Côte d'Ivoire

Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination begins consideration of reports of Côte d'Ivoire

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The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination began review this afternoon of the fifth to fourteenth periodic reports of Cote d'Ivoire, questioning a Government delegation, among other things, on what was being done to protect vulnerable groups from the conflict currently affecting the country and what was being done to prevent groups from disseminating ideas of racial hatred and disunity.
The reports were introduced by Victorine Wodie, Minister for Human Rights of Cote d'Ivoire, who told the Committee that the violent war which had been imposed on her country had exposed the population living in the war zone to grave problems, including summary executions. The Government had requested the UN Secretary-General to dispatch a mission to investigate the extent of human-rights violations, she said, and the same call had been made to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, but the report issued by the fact-finding mission dispatched to the country from 24 to 29 December 2002 contained incorrect information, which the Government had contested.

Committee Expert Mohamed Aly Thiam, who served as country rapporteur for the reports of Cote d'Ivoire, said the Marcoussis (France) agreement between the Government and the different factions in the conflict had raised much hope for peace and stability in the country; however it was a concern that the agreement had met with difficulties in implementation. He added that the difficulties encountered by the Prime Minister in forming a cabinet were an indication of the stalemate that was hindering a resolution of the Ivoirian crisis.

Also taking part in the afternoon's debate were Committee Experts Luis Valencia Rodriguez, Regis de Gouttes, Ion Diaconu and Nourredine Amir.

The Ivoirian delegation included Claude Beke Dassys, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Cote d'Ivoire to the United Nations Office at Geneva; Adele Kouame, Director of Assistance to the Population and to Vulnerable Groups; Edmond Djama, Director of "Reglementation" and Human Rights Promotion; Williams Nelson Kebe Seka, Director of Follow-up and Human Rights Protection; Isidore Bagrou Bagrou, Deputy Director charged with Relations with Prisons; Claude Yao, Deputy Director for Follow-up to Human Rights; Agathe Baroan, Special Legal Advisor to the President of the Republic; and Sylvestre Aka, Director for Legal and Consular Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Also, Alain Guy Lago, Technical Advisor in the Delegated Ministry to the President of the Republic; Désiré Bolou Bi Djehiffe, Technical Advisor in the Ministry of Labour, Public Function and Administrative Reform; Coulibaly Gahoussou, Technical Advisor at the Delegated Ministry charged with the Fight against AIDS; Daniel Bamab Cheich, Director-General for Territorial Administration of the Ministry of the Interior and Decentralization; Patrick N'gouan Konin, Technical Advisor to the Director-General for Treasury; and Gisele Kete, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Cote d'Ivoire in Geneva.

As one of the 167 States parties to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Cote d'Ivoire is required to submit periodic reports to the Committee on efforts to eliminate such bias.

Also this afternoon, the Committee discussed its participation in a meeting of an inter-governmental working group on follow-up to the Durban World Conference against Racism, in which the idea of a parallel anti-discrimination convention was cited. Experts said the World Conference, in its final declaration, had emphasized the role of the International Convention and its Committee.

The Committee also adopted a decision on Suriname, noting that the country had so far not submitted a single report to the Committee since ratifying the Convention in 1985. The Committee decided to consider the situation in Suriname under its review procedure at its sixty-third session in August if no report was received from the Government in the meantime.

When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. Thursday, 13 March, it will hear the responses of the delegation of Cote d'Ivoire to the questions put this afternoon.

Reports of Cote d'Ivoire

The fifth to fourteenth periodic reports of Cote d'Ivoire (CERD/C/382/Add.2) describe administrative, legislative and juridical measures undertaken by the Government with a view to implementing the provisions of the Convention. The reports give account of the situation leading to the presidential elections of December 2000. They also say that the Forum of the Nation for National Reconciliation, held from 9 October to 18 December 2001 at the initiative of the new authorities, forms part of an effort to strengthen national unity and promote peace in society, stating that both were sorely tested during the elections.

The reports note that the campaign against all forms of racial discrimination is visible in the form of Constitutional acts, penal legislation and general and special civil legislation. On 1 August 2000, the country adopted a new Constitution designed to improve and clarify certain elements of the Constitution of November 1960. The intentions of the people as regards efforts to combat all forms of discrimination are now unequivocal, the reports contend.

Cote d'Ivoire is a country open to all foreign communities, the documents state. Out of concern for its future, it is counting on those who live within the country to participate in its development. In its new Constitution, it commits itself to combating racial discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

Presentation of Reports

VICTORINE WODIE, Minister charged with human rights of Cote d'Ivoire, said the country was a multi-ethnic society with 66 ethnic groups and a total population of 16 million inhabitants, of which 26 per cent were foreigners. The economic, social and cultural situation had been in constant flux since the nation's independence was achieved in 1960. Economic growth had declined from 7.6 per cent in 1980 to 1 per cent in 1990.

