Togo is a republic governed by President Faure Gnassingbe, whom voters re-elected in 2015 in a process that international observers characterized as generally free and fair. In December 2018 parliamentary elections took place under peaceful conditions. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) considered the 2018 elections reasonably free and transparent, despite a boycott by the opposition. The ruling Union for the Republic party (UNIR) won 59 of 91 seats; the government-aligned party, Union of Forces for Change (UFC), won seven seats; and independent candidates aligned with the government and smaller parties split the remaining 25 seats. On June 30, municipal elections were held for the first time in 32 years, fulfilling a long-term central government commitment to decentralization. The country increased its total number of elected representatives from 91 (parliamentarians) to more than 1,500 at the national and municipal levels. UNIR won 60 percent of the nationwide vote, approximately two thirds of municipal council seats, and together with independent parties aligned to the government control of 101 of 117 communes.
The national police and gendarmerie are responsible for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. The gendarmerie is also responsible for migration and border enforcement. The National Intelligence Agency provides intelligence to police and gendarmes but does not have internal security or detention facility responsibilities. Police are under the direction of the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection, which reports to the prime minister. The gendarmerie falls under the Ministry of Defense but also reports to the Ministry of Security and Civil Protection on many matters involving law enforcement and internal security. The Ministry of Defense, which reports directly to the president, oversees the military. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the armed forces, gendarmerie, and police, and government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse were often not effective.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by security force members; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary detention by the government; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; interference with freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; violence against girls and women and inadequate government efforts to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold perpetrators accountable; and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct.
Impunity was a problem. The government took limited steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed abuses.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government restricted these rights. The law imposes penalties on journalists deemed to have committed “serious errors” as defined in the media code.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views.
Violence and Harassment: In May the NGO Reporters Without Borders called on authorities to investigate death threats against the editor of the newspaper Le Flambeau des Democrates for publishing an article exposing a dubious real estate acquisition by a government minister. Based on security camera footage that showed a vehicle without license plates hitting the journalist’s parked car, the NGO also noted the journalist’s car appeared to have been targeted. The journalist reported the death threats to authorities and filed a “willful damage” complaint in court.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. In April 2018 the government arrested the president of the political association Youth Movement for Democracy and Development after the organization published a report on the repression of protests in which it claimed the government had killed approximately 100 demonstrators. The government charged the president with libel for spreading false news, insulting authorities, and calling for genocide. In December 2018 the president was convicted and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, with six months suspended and eight months applied for time served in pretrial detention. On April 5, he was released.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Unlike in 2018 the government and the National Assembly acted during the year to restrict these freedoms.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
While the law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government restricted some of these rights. During the year an internal bureaucratic dispute regarding administrative responsibility prevented authorities from repatriating 12 refugees (11 from Ghana and one from Europe).
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.
In-country Movement: Traffic police and gendarmes routinely stopped motorists on fabricated traffic law charges in order to obtain bribes.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection for refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government cooperated with UNHCR to assist in the safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries. From January 1 to September 24, the government assisted in the repatriation of 82 refugees.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, and citizens exercised that ability.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Although the law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption by officials, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
The body officially responsible for combating corruption, the High Authority for Preventing and Combating Corruption and Related Offenses, is an independent body that works with the judiciary on strengthening countercorruption practices and oversees adherence of public officials to anticorruption statutes. It also has a public outreach function that includes raising public awareness and referring complaints for legal action. In February the authority announced the initiation of investigations into corruption linked to the Cup of African Nations in 2013 and 2017 and illicit payments for construction of a road from Lome to Vogan that was never built. On November 4, it closed its investigations and transferred these two cases to the public prosecutor of Lome for action. No trial date was set by year’s end.
Other state entities, such as the Government Accounting Office and the Finances Inspectorate, investigated and audited public institutions but reported few results. Authorities maintained toll-free and text-messaging lines for citizens to report cases of corruption.
Corruption: Government corruption was most severe among prison officials, police, and members of the judiciary. There were credible reports judges accepted bribes to expedite and render favorable decisions in land dispute cases.
