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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights examines initial report of the Central African Republic

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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

20 March 2018

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded today the consideration of the initial report of the Central African Republic on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Flavien Mbata, Minister of Justice of the Central African Republic, said that the socio-sanitary context of the country was characterized by a continuous deterioration of all the health indicators, marked also by the deterioration of the living conditions of the population and bankruptcy of the sanitary system. A reflection of this situation was an excessive mortality, especially of children and women, and a HIV/AIDS epidemic with enormous repercussions on the economy, institutions, families and individuals. Widespread poverty constituted a major obstacle in improving living conditions and health standards. Since the independence, education was one of the national priorities; the National Education Sector Strategy 2008-2020 aimed to restore the normal functioning of basic education in the face of the crises that had led to the massive displacement of the population. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper focused on reducing the unemployment rate through the economic and professional integration of young people, increasing the incomes of wage earners and creating decent jobs for the benefit of the population, particularly poor and most vulnerable groups. Mr. Mbata also highlighted the structural constraints related to conflict and insecurity due to the presence of armed groups in a large part of the country, and said that the ongoing restoration of the State authority was an opportunity to integrate economic, social and cultural rights in the National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan. Other noteworthy initiatives included the Gender Equality Act of 2016, and the High Authority for Good Governance and the National Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms set up in 2017.

In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts recognized the immense challenges in the country where 2.5 million people required humanitarian assistance, 20 percent were internally or externally displaced, and the Government had difficulty controlling almost 35 percent of its territory. They underlined the critical importance of economic, social and cultural rights in the transitional justice and search for the truth, and in the national reconciliation process in which all elements of the society must be reflected. They also emphasized the importance of the Special Criminal Court's investigation into serious human rights violations in recent years that could constitute war crimes. The Government must do its utmost to create the conditions for the return of internally displaced persons, they said, and ensure the protection of their property rights. It was fundamental to register all children in internally displaced persons’ camps, particularly the new-born ones, and ensure their access to basic services. The Experts addressed the burning issues of sexual violence, gang and spousal rape, child labour and child marriage, and trafficking in persons especially women, and stressed the importance of recording those violations and their perpetrators in view of the future prosecutions. The situation in the education sector attracted attention of the Experts who remarked that only 70 percent of the population had access to primary education and that the enrolment figures were even worse when it came to secondary and tertiary education. Experts also asked how the indigenous peoples were consulted when it came to the use of their lands.

Olivier De Schutter, Committee Expert and the Rapporteur for the Central African Republic, in his concluding remarks, praised the Government’s desire to address the problems, and the will to turn the page on the conflict and improve the living situation. He stressed that transitional justice should aim to help the oppressed societies become free societies, and repair the injustices from the past through measures that would allow a fair future.

Mokoe Ngbeng, the Central African Republic delegate, said in closing remarks that the Experts’ comments and observations highlighted key issues in the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the country.

Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Committee Chairperson, said in her concluding remarks, that the Committee was aware of the constraints and urged the country to make the first difficult step, noting that all other steps came easier.

The delegation of the Central African Republic consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the representatives of the Permanent Mission of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of the Central African Republic towards the end of its session, which concludes on 29 March 2018. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available at UN Web TV.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 21 March, to review the sixth periodic report of Spain (E/C.12/ESP/6).

Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of the Central African Republic E/C.12/CAF/1.

Presentation of the Report

FLAVIEN MBATA, Minister of Justice of the Central African Republic, started by thanking the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic whose multifaceted actions enabled his country to be presenting its report in Geneva today. The Central African Republic had not submitted any report to the Committee since the ratification of the Covenant on 3 April 1980 which constituted a breach of obligations, recognized the Minister, which could in part be explained by the persistence of the multifaceted and recurring crises the country was facing. The present report contained information on concrete measures taken to implement the provisions of the Covenant, as well as difficulties and constraints in its application, and it focused on the areas of the right to health, education, work and family protection.

