Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has considered the combined second to fifth periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on how that country implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Introducing the report Upio Kakura Wapol, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that several factors had impeded the country from ensuring its compliance with the provisions of the Covenant, such as years of dictatorship, wars, violence, and external influence. All this had prevented the Congolese people from freely accessing their wealth and resources. In December 2005, as a result of the referendum, a new Constitution had been adopted. The new Constitution was devoted to human rights and fundamental freedoms and civil rights. Further, large infrastructure works currently underway would engender thousands of jobs in 2010. There had also been improvements in the water and electricity distribution systems in the rural areas. A new Labour Code had been adopted in October 2002 and, regarding the right to social security, there was currently a reform underway. On the right to health, up to April 2009, 27 medical centres had been built in the country and the health structure in rural area and the capacity to fight neglected diseases had also been improved.
Among questions and issues raised by Committee Experts were issues linked to the reform of the judiciary system and what was being done to quickly improve the system of justice; measures taken to remove discriminatory practices against pygmies; the reasons behind the country's failure to achieve economic development; what was being done to ensure accountability; the treatment of women and discrimination; the relationship with foreign companies exploiting the natural resources of the country; forced labour, particularly in mines; measures taken to protect trade union workers and their rights; the reform of the social security system; the inclusion of outlaws in the regular army; early-marriage; what measures had been taken to address the issue of sexual violence against women; forced evictions in Kinshasa; and street children.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Wapol said the challenges and problems facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo were numerous. The country was currently being rebuilt and they were strengthening the rule of law and peace. Most important was the financial and economic aspect. The resources were very vast but these needed to be transformed adequately so that the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo could benefit from them. The universal nature of human rights bonded all States to ensure the respect for human rights, not only in terms of advice and reminders, but also through increased solidarity. This was important so as to ensure the effective implementation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Marchan Romero, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks thanked the delegation for the frank and constructive dialogue, as well as for their efforts to answer the many questions. On the basis of the discussions, the Committee would draft their concluding observations and recommendations, which were intended to identify problems that the Committee considered fundamental.
Also in the delegation of the Democratic Republic of Congo were representatives of the Permanent Mission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Geneva; the Cabinet of the Minister for Human Rights; the Ministry of Human Rights; the Ministry for Gender, Family and Children; the Ministry for Social Affairs; the Ministry for Labour, Work and Social Welfare; the Ministry for Public Health; the Ministry for Higher and University Education; the Ministry for Civil Engineering; and the Ministry for Culture and Arts.
The Committee was informed today that the delegation of Chad would not be able to attend the current session for the planned consideration of their report (E/C.12/TCD/3), which was planned to start this afternoon. The Committee thus decided to consider the report of Chad, in the absence of a delegation, on Thursday, 4 November at 10 a.m.
Report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The combined second to fifth periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (E/C.12/COD/5) notes that the Democratic Republic of the Congo's willingness to honour its international commitments by submitting regular reports to the oversight bodies was frustrated by the political events that shook the country from 1991 to 2002 (looting, wars, etc.). As a result of all these events, and the resulting governmental instability, the former committee established to monitor international covenants, created in 1991 by the then-Department of Public Rights and Freedoms of the Ministry of Justice, ceased to function. This crisis situation prevented the Democratic Republic of the Congo from submitting its regular reports at the respective deadlines. Aware of the delay in fulfilling its international obligations, the Government established a new inter-ministerial committee, under the coordination of the Ministry of Human Rights, entrusted with preparing initial and periodic reports for all international instruments ratified by the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With the end of the war, the situation is now favourable for pursuing the international commitments mentioned above.
The problem of labour and employment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been acute since the time of economic crisis and armed conflicts. According to the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper of 2004, it is employment that has been the most seriously affected by the difficulties facing the State, made worse by poor management of public enterprises and the lack of a partnership policy to encourage investment. In 2000, 2 per cent of the total population was employed, compared to 8 per cent in 1958. The social and political crisis of the 1990s, combined with armed conflicts, merely precipitated this negative trend, which has had a lasting impact on employment and on vocational training. Most workers are engaged in the agriculture sector (41 per cent), which constitutes the primary employment sector in the country.
