How beautiful is small?
Author: Mathew A. Servina
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 01/26/2004
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN SEYCHELLES DURING 2003
Some input from CEFRAD, a non-governmental organisation
Cases of human rights violations during the period under review may be linked together in four main categories:
- Post-election retaliation and intimidation;
- Imposition of brutal police/army authority over civilians;
- Introduction of the Macro-economic Reform Plan (MERP);
- Role played by the state-owned media.
Great advances made by Seychelles National Party (SNP) in the 2001 presidential and 2002 general elections have been terrible experience for the ruling SPPF. Their agents have since been mobilised for a strategy of intimidation for eventual submission. Such strategy has been developed in the mainstream public service, within paramilitary services, through the social security system, and through the local government machinery via the district administration system. Several known supporters of the Opposition have lost jobs in the Public service or para-statal companies, and in some instances they have even been told quite plainly why. Small building contractors and other service providers who do not sing the SPPF tune are no longer getting work, and have sometimes been told things could turn back in their favour if they are willing to change camp. In some other instances public servants have had their work contracts terminated or refused renewal for allegedly sabotaging government by giving bad service to the public. To be noted that many of those who are truly abusing their authority or powers get government protection on account of their claim of support for the ruling party.
The head of State continues to defend the practice of ‘security clearance’ in a manner that clearly discriminates against people known or thought to be against SPPF. In several instances someone is barred from government employment even at the lowest level simply because a relative or close friend is known to be anti-SPPF. All these constitute gross discrimination and a denial of the right to participate in public affairs. And there is sufficient evidence pointing to the fact that the man at the top is generally aware of what goes on.
Several persons considered to be activists or agents of the Opposition have been made targets for physical abuse by paramilitary personnel. Sometimes the victims remain silent about it, others talk. In certain cases young people have been stopped on the street or even pulled from their homes and taken to police stations on some weird pretext or accusations, but then released without any charge. And there is credible evidence of two state security personnel who were sent to the island of Praslin to intimidate opposition activists or other persons closely related to them. There is ample evidence that a young man set on fire in a pick-up truck was the victim of state security agents. It has become clear that the intended target was someone else who was in fact a very active agent of the SNP. CEFRAD has consented to assist the victims of this brutal act to seek justice and redress in the face of an apparent cover-up by the police in collusion with other authorities.
Decision by the Police commissioner to stop granting permission to the Opposition for any form of political gathering is another retaliatory move aimed at denying opposition supporters the right to freely organise their activities. To date the authorities have not been able to give any sensible reason for such decision. It needs to be pointed out that the right to freely associate means little without the right to freely (and lawfully, of course) organise.
In the December 2002 elections, elected seats in the National Assembly went up from one to seven for the Opposition. During the course of this year all opposition MNAs have been systematically and openly denied the right of access to facilities and space at the district administration offices where they can connect with their electorate. In stark contradiction with the degree of cooperation accorded to elected parliamentarians from the ruling party. This is blatant discrimination and clear lack of respect for norms and standards applicable in a democratic society. Such kind of naked discrimination is also sometimes experienced in connection with the provision of social security assistance and also the granting of public housing loans facility.
Imposition of police/army brutality over civilians
It is common knowledge that the police force continues to lose trust and credibility in the eyes of the population. There is no doubt that certain members of the public are taking advantage of such form of institutional weakness, and the means and methods that such people employ to commit criminal acions surpass the ability of police officers to cope with certain situations. In an attempt to get some control they quite often adopt tactics or strategies that display excessive arrogance and brutal aggressiveness towards members of the public even when there is insufficient cause. Young people are often harassed on the street without justifiable reason. Sometimes the army is called upon to impose such kind of bullyish authority over civilians. There have also been several accusations of persons kept in police detention well past the legal time limit. And there have been instances of unarmed civilians shot by police right in front of other civilians.
Macro-economic Reform Plan (MERP)
Since its introduction in mid-2003 it is evident that certain aspects of the MERP have brought adverse consequences to the lives of most citizens, mainly by reducing the purchasing power of take-home earnings, thus eroding their standard of living. CEFRAD is still studying in-depth the underlying human rights implications of measures under the plan.
Violations by state-owned media
Given the fact that the role of the media is essentially to inform, educate and raise public awareness, the state-owned media should lead by example in the matter of promoting democratic principles and norms with respect for human dignity and fundamental rights.
Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) and Seychelles NATION continue to perform merely as mouthpiece of the SPPF, engaged in disseminating one-sided propaganda and quite often distorted information. A strategy and practice widely thought to be directed right from the top. For years there continue to be accusations, criticisms and discussions on the part of the general public, from opposition groups, from the private sector, and from civil society organisations, about discriminatory practices of the state media in Seychelles. They continue ignoring citizens’ right to quality information, very often denying the public the real truth about many serious issues.
CEFRAD has in particular been a continuous victim in this regard, as SBC and the Seychelles NATION continue to refuse us space or air-time to inform the public about our work and to convey the essence of our democracy and human rights awareness and education program. They have been instructed to even shut our organisation out of the possibility to simple news coverage of our human rights activities.
Violations by the state-owned media was a burning issue largely talked about at the Open Conference on human rights in Seychelles, organised by CEFRAD from 9 to 12 December, which the state-owned media flatly refused to inform the public about. We have been strongly urged to resort to Constitutional Court action against the corporation.
Some obstacles to the application of HR norms and standards in Seychelles
There are several obstacles to the effective application and enforcement of human rights principles and norms in Seychelles. We cite the most significant ones.
- A conspicuous lack of awareness on the part of most citizens of the contents and practical implications of the provisions of the Seychelles Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. This applies in general as much to people in positions of power and authority as it does to ordinary citizens.
- In view of above, most victims of human rights abuses and violations remain unaware of instances where they have become victims of abuses or violations.
- Some people who may be aware of their rights and practical implications often don’t know of or don’t trust existing institutions or organisations that could assist them seek redress.
- Some people are simply too scared to make any move, especially when they find themselves victims of violations by government agents or representatives, for fear of reprisal, in a situation where they feel their entire lives are being run by government and the ruling SPPF party.
- To many citizens the judicial system, including the Constitutional Court, is seen as being tools of the Executive, and there is very remote possibility of obtaining redress from unjust government action.
- The Office of the Ombudsman appears to enjoy a certain degree of public credibility and trust, but they claim not having the resources needed to assist victims through the justice system.
- Seychelles being a highly expensive country, seeking justice is always a very costly affair for ordinary citizens who find themselves victims of abuses and violations. And public legal assistance does not always operate to the real interest of victims.
- CEFRAD is currently contemplating collaboration with other bodies locally and elsewhere with a view to build up some defence strategy for assisting human rights victims.
Bio: Mathew A. Servina is President of CEFRAD