For fifteen years, the socio-sanitary context of the Central African Republic was characterized by a continuous deterioration of all the health indicators, marked also by the deterioration of the living conditions of the population and bankruptcy of the sanitary system. A reflection of this situation was an excessive mortality, especially of children and women. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS was estimated at 4.9 per cent and the country was facing a generalized epidemic with enormous repercussions on the economy, institutions, family and individuals. The Minister also mentioned the very difficult hygiene conditions, and widespread poverty, which constituted a major obstacle in improving living conditions and health standards. Turning to the socio-cultural constraints, Mr. Mbata highlighted traditional practices harmful to health that were a brake on the change of behaviour, including in terms of nutrition and sexual and reproductive health. Health training systems had been partially or completely destroyed, while the pharmaceutical sector suffered from a cruel lack of pharmacists and pharmacy auxiliaries. State budget allocations for health hardly exceeded ten per cent of the general budget. The state of the health system highlighted several issues related to governance and weak leadership such as coordinating partner interventions, human resource management, drug management, health information system and poor planning capacity.

Since the independence, the country had made education one of the national priorities for the training of future executives in the country. After quickly describing the Government policy over the decades, the Minister highlighted the National Education Sector Strategy for the period 2008-2020 and the efforts, since the return of the constitutional order, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 4 to ensure access for all to quality education. The stated goal of the Strategy was to restore the normal functioning of basic education in the face of the crises that had led to the massive displacement of population. The right to work and the conditions related to work were guaranteed in all the constitutions of the Central African Republic, from the first one in 1959 up until the last one adopted on 30 March 2016. However, the repeated crises the country faced considerably affected the world of work due to looting and the destruction of public and private institutions, leading to the weakening of the economic and social fabric. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper focused on reducing the unemployment rate through the economic and professional integration of young people, increasing the incomes of wage earners and creating decent jobs for the benefit of the population, particularly poor and most vulnerable groups. The 1997 Family Code, revised in 2010, aimed to strengthen measures to protect the family institution against "arbitrary interference".

Mr. Mbata also highlighted the structural constraints related to conflict and insecurity due to the presence of armed groups in a large part of the country. The restoration of State authority was under way, he said, which was an opportunity for the Government to integrate economic, social and cultural rights in the National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan and in the Programme for the Protection of Refugees in the process of restoration of State authority. In this regard, the Minister requested technical support and regional and international expertise for the progressive implementation of the obligations contained in the Covenant, but also for humanitarian reconstruction. Lastly, Mr. Mbata listed several recent initiatives, such as the adoption of the Gender Equality Act in 2016, the setting up of the High Authority for Good Governance and the National Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms set up in 2017, and the establishment on 5 March 2018 of the Multidisciplinary Committee to draft national policy document on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Concluding the presentation of the report of the Central African Republic, the Minister noted that the implementation of the rights set forth in the Covenant was somewhat compromised by the lack of resources due to the recurrent crises the country was experiencing.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Committee Expert and the Rapporteur for the Central African Republic, recognized the immense challenges in the country where 2.5 million people required humanitarian assistance, 20 percent were internally or externally displaced, and the Government had difficulty controlling almost 35 percent of its territory. Human rights must be guaranteed and protected in peace and in conflict, stressed the Rapporteur, and underlined that even if the Government did not have the control of the entirety of its territory, it had an obligation to do everything in its power to restore its authority and implement the economic, social and cultural rights. Economic, social and cultural rights had a decisive role in the transitional justice and search for the truth, as well as in the national reconciliation process in which all elements of the society must be reflected.

Mr. De Schutter noted that the main challenge for the Central African Republic was the large internally displaced population of 690,000 persons, who had the right to return to their places of origin, and for this, the conditions must be in place. Could the delegation inform on measures taken to meet the needs of internally displaced persons, and especially to provide for the full enjoyment of rights for those with disabilities? What system was in place to ensure that displaced children were registered and accessed health and education services?

The Rapporteur then turned to the issue of corruption and asked how the revenues deriving from the natural and mineral resources could be more traceable and their use more transparent. What was the reason for which the Central African Republic did not have a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and was the labour law was in accordance with the article 2.2 of the Covenant?

The delegation was asked whether same-sex unions were recognized and their rights guaranteed; if the law recognized the indigenous peoples and their rights especially the Bororo and Baka; the labour law provision which stated that women might lose their job if the work they were supposed to be doing was beyond their forces. Could displaced women and children enjoy their right to return even without a husband of a father?

