HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS REPORT OF MOZAMBIQUE
23 October 2013
The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the initial report of Mozambique on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Presenting the report, Maria Benvinda Levi, Minister of Justice, said that the Government was fully committed to the creation of a society of social justice. Mozambique had in place a well-functioning Human Rights Commission and an Ombudsman, while another major step would be the expected approval of the National Action Plan for Human Rights. Eradication of poverty was one of the most fundamental objectives of the Government, as was prison reform and a guarantee of all basic human rights for all prisoners. Mozambique was making solid progress when it came to the status of women and almost 40 per cent of MPs and 30 per cent of Government Ministers were women. Primary health care continued to be the principal pillar of the health system aimed at reducing the high morbid and mortality rates.
Committee Members stressed that the Committee appreciated the opportunity to engage, for the first time, in the constructive dialogue with the delegation. The Experts asked questions about the functioning of the Human Rights Commission, the delayed adoption of the National Action Plan on Human Rights, status of homosexuality under the law, child labour, sexual and physical abuse of children, education of girls, women’s land ownership rights, rape and marital rape, trafficking of humans and human body parts, the length of pre-trial detention and conditions in prisons. The Committee inquired about the ratification by Mozambique of the two Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Ms. Levi, in concluding remarks, said Mozambique was a young country, which had only become independent in 1975, and then suffered from the civil war which lasted until 1992. Much had been achieved, but Ms. Levi agreed that a great deal of work still remained to be done.
In concluding remarks, Margo Waterval, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, said that the two days of discussion had shown many positive aspects but also raised some concerns.
The delegation of Mozambique included the Minister of Justice, National Director for Human Rights and Citizenship at the Ministry of Justice, Director for Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Interior, Deputy National Director for Social Affairs at the Ministry for Women and Social Affairs, Head of Department of Research, Information and Planning at the Ministry of Interior, Advisor to the Minister of Health, Legal Adviser to the Minister for Women and Social Affairs, Head of Department for Legal Affairs at the Ministry of Education, and the representatives of the Permanent Mission of Mozambique to the United Nations in Geneva.
The Committee would next meet in public at 3 p.m. to begin its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Uruguay.
The initial report of Mozambique can be found at: CCPR/C/MOZ/1.
Presentation of the Report
MARIA BENVINDA LEVI, Minister of Justice, said that the Government of Mozambique was fully committed to the creation of a society of social justice, where every citizen of the population of more than 21 million people would enjoy equal rights. Mozambique’s most fundamental objective was the eradication of poverty. Mozambique had a well-functioning Human Rights Commission and an Ombudsman in place and would soon approve the National Action Plan for Human Rights. It had a long tradition of ratification of fundamental human rights treaties, and had received upon request visits from special procedures holders of the African Union and the United Nations, including special rapporteurs. The Constitution provided for access to justice as a fundamental right, and to that end the Institute for Legal Assistance and Aid had been created, under the Ministry of Justice, to provide the right to legal assistance to economically disadvantaged citizens. The judiciary was independent; and since 2000, the Centre for Legal and Judicial Training had trained more than 300 magistrates, most of whom performed their functions in the provinces and districts. The infrastructure had also been improved, with courthouses being built across the country.
The Constitution provided the right to life, and prohibited the use of excessive force, torture and the use of capital punishment. Reform of the prison sector remained a major challenge for the Government, but efforts were being taken to improve detention conditions and guarantee basic human rights for all prisoners. Prison officers were receiving training on the implementation of detention measures while respecting human rights. More human, material and financial resources had been allocated to improving physical conditions of confinement, including the construction of new prisons and the inauguration of a prison school. There was an on-going process of revision of the Criminal Code, with the increasing focus on the protection of individual human rights.
Mozambique was a signatory and State party to most regional and international conventions and initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality. Efforts had been made by State institutions and civil society to ensure the effective implementation of those provisions. The Ministry of Women and Social Affairs had also been created, and a number of relevant laws had been adopted. At the moment, women represented 39.2 per cent of all members of the Parliament, including the Speaker; there were eight women ministers, who represented 28 per cent, and the country had four female provincial governors, 27.2 per cent of the total.
Mozambique had approved the Declaration on the Rights of the Child and several laws relating to children had been revised and adopted. The protection of children from abuse and violence remained at the core of the country’s legal system. Serious physical attacks and any sexual attacks against children were regarded as crimes and prosecuted accordingly. Efforts were being made to register newly born children immediately after their birth. Primary health care continued to be the principal pillar of the health system with the aim of reducing the high morbid and mortality rates. Maternal and infant health programs had been created, and 79 per cent of all children up to 12 months of age had been fully immunized. The nutritional status of children was a priority for the Government; in that regard, the Government was promoting breastfeeding and conducting nutrition education sessions in schools.
