HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE EXAMINES GUINEA’S EFFORTS TO IMPLEMENT CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS

This post was originally published on this site

11 October 2018

The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded the review of the fifth periodic report of Guinea on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Introducing the report, Khalifa Gassama Diaby, Minister of National Unity and Citizenship of Guinea, reaffirmed the commitment of Guinea to continue to build a State based on the universal principles of human rights and to ensure the respect for human dignity. This was a difficult task and Guinea was well aware of the significant structural difficulties and challenges it was facing, but it was also aware that the legitimacy of the State depended on the rule of law and effective and equitable justice, freedom, and dignity of the human being. Since 2010, Guinea had been engaged in harmonizing its laws with the international treaties, and it had set up a national human rights institution. The Anti-Corruption Law had introduced progressive steps, such as the protection of the press reporting on corruption matters. The authorities had also set up the National Agency for Combatting Corruption, however, the implementation of the law remained a challenge. As for the fight against impunity, the Minister said that since 2015, a number of sentences and judgements for human rights violations had been handed down, including against perpetrators of crimes committed during the intercommunal violence in Kankan in 2013.

In the discussion, Committee Experts commended Guinea for removing the death penalty from the books, including from the Military Justice Code of 2017, and recognized the efforts to combat gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices, including to ban female genital mutilation and early marriage. The concern however remained about the lack of tangible progress, especially in relation to female genital mutilation, which remained pervasive: 96 per cent for girls and women aged 15 to 49, and 46 per cent for girls under the age of 14. An important concern was raised about impunity for human rights violations, including for the September 2009 massacre, which the International Commission on Inquiry created by the United Nations Security Council had declared a crime against humanity. Corruption remained widespread, diverting important resources away from building the rule of law and improving the living standards and the wellbeing of Guineans. Other issues that were raised included discrimination and violence against persons with albinism, survivors of Ebola, people living with HIV/AIDS and children born out of wedlock; national reconciliation process; arbitrary suspension of private media; and the involvement of local communities in decisions regarding exploitation of natural resources.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Diaby recognized that the task of improving the situation of human rights in Guinea was difficult and complex, which in no way detracted the responsibility of the Government to deal with challenges. Guinea needed any support that the Committee could provide.

Yuval Shany, Committee Chairperson, concluded by outlining the key challenges in Guinea, including resources and cultural attitudes, accountability for past human rights violations, harmful traditional practices, civic space, and civil and political freedoms.

The delegation of Guinea consisted of representatives of the Ministry of National Unity and Citizenship, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Guinea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, as well as a journalist.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 11 October, to discuss its methods of work.

Report

The Committee has before it the third periodic report of Guinea (CCPR/C/GIN/3).

Presentation of the Report

KHALIFA GASSAMA DIABY, Minister of National Unity and Citizenship of Guinea, introducing the report, reaffirmed the commitment of Guinea to continue to build a State based on the universal principles of human rights and to ensure the respect for human dignity. This was a difficult task and Guinea was well aware of the significant structural difficulties and challenges it was facing, but it was also aware that the legitimacy of the State depended on the rule of law and effective and equitable justice, freedom, and dignity of the human being. This required determination, ingenuity, courage, as well as social and institutional reforms to ensure that the construction of a society that respected human rights became a reality, and which had been undertaken since the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1978.

Since 2010, Guinea had been engaged in harmonizing its laws with the international treaties it was a party to, and had set up a national human rights institution which benefitted from a substantive budget provided by the State. The Anti-Corruption Law had introduced progressive steps, such as the protection of the press reporting on corruption matters, and the National Agency for Combatting Corruption had been established, but the implementation of the legal provisions remained a challenge. Turning to the fight against impunity, the Minister said that an organic law on the matter had not been adopted, and added that a decree had been issued to establish a High Court of Justice to address violations of national laws. Since March 2015, a number of sentences and judgements had been handed down against individuals, including the sentencing of 26 persons for the murder of eight individuals, as well as numerous sentences against perpetrators of crimes in the context of intercommunal violence in Kankan in 2013. A provisional commission to gather reflection on national reconciliation had been set up by the President and had issued a report in 2016, as a result of which the Law on National Reconciliation had been amended.

Guinea, the Minister continued, had taken important steps to ensure gender equality and increase the participation of women in political and public life. In cooperation with France, 150 women had been trained and they now held positions in the central and local administration, while the law had been amended to prohibit the firing of women on the grounds of pregnancy or childbirth. The Civil Code had been overhauled to fill legal gaps and address the issues of nationality, birth registration, conjugal domicile, paternal power, guardianship, divorce and inheritance, as well as prohibit polygamy, but the passage of the draft was facing stiff opposition. The Law on the Child was an effective instrument in the fight against female genital mutilation. The national action plan on the Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security had been adopted, as well as the national action plan to accelerate the elimination of female genital mutilation which, sadly, was still being practiced. The National Office for Gender and Children Protection had been created in the Ministry of Security, and a range of measures had been taken to combat child marriage, including through the implementation of the national action plan and setting the legal age of marriage at 18.

