(Washington, DC, March 3, 2011)—Citizens in Equatorial Guinea trying to take advantage of the government’s pledge to allow greater citizen participation continue to face serious obstacles that hinder their efforts, EG Justice said in a report released today. The country was delisted from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)—a voluntary international effort to strengthen governance in resource-rich countries through improved transparency and accountability—in April 2010 for its failure to comply with the EITI’s requirements, including failing to allow unfettered civil society engagement. Nearly one year later, the Equatoguinean government has not implemented the necessary reforms to guarantee citizen participation and to increase the likelihood that the country will be readmitted to the EITI.
The 37 page report, “Disempowered Voices: The Status of Civil Society in Equatorial Guinea,” identifies systematic failures on the part of the Equatoguinean government to allow the full and independent participation of civil society organizations. The report examines the ways in which governmental actions and laws hinder effective civil society mobilization and activism inside the country, including problems associated with undue government intervention in civil society activities and an ambiguous and arbitrarily enforced legal framework that enables government officials to selectively discriminate against organizations. The report calls on the Equatoguinean government to take the necessary measures to ensure full citizen participation. These should include the elimination of all restrictions on press freedom and amending the country’s laws to allow civil society organizations to operate autonomously.
“The government of Equatorial Guinea has repeatedly stated that increasing citizen participation is a priority, yet it still has not implemented the necessary reforms to make this a reality,” stated Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice. “Promises leave empty echoes when not followed by concrete measures.”
The report highlights the gaps that exist between the government’s commitments to regional and international covenants that promote basic civil liberties like freedom of the press, association, and assembly, and the government’s failure to guarantee those liberties. The contradiction between rhetoric and reality recently grew even starker when the country’s president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, assumed the chairman position at the African Union, the regional body tasked with promoting and protecting citizen’s liberties across the continent.
“Despite ratifying a number of African Union covenants that promote democracy, civil society participation, and freedom of information, the Equatoguinean government has failed to uphold these principles,” stated Mr. Alicante. “With Mr. Obiang as the new chair of the African Union, the Equatoguinean government has an opportunity to apply the African Union’s principles to its own people,” stated Mr. Alicante.
The obstacles to citizen engagement have exacted a serious toll on the country’s civil society organizations, which struggle to obtain the capacity and resources necessary to successfully carry out their mandates. Decades of repression have prevented civil society from acquiring the skills, training, and financial stability required to foster active and dynamic organizations capable of organizing and collaborating with other domestic and international civil society groups. As a result, organizations remain weak, isolated, and unable to effectively monitor and counterbalance government authority.
EG Justice sets out detailed recommendations for reform to the Equatoguinean government.
• Update and clarify the laws that pertain to civil society organizations, and apply them consistently and transparently.
• Standardize and streamline the procedures required for civil society organizations to register and gain legal status.
• Remove government restrictions on freedom of the press, including removing the legal language that allows the government to censor journalists and media outlets.
• Establish an access to information law that grants individuals and civil society organizations the right to obtain and share information.