted in counting and burying bodies in rebels areas. The Government did not attempt to hinder any such activities.

There were no known requests from international human rights organizations for visits.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution stipulates that all persons are equal before the law without regard to wealth, race, sex, or religion, but the Government does not effectively enforce these provisions, and significant discrimination exists.

Women

Violence against women, including wife beating, occurs but inadequate data makes it impossible to quantify its extent. Victims seldom report incidents. The courts try very few cases of spousal abuse, although litigants cite these abuses during divorce trials and civil suits. Some women reportedly tolerate abuse in order to retain a measure of financial security for themselves and their children. The Government did not address this problem during the year.

Despite the Constitution's provisions, in practice women are treated as inferior to men economically, socially, and politically. Women in rural areas, moreover, suffer more discrimination than women in urban areas. Sixty to 70 percent of urban females go to primary school, while only 10 to 20 percent of their rural counterparts do. Overall, at the primary level, females and males enjoy equal access to education, but the majority of young women drop out at age 14 or 15 due to social pressure to marry and bear children. Only 20 percent of the students at the University of Bangui are women. There are no accurate statistics on the percentage of female wage earners.

Polygyny is legal, although this practice faces growing resistance among educated women. The law authorizes a man to take up to four wives, but a prospective husband must indicate at the time of the marriage contract whether he intends to take additional wives. In practice many couples never formally marry because men cannot afford the traditional bride payment. Women who are educated and financially independent tend to seek monogamous marriages. Divorce is legal and may be initiated by either partner. The law does not discriminate against women in inheritance and property rights, but a welter of conflicting customary laws often prevails. The 1995 draft family code, designed to strengthen women's rights, still awaits National Assembly approval.

The Association of Central African Female Jurists' Clinic advises women of their legal rights. The organization also publishes pamphlets in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Affairs on the dangers of female genital mutilation (FGM) and on food taboos.

Children

Although there is no official discrimination against children, the Government spends little money on programs for children. There are few church and other NGO projects for youth. Most children are behind in their studies because of teachers' strikes in the early 1990's and the army mutinies. Education is compulsory beyond the age of 5, but parents are not prosecuted for truancy. Many Bangui street children survive by begging and stealing. Some are street vendors, part of the informal economy. Several charitable organizations strive to assist them.

Courts interpret the Penal Code as forbidding parental blows or injuries to children under age 15. The proposed family code is designed to strengthen children's rights. For example, illegitimate children would have the same rights as those born in wedlock.

A 1996 ordinance banned female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. Nevertheless, this traditional practice is found in certain rural areas, and to a lesser degree in Bangui, and is performed at an early age. Approximately 45 to 50 percent of females have undergone FGM. A campaign of awareness organized by the Ministry of Social Welfare and women's NGO's reduced the incidence of FGM in some rural areas.

People with Disabilities

There is no codified or cultural discrimination against the disabled. There are several government-initiated programs designed to assist the disabled, including handicraft training for the blind and the distribution of wheelchairs and carts by the Ministry of Social Services. There is no legislated or mandated accessibility for the disabled.

Indigenous People

Despite constitutional provisions, in practice some minorities are treated unequally. In general, the country's indigenous Pygmies have little ability to participate in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources. In particular, indigenous forest-dwelling Pygmies are subject to social and economic discrimination and exploitation, which the Government has done little to correct. Pygmies often work for villagers at wages lower than those paid to members of other groups.

Religious Minorities

Muslims, particularly Mbororo (Peulh) herders, claim to have been singled out for harassment by authorities, including shakedowns by police, due to popular resentment of their presumed affluence. Muslims play a preponderant role in the economy.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There are about 90 ethnic groups, and in the past there was little ethnic balance at the higher level of government. Under the Kolingba regime, members of the minority Yakoma ethnic group held a disproportionate number of senior positions in Government, the armed forces, and state-owned firms. The Patasse Government has brought about a more representative ethnic balance in the Government. Even so, observers note that members of northern ethnic groups close to the President are a majority in Patasse's cabinet and also receive favorable treatment in government appointments. In the 1996 mutinies, security forces killed civilians based on their ethnicity (see Section 1.g.).

Under the various accords following the 1996 mutinies, reintegration of the rebel forces into the armed forces has included access to promotions for Yakoma soldiers that previously had been blocked since Patasse took office.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Under the Labor Code, all workers are free to form or join unions of their choosing without prior authorization. A relatively small part of the population has exercised the right of association, chiefly wage earners such as civil servants.

The Labor Code does not refer to trade unions by name, a change from the previous code. The International Labor Organization (ILO) had requested this change to reflect the proliferation of new unions. There are now five recognized labor federations, including the Organization of Free Public Sector Unions and the Labor Union of Central African Workers (USTC). The USTC and its member unions continue to assert and maintain their official independence from the Government.

Unions have the right to strike in both the public and private sectors. To be legal, strikes must be preceded by the union's presentation of demands, the employer's response to these demands, a conciliation meeting between labor and management, and a finding by an arbitration council that union and employer failed to reach agreement on valid demands. The union must also provide 8 days' advance notification in writing of planned strikes. The Labor Code states that if employers initiate a lockout that is not in accordance with the Code, the employer is required to pay workers for all days of the lockout. Other than this, the Code does not provide for sanctions on employers for acting against strikers. It is not known to what extent this policy is actually followed.

Labor federations are free to affiliate internationally. The USTC is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Code accords trade unions full legal status, including the right to sue in court. It requires that union officials be employed full-time in the occupation as a wage earner, but they nonetheless conduct union business during working hours. The Code does not specifically provide that unions may bargain collectively. While collective bargaining has nonetheless taken place in some instances, the Government is usually involved in the process.

Wage scales are set by the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service and were still in the process of revision at year's end. The nonpayment of salaries arrears and higher consumer costs attributed to the 1994 devaluation continued to be major complaints of the unions. The Government's efforts to reform the civil service were stalled during the civil strife. At year's end, the Government had resumed these reforms.

The law expressly forbids discrimination against employees on the basis of union membership or union activity. The Labor Code does not state whether employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor is specifically prohibited by the Labor Code, and there were no reports of forced or bonded labor, except for prisoners who were forced to work without compensation for government officials or magistrates (see Section 1.c.). The law applies to children. However, the Government does not have sufficient resources to enforce the prohibition effectively.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

Employment of children under 14 years of age is forbidden by law, but the provision is only loosely enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service. In practice child labor is common in many sectors of the economy, especially in rural areas.

The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children and attempts to enforce the prohibitions, although resources to do so are inadequate (see section 6.c.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Code states that the Minister of Labor must set minimum wages by decree. Agricultural workers are guaranteed a minimum of $15 (cfa 7,800) per month, while office workers are guaranteed $36 (cfa 18,000). Minimum wages differ among the various sectors. The minimum wages assures a family the basic necessities but is barely adequate to maintain a decent standard of living. Most labor is performed outside the wage and social security system, especially by farmers in the large subsistence agricultural sector.

The law sets a standard workweek of 40 hours for government employees and most private sector employees. Household employees may work up to 55 hours per week. The law also requires that there be a minimum rest period of 48 hours.

There are also general laws on health and safety standards in the workplace, but the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service neither precisely defines nor actively enforces them, a matter about which the ILO has expressed concern to the Government for many years. The Labor Code states that a labor inspector may force an employer to correct unsafe or unhealthy work conditions, but it does not provide the right for workers to remove themselves from such conditions.

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