/ 19 November 2008

UN report says torture rife in Equatorial Guinea

Political prisoners and criminal detainees are systemically tortured in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, a United Nations investigator said on Wednesday.

In a report issued after a week-long visit to the West African state, Manfred Nowak, special rapporteur for the UN’s Human Rights Council, called on oil companies operating there to ensure they do not abet government abuses of human rights.

”I have found that torture is systematically used by police forces against persons who refuse to ‘cooperate’ — political prisoners as well as suspects of common crimes,” Nowak, an Austrian law professor, said.

His report concluded that torture is prevalent because of ”the absence of the rule of law” in Equatorial Guinea, which he said lacked an independent judiciary and suffered endemic corruption and widespread arbitrary detention.

He urged foreign companies, lured to the once dirt-poor country following the discovery of oil there in the 1990s, to ensure that they are ”not complicit in violations of human rights by state authorities”.

Amnesty International likewise has asserted that repression and torture of political opponents has been rife in Equatorial Guinea. The government has denied in the past that it tortures political opponents.

Medical analysis showed that detainees were given electric shocks from starter cables, beaten with rubberised cables and wooden bars, suspended with hands and feet tied together and had heavy weights attached to their bodies, the report found.

Some prisoners were forced to inhale candle smoke while blindfolded, Nowak said. Torture most often was used in an attempt to extract confessions or information, but also sometimes as punishment or to extort money, he added.

Nowak said he had been barred from military prisons, and could therefore not verify allegations that the army was also heavily involved in abuse of prisoners.

Three-decade rule
Equatorial Guinea has been ruled by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo since 1979 when he overthrew his uncle, who was accused of torture and massive rights abuses in a decade of bloody rule in the former Spanish colony.

Since oil was found, it has become sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest crude exporter after Angola and Nigeria, with US companies dominating the fast-growing sector but China also showing growing interest.

The administration of outgoing US President George Bush describes Obiang — whose ruling party and its allies won all but one of 100 parliamentary seats in elections in May — as a friend though it has criticised his rights record. – Reuters