In line with its obligations under the Convention against Torture, the legal definition of torture had been amended, said Mr. Diaby, although the law still contained important shortcomings, for example in the qualification of acts as acts of torture, and there were still reports of acts of torture. The priority plan for the reform of justice 2015-2019 was focused on ensuring access to justice, judicial independence, and the strengthening of human and institutional capacities to fight impunity. In conclusion, the Minister recognized the gap between laws and practice, which was often due to the country’s political, social and cultural specificities, and reiterated Guinea’s commitment to building a society of rights and dignity of all.

Questions from the Experts

At the beginning of the dialogue, Committee Experts raised questions related to the status of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the national legislation, and in particular its compatibility with customary law, and asked the delegation to explain how it was applied and invoked in practice. The Minister had mentioned the efforts to align the legislation with the obligations under the Covenant – which specific laws were concerned by this?

With regard to the Guinean national human rights institution, Experts inquired about the status of its accreditation under the Paris Principles, what it was doing in practice, and what the source of the shortcomings in the past three years could be. Had any measures been taken to ensure that the national human rights institution had sufficient resources to enable it to function properly?

Turning to violence against women and impunity for those crimes, the Expert asked about specific steps to remove women’s fear of stigma if they reported the violence, and to abolish the “amicable agreements” between the victim and the perpetrator only to avoid going to courts. Congratulating Guinea for the efforts to combat gender-based violence and female genital mutilation, namely a number of laws and policy measures as well as the setting up of the national centre for the fight against those phenomena, Experts noted with concern the lack of tangible progress. Female genital mutilation, although prohibited under the 2008 law, not only persisted but its incidence had increased. One of the reasons was the lack of firm and resolute judicial action to put an end to those and other harmful practices.

According to authoritative sources, corruption was still widespread in Guinea, diverting important resources away from building the rule of law and improving the living standards and the wellbeing of Guineans. While the rule of law and strong judicial systems were absolutely vital to end impunity and root out corruption, the laws on the matter had not yet been adopted, while the National Agency for the Fight against Corruption had not been rendered fully operational. One of the affected sectors was mining, where the Mining Code had not been fully implemented and where over 100 mining concessions had been issued to companies, which were carrying out purely speculative activities. How could Guinea demonstrate its firm commitment to root out corruption and end immunity of public officials for corruption?

Another concern was the absence of a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and a complaint mechanism for victims of discrimination, and the non-application of the existing discrimination provisions by courts. The Committee was concerned about the discrimination and violence against persons with albinism in rural areas, survivors of Ebola, people living with HIV/AIDS and widows of those who had died of AIDS, and discrimination against children born out of wedlock in matters of birth registration. The legislation on sexual orientation and gender identity had not changed, and persons with disabilities lacked societal assistance and could not realize their rights, starting from the right to inclusive education, considering that only one school in the whole country was accessible to children with disabilities.

A number of harmful traditional practices, especially those where women and children were concerned, persisted throughout the country, female genital mutilation and early marriage in particular. The legal age of marriage had been set at 18 years, but early marriage continued to be practiced, with grave consequences for the health, lives and development of girls. Female genital mutilation too was prohibited under the law, but the practice continued. What specific additional measures were being taken to root out those practices?

The delegation was asked to update the Committee on the status of the state of emergency declared in 2014, investigations into human rights violations committed by security forces, and whether the suspension of rights was commensurate with the gravity of the situation. On the Electoral Law, could the quota of 30 per cent political representation of women be achieved?

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had stated in 2016 that despite the efforts to reform the justice and security sector, impunity for human rights violations remained an important concern, Experts remarked, and asked the delegation to provide information on the progress made in investigating and prosecuting State and security agents, including for the September 2009 massacre, which the International Commission on Inquiry on Guinea created by the United Nations Security Council had declared to be a crime against humanity. When would the trials of those accused of this crime take place? What was being done to shed light on the fate of those who had been forcibly disappeared in September 2009, including to find the alleged mass graves? What steps had been taken towards national reconciliation, including the status and the mandate of the commission for national reconciliation, and the resources provided to it?