The goal of achieving the right to an adequate standard of living has receded progressively for more than two decades, as a result of the circumstances underlying the economic crisis gripping the Congolese economy and the collapse of modern employment, including in particular the fraying of the economic fabric, the generalized decline in industrial and agricultural output, poor management of public enterprises, lax budgetary policy, poor governance, wars, rebellions and looting. Today, despite its immense human and natural resources, the Democratic Republic of the Congo ranks among the poorest countries in the world. Several indicators place the country among the most destitute of sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly 80 per cent of its population is surviving at the limits of human dignity, on less than US$ 0.20 a day. At the present time there are no public or private education institutions that provide free education to children.
Introduction of Report
UPIO KAKURA WAPOL, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, introducing the report, said that the report which they would be looking at today took into account the recommendations made by the Committee in 1988. It also provided information on the programmes and policies which had been adopted and the efforts made by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure its compliance with the provisions of the Covenant. Several factors had however impeded the Democratic Republic of the Congo from doing so, such as years of dictatorship, wars, violence, and external influence. All this had prevented the Congolese people from freely accessing their wealth and resources.
Mr. Wapol noted that, in December 2005, as a result of the referendum, a new Constitution had been adopted. The new Constitution was devoted to human rights and fundamental freedoms and civil rights. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had also adopted a priority programme which was founded on the five pillars of the Republic, including the improvement of the social and economic fabric of the country, health and education, housing, employment, water and electricity. Large infrastructure works currently underway would engender thousands of jobs in 2010. There had also been improvements in the water and electricity distribution systems in the rural areas.
Turning to labour, Mr. Wapol said that a new Labour Code had been adopted in October 2002. The number of employees in 2006 was 2.4 per cent of the total potential active population. The minimum wage had been raised from US$ 2.0 in December 2008 to US$ 3.0 in July 2009. An Inter-ministerial Committee monitored the implementation of this minimum wage. The Government also planned to recruit 500 magistrates and finance controllers in 2010.
Regarding the right to social security, there was currently a reform underway in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said Mr. Wapol. On the right to health, up to April 2009, 27 medical centres had been built in the country, 272 medical centres and hospitals were equipped and 570 hospitals had received support in terms of pharmaceuticals products. A new hospital was currently being constructed in Kinshasa, which would have 450 beds. The health structure in rural areas and the capacity to fight neglected diseases had also been improved. They were also making sure that healthcare centres were being provided with anti-viral drugs, HIV tests and condoms.
On education, since 2007, the Work on Education programme had been able to build and rehabilitate hundreds of schools and higher education institutions. Sensitisation campaigns ensured that children stayed in schools. In order to keep children in school, the Government had started a programme of distribution of school material to some 416,000 children, said Mr. Wapol.
The actions and projects he had mentioned today did not include the role of the mining, forestry and petroleum companies. These had the obligation to invest in the health and education sectors as well as environmental protection and the protection of indigenous people, noted Mr. Wapol.
Mr. Wapol further noted that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been unable to avoid the effects of the economic crisis. The effects of this crisis on the Congolese economy had resulted in a slow down of their economic activity, as well as a drop in foreign development help.
The national programme for the protection of human rights had a chapter on economic, social and cultural rights. Major investment projects were in the States' 2010 budget. The international community and donor countries should recognize the efforts made by the Democratic Republic of the Congo in realizing the goals of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, concluded Mr. Wapol.
Questions by Experts on Articles One to Five of the Covenant
Addressing issues linked to Articles one to five of the Covenant, Experts made a number of comments and asked questions on various topics, including on the reform of the judiciary system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An Expert noted that the justice system was very slow, it had a poor infrastructure and lacked staff. What was being done to quickly improve the system of justice?
Experts also wondered whether there had been any court decisions dealing directly with economic, social and cultural rights. Had there been any court rulings and convictions on cases of corruption?
Another Expert addressed the issue of the Batwa communities which encountered difficulties in obtaining official documents, impeding the access of Batwa children to school. Why was there such discrimination? Also, could the delegation provide information on the measures taken to remove discriminatory practices against pygmies?