Responses by the Delegation

The Special Criminal Court was now on the ground and would help to guarantee the restoration of the rights of the citizens of the Central African Republic. The delegation concurred that economic, social and cultural rights could not be guaranteed without justice. The Government had begun a dialogue with the armed groups in the context of the Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration process, which would allow the extension of State authority throughout the country. One victory in this context was the installation of prefects in the regions concerned.

The Central African Republic was aware of the importance of transitional justice, through which much would be settled, especially in the context of the fight against impunity. The Government had created the Justice, Truth, Reparations and Reconciliation Commission to avoid any repetition of all that had happened in the country. With the partners, the Government, through its Ministry of Humanitarian Action, was working to ensure that displaced persons and refugees could return in good conditions.

A Ministry for Humanitarian Aid had been set up to address the issues faced by refugees and internally displaced persons; the Ministry did encounter some problems, but periodic account on the progress made had been provided regularly.

The children from displaced persons’ camps had the right to access school and every child born was registered and issued a birth certificate. Furthermore, the 2018 budget aimed to allocate appropriate funds to the Ministry of Human Rights. The judges moved around the country issue birth certificates under the supervision of the Inspectorate General of the Ministry of Justice.

On the issue of corruption, the bodies were formed to work with the Ministry of Justice and other institutions in the justice sector with the aim of addressing the crimes related to corruption. The delegation said that 13 out of 14 armed groups had entered into the piece process; however, the biggest issue was the fight over the control of the areas that were diamond-rich areas. Still, little by little, the security situation was improving which would help the country regain the control over the national resources.

On the issue of same sex marriages, the legislation would be adapted in function of the evolution of the society.

On the matter of the minorities, all citizens of Central African Republic were guaranteed the same treatment. They had access to all basic and justice services, birth registration, as well as access to top level state bodies. There was no discrimination between any of those groups. On the matter of the indigenous peoples, there were projects looking in the western parts of the Central African Republic to protect the environment and their opinion was being asked for the projects that would be launched at their area.

The major issue of concern to the Government was to ensure that displaced persons, once returned, could enjoy their property again. Awareness-raising work was beginning to bear fruit and people had a greater understanding that they could not appropriate the property of others. The Justice, Truth and Restitution Commission had a very important mandate for the return to peace of a bruised people.

The delegation informed that concerns had been raised about the labour law provision concerning the work of women and children, and added that the review of that and other articles had been done to take into account all the international commitments of the Central African Republic.

The State authority was being reinstated gradually, and the final aim was a complete administration of the entire State territory.

Questions by Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, the Committee Experts noted that the political situation in the country was very difficult and that the means were very limited, which impeded the implementation of the Covenant in the Central African Republic. The country was one of the poorest in the world, and the crisis affected all economic sectors, especially in rural areas.

Nevertheless, the report showed more than commendable initiatives, although there was a lack of data showing concrete results. In this vein, the delegation was asked about the mandate of the Economic and Social Council established in 2017, and the practical measures implemented with the aim of fulfilment of the right to work.

Who were the beneficiaries of social benefits in the informal sector, Experts asked and also requested the information on the unemployment rate, the situation of child labour and employment of people with disability. What was the countrywide minimum wage and what was being done to provide safe working conditions for the workers including those in the informal sector? Also, what information were available on social security measures particularly in the informal and rural areas?

On the issue of persons with disabilities, was there any intention to amend the law from 2000 to bring it into line with the commitments arising from the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability?

On the matter of fair and appropriate labour conditions, and in relation to the article 2.2 of the labour law, the delegation was asked to explain the system of equal remuneration. Foreign workers were prevented from joining unions and taking union managerial roles unless they had been working in Central African Republic for more than two years. Minors under the age of 16 could only join the union with the consent of their parents, which represented the violation of their rights. Finally, the delegation was asked about the number of people employed in the formal and informal sectors, both in private and public, the number of child labourers, and how the labour inspectors checked the implementation of the labour code.

