The authorities continued to restrict the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Fourteen prisoners remained on death row although the death penalty had been abolished. Civil society groups’ access to prisons was restricted. Benin joined the AU campaign to end child marriage.
In April, the National Assembly rejected a presidential bill which aimed to amend the Constitution. It contained provisions which limited the President’s tenure to one six-year non-renewable term and provided immunity from police custody or pre-trial detention for the President and members of the government.
In November, Benin’s human rights record was examined under the UN UPR process. The government accepted 191 recommendations and made note of seven others including calls to strengthen efforts to prevent the use of arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions and the excessive use of force by security forces; and to ensure that all national legislation complied with international standards on the rights to freedom of expression and media freedom, and to take steps to prevent the arbitrary suspension of media outlets.
Freedoms of expression and assembly
In January, Radio Soleil FM, E-Tele and Eden TV reopened. They were three of the seven media outlets which the High Authority of Audiovisual Communication (HAAC) closed in November 2016. Four other outlets which broadcast from abroad – Sikka TV, la Chrétienne TV, Unafrica TV and La Béninoise – remained closed. In May, the Court of First Instance in Cotonou fined HAAC President 50 million CFA francs (around USD89,648) for closing Sikka TV.
On 17 February police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of University of Abomey-Calavi students. They had gathered at a hotel in Abomey-Calavi, a suburb of Cotonou, for a general assembly and press conference, and to peacefully protest against the October 2016 ban on all student union activities.
Prisons remained overcrowded; Abomey Civil Prison in the de Zou district held three times as many detainees as its intended capacity, and Kandi Civil Prison held twice as many. Around 4,500 of the country’s 7,179 detainees awaited trial.
In April, the Ministry of Justice issued an order restricting the access of NGOs, religious and civil society groups to detention centres. Authorization for group visits was issued for periods of three months. Authorization could not be renewed without groups presenting a report of their activities for sign-off by the prison director who could make observations for the Minister of Justice’s attention, or even refuse to sign the report.
The government failed to adopt laws to remove the death penalty from legislation despite its abolition by the Constitutional Court in 2016. However, it accepted a recommendation made under the UN UPR process to commute all death sentences and expedite the adoption of provisions under the new Criminal Code to abolish the death penalty. Fourteen prisoners remained on death row at the end of the year. Their detention conditions improved slightly during the year when restrictions on outdoor activities were relaxed.1
In June, Benin became the 20th country to join the AU Campaign to End Child Marriage. The campaign’s objectives included educating communities about the negative effects of child marriage. Despite legislation prohibiting marriage before the age of 18, 32% of girls continued to marry under 18 years, and 9% married before the age of 15. In November, the government accepted a recommendation under the UN UPR process to fast-track the implementation of legislation which would address harmful practices against children, including in relation to forced early and child marriages.
- Living in limbo: Benin’s last death row prisoners (ACT 50/4980/2017)