Could the delegation shed more light on the enigma behind the Democratic Republic of the Congo's failure to achieve economic development? How did the Government plan to address the issue in the near future and build a country which had a rule of law? There were many rights that were and continued to be violated and flouted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said one Expert.
What was being done to ensure accountability as well as respect for the human rights of victims of violations of economic, social and cultural rights? The report noted that victims of economic, social and cultural rights violations were limited in their recourse to justice as stated. As no case law had been provided by the delegation, one Expert feared that this might indicate that there was no recourse possible at all for victims.
On the treatment of women, one Expert said that it was understandable that the Democratic Republic of the Congo could not have full social security after many years of instability. But there could be no excuse for laws being discriminatory. There was also no excuse for the prevalence of corruption. He could understand that because of the wars the Democratic Republic of the Congo could not have employment and full social security, but nothing prevented it from concentrating on the basic legislation.
Another Expert noted that information he had obtained said that the dysfunction of the judiciary system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was such that it had become a system of repression. The country needed an in-depth reform of its judicial system. The separation of powers was purely a formality in the country. There was an extremely serious issue at hand here. Since the independence, not a single palace of justice had been built in the country. Many courts did not even have enough judges. What was planned to reform the justice system?
Another Expert addressed the question of foreign companies exploiting the natural resources of the country. Mentioning the company AREVA, the Expert said that its primary objective was certainly not the well-being of the Congolese people, but profit, as was the case for all companies.
An Expert also said that the provision that said that Congolese wives had to ask for their husbands' approval for their daily activities should be deleted from legislation, as well as similar discriminatory laws. Recently, seven United Nations Special Procedures had noted the prevailing discriminatory mindset in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What resources were being used to eliminate it?
Would the delegation give some information on where the Government stood with regard to the protection of economic, social and cultural rights and human rights defenders who denounced the activities of international corporations?
What percent of the country's GDP was being used for the reform of the justice system? What efforts had been made to get technical assistance for the reform and to establish judicial institutions?
Response by Delegation
Answering those questions and others, the delegation said that the Committee had fairly noted the dichotomy that was affecting the Democratic Republic of the Congo: the natural richness of the country and on the other hand the high level of poverty of its population. Thirty years of dictatorship had plunged the country in a cycle of indebtedness and endless warfare to exploit the natural resources of the country, which had also involved multinational companies.
If the Democratic Republic of the Congo could see some glimmer of peace today, it was thanks to the fact that there was a clear political will to control the country's natural resources. A new political and constitutional order was being put in place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the delegation. The first goal was to implement the country's international obligations and to ensure the effective realization of all human rights.
While it was true that they were a country that was scandalously rich it also meant that they could not be condemned to poverty. The Congolese people would soon be once and for all able to truly enjoy their natural resources. It would take time, but the country was moving in the right direction, said the delegation.
As the Government, they had the primary responsibility to protect all human rights and promote the respect for human rights. There was no will to violate human rights, but they had financial and budgetary limits. All was however made to ensure that they would get the necessary funding from inside and outside the country, said the delegation.
When looking at the country, one also had to look at its geopolitical situation. They were in the midst of building a democracy. This process of rebuilding the country was not only a positive fact it was also a process which bore the burden of its heritage from colonial times. The delegation also noted that the army and the police forces were fully involved in the current reform process.
The delegation said that the President of the Republic had never been entrusted with the task of orchestrating a regrouping of all powers. The judicial power was fully independent. It was however true that the Public Prosecutor could receive instructions. The Government was paying close attention that the judiciary was rightly trained in human rights and human rights modules had been included in the curricula. There were however major difficulties which prevented the judicial system from operating adequately. These difficulties were not only financial, but were also linked to the vastness of the land and the fact that it was an age old system. The lack of magistrates was also a problem. New courts were being built in several provinces.
On prison facilities, the delegation said that a lot work was being done to improve them. It was however true that there were some constraints in this regard.
Citizens were well aware of their rights, but the problem was often for them to get to the nearest court. For this a person might have to travel 200 or 300 kilometres. The Government was trying to organize hearings in decentralized courts in rural areas. The Government was well aware of the situation and was convinced that they would mange to solve and address the problems, said the delegation.