Ms. Wodie said the socio-political crisis affecting the country since 19 September 2002 had had a negative impact on the country's judiciary system, which was functioning only in areas controlled by the Government.

The Ivoirian policy on the fight against racial discrimination had been embodied in different legislation dating from independence in 1960, Ms. Wodie said. In 1960, the people had declared their attachment to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948. In the current Constitution, 22 articles were devoted to human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Government of Cote d'Ivoire had ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in January 1973.

Despite the attacks it had been subjected to over many years, the Government had been able to take all necessary measures to implement the provisions of the Convention, the Minister said. All measures had been taken to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination. The heavy representation of foreigners in the private sector of society -- 42 and 20.4 per cent of men and women, respectively -- could be seen as affirming that there was no racial discrimination. Any non-respect of the norms set forth in the Constitution would prompt penal sanctions.

Ms. Wodie said the Government had created the Delegated Ministry of Human Rights in August 2002 in order to pursue its policy of respect and promotion of human rights. The Ministry had the responsibility to protect vulnerable groups in society. A national plan of action for women (2003-2007) had been designed, including the adoption of a law to fight violence against women.

In Cote d'Ivoire, 63.6 per cent of the population could not write or read, Ms. Wodie said. The Government had allocated 40 per cent of its budget for education to a literacy campaign. The campaign involved all persons in the territory, including refugees, particularly Liberians who still lived in the country. A special educational programme had also been adopted for children whose parents had been displaced due to the ongoing armed conflict.

Cote d'Ivoire was a land of hospitality, with 26 per cent of its population composed of foreigners, Ms. Wodie said. The foreign population enjoyed the right to education, health services and work. Before the events of September 2002, the country had won the Oragnization of African Unity prize for the best system for hosting refugees.

Ms. Wodie said the violent war which had been imposed on her country had exposed the population living in the war zone to grave problems, including summary executions. The Government had requested the UN Secretary-General to dispatch an inquiry mission to investigate the extent of the violations of human rights, and the same call had been extended to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report of the fact-finding mission that had been dispatched to Cote d'Ivoire and had stayed in the country from 24 to 29 December 2002 contained incorrect information, however, which the Government had contested.

Discussion

MOHAMED ALY THIAM, the Committee Expert who served as country rapporteur for the reports of Cote d'Ivoire, said Cote d'Ivoire was being subjected to a crises characterized by high-magnitude of acts of hatred and xenophobia which had caused the suppression of the most vulnerable segments of the population. The situation through which the country was traversing was challenging its stability and was a negative factor hampering the Government's efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention. The conflict could also affect the country's peace, development and national unity.

Mr. Thiam noted that the reports were submitted to the Committee before the rebellion was which dividing the country today. A faction of the rebellion controlled the north, a second faction the west; and the Government exercised its administration in the centre and the south. That situation would make it difficult for the Committee to consider the situation based only on the information provided in the reports, as so much had changed. The current Government had come to power amid turmoil resulting from the presidential elections of October 2000.

Mr. Thiam said the emergence of multipartism after a single party system had prevailed for some time had not resulted in a peaceful transition to pluralist democracy. The Constitution, adopted in 2002, had made progress vis-a-vis that of 1961. It declared multipartism and guaranteed the separation of State power; it abolished capital punishment; and it made devoted efforts towards the respect and promotion of human rights.

The rapporteur said the Marcoussis (France) agreement among the Government and the different factions in the conflict had raised much hope for peace and stability; however it was a concern that the agreement had met with difficulties in implementation. The difficulties encountered by the Prime Minister in forming his cabinet was an indication of the stalemate hindering resolution of the Ivoirian crisis. The Government currently was unable to implement articles 5, 6 and 7 of the Convention.

Mr. Thiam asked about concrete measures undertaken by the Government to give effect to the Marcoussis accord, and if the foundation for reconciliation and national unity had been laid down. What measures were envisaged to come out the current situation of uncertainty and what was intended to help restore peace? What steps were being taken to impede the press from disseminating racial hatred and xenophobia? Did the Government plan to bring to trial those responsible for genocide, racial violence and xenophobia, in light of the common graves discovered in Yopougon?

Other Committee Experts also raised a number of comments and questions. One Expert said Cote d'Ivoire was heavily populated by immigrants. The current crisis was leading the country to instability, he said, and the principles of democracy and respect for human rights had been severely threatened.

Another Expert said Cote d'Ivoire had been a model of national stability before the current conflict. He wanted to know about the latest status of the agreement reached in Accra among the political parties relating to the formation of national Government of reconciliation. Over the last six months, the number of people killed and displaced had risen, he remarked.

Referring to the country's law on citizenship, another Expert said effective access to citizenship should be without any discrimination, in line with the spirit of the Convention. Foreigners had also the right to own real estate without any discrimination. There were no grounds for prohibiting foreigners from acquiring real estate.