Covering events from January - December 2000TOGO
Head of state: Gnassingbé Eyadéma
Head of government: Gabriel Messan Agbeyome Kodjo (replaced Eugène Koffi Adoboli in October)
Population: 4.6 million
Official language: French
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
Human rights activists, including trade unionists, student leaders and independent journalists, were arbitrarily arrested, harassed and threatened by the authorities. There were reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention. In June 2000, a joint UN/Organization of African Unity (OAU) Commission of Inquiry was appointed to investigate hundreds of alleged extrajudicial executions in 1998.
The government was criticized by the UN for breaching international sanctions and providing support to an armed opposition group in Angola responsible for widespread human rights abuses against civilians.
In August, the Togolese parliament censured Prime Minister Eugène Adoboli, one year after his appointment, for failing to end the economic crisis by overcoming the country's international isolation. Eugène Adoboli resigned and was replaced by Gabriel Messan Agbeyome Kodjo, the speaker of the National Assembly and a former government minister.
Earlier, in June, Harry Octavianus Olympio was forced to resign as Minister of Human Rights. He was accused of organizing an attack on himself on 5 May with the help of his brother, Antonio Olympio. He denied the allegations. A few days later Antonio Olympio was arrested and accused of driving the car from which his brother was allegedly attacked. He was released on 8 July.
A new press bill was passed at the beginning of 2000 which limited press freedom and made defamation of the government an imprisonable offence. AI believed this to be a further measure to silence critics, in particular independent journalists. Detention for press offences such as ''spreading false information'' has been regularly used by the authorities against independent journalists who play a key role in exposing human rights violations by the security forces.
More than a dozen people, including prisoners of conscience, were arrested during 2000. Among them were trade unionists, students and journalists.
On 28 January, Norbert Gbikpi-Benissan, General Secretary of the Union nationale des syndicats indépendants du Togo (UNSIT), National Union of Independent Trade Unions, and Pierre Allaga-Kodegui, General Secretary of the Fédération des travailleurs de l'enseignement (FETREN), Teachers' Federation, were arrested on charges of ''spreading false information''. Both were released one week later after the government withdrew the complaint against them.
Attempts to silence students continued throughout 2000. The authorities arrested leading members of the Conseil des étudiants de l'Université du Bénin (CEUB), the Student Council of the University of Benin. In January an international arrest warrant was issued against Alphonse Lawson-Hellu, leader of the CEUB, on a charge of spreading false information. He went into hiding for over a week until the charge was dropped.
In March, student meetings were violently dispersed by pro-government armed militias who beat students and allegedly tried to stab a student leader. As a result of the clashes, a leading member of a pro-government militia died and some students were injured. Also in March, the security forces used tear gas to disperse student demonstrations. Some students were beaten and injured by the security forces. At least 12 students were arrested and charged with gathering illegally. All were tried a week later and were released after being acquitted or given suspended sentences. However, at the same trial, five student leaders of the CEUB, including Lorempo Lamboni, Hanif Tchadjobo and Kokou Segbeaya, were tried in their absence and convicted of ''disturbing public order, illegal gathering and administering a fatal blow''. They were sentenced to suspended 18-month prison terms.
Hanif Tchadjobo was arrested on 10 April, one week after the arrest of another CEUB leader, Koumoyi Kpelafia. Both were detained in the civil prison of Lomé on criminal charges for more than one month before being released. They were prisoners of conscience. It was not clear whether the charges against them were dropped.
The authorities brought suits for defamation against independent journalists, apparently to silence them. On at least five occasions, the authorities confiscated editions of the independent press. On 31 July, the Combat du peuple and the Scorpion were seized when they published the July report of the Ligue togolaise des droits de l'homme (LTDH), Togolese Human Rights League, which was critical of the country's human rights record.
- Kpagli Comlan, editor of L'Aurore, arrested in December 1999 on charges of ''spreading false information'' was held until 4 February. After his release, he received death threats and was forced into hiding.
- Hippolyte Agboh, director of the independent weekly L'Exilé, was arrested on 14 April after mistakenly reporting the death of President Eyadéma's daughter. After being charged with spreading false information, he was sentenced to a three-month prison term and a heavy fine, and his newspaper was suspended for six months. He was released in June after a presidential pardon.