The Committee was very concerned about the escalating infant and maternal mortality, with rates among the highest in the world, and the persistently high rates of female genital mutilation, which stood at 96 per cent for girls and women aged 15 to 49 and at 46 per cent for girls under the age of 14. Clandestine abortion was among three key causes of maternal mortality and was responsible for 20 per cent of maternal deaths. Access to legal abortion was very restrictive.

The Experts commended Guinea’s efforts to overhaul its Civil Code to ensure equal treatment and rights of women, and asked when the draft would be adopted, whether it would introduce the same rights for women in matters of nationality, and how it treated polygamy, which was contrary to the principle of equal treatment enshrined in the Covenant.

The delegation was further asked to expand on the priorities of the judicial and security sector reform; explain how it would ensure that law enforcement officials acted in line with the Law on Public Order and used force only when necessary, and with legality, proportionality, and accountability; and steps to prevent mob justice and public lynching, which largely originated from the mistrust in the justice system and public perception of impunity.

Guinea had removed the death penalty from the books, including recently from the Military Justice Code, which was a sign of undeniable progress. Was Guinea now in a position to ratify the second Optional Protocol to the Covenant?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation reaffirmed the supremacy of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights over the domestic legislation. The crux of the question was not the conflict between the Covenant and customary law, but between the national law – which incorporated the provisions of the Covenant – and customs, and the State struggled to ensure the primacy of the laws over customs and traditions. The problem was not the law, but the practice on the ground, and the challenge was to raise the awareness of the people and educate them to see the value of new paradigms offered by national laws.

The national human rights institution did not work as well as one wished nor did it have sufficient means at its disposal to ensure its proper functioning. This was in fact true for most institutions in the country, and was related to the limited economic means and resources that the country disposed of. Guinea was a young country, only 60 years old, with a specific history marked by political and State-sanctioned violence, which had placed the population in the paradigm of self-protection and mistrust of public authority. Traditions and customs still had more power than the institutions of the young State. This historic and cultural reality must not be ignored, stressed the delegate. It was not only the lack of resources that caused the dysfunction, but the lack of proper understanding of the purpose of this vital institution too.

There was, the delegate continued, a recurring national debate on female genital mutilation, which was a form of violence against women; at the same time, there was stigma against women and girls who had not been excised, as a result of which families who did not practice female genital mutilation hid it from their neighbours. There were also financial aspects to consider, as for cutters it was a source of income, and this issue needed to be addressed as well. Female genital mutilation was a national problem which illustrated the continued battle between law and customs, and the State was taking steps to address it.

Corruption indeed was a reality in Guinea, said the delegate, adding that its impact was not only economic and financial, but it also had political connotations and introduced suspicion and mistrust between the population and the Government. This was not an easy issue to address and Guinea needed the support of the Committee and others in the matter.

In response to questions raised on discrimination, the delegate said that there were civil society partners and projects supported by international partners to raise awareness on the rights of persons with albinism throughout the country, which, however, was not enough. All discriminatory practices must be punished too, including discrimination against ethnic minorities as well as against ethnic majority groups.

The Head of State had addressed the issue or early marriage on several occasions. It was important to know what was going on in the territory of the State, which was not always the case. The Government had a vision of what it wanted to achieve, but was not always able to implement that vision.

On the state of emergency and the use of lethal force in particular, the delegation explained that this was one of the manifestations of impunity, and stressed that resolute action by the judiciary was needed. In difference to the past, complaints now could be lodged and the judiciary must ensure that the State shouldered its responsibilities.

The bill for the 2019 budget was currently being discussed, and it contained resources for the functioning of the High Court of Justice. The Government remained committed to ensuring a trial for the events of September 2009, the delegate said, noting that the start of the trial would carry a lot of symbolic value and would represent equality, between those who governed and those who were governed.

There was a great deal of social – and even political – resistance to banning polygamy, the delegate said, noting that female Members of Parliament had argued for the withdrawal of the bill prohibiting polygamy. It was surprising to see women being against polygamy. The draft Code was ready but had not yet been submitted to Parliament because initial groundwork was needed beforehand to avoid it being rejected out of hand.

Commenting on the excessive use of force during protests and demonstrations, the delegation said that complaints had been lodged, and lawyers were assisting victims or their families so that some form of justice could be reached. Furthermore, there were political agreements concerning compensation to victims and their families.

Follow-up Questions and Answers

In follow-up questions, a Committee Expert recognized the efforts of Guinea to reform its anti-corruption agency and urged it to look into best practice from other countries. Other Experts asked for clarification on changes proposed in the draft Civil Code, and the specific measures that the State was taking to change societal attitudes.

An Expert remarked that the Committee often heard the argument of dominance and resistance of customs and traditions and warned that they must not be used as an alibi, a pretext that would stand in the way of major reforms needed in the country.