They also wanted to have an active diplomacy to bring the war to an end and bid peace with their neighbours, said the delegation. They had looked at the multinational companies with which they had contracts with to ensure that they could be built into the national programme of respect for human rights.
On justice, the delegation said that they had a comprehensive programme to continue the construction of prisons and courts and for the training of judges. They had a Joint Committee for Justice Reform, which included various ministries and other partners, including the European Union and the World Bank. A children court and a youth court were planned.
On discrimination against women, the delegation said that legislative reform was underway. There was a Bill for the implementation of equality between men and women that was currently being considered, and a whole package for the reform of the Family Code. Marital authority existed in the law, but there was a tacit abrogation of it; nothing prevented a woman from getting a job without the consent of her husband, said the delegation.
They would also soon adopt new laws that would ensure parity between men and women, said the delegation. There was a backlog in Parliament but they were in the process of building the rule of law. The treaty had supremacy over national law but there was also a heavy programme of adoption of new national laws.
Regarding the legislative agenda and the current status of the national human rights institution, the delegation indicated that the law was currently before the National Assembly. They hoped that it would be adopted before the end of the year. Provisions had been taken to ensure that there were broad consultations with various partners and to make sure that the Commission would work again as it had worked in the past.
On forests, this was an important matter said the delegation, because the eco-system of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was important for the whole world. They would have to review all the contracts currently in existence. A National Reforestation Service had been created.
On the pygmies, the delegation said that the Government also had concerns regarding their rights. The situation was however changing and improving. Attitudes that were the result of traditional practices and customs were currently changing. A considerable number of pygmies had been given access to schools, some even attended university and others were being employed in the police forces. Discrimination against them was being eliminated and was considered as a crime that was punishable by the law.
Turning to the work of the Ministry of Human Rights, the delegation said that it dealt with all issues relating to the effective implementation of international human rights legal instruments and was responsible for human rights education and awareness. It enjoyed the same resources as other ministries. The Ministry was very much involved in many reforms, particularly those linked to the rights of women. Its role was that of a mediator and it engaged in dialogue with all parties involved such as the police forces and the judiciary.
On the new Human Rights Commission, the delegation believed that it would be an independent commission and that it would be a consultative body to the Government which would supplement the work done by the Government in the protection and promotion of human rights.
On the mining contracts, the delegation said that these were being reviewed to ensure that the mining companies could meet their obligations and to monitor what these were contributing to the state budget and what they were doing for the local communities.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo was now at a crossroads. Political instability had weakened the State and this problem was still continuing. The Government was facing a paradox, they had to maintain peace and prevent new conflicts and at the same time, they had to conduct a national reconstruction process.
Raising some follow-up questions, Experts expressed concern about the rights of women in general. What kept the Government from repelling legislation that already had been rejected? It gave the impression that the Government was not really concerned by certain issues. Would the Government consider technical advice from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on seeing what needed to be done with regard to its system of human rights protection?
Another Expert said that the delegation should not postpone answering too many questions, so that the Committee could draw up useful recommendations.
Questions by Experts on Articles Six to Nine
Turning to articles six through nine, Experts said that there still seemed to be problems, in practice, of forced labour, particularly in mines, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, despite legislation forbidding this. No measures had been taken against armed groups making use of forced labour.
On the General Labour Inspection Force in Kinshasa, the Expert noted that an International Labour Organization Expert Committee had called on the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Government to increase the available resources for the Inspection Force, in order to help improve the situation in the mining sector. What had been done in this regard?
Also, what was the State party intending to do in order to protect trade union workers when they were conducting their trade union activities? What had been done to protect the rights of trade unionists?
On the reform of the social security system, an Expert said that there had been very little information about this in the State party's report, as well as in the introductory presentation. Could the delegation elaborate on it? In what way would the reform of the system address all the issues that had been identified, wondered an Expert.
On the minimum wage, US$ 3 was not very high, said an Expert, but it still was a big improvement compared to the 20 cents four years ago.
Another Expert wondered what the consequences were for independent workers when mines where being handed over to foreign companies.
