The authorities in Benin have banned the activities of student organisations on all campuses of the four public universities in the country.
The decision, which was taken by cabinet on October 5, 2016, followed violent student agitations against new administrative measures at the Université d’Abomey-Calavi.
Minister of State, Pascal Irénée Koupaki, who announced the executive order on October 6, said the ban follows “an administrative inquiry into the acts of violence and vandalism that occurred on the campus of Abomey-Calavi.” He added that the “conditions for carrying out activities and/or recognition of such student unions are defined by a decree as decided by Cabinet.”
The ban has been condemned by many including the media, political parties, student unions, civil society organisations and trade unions as a violation of freedom of association and called for it to be lifted.
In a press release dated October 6, the country’s umbrella trade union organisation, Confederation Syndicale des Travailleurs du Benin (CSTB), said the ban was unconstitutional. Signed by CSTB Secretary General Paul Esse Iko, the statement cited Article 25 of the national constitution which states that “The state recognises and guarantees, within the limits of the law, the freedom of movement, association, assembly, procession and of demonstration” , and concluded that “no law, much less decree, can take away a constitutional freedom.”
In response to the widespread criticism of the ban, the minister of Justice, Professor Joseph Djogbenou, organised a press conference on October 11, to clarify that the decision does not seek to dissolve student unions but only “bans their activities”
This is not the first time students of Université d’Abomey- Calavi have protested against unpopular administrative orders. In November 2013, 17 students were injured following clahes with the police while protesting against new university measures. Journalists who tried to film the clash were also arrested.
The MFWA appeals to authorities in Benin to reconsider the ban on protests in public universities as it infringes on students’ right to assembly. We also urge students to exercise their right responsibly.