The court system, based on Spanish civil law and tribal custom, includes a Supreme Court, two appeals courts, lower provincial courts (first instance), military courts, and customary (traditional) courts. The courts apply a blend of traditional law, military law, and Franco-era Spanish law, which leads to some unpredictability in results. Appeals from courts of first instance are rare. A five-member Constitutional Council established in 1993 decides constitutional issues and releases election results. The customary courts composed of tribal elders adjudicate civil claims and minor criminal matters.
Under the 1991 constitution, the judiciary is not independent from the executive branch. In fact, all judges and clerks and other judicial personnel are appointed and dismissed at the will of the President. In addition, corruption is a problem because of low wages for judicial personnel.
Defendants have constitutional rights to an attorney and to appeal. However, in practice, these rights are not always afforded.
Recently, the treatment of Bubi ethnic group activists who were arrested after a rebellion in January 1998, and the conduct of the trial by a military court, which meted out 15 death sentences, was strongly criticized by Amnesty International and the European Parliament, respectively. Obiang suspended the death sentences in September 1998. Reports of serious and systematic human rights abuses in Equatorial Guinea continue.