Also, the Congolese Government was doing a lot to dissolve armed bands and one way of doing that had been by integrating these armed bands into the regular army, noted an Expert. The problem with this was that the negative practices of these groups had been taken on board into the national army, and the Government was now accountable for these acts.
Response by Delegation
Answering these questions and earlier ones, the delegation said, on the rights of women, that there were two ways of undertaking a legal reform. Time had led laws to be outdated. A lot of provisions were not being applied at the current time. The Government was committed to remove that dead wood from the law.
On assistance from United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), the Democratic Republic of the Congo saw no obstacles to get technical help from it, said the delegation.
On forced labour, the delegation said that it was illegal; it was neither encouraged nor tolerated by the Government. They were aware that there were some cases in the mines. Disciplinary or penal measures were being taken when there were cases of military personnel involved in forced labour.
The delegation indicated that there was a minimum wage for public servants. On health and safety in the workplace, this was a real problem and was also linked to the situation in the country. Some mines had been closed to avoid fatalities linked to the collapse of mines, but the situation was worrying and energetic measures were required.
The exercise of one's rights in a war or post-war context was risky, but this did not justify the abuses and errors made by the armed forces. There might however also be cases where human rights defenders were taking actions that broke the law. Nowadays they had a good relationship with human rights defenders and the values enshrined in the new Constitution had been the result of their participation in the process.
With regards to unionists, the Minister for Human Rights said that he had regularly intervened when trade unionists had been arrested. Concerning torture and ill-treatment, it was up to the victims to file complaints and go to court. The delegation said that the rights of the unionists were being less and less broken. The current post-war environment was however fragile and it took time to address all issues.
As to labour rights, the Government was working a lot on the issue of independent workers. However, gold and diamond sellers did not necessarily play by the rules, said the delegation.
On social security, the Committee was right when it said that it should not be compared to systems which had a long history behind them.
Turning to the army, the delegation said that it was really a challenge in itself. It was necessary to incorporate people that were outlaws through a national reconciliation process in order for them not to be outlaws anymore. The human rights violations carried out by some soldiers were condemned by the army. One challenge was to ensure that all soldiers across the country were being paid their wages on time. The same challenge applied to teachers. All this work would take time; they had to correct a situation that had prevailed for many years and they had to find the appropriate solutions.
In follow-up questions, an Expert wished to have more information on what exactly the planned social security reform would be tackling. The shortcomings of the current system had been identified and the Committee would need to know whether the reform would address these shortcoming or not, so that the Committee would be guided when it would draft its recommendations.
Answer by the Delegation
The delegation answered that the code of the new law on social security was being worked on and that the reform would not be decided upon by the Government alone; there were a lot of studies and questions on the issues but what would be relevant were the decisions that would be taken.
Questions by Experts on Articles Ten to Twelve
Turning to articles ten to twelve of the Covenant, Committee Experts made comments and asked questions on several topics. On the rights of the child, an Expert said that there were no indications about the situation in the field. What was the present situation with regard to early marriage? Could the delegation give specific data about this phenomenon?
Turning to the issue of the lack of birth registration, an Expert welcomed the campaigns that had been organized to raise awareness about the danger of not registering births.
An Expert said that everyone had seen the many reports of sexual violence against women committed by members of the regular armed forces of the State. What had been done to address this issue? Could the delegation elaborate on the implementation of the law against sexual violence? Exemplary sentences had apparently been handed down in certain provinces.
Also North and South Kivu had witnessed sexual violence on a horrific level, said an Expert. Could the delegation give information on the number of cases handed down by courts and their nature? In many cases the perpetrators were persons in the service of the State. What steps had been taken to bring these criminals to justice? In a certain number of cases, courts had ordered the State to pay compensation to women raped by agents of the State, but apparently none had been paid. Could the delegation confirm that such payments would soon take place?
On the right to water, sanitation and housing, an Expert wondered what programmes were currently in place to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, as less than one third of the population of the country had sanitation facilities. Also, the southern part of Katanga was a rich province with revenues from the mining sector but why was this part of the country poor and deprived of basic infrastructure and public services? Was it because of the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the poor management of natural resources without Government control?