Responses by the Delegation

In relation to the question on the unemployment rate, there were no specific organized surveys on the employment situation. On the matter of the working conditions in the informal economy, the delegation noted that the 2011 Forum on Decent Work had made recommendations on the improvement in the working conditions and the promotion of the private sector by creating the environment favourable to employment and the setting up of the national employment fund.

Next, on social security issues, the delegation remarked that the Central African Republic had not had an action plan on social security until 2012. Today the situation was different and the system governed by the National Social Welfare Fund allowed for the support without difference to race, sex and religion, and the benefits were provided throughout the country.

A number of trade unions were registered in the country. The matter of the trade union rights of foreign workers was overall taken into considerations. On the other hand, the labour code would be amended to be in a correlation with both the national regulations and the provisions of the Covenant.

Questions by Committee Experts

The Committee Experts continued the dialogue by recognizing the overall challenging situation in the Central African Republic and emphasized that the situation of women in the country was of utmost concern. Sexual violence, gang and spousal rape, child labour and marriage, and trafficking of people, especially women, among other serious crimes, were numerous. The Central African Republic must ensure that those violations, and their perpetrators, were registered, in view of future prosecution.

Could the delegation update the Committee on the allegations of sexual assault and violence against the United Nations peacekeepers?

Experts also raised serious concern about the food security situation in the country, HIV/AIDS epidemics, and sexual and reproductive health of the people, particularly pregnant girls. Only five percent of the health care funding came from the Government and the rest from external funding. What additional resources were being allocated to address health issues and how the most vulnerable could access those resources?

Experts inquired about efforts to eradicate female genital mutilation, and also put a stop to forced and early marriage. Was the spousal rape criminalized and was corporal punishment still included in the parental authority?

The delegation was asked about the customary law and the women’s right to equal access to land and housing; this was an important issue considering that 90 per cent of women were in traditional and not civil marriages. What was being done to protect the rights of widows evicted from the deceased husband’s property?

Was the practice of using the Pygmies particularly Baka as private property, for forced labour and as sexual slaves eradicated?

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to the question raised about the protection of people, especially women and children, the delegation reminded the Experts of the challenges facing the country, and especially the fact that part of the territory was under the control of armed groups, and which resulted in the massive number of crimes committed against children and women. For several decades now the country was facing enormous governance problems accentuated by recurring military and political crises which undermined the functioning of institutions in general, and justice in particular.

The Central African Republic was well aware of its obligation to try those responsible for grave crimes because accountability for serious crimes was imperative for a truly lasting peace, and would send a strong signal that serious crimes would no longer be tolerated. The delegation recalled that at the 2015 Bangui Forum, the people had expressly rejected any idea of ​​any amnesty for the perpetrators of violations of humanitarian law and other serious crimes. In June 2015, a law had been adopted which established the Special Criminal Court, a national and hybrid jurisdiction composed of 13 national and 12 international judges "to try the perpetrators, co-perpetrators or accomplices of serious violations of human rights committed on the national territory since 2003".

This Court would soon be operational because all the prosecution and investigation bodies were in place. In this regard, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic supported the Government by documenting more than 600 incidents throughout the country.

Women played a very important role in the family economy and the agricultural context. However, there was a strong tendency for violence in conflict-affected areas, with sexual abuse that had not spared children or elderly women.

Central African Republic had committed to take steps to challenge the sexual violence, child marriage and similar crimes.

Corporal punishment of children was prohibited and actions were being take to raise awareness of the parents on the issue.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was about 4.9 per cent. The Central African Republic had adopted the new national strategy in 2015 to address the crisis. Mental health services were seriously deficient and the knowledge to effectively deal with mental health issues was limited. The mental health policy document needed to be updated, as well as the policy related to the drug use related diseases.

The delegation said that 8.8 percent of the public budget was allocated to health and the figures varied in the last couple of years. The Government needed external sources of finance, which principally came from international aid. The aim was to spend more than 3.5 United States dollars per capita. The 2010 survey had shown that maternal mortality was 174 per 100,000 live births, but the rate was decreasing. The statistics and data on women were an illustration of their vulnerability and an overall grave situation in the Central African Republic.