Responding, the delegation noted that numerous African countries needed to simultaneously build the State and democracy, which was an immense and difficult work that required the assistance of the international community. As for the Experts’ warning that the argument of dominance and resistance of customs and traditions should not be used as an alibi for not advancing the reforms, the delegate insisted that sometimes political will was not sufficient. Guinea had taken note of the Committee’s comments concerning the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol, said the delegate, noting that at the moment, it could not provide the Committee with a specific timeline.

There was a process for reconciliation and for redress to victims, which would also be among the tasks of a commission soon to be established. Guinea had nothing to hide and was willing to continue working to protect and promote human rights in the country.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, the Experts commended the fact that the use of torture had disappeared in prisons. However, it had persisted in places of custody. The Criminal Code did not contain a provision on the use of torture, and the State party did not seem to have established a national prevention mechanism on torture.

Only 28 prisons were currently operational. What actions had been taken to reduce prison overcrowding? Women were not really separated from male inmates, but simply stayed in adjacent cells and frequently had to share the same facilities with men. Were there plans to establish specific institutions for juvenile offenders? How many prisons did the Government plan to build in the future? Were alternative sentences being used?

Turning to the professional training of the police, the Experts asked about the number of trained officers and how many would still receive such training. Was there an effective oversight of the penitentiary system, and a specific provision in the Criminal Code which prohibited the use of confessions extracted under duress by courts? How many detainees had benefitted from reduced sentences or early release? Did the State party plan to take measures to reduce the high figure of pre-trial detentions?

With respect to the national reform policy for the judiciary, Experts wondered whether the State party would be able to carry out that policy beyond 2019. What was the percentage of the budget allocated to the Ministry of Justice? Could the State party think of another way to appoint judges, which would not involve the executive? What was being done to combat potential cases of corruption of judges? The Experts also asked about the proper functioning of courts, in view of as the lack of professional staff.

The Experts also inquired about the renewal of permits for associations, which should last 90 days but this time limit was not respected due to the slow pace of the administration. Similarly, they raised the question of the authorization of the right to strike, for which a ten-day advance notification had to be submitted.

It seemed that Guinea’s efforts in combatting trafficking in human beings had been modest, the Experts observed, noting that none of the potential perpetrators had been found guilty. How many complaints had been registered and how may had been investigated? There were very few shelters for victims too, they noted, asking how many victims of trafficking in persons had been identified and how they were supported. What training was provided to officers dealing with cases of trafficking? What measures had the Government taken to assist Guinean refugees in Libya and to support their return?

On child labour, the Experts called attention to the exploitation of children in plantations in Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, as well as their sexual exploitation in West Africa, the European Union and the United States. What had the State party done to address the root causes of that problem? Did Guinea plan to reform its legislation in order to deal with the problem of statelessness? What had been done to improve the rate of birth registration?

Committee Experts then revisited some of the questions already raised concerning combating impunity, transitional justice and compensation measures. Did the State party plan to implement any of the recommendations on international assistance for identifying and exhuming the bodies of victims? In addition, the Experts reminded that they had not heard anything about the fact that some 20 per cent of maternal mortality was connected to the limiting conditions for abortion.

The delegation was asked to respond to the allegations of collective pillage of neighbourhoods which supported the political opposition; inform how the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression was guaranteed in practice; and whether the authority for the protection of personal data been established and if so, what was its makeup.

Referring to the allegations of violations during the legislative elections in 2013, they asked about the role of the follow-up committee on the political agreement of 2016, as well as about the arbitrary suspension of private media and the arrest of media workers for having spread rumours about the health of the Head of State? The Experts underlined the legislation on defamation against public offices, the army, courts, tribunals and public authorities. Recalling the September 2009 protests and the use of force and harassment by the police against human rights defenders, an Expert asked whether the State party would consider adopting a law on the protection of human rights defenders.

While the State had the right to end violence during protests, it had to be vigilant not to use excessively broad measures. For example, the State had recently banned a women’s march. Had the “policy on local content” had an impact on citizens’ participation in local development the management of natural resources? What specific means had been taken to ensure that citizens indeed took part in the process? Why had the authorities carried out a large expropriation of land and why had they used excessive force against local inhabitants?

An Expert remarked that the delegation’s argument that Guinea was a “young democracy” could not be used as an excuse not to institute proper democracy, in which the ruling political party would step down from power after electoral defeat, and in which it would not use violence to stay in power.

Replies by the Delegation

In response, the delegation explained that corruption existed in both “older” and “younger” States and clarified that, when referring to Guinea as a “young State”, the aim was to recall that there were people in Guinea older than the State itself and who held certain cultural concepts which were different from State concepts.

