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Debate on human rights in Togo

8th January 2019

In her role of Minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin responds to a Westminster Hall debate on human rights in Togo.

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) on securing this important debate and, through her, I thank her constituents who have rightly brought these important matters to her attention and thus to the attention of the House.

Promoting human rights worldwide is generally part of the UK’s foreign policy. We believe that everyone everywhere should enjoy equal rights and protections under the law. We believe that human rights are the essential foundation for a fairer, more secure and more prosperous world. Standing up for human rights is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do. In our work, we promote respect for human rights in various ways, from quiet diplomacy and private discussions to leading and supporting international public campaigns with our international partners. With regard to media freedom and in particular the internet, we are campaigning very much this year for media freedom worldwide. The hon. Lady will be aware that we have also increased our support to the BBC World Service and our overall coverage across Africa in a variety of languages.

On the political and human rights situation in Togo, and UK Government action, I will start by recapping the political situation as we see it. President Faure Gnassingbe has been in power in Togo since 2005 following the death of his father, who had held the post ​for 37 years. The current president was elected for a third term in 2015, having set aside the term limits set out in the 1992 constitution. Togo is now the only country in the Economic Community of West African States that does not currently have presidential term limits. There have been increasing demands in recent years for that to change. A referendum on the issue was planned for September 2017 but did not go ahead.

Since late 2017 Togolese opposition parties have joined together to form a 14-party coalition, and have begun to stage protests in Lomé and across the country, to demand electoral reform. These protests are ongoing. Unfortunately, as the hon. Lady said, violence has been associated with the protests, mainly in the north of the country, perpetrated by both security forces and protestors. At least 12 people, including some members of the security forces, have been reported as killed since August 2017.

Reports are difficult for us to corroborate because, as the hon. Lady notes, we do not have a permanent diplomatic presence in Togo, and media reporting is often contradictory or biased. Nevertheless, our non-resident high commissioner, who is based in Ghana, continues to monitor the situation in Togo. In the last 18 months, he has visited Lomé twice and he keeps in touch with partners and multilateral institutions.

James Duddridge

Iain Walker does a fabulous job, as did Jon Benjamin, but with the expansion of the network across Africa, is there a possibility that we could get greater representation in Lomé, perhaps within three years? Is that in the pipeline?

Harriett Baldwin

I was going to mention our honorary consul in Lomé, Sitsu Curterello—I will make sure that Hansard gets the right spelling. As my hon. Friend mentions, we are increasing the range of roles and our diplomatic presence across a range of African countries. Under current plans, we are not anticipating opening an outpost in Togo directly, but we are anticipating increasing representation in Ghana. As he will know, the coverage of political affairs is done from Abidjan, so we are increasing our presence across west Africa.

Teresa Pearce

On that point, my constituents have expressed dissatisfaction with how that system works. If I meet them again and they give examples of where it is ineffective, and I write to the Minister, will she respond?

Harriett Baldwin

I would welcome that. As the hon. Lady knows, the more specific the better—that is always helpful.

One point that I have raised with the Togolese chargé d’affaires in London is the accreditation of our representative from the high commission in Ghana and of the honorary consul. We would like that paperwork to be finalised because it has been outstanding for longer than it should have been.

In terms of regional mediation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) said, we believe that ECOWAS has an important role to play. It is best placed to mediate in the current political crisis, as it did so successfully in Gambia. We support the efforts of the Presidents of Ghana and ​Guinea to that end. Indeed, a road map was brokered by ECOWAS in July 2018. We urge the Togolese Government and the Opposition parties to implement that road map, and we encourage all parties to resolve the crisis peacefully through a political agreement.

Regarding the political situation more broadly, it was encouraging that legislative elections took place on 20 December and that they were assessed by ECOWAS monitors to have been credible and non-violent. However, it is concerning that local elections, which were due on 16 December, were postponed for an unspecified period. It is also regrettable that more Opposition parties did not stand in those elections.

On the wider human rights picture, the UK welcomed Togo’s positive progress during its last UN universal periodic review in 2016, which included taking steps to prevent torture and other human rights violations by the security forces, and releasing a number of political detainees. Clearly, where such allegations have been made, it is important for them to be fed in so that they can be reflected in future United Nations universal period reviews. We also welcomed Togo’s election to the Human Rights Council from January 2016 and its decision to impose a complete moratorium on the use of the death penalty, as announced at the UN in September 2016.

We have raised concerns, however, about child trafficking, prison policies, prison overcrowding and the treatment of detainees in prison. At the time of the universal periodic review, we urged the Togolese authorities to thoroughly investigate all allegations of torture, arbitrary arrest and detention. We also remain concerned about the Government of Togo’s continued resistance to provide legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. We have urged them to ensure that the human rights of every individual in Togo are protected by law.

When I met the Togolese chargé d’affaires in London recently, I raised our concerns about human rights and took the opportunity to emphasise the importance of implementing the road map and of holding free, fair and peaceful local elections. We also discussed UK support for the economic development of Togo. The UK recognises that Togo is a country with a low average income. We provide about £12 million of development assistance annually, not directly through the Government but through a range of non-governmental organisations. In 2018, that included £1.6 million for the UN population fund, which supports reproductive healthcare and development across the country.

In conclusion, the UK Government welcome the steps taken by the Togolese Government to improve human rights in some areas, but we remain concerned about reports of violence, human rights abuses and violations associated with political protests. The treatment of detainees and the lack of protection for LGBTI people are matters of continued concern. We have said to the Government of Togo that they must now step up and deliver real progress on human rights, including on the ECOWAS road map, which will benefit all the people of Togo.


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