The delegation informed the Committee that although many provisions protecting women’s rights had already been incorporated in the justice system, the customary law did present an obstacle to the equal enjoyment of rights by women. The Government was working with religious platforms, judiciary experts and lawyers with the aim of remedying the problems.

The Central African Republic was addressing, on the national level, the allegations of sexual abuse and violence committed by the United Nations peacekeepers, and investigations were ongoing. The French justice system had taken action to address the allegations against French peacekeeping troops, following an appeal by the Government.

The law provided for the protection of the rights of all minorities in the country, including the Pygmies; the practice of modern slavery involving this group were therefore obsolete.

Questions by Committee Experts

In the final cluster of questions, Committee Experts commended the Central African Republic for prioritizing education and noted that there were still shortcomings that must be addressed. It was clear that the root cause of many of the problems was the armed conflict, Experts said and asked about efforts to ensure that schools were safe and protected. There was a serious problem with lack of school infrastructure, particularly separate toilets for girls and boys, while the number of teachers was insufficient and they lacked competencies. What was being done to attract the trained stuff into education profession?

Only 70 percent of the population had access to primary education, and there was an important gender gap in enrolment. The gap was even more pronounced in the secondary education where only ten per cent of students were girls. Was if it was possible to set up a programme to ensure that talented students could access tertiary education? Was human rights training included in tertiary education and training of public officers, especially members of the police and military forces? Were war-affected children helped in their access of education, as well as disabled students and all others coming from the deprived parts of the society?

Access to the Internet was an important factor in the protection and promotion of cultural rights – what was the situation in the Central African Republic in this regard?

Lastly, there were reports showing problems with the freedom of press in the country and the delegation was asked to provide information whether that was the case.

Responses by the Delegation

Regarding the protection of schools, the delegation reported on the Government's efforts to raise awareness among the population and the armed groups, with the assistance of United Nations partners such as the United Nations Children's Fund and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. All schools were now free from military occupation including by armed groups.

With only a few exceptions, there were separate toilet facilities for girls and boys in all schools. A system was in place to support children with disabilities and special schools such as the schools for deaf children, were integrated in the education system. The lack of teaching staff was recognized as a severe problem; the Government was training an additional 1,100 teachers, and in addition there were ten regional pedagogical centres in which 500 people were currently being trained. The education was free and the feed that were levied in the field were used to cover the cost of cleaning or educational aids.

The low representation of women in secondary education was explained by early marriages, work obligations and poor living conditions, said a delegate, adding that programmes were in place to address the issue in collaboration with a number of partners, especially the United Nations Children’s Fund. A multidisciplinary commission had been set up a draft a human rights training and education programme, and it was important to note that the police had been trained in human rights for a number of years now. In collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund, a centre had been set up to aid reintegration of the youth involved in armed conflict.

A law decriminalizing press crimes had been set up in previous years and there were no obstacles at the moment when press freedom were in question. There were no restrictions to accessing the Internet; there were four providers which provided access throughout the country. The main reason why the number of users was low was the lack of financial means of the people. An Optic Fibre Project was effective and the Internet network was continually being improved, and there was a digital programme and library at the University of Bangui.

Finally, it was emphasized that Baka Pygmies were not marginalized in education; they had schools in their villages with Baka teachers and directors, which was a clear sign of progress in that field.

Concluding Remarks

OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Committee Expert and the Rapporteur for the Central African Republic, in his concluding remarks praised the Government’s desire to address the problems, and the will to turn the page on the conflict and improve the living situation. Transitional justice should aim to help the oppressed societies become free societies, and repair the injustices from the past through measures that would allow a fair future. It was the Experts’ hope that the dialogue made it clear where the main challenges in implementing economic, social and cultural rights were.

Mokoe Ngbeng, a member of the delegation of the Central African Republic, thanked the Committee and its guidance and suggestions. Experts’ comments and observations highlighted key issues in the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Committee Chairperson, said in her concluding remarks, that the presence of the Central African Republic in the dialogue was a sign of remarkable sign of good will and a political will. The Committee was aware of the constraints of the country and noted that sometimes, the most difficult step was the initial step, and all other steps came easier. The Chair wished to see the delegation of the Central African Republic in five years after a successful peace process.