Financial Disclosure: Only the Togo Revenue Authority requires its officers to disclose their income and assets. No provisions in the constitution, law, regulations, or codes of conduct require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often met with human rights groups and participated in NGO-sponsored public events but typically were not responsive to NGO recommendations. Some NGOs, such as the Togolese League for Human Rights, reported experiencing intimidation and threats while conducting their work, particularly during election periods.
Government Human Rights Bodies: A permanent human rights committee exists within the National Assembly, but it did not play a significant policy-making role or exercise independent judgment. The National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) is the government body charged with investigating allegations of human rights abuses. During the year the CNDH investigated cases of alleged human rights abuses. For example, it investigated the case of Essih Koffi held in pretrial detention for six years in Atakpame Civil Prison. On September 9, the CNDH secured Koffi’s release.
The CNDH undertook other activities, including organizing meetings with human rights organizations, visiting prisons, observing local elections, and providing comments and concerns to the government on the amended Bodjona Law. Additionally, it participated with the High Authority of Broadcasting and Communications, the Ministry of Human Rights, the Ministry of Justice, and the National Assembly in a dialogue with human rights organizations on the achievements and challenges in and prospects for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.
The CNDH also serves as the National Mechanism to Prevent Torture (NMPT). On August 5, the NMPT held an event with the Collective of Associations Against Impunity in Togo to launch the NMPT, raise awareness regarding its role, and help participants better understand legal definitions and ways to prevent torture and cruel or inhuman treatment. The ceremony was followed by capacity-building workshops held throughout the country for judicial and prison officials and other stakeholders.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The constitution and law provide for the right of workers, except security force members (including firefighters and police), to form and join unions and bargain collectively. Supporting regulations allow workers to form and join unions of their choosing. Children younger than 18 who are authorized to work may not join unions, except with the authorization of a parent or guardian.
Workers have the right to strike, although striking health-care workers may be ordered back to work if the government determines it necessary for the security and well-being of the population. While no legal provisions protect strikers against employer retaliation, the law requires employers to obtain an authorizing judgment from the labor inspectorate before they may fire workers on strike. If employees are fired illegally, including for union activity, they must be reinstated and compensated for lost salary. The law creating the export processing zone (EPZ) allows EPZ workers to form two unions but exempts companies within the EPZ from providing workers with many legal protections, including protection against antiunion discrimination regarding hiring and firing.
There are six collective bargaining agreements in force in the country. By law if parties engaged in collective bargaining do not reach agreement, the government may compel them to seek arbitration.
The government generally enforced legal provisions regarding freedom of association and the right to organize for unions, particularly outside the EPZ. While the law provides that violation of the right to organize is a criminal offense, it does not specify fines or other penalties applicable to conviction.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
While the law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, the government did not enforce the law effectively. Investigations were infrequent because labor inspectors must pay for their own travel and lodging expenses without reimbursement. Penalties for conviction were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. Prisoners are required to work; it was unclear if they are hired out to private employers.
Forced labor occurred. Children were subjected to forced labor (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at HYPERLINK “https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/”https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law does not prohibit all the worst forms of child labor. The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 15 in any enterprise or type of work and children younger than 18 from working at night. It requires a daily rest period of at least 12 hours for all working children. The law does not include corresponding penalties for violations. The minimum age for employment in hazardous work, such as some types of industrial and technical employment, is 18, although exceptions are often made for children ages 16 and 17 who are in good health and physically fit. The law allows 15-year-old children to carry, pull, or push loads weighing up to 308 pounds. The government has not defined what is considered hazardous work for children employed on ships and boats. The law prohibits the employment of children in some of the worst forms of child labor, including trafficking, prostitution, pornography, and the use of children in armed conflict. The law, however, authorizes employment of children ages 16 and older in other sectors likely to harm their health, safety, or morals.
The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, Administrative Reform, and Social Protection is responsible for enforcing the prohibition against the worst forms of child labor. The ministry provided support to a center for abandoned children and worked with NGOs to combat child trafficking. Ministry efforts to combat child trafficking included holding workshops in collaboration with UNICEF, the International Labor Organization, NGOs, labor unions, police, customs officials, and other partners to raise awareness of child labor in general and forced child labor in particular.
The government did not effectively enforce child labor law. Legal penalties were insufficient to deter violations. Ministry inspectors enforced age requirements only in the formal sector in urban areas.