Human rights defenders
Threats against human rights defenders, particularly members of organizations critical of the country's human rights record, became a regular pattern. In May 1999, AI published Togo : Rule of terror, describing a persistent pattern of extrajudicial executions, ''disappearances'', arbitrary arrests and detentions followed by torture and ill-treatment, sometimes leading to death, and harsh conditions of detention. Since then, members of Togolese human rights organizations - including AI members - have been harassed, intimidated, arrested and tortured. Others have been forced into hiding or have fled the country. In November 2000, the Dean of Examining Judges ordered that charges of ''false accusation and defamation'' against Togolese human rights defenders arrested in relation to AI's May 1999 report should be dropped, including those against Nestor Tengue, director of the Association togolaise pour la défense et la promotion des droits de l'homme (ATPDH), Togolese Association for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights.
- On 31 July and 1 August, Koffi Messa Devotsu, chairperson of the LTDH, was questioned by the Minister of the Interior and threatened with arrest after the publication of a critical report by his organization on the human rights situation. The interrogation took place in the presence of a number of independent journalists, who were also questioned and criticized by the Minister for having published articles on the LTDH report.
There were continuing reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention, some relating to incidents in previous years.
- Nine Togolese refugees, including Lawson Akouete Latévi, Messa Kokou Paul and Seke Koudjo, were handed over to the Togolese authorities by the Ghanaian authorities at the end of 1997. Most were members of the Comité togolais pour la résistance (CTR), Togolese Resistance Committee, an opposition party in exile in Ghana. After their arrest, they were detained in the civil prison and at the Direction de la police judiciare (DPJ) in Lomé. In July 1998, they were all transferred to a prison in Kara in the north of Togo. It was not clear whether they were charged. On their arrival at the civil prison of Lomé, guards beat, slapped, and kicked them. One prisoner, Nyableji John, was allegedly forced to eat sand and was then refused water. After the beating, it was reported that the prisoners could not walk and had difficulties with breathing. At the DPJ, the prisoners were reportedly kept permanently tied up. They were not given any food by prison authorities, but received food from their families.
In April 1998 Ntsukpui Attiso died, allegedly as a result of the beatings he received, insufficient food and harsh prison conditions. According to a letter from the Commission nationale des droits de l'homme, National Commission for Human Rights, to the ATPDH, Ntsukpui Attiso died as a result of tuberculosis.
The eight other prisoners reportedly suffered from malaria and skin diseases, for which they did not receive the necessary medication. In Kara prison, food was inadequate, the prisoners could only wash themselves twice a week, they slept on the floor and were only allowed to wear underwear. The prisoners were permitted to see members of their family only to receive food or medicine. Visitors who saw these prisoners told AI that they looked like skeletons.
Proceedings against AI
After the publication of the May 1999 report, the authorities arrested human rights defenders, including AI members, on suspicion that they were passing information to AI. In September 1999, the Togolese authorities started legal proceedings against Pierre Sané, AI's Secretary General, and summoned him to appear before an investigative magistrate of the High Court in Lomé for ''a possible indictment for contempt, incitement to revolt, dissemination of false news and conspiracy against the external security of the state''. On 12 March 2000, the government indicated that it would withdraw its complaint against Pierre Sané once the international Commission of Inquiry began its work in Togo. In November, the Dean of Examining Judges ordered that all proceedings against Pierre Sané and four other human rights defenders should be stopped until further notice. However, it remained unclear whether or not the charges had been dropped.
International Commission of Inquiry
In its May 1999 report, AI called on the Togolese authorities to accept national and international investigations into widespread human rights violations, including hundreds of extrajudicial killings committed during the 1998 election period. Reports of extrajudicial killings in that period were later corroborated by investigative reports undertaken by journalists and the Ligue beninoise des droits de l'homme, Benin Human Rights League.
In August 1999, the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of extrajudicial executions in Togo in 1998 and noted the government's undertaking to cooperate fully with it.
On 7 June 2000, the UN and the OAU announced the establishment of a joint Commission of Inquiry into allegations of hundreds of extrajudicial killings in Togo. The Commission was composed of delegates from Chad, Brazil and Niger.
In August and September, an AI delegation met members of the Commission to provide information relevant to the inquiry. AI stressed the need for an effective witness protection program and informed the Commission about ongoing attempts by the Togolese authorities to silence witnesses. The Commission published two public information notes setting out the measures it intended to take to protect witnesses, before it visited Togo and neighbouring countries towards the end of the year.
AI also expressed concern that criminal charges of passing information to AI, which had been brought against Togolese human rights defenders, still stood under Togolese law, even if pursuit of these cases had been suspended when the Commission of Inquiry arrived in Togo.
For the past 10 years the Togolese authorities have failed to respond effectively to the public demand for an end to impunity for human rights violations. No steps have been taken to clarify, for example, the extrajudicial execution of Tavio Amorin and the ''disappearances'' of David Bruce, Kouni Kodjo, Adjisse Essie Djiewone and Edoh Komlan.
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