Various Ministries and sectors had developed their plans for fighting HIV AIDS, which had a prevalence rate of 11.5 per cent. The National Council to Combat HIV AIDS had prepared a new National Strategic Plan to Combat HIV/AIDS and were treating more than 350,000 adults and 33,000 children with antiretroviral medication. The Government continued to place great focus on education, with the goal of expanding access opportunities and improving the quality of relevant education. A substantial increase in access to education for children of all social strata had been made without gender discrimination. Primary education was free and universal, and there had been an important expansion in the provision of bilingual education. Ever since the introduction of the multiparty system Mozambique regularly held general and local elections in a peaceful and transparent manner. Local elections would be held in 2013, and parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert said that the initial report was long overdue and that the State party’s replies to the questions had arrived late, but nonetheless he welcomed the opportunity to have the delegation here today. It was regrettable that there was no account of the Covenant in Mozambique’s legislation, and that the Covenant had not been invoked before the courts, an Expert said, asking how the judicial authorities could address that deficiency.
Had the national Human Rights Commission been established in accordance with the Paris Principles? How did it respond to individual human rights violations across the country, and how accessible was it to the population?
Another Expert expressed hope that Mozambique would not slide back into civil war, now that a major party had announced its withdrawal from the peace accords. He regretted that the National Action Plan for Human Rights had not yet been finalized. The State party was urged to finalize, approve and implement the action plan, and to ensure that civil society was fully involved in the process. An Expert asked about the status of the Covenant in the national legal system, and whether the courts could test the compatibility of the Covenant with the ordinary legislation. Was there a plan to ratify the First Optional Protocol, which would provide for individual communication procedures?
Regarding racial discrimination, an Expert noted that while Mozambique’s Constitution guaranteed the equality of law before the law, and granted the same rights to non-citizens as to citizens, incidents of discrimination had been reported, even if they only happened sporadically. Unequal and racist treatment had also been reported, particularly in the hotel industry, where white people were treated preferentially over black people. Multinational businesses in Mozambique had been reported to be hiring foreigners to the detriment of locals. What was being done to prevent such practices? An Expert asked about which strategies were in place to address the problem of lynching. The Expert also asked what special measures were provided under the National Action Plan to prevent discrimination of persons with disabilities, referring to a particular case of a school child who suffered discrimination.
Trafficking in body parts had been reported to be as a major problem in Mozambique and across the border to neighbouring countries, and albino children were frequent victims of mutilations because of pervading beliefs that their body parts had healing powers. What was the State party doing to address those issues, and how many individuals had been convicted for trafficking of body parts? Without proper legislation, the violations would continue.
Another Expert raised the issue of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. How were the authorities and courts interpreting the notion of “vices against nature” which existed in the country’s legislation? An Expert asked if it was true that the only non-governmental organization defending gay rights, Lambda, had not been recognized and registered by the Government. How was the term “vices against nature” interpreted and did it refer to homosexual acts?
Decision-making processes on the granting of asylum status took a long time. Was there a need for a revision and simplification of the existing procedures? Was Mozambique going to revisit its reservations vis-à-vis the 1951 Refugee Convention?
How many investigations had been undertaken into cases of extrajudicial killings and torture, how many people had been sentenced and sanctioned, and had the victims been compensated?
An Expert noted that most reports had indicated that the conditions in penitentiaries in Mozambique were extremely harsh. Female and male prisoners were not separated, and teenage prisoners were kept with adult inmates. What mechanisms determined the age of imprisoned young offenders, given that many citizens still did not possess birth certificates? The Expert raised several cases of very long periods of preventive detention, and asked whether the law allowed people to be kept in prison for such long periods without any formal charges being made against them. Were there legal provisions in place for giving compensation for illegal detention? How did the authorities cooperate with non-governmental organizations working to monitor prison conditions? Was there a possibility of having prisons supervised by the Ministry of Justice rather than the Ministry of Interior?
Corruption among prison officials was reportedly a serious problem. On several occasions officials had been accused of taking bribes in order to allow prisoners to escape, an Expert commented. Had any police officers been sanctioned for human rights violations and abuses of power and did the police authorities cooperate with the investigations?
Response from the Delegation
Regarding domestic legislation, the head of the delegation explained that, at the time of independence, all legislation which was in place in Mozambique and was not in contradiction to the Constitution was allowed to stay intact, which was why Mozambique still had many laws from the colonial period. Mozambique followed Portuguese legal traditions, which included a particular approach to the application of the international law in domestic legislation. Some judges still did not feel comfortable applying international laws, which was why the Government organized training for judges and magistrates on those matters. The majority of citizens in Mozambique did not possess a legal education and did not know what could be found in international or even domestic laws.
The National Human Rights Commission was founded in September 2012, which was too late for the body to have its own budget. In 2013, the Commission had a separate budget, but some provisions for the management of the budget were still missing within the Commission itself. There were no such problems with the Ombudsman, who had started his work at the same time as the Commission.