Turning to the issue of impunity for the excessive use of force against protesters, the delegate clarified that the delays could be connected to the lack of political will to investigate them. As for the national reconciliation process, the initial mission was to decide how to set up the reconciliation mechanism, bringing together religious leaders. The data on the number of clandestine abortions were not available, but the decision had been recently made to re-establish the National Statistics Office in order to gather such data.

On the collective pillage of neighbourhoods which supported the political opposition, the delegation said that those sometimes happened and that the Committee’s comments were fair, and noted that the question had been brought to the attention of the Government. With respect to political rights, meddling into elections by the authorities and the lack of neutrality were being discussed; it was easier to change the law than people’s mentality. The authorities needed to punish those who did not follow the law.

The delegation further noted that some elements of the political agreement of October 2016 were difficult to implement, and stressed the need for a clear resolve by the executive to ensure that prosecutions were concluded. It was difficult because families of some victims had never presented their claims. There had been no arrests of police officers for having used excessive force.

Moving on to the freedom of the press, the delegate stated that some broadcasters had their licenses illegally suspended, while others had their licenses suspended temporarily. The authorities were willing to revisit some of their initial decisions once citizens were unhappy about them. The Criminal Code did contain provisions on defamation, but they should not lead to arrests. Protests could be banned if there was a credible concern that they could lead to violence and disruption of public order.

Over 70 per cent of the population of Guinea was illiterate and the authorities tried to involve them in decision-making. However, asking the population that had not completely espoused the values of democracy to take part in political life was challenging. In addition, there was a lack of trust between the State and the population, leading to tensions, including the tensions between different ethnic groups, which was exacerbated during elections.

The “policy on local content” had been created to allow communities where there was exploitation of natural resources to benefit from that exploitation. But, the decentralization had not been fully carried out due to the lack of resources and staff. Laws in every country allowed the Government to expropriate land for the public good. The problem was a methodological one and it was not aligned with the level of participation at the local level.

The first reading of the draft bill on statelessness had been concluded, while draft bill on birth registration had been prepared in cooperation with United Nations Children’s Fund and the European Union. As for trafficking in persons, sometimes families themselves gave away their children and the authorities were not aware of it because of the limited stretch of State control. The Government was working with the office of the International Organization for Migration in Niger on accelerating the return of Guinean migrants.

The budget for the Ministry of Justice was insufficient because the State generally had insufficient resources. Guinea followed the French legal tradition, and the delegation understood the principles of the separation of powers. However, the authorities could not deal with all historical heritage in that sense in a single stride. The High Council of the Judiciary did not intervene in cases of abusive detention, which was a genuine problem. Another problem was prison overcrowding. Culturally speaking, the judiciary was inclined to hand down prison sentences rather than alternative sentences.

The use of torture had been reduced considerably in prisons and places of detention, but it was still present in places of custody. The authorities had carried out awareness campaigns against the use of torture, but there was a need for strict sentences. The measures taken so far to separate women and children from male adults in prisons had not been adequate.

As for the registration of associations, the delegation stressed the need to establish a proper monitoring system, and said that the first reading of the bill on the protection of human rights defenders had been completed, but the bill had fallen through. There were limitations to the right to strike.

State structures could implement the State law only in one third of the country, therefore involving traditional leaders could be a way to improve the delivery of justice in general. There were human rights activists who lobbied in favour of polygamy, the delegate noted, reiterating the Government’s stance which considered it illegal.

Concluding Remarks

KHALIFA GASSAMA DIABY, Minister of National Unity and Citizenship of Guinea, in his concluding remarks, said that the delegation would draw a number of lessons from the frank exchange of views with the Committee. The situation of human rights in Guinea was not acceptable, and it was the task of the Government to work to improve it. The task was difficult and complex, but that in no way detracted the responsibility of the Government to deal with challenges. Guinea needed any support that the Committee could provide it, the Minister said and assured the Committee of his Government’s unwavering commitment to guaranteeing the effective enjoyment of fundamental freedoms.

YUVAL SHANY, Committee Chairperson, in his closing observations, expressed the Committee’s satisfaction with the renewed dialogue with Guinea, adding that he was impressed by the approach of the head of delegation, who had refrained from providing excuses and had opted to provide explanations instead. The Chairperson commended the interest in the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, and said that the challenges such as lack of resources and cultural attitudes were obvious. Challenges also remained in the field of accountability for past human rights violations, harmful traditional practices, corruption, conditions in prisons, labour exploitation, maternal mortality, civic space, and civil and political freedoms.

For use of the information media; not an official record

CCPR18/029E