Gabon is a republic dominated by the strong presidency of President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba. President Bongo, who has held office since 1967, was reelected in 2005 in an election marred by irregularities. The president's ruling Gabonese Democratic Party (PDG) has been in power since 1968. Multiparty democracy was introduced to the country in 1991. The PDG won more than two—thirds of the seats in the 2006 legislative elections, which observers deemed to be generally free and fair despite irregularities. The country's human rights situation remains poor. This includes the limited ability of citizens to change their government; use of excessive force, including torture of prisoners and detainees; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; an inefficient judiciary susceptible to government influence; restrictions on freedoms of privacy, speech, press, association, and movement; harassment of refugees; widespread government corruption; violence and societal discrimination against women, noncitizen Africans, and persons with HIV/AIDS; trafficking in persons, particularly children; and forced labor and child labor.
Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
U.S. priorities for the advancement of democracy and human rights in the country include the development of democratic institutions, good governance, and transparency. Continued support for accountable and transparent democratic institutions, laws, and political processes is imperative to a successful democratic transition once President Bongo leaves office. The U.S. Government participates in efforts to coordinate democracy and governance initiatives with other international donors. The U.S. ambassador meets with both government and opposition leaders and with representatives from a wide swath of Gabonese society to stress the importance of political participation and ensures that other U.S. officials do the same.
The ambassador has spoken publicly on behalf of women's rights, democratic reform, and a free press. Maintaining support for a variety of local NGOs active on human rights issues including groups combating trafficking in persons, restrictions on the press, and violence against women is also a priority.
Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
The U.S. Government's support for democratic institutions, good governance, and transparency occurs on many levels. The U.S. Government fielded unofficial observers during the April 2008 local elections. Training in human rights is included in U.S.-provided training to military and police officials. The United States also supports the development of a more vibrant civil society by supporting self—help and other groups, including environmental organizations, women's farming collectives, and activists advocating on behalf of minority and women's rights. The U.S. Government also sponsored a local NGO to conduct a "lessons learned" workshop to examine electoral and political processes in the country, with particular focus on the poorly attended local elections of April 2008.
The United States continues to carry out an effective public diplomacy program in the country, including frequent appearances by the U.S. ambassador in the local media. In events ranging from a self-help project signing ceremony to the opening of an American Corner in a municipal library, the ambassador has consistently emphasized the importance of women's rights, democratic reform, and freedom of the press. Capitalizing on widespread interest in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, the ambassador hosted pre- and post-election events aimed at emphasizing the right of citizens to participate in their government and the importance of peaceful democratic transitions. The U.S. Government regularly held representational events with members of both government and civil society, including journalists and trade union representatives, to discuss and underscore the importance of worker rights, press freedom, and political participation. U.S. programs, including an exchange program, continue to promote press freedom and good journalistic ethics. The United States has been successful in identifying journalists, politicians, and civil society leaders with a wide range of backgrounds and political perspectives to participate in programs to visit the United States. In 2008 and 2009 two exchange participants, a journalist and a business person, participated in programs in the United States with significant components devoted to ethics, the rule of law, and other democratic principles.
To address the problem of trafficking in persons, the United States supported antitrafficking training, pressed the government to carry out legislative reforms, and engaged the government in a continuing dialogue to encourage a more effective response to the problem. The country's government officials continue to work closely with the U.S. Government on a project providing training, technical assistance, and limited material support to security forces and others involved in the government's antitrafficking efforts.
The U.S. Government continues to support civil society organizations and others combating the problem of "ritual crime," in which individuals, often children, are killed by those seeking fetishes and ritual power. The United States also supports organizations advocating on behalf of widows and orphans, whose rights are violated in some communities, particularly with respect to the inheritance of wealth from a deceased husband or father. In 2008 the U.S. Government provided funding to an organization to conduct a one-day training seminar to educate members on the legal rights of widows and orphans and on financial management.