The Expert also addressed the case of 350 families which had been forcibly evicted by State authorities from their homes in spite of protests, including from the Parliament; these evictions were in breach of the guidelines of the Committee and in breach of a court order. Could the delegation elaborate on these cases? What was the budget allocated to housing?
On prostitution and child prostitution, an Expert said that the rate of the phenomenon was very high. Even rape was done in a brutal and savage way in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Seventy per cent of the perpetrators had been identified as being members of the security forces. Maybe a mobile court system was what was needed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said one Expert.
It was also shocking that even United Nations Peacekeepers had been involved in the rape of children. Had there been any prosecution of these people? It was not surprising that the Democratic Republic of the Congo also had problems of trafficking, in light of the current situation. All these problems were related. And linked to them were also the problems of street children, child labour and child soldiers.
On early marriage, one Expert noted that the law prohibited marriage before the age of eight and wondered whether this was correct or if it only was a typo in the text. Eight years would be outrageous.
The Government had to be proactive in combating the problems of street children, child labour, child soldiers, trafficking and prostitution. Were there any programmes in place to combat trafficking, and what had been undertaken in this regard, asked the Expert? Further, maternal mortality ranked high and was one of the highest in Africa. What had been done to reduce it?
Another Expert asked what the Government was doing with regard to the right to food. The Food and Agriculture Organization had worked with the Democratic Republic of the Congo but no information had been provided. Had this partnership brought any results?
Also on the right to food, one Expert noted that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of the richest countries of Africa and that according to information he had received, the country could feed even more than its entire population if the agricultural reforms were properly dealt with. A common saying was that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, fish died of old age and men of malnutrition.
Further, the delegation had indicated that access to antiretroviral drugs had been improved, said an Expert, but it would be good to know more details about this issue. The Committee could not assess whether the measures had been successful or not, if no indicators were being provided that showed whether there had been an increase, decrease or a non-change in the number of infections.
Response by Delegation
In its responses to the Committee, the delegation said that they were trying to build a State and create a society that was genuinely respectful of human rights.
On statistics, they did not have many available yet. They were currently organizing their national statistical institute, said the delegation. When wars destroyed all public administration offices, this meant that one had to start everything all over again as everything had often been burnt down. Their electoral exercises had helped them to do some statistics and a census was planned for the near future.
On internally displaced persons, the delegation said that there were around five million of them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Humanitarian measures needed to be taken to help them and the Government was trying to do this in the liberated areas where armed groups were no longer in control. The Government was making sure that the displaced could return to their lands.
On sexual violence against women and girls, the delegation said that today the whole image of the country was a poor one. But there were countries where sexual violence was more widespread than in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They had brought their women to speak up about the phenomenon because the Government had wanted to talk about the problem and not remain silent about it, so the situation had become known. But the situation was far worse in other parts of the world.
The Government had taken bold and courageous measures to punish violence against women. They had sentenced people in the army and in the police forces and the delegation challenged anyone who said that the army and the police were the greatest offenders. The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) were also heavily involved in such practices. The problem was very serious and needed to be acted upon.
One of the issues was also that most of the rapes were being perpetrated by minors, said the delegation. Eighteen was the age of majority in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But if these children were not liable under the law, what could be done against them? The Government had put in place a national agency tasked with the combat of violence against women. They had also seen that their various interventions had not proven very conclusive in combating this phenomenon.
Turning to those accused who were liable, the delegation confirmed that the Government had a budget allocated to this issue. Further, high level officers had recently been sentenced, despite the difficulties the Democratic Republic of the Congo had had with its justice system.
On the number of homeless people, the delegation said that is was currently unknown, especially due to continuous war situation in certain parts of the country.
On the evictions of the families mentioned by one Expert, the delegation said that the idea had been to build a new hospital with 450 beds and that there had been people squatting on the site. These people had been in violation of the law. It was not enough to have a deed for land if that land could not be used for the construction of dwellings. This situation had been the result of a period where everything had been dysfunctional. Damages had been paid to those that had been legally installed on the site, and people that had built on public land, in breach of the law, had been warned in advance. In the end the victims had alleged that they had themselves been fooled and had built on land that had not belonged to them.