Child labor was a problem. Some children started work at age five and typically did not attend school for most of the school year. Children worked in both rural and urban areas, particularly in family-based farming and small-scale trading, and as porters and domestic servants. In some cases children worked in factories. In the agricultural sector, children assisted their parents with the harvesting of cotton, cocoa, and coffee. Children were involved in crop production, such as of beans and corn, for family consumption.
The most dangerous activity involving child labor was in quarries, where children assisted their parents in crushing rock by hand and carrying buckets of gravel on their heads. The government did not sanction such labor, and it occurred only in small, privately owned quarries. Reputable local NGOs reported that, while quarry work was a weekend and holiday activity for most children, some left school to work full time in the quarries.
In both urban and rural areas, particularly in farming and small-scale trading, very young children assisted their families. In rural areas parents sometimes placed young children into domestic work in other households in exchange for one-time fees as low as 12,500 to 17,500 CFA francs ($21 to $30).
Children sometimes were subjected to forced labor, primarily as domestic servants, porters, and roadside sellers. Children were also forced to beg. Employers subjected children to forced labor on coffee, cocoa, and cotton farms, as well as in rock quarries, domestic service, street vending, and begging. Children were trafficked into indentured servitude. Child sexual exploitation occurred (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, gender, disability, citizenship, national origin, political opinion, language, and HIV-positive status but does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Due to social and cultural norms and stigma, however, individuals sometimes chose not to report violations.
The government, in general, did not effectively enforce the law. Evidence of hiring discrimination ranged from job advertisements that specified gender and age to requiring an applicant’s photograph. Gender-based discrimination in employment and occupation occurred (see section 6, Women). Although the law requires equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, this provision generally was observed only in the formal sector.
By traditional law, which applies to most women, a husband legally may restrict his wife’s freedom to work and may control her earnings.
Societal discrimination against persons with disabilities was a problem. Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Representatives of the government, labor unions, and employers negotiate and endorse a nationwide agreement to set nationwide wage standards for all workers in the formal sector. The National Collective Bargaining Agreement sets minimum wages for different labor categories, ranging from unskilled through professional positions. The minimum wage is above the poverty line.
The government heavily regulates the labor market. Working hours of all employees in any enterprise, except in the agricultural sector, normally are not to exceed 40 hours per week. At least one 24-hour rest period per week is compulsory, and workers are to receive 30 days of paid leave each year. Working hours for employees in the agricultural sector are not to exceed 2,400 hours per year (46 hours per week). The law requires overtime compensation and restricts excessive overtime work. The Interprofessional Collective Convention sets minimum rates for overtime work at 120 percent of base salary for the first eight hours, rising to 140 percent for every hour after eight, 165 percent for work at nights and on Sundays and holidays, and double pay for Sunday and holiday nights. This requirement was seldom respected in the private sector.
The Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, Administrative Reform, and Social Protection is responsible for enforcement of all labor law, especially in the formal private sector. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce the law effectively.
A technical consulting committee in the Ministry of Civil Service, Labor, Administrative Reform, and Social Protection sets workplace health and safety standards. It may levy penalties on employers who do not meet labor standards, and workers have the right to complain to labor inspectors concerning unhealthy or unsafe conditions. Penalties for infractions were generally weak, and there was no evidence they deterred violations. By law workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The law also provides protection for legal foreign workers. The law does not cover EPZ workers or workers in the informal sector, who represented a large, unregistered, nontaxpaying part of the economy. According to the Delegation of the Informal Sector Organization, a governmental entity, 80 percent of the country’s commercial trade is conducted in the informal sector, both urban and rural, which it defines as revenue-generating activity that produces both untaxed and government-regulated goods and services.
The law obliges large enterprises to provide medical services for their employees, and large companies usually attempted to respect occupational health and safety rules, while smaller ones often did not.
The government did not effectively enforce the law, and formal-sector employers often ignored applicable law. Employers often paid less than the official minimum wage, mostly to unskilled workers, and the government lacked the resources to investigate and punish violators. In 2015 an explosion at the West African Cement plant in Tabligbo killed six employees, after which workers struck for more than two months. In 2016 the Court of Tabligbo ruled the plant owners had to pay 280 million CFA francs ($475,000) to the victims’ families. The plant director of operations was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment; however, the sentence was suspended.