Gabon has been controlled by the Gabonese Democratic Party since 1960, and has had only three presidents.
Current President Ali Bongo was sworn in for a second seven-year term in September 2016, after Gabon's constitutional court upheld his narrow victory in a bitterly disputed election. Bongo took over from his father, Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon for 42 years until his death in 2009. The president is the head of state and has the power to appoint, as well as dismiss, the prime minister, members of their cabinet, and supreme court judges. Additionally, the president has the power to dissolve Gabon’s National Assembly, call a new election, govern by presidential decree, and delay any legislation.
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY PARTY REPRESENTATION
Due to this executive power and the abolition of presidential term limits in 2003, Gabon has only had three presidents since its independence from France in 1961.
The ruling Bongo family has exerted almost complete control over Gabonese politics, the economy, and civil society since 1967, and is notorious for treating the national treasury like a private bank account, skimming off as much as 25% of the nation’s GDP for personal use.
SENATE PARTY REPRESENTATION
The judiciary in Gabon has often been accused of being strongly influenced by the executive branch. Gabon’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, consists of nine judges, three of whom are appointed by the president. The Court evaluates the validity of any laws and is expected to guarantee fundamental human rights and public freedoms - yet this is often not the case.
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: FRENCH
GOVERNMENT: PRESIDENTIAL REPUBLIC
RULING PARTY: GABONESE DEMOCRATIC PARTY (GDP)
PRESIDENT: ALI BONGO ONDIMBA
IN POWER SINCE: OCTOBER 16, 2009
LEGAL SYSTEM: MIX OF FRENCH CIVIL LAW AND CUSTOMARY LAW
Ritual crimes, and restrictions on the freedoms of association and expression constitute the greatest threats to human rights in Gabon.
In 2005 Jean Elvis Ebang Ondo, the founder and head of the Association for Combating Ritual Crimes, lost his 12 year old son to a ritual murder in which his eyes, tongue, and genitals were removed.
The phenomenon of ritual crimes, in which children, women, and men are killed for the harvesting of their organs, remains common practice in Gabon. The practice consists of the removal of organs such as the eyes, tongue, ears, breasts, and genitals, as well as the complete draining of the victim's blood, all while the victim is still alive.
Ritual crimes are committed by people in search of power, wealth, or celebrity status and tend to increase substantially during election periods.
In 2016, only about sixty victims were registered by the ACRC; however, mutilated bodies are found every week throughout Gabon. The government does little to help combat the practice. Protests against ritual killings have been dispersed by tear gas, and several rights group leaders have been arrested by the security forces.
The assassin and the sponsor of the ritual crime are very rarely arrested. Furthermore, any judicial proceedings are constrained by threats and pressures against the victim’s family, corruption in the prosecutor’s office, the excessive cost of autopsies, disagreements over the burden of proof, and the lack of modern tools for investigators to do their work.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF
Press freedom is a right protected under Gabon’s constitution. However, the government, under the National Communications Council (NCC), has the ability to censor news outlets that “disrupt public order.” Moreover, reporters accused of libel and defamation are subject to lengthy prison sentences. Although newspapers, privately owned or affiliated with the government, have criticized the government in the past, rigorous self censorship remains common practice.
Similarly, opposition members are routinely arrested arbitrarily without warrants for protesting the government’s conduct or disputed election results.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The right to associate with anyone and to gather peacefully in public is a human right. Freedom of assembly and association is legally protected in Gabon. Nevertheless, protests have to be approved by the government and the government’s security apparatus has violently suppressed protests on numerous occasions, often using tear gas to disperse crowds.
HRF and Gabon
In July 2015, HRF drew major global attention to human rights violations and corruption in Gabon, by exposing a PR trip by Argentine football star Lionel Messi, who was personally invited by the dictator Ali Bongo. HRF condemned the visit of the world famous athlete and UNICEF ambassador for children’s rights—who helped whitewash a tyrant. By drawing attention to Messi’s visit, HRF sparked a global conversation on the little known crimes of the Gabonese dictatorship, educating millions of people through popular culture and mainstream media in more than a dozen languages. Two weeks after the trip and under media pressure, , Messi donated $500,000 to UNICEF.
Marc Ona Essangui is the president and founder of Brainforest and Environment Gabon, two organizations focused on sustainable development in Gabon.
In 2007, Ona uncovered plans between the Gabonese government and a Chinese company for a 3.5 billion USD mining project, which had been completely hidden from the Gabonese public. The estimated environmental impacts of the project were severe, and the company would have received a 25-year tax break, with little money going to the Gabonese people. Thanks to Ona’s efforts, the project is currently on hold. He continues to expose corruption in Gabon, even after being sentenced to six months in prison in 2013 for defaming a senior advisor to President Ali Bongo Ondimba.
Brainforest is an NGO that works to address environmental issues in Gabon through field support and policy monitoring.
Its philosophy revolves around the interdependence of environmental and social problems, the inclusion of local populations—the Bantu and "Pygmy" Indigenous Communities—with recognition and advancement of their rights, and the promotion of community development.