On prostitution and street children, the delegation said that there were some 30,000 street children in Kinshasa. The country not only had street children but also mothers and fathers living in the street. The Government had made provisions to build dwellings for them and ensure their protection. But this could only happen at the rate that was allowed by the available resources.
The delegation also said that most Congolese were not dying from hunger; they could even actually be feeding other countries. That was why they were working to improve their infrastructure.
A very important question that was asked was whether the Democratic Republic of the Congo was ready to request help and resources from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or others, said the delegation. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had a very ambitious programme and they had asked, last year, for a donors' conference to be organized. They would ask for US$ 15 billion. This was comparable to what had been asked by other countries. The donors' conference would take place next year. If they received less than they asked they would just come back before the Committee and report on their difficulties and shortcomings. It was important that the international community mobilized itself to help countries.
The delegation also said that it was important to implement the resolutions that had been adopted by the Human Rights Council; they should not remain dead letters.
Forced early marriage was also a concern to the Government, said the delegation. They were making efforts to change customs. Early marriage and forced marriage were prohibited by the law.
On the return of the displaced, this was often a source of conflict, said the delegation, as very often when someone came back after two or three years of absence, their homes and land were often already occupied by someone new.
They had also addressed the situation of the right of detainees while they were building new prisons and the Government had asked judges not to send to prison people that had committed minor offences, said the delegation.
The delegation also highlighted the fact that the treaty body system had to be made more flexible, because it placed a heavy burden on countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo to report to all treaty bodies on time with their limited resources.
Questions by Experts on Articles Thirteen to Fifteen
Taking up articles thirteen to fifteen, Experts asked questions on the issue of education. If a teaching system failed, a country would always lag behind, said an Expert. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had to make education the most important sector in the building of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The country had resources and the education sector should enable all children of school age to continue school for free. What was being done to achieve free education at all levels and for everyone?
On teachers, their living standards were very low; what was the Government undertaking to keep them and to improve their remuneration?
An Expert also asked what the country had done to ensure the respect for the cultural identity of all ethic groups, as had been recommended by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its concluding observations two years ago. Other questions were asked on sustainable development; the state of the education system in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the policy for pre-school education and efforts to widen access to Internet to the society.
Another Export noted that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of the richest countries in the world in terms of cultural diversity, was there any cultural programme directed at the protection of the country's cultural heritage and to protect the wealth of the intellectual knowledge of indigenous people?
The report also mentioned that there were many languages and dialects in the country and that French was being considered as the official language, said an Expert. In addition to that there were four national languages. On what basis had these four languages been considered as national languages? What was their status and could they be used in courts?
Response by Delegation
Answering to these questions and others, the delegation said that they attached great importance to their culture and it was true that the country had a cultural wealth. All existing negro-African groups could be found in the country. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was a patchwork of people and was working for harmonious cohabitation. There had been attempts to balkanize the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the people had resisted; there was a strong national culture.
Turning to the languages of the country, French was the official language and English was also an important language as the Democratic Republic of the Congo shared many borders with English-speaking countries, said the delegation. They had also identified four national languages: Swahili, Lingala, Kikingo and Chiluba. Geographic factors had played an important part in their identification. These languages were used in all official interactions. If one could not talk any of these languages, interpretation was made available to the person. Further, all other languages and dialects were being protected by the State.
On the difficulties that pygmies had met to get identity papers, the delegation said that this problem not only affected the pygmies but also other Congolese nationals. They had learnt from the wars that it was important to conduct a continuous monitoring of the population, so as to know who was a Congolese and who was not. The recent elections had helped them to conduct an official identification of Congolese nationals. One of the problems was that it had simply been impossible to have registration bureaus accessible all across the country. A national census would however soon be conducted.
On forestry, the delegation said that the country had moved from a system of titles to a system of contracts for forest exploitation, so as to integrate various obligations that were incumbent to the exploiters. Out of the 22 million hectares of forest that were being exploited, only 56 titles had been considered convertible into contracts, representing 9 million hectares; less than half of the surface area that had been previously given for exploitation. This made it possible today to have a proper system of instructions for those exploiting the forest. A decree of 2005 made it possible to implement this transformation and had allowed for a rational management of the forest. This November, a workshop was taking place in Kinshasa to set up cooperation between the Government, forest exploiters and indigenous people.
