A U.N. special investigator says that when it comes to human rights, little has changed in Equatorial Guinea over the years. It remains a country where detentions and tortures are frequent occurrences and where the population has few legal safeguards. The investigator issued his findings in a report for the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which is now in session in Geneva.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission has been monitoring the human rights situation in Equatorial Guinea for the past 25 years, longer than for any other country. Gustavo Gallon is a human rights expert from Colombia, who prepared the report for the rights commission. He says the United Nations must keep watching Equatorial Guinea. Mr. Gallon says the small west African country has an abysmal human rights record.

But the special investigator also says the government has recently begun implementing some of the recommendations the commission has been making for more than two decades. For example, he says, it has set up health services in one of its prisons, and plans to ratify the U.N. conventions against torture and racial discrimination. In remarks to the commission, Mr. Gallon tells of a few other areas where some improvement has occurred.

"The presentation of a draft law says that civilians are not judged by military courts, the improvement of health installations in other detention centers, the prohibition of imprisoning divorced women who do not return the matrimonial dowry and an order to not carry out arbitrary detention," said Mr. Gallon.

But he makes it clear that Equatorial Guinea has a long way to go before it can be considered a country that respects human rights. He says dissent is not tolerated, and civilians face imprisonment at any time. He tells of a visit he made to a prison.

"I found in a semi-clandestine situation of detention, 17 people, amongst them four children, who were cooped up in a very tiny cell. Those who were responsible for this could not show any judicial order for this, and they had been taken for 15 days. There was not even a list of those who had been detained. There was total arbitrariness on this score, on the part of the Commandant. When I visited the place the next day, two of the detained prisoners showed that they had been tortured during the night," he said through an interpreter.

The U.N. investigator says the police officer on duty at the prison did not deny that the people had been tortured. In fact, Mr. Gallon says, he tried to justify it.

A representative from Equatorial Guinea says charges of such violations as torture have no credibility. But he says that there are violent people in the country, and steps have to be taken, including detention, to prevent them from destabilizing the country.