On human rights training and education, the delegation said that all public institutions were obliged to ensure that all human rights instruments were known and these had to conduct training. This included, among others: security forces, the police forces, the army, law school and the universities. Human rights education had the support of the Government. There was a programme to extend human rights training to regional Parliamentarians.
On compulsory, free education at primary level, the delegation said that the Government had incorporated this provision in its legislation and that they had implemented a plan to progressively implement it. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo there were currently some 400,000 teachers for the primary and secondary schools. To effectively provide free education they had first to determine the direct and indirect costs of free education. Teachers had to be paid, schools had to operate and be managed and they had to unify their wage zones.
On the recognition of the cultural identity of indigenous people, the delegation said that there were specific schools for pygmies but also for other minorities such as the disabled, deaf and blind. They wanted to ensure the well-being of their future generation.
On the question on the use and access to the Internet, the delegation said that, as with most of the countries located south of the digital divide, this was an issue. They had in mind to develop fibre optics to reduce the costs of the use of the Internet. The average cost for a broadband connexion was from US$ 120 to 150. They had also launched a programme to enable connections through fibre optic for the West of the country. In the East they would try to connect on the networks of the neighbouring countries. Also, some 20 million Congolese were using cell phones.
On the issue of culture, the delegation said that, once a year there was a National Culture Fair. This forum brought all cultures of the Democratic Republic of the Congo together. It allowed for an exchange of traditions, festivities, educational and linguistic particularities and music. This event made it possible for the political and social world to get together. The events were also broadcast on the national television and radio.
In follow-up questions and remarks an Expert wondered whether the Democratic Republic of the Congo planned to ratify the Optional Protocol. Also, the country's cultural diversity could be a blessing but also a curse, in the light of the history of divisions and secessions. What had the country done to strike a balance between the different groups in this regard?
The Expert also noted that a certain amount of power had been given to provinces. Was there a tendency to promote a sense of federalism in the country?
On victims of sexual violence, and the fact that they remained silent, as they were often weak, underage and illiterate, was it not rather up to the country to be more proactive in order to respect the rights of the weak?
Response by the Delegation
On the question of ratifying the Optional Protocol, the delegation said that it was being seriously considered. The question would be considered by the Government and would then be sent to the Parliament.
On the country's cultural diversity, the delegation said that it could only be a curse in case of either a political manipulation of an ethnic group or through external factors. The time spent by the Congolese together meant that there was cohesion. During the high point in the war, when it had been possible for the country to become fragmented, the desire to live together had made it possible for the Democratic Republic of the Congo to remain united.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there were no main cultural or ethnic minority because each ethnic group was a minority vis-à-vis the others. There had however been certain times when certain groups had felt that they were victims of discrimination. The delegation noted that instruments to reinforce national cohesion had been adopted, such as the law on political parties. This law asked that the founders of a political party had to be from various provinces and from various ethnic groups. In the army, there was a principle of provincial representation, which also provided for national cohesion. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was basically a federalist country but one had to take a very progressive approach to this. They had a decentralised and a hybrid system. Some aspects were decentralised, other centralised.
On sexual violence, they were conducting awareness raising campaigns and more and more culprits were being tried in courts now, said the delegation.
UPIO KAKURA WAPOL, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for the frank and constructive dialogue and for its determination and desire to understand the real situation in the country, as well as the hopes of the people. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had freely chosen to accede to a number of instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It was ready to work towards the implementation of its provisions.
The challenges and problems were numerous, said Mr. Wapol. The country was currently being rebuilt and they were strengthening the rule of law and peace. Most important was the financial and economic aspect. The resources were very vast but these needed to be transformed adequately so that the people of the Congo could benefit from them. The universal nature of human rights bonded all States to ensure the respect for human rights, not only in terms of advice and reminders, but also through increased solidarity. This was important so as to ensure the effective implementation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
MARCHAN ROMERO, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the frank and constructive dialogue, as well as for their efforts to answer the many questions. This dialogue had enabled the Committee to visualize the situation in the country. On the basis of the discussions, they would draft their concluding observations and recommendations. These were intended to identify problems which the Committee considered fundamental.
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