A delegate explained that the National Human Rights Commission had not been constitutionally established, but through law. The Ombudsman, on the other hand, had been constitutionally established. The mandate of the Commission was very broad, and covered all of the issues which had been raised by the Experts the previous day. Regarding the designation process, due attention was given to gender balance and ethnic diversity, to be representative of that of the country as a whole. Three members were elected by the Parliament, four by the civil society, one by the bar association, and three were nominated by the Prime Minister. Members themselves would then elect the President and the Vice-President of the Commission.
The budget of the Commission was independent from any state body. In the first several months of its work, given that it had been established in the middle of the financial year, the Commission had used part of the budget of the Ministry of Justice, but already from the year after, it had been assigned its own budget. The Commission was no looking for an executive secretary and working on hiring permanent staff. The Commission was reporting to the Parliament and the President on an annual basis.
There were still sporadic cases of racial discrimination and xenophobia, but often those issues were caused by South Africans who had lived in the context of apartheid, and were visiting Mozambique. In every case, the Minister of Labour asked the individuals responsible to leave the country. Lynching still existed as a problem, even if less now than before. Nonetheless, it was not easy to bring any one particular person to the court, as it was normally a group offence. Regarding the case of the child who had been discriminated by school because of his disability, that had been processed and the child had reinstated to school, a delegate noted.
The Penal Code was being revised. If a person committed a small crime, a sentence did not need to include imprisonment, and could involve community service or financial fines. A prison sentence was only for grave offenses. The Government could make improvements which would help refugees be given asylum faster than they do for the time being.
Trafficking in human body parts was a problem and was criminalized, and some cases had gone to court. There was no such problem of the killing of albino persons in Mozambique.
Regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, a delegate confirmed that the Government of Mozambique did not recognize Lambda, which was the only gay rights non-governmental organization, but said there was no violence against the homosexual population in the country.
Regarding corruption and criminal activity by police officers, a delegate said that police officers who had been accused of brutality were prosecuted, disciplined and expelled from the police forces. Every year, more than 30 prison officers were expelled for torture, bribery and breaking other prison rules. The expulsions could either be for four years or permanent. It was a serious problem as the country needed prison officers, but showed that there was no tolerance for such behaviours. Most police officers had badges with their names and numbers and could easily be identified in case of the need to complain.
On the issue of prisons, the head of the delegation clarified that women and men were not being held in same compartments. Young people (considered as those aged 18-35 years of age) were kept together with the adult population, but those prisoners aged between 16 and 18 years were mostly kept in separate juvenile jails. It was not possible, for the time being, to separate all juveniles from adult inmates.
Overcrowding of prisons was still an issue. New prisons were being built, and the first new prison complexes should be ready in two years. Prisoners were allowed to send letters to the Ombudsman, who could intervene if there was a maltreatment of prisoners.
One way of establishing the age of youngsters was through medical check-ups, and another one was by talking to the family. That was not always an easy exercise.
The Government was currently looking into ratifying the First Optional Protocol.
Follow-Up Questions by the Experts
Was marital rape criminalized and punishable by law? What measures were being taken by the State to protect elderly women who were accused of witchcraft? Could the delegation provide a number of cases when persons had been convicted for committing marital rape?
Another Expert repeated the question on how long a person could be kept in pre-trial detention without being charged. Was it happening that the police would not respect decisions of the judges and would instead continue to keep in detention people who were supposed to be released?
Responses by the Delegation
The head of delegation said that Mozambique had a law dealing with the violence against women, but the implementation was not easy, mostly because of the cultural problems. Women were reluctant to take their own husbands to courts. Domestic violence had to be addressed at the level of the entire country, regardless of the sex of the offenders. The law addressed the issue of rape in marriage. The delegation could not provide the number of cases of marital rape, as the database in Mozambique did not distinguish whether the rape was committed by a spouse or somebody else.
The issue of elderly persons, including discrimination towards elderly women, had reached the Parliament, but the Parliament was dealing with other, more pressing issues at the current session. There was a draft law on the protection of elderly people, which should be discussed in the Parliament in 2014.
The Penal Code articles proscribing “vices against nature” were not being applied. There were no known examples of punishing persons of different sexual orientation. The Constitution stated that all persons were born equal, and this provision was being applied to gay persons as well. The Government was still considering and reflecting on the case of the non-governmental organization Lambda.
The Government was working on the improvement of conditions of prisons, and those who were currently held in police cells would return to regular prisons. Pre-trial detention could last up to nine months, but the decision had to be taken by the judge.
Head of delegation stated that victims and the general public were being informed on what the Government was doing about human rights violations, but admittedly more had to be done in that respect.
Community policing was being decided on and provided by communities themselves, in order to provide security in their particular areas. The existing police stations could not cover the whole country, so the community police groups, 3,000 of which existed across the country, were working along with the national police. Normally, they would not have weapons and were allowed to take persons to prison if fragrant crimes were committed in front of them.
Questions by the Experts
Another Expert congratulated the State party on the high representation of women in the Parliament and the Government, and asked about their representation at the local level, especially in traditional rural areas. Rural women and girls benefitted the least from the country’s development, he commented.
Regarding gender equality, an Expert asked whether women were paid less than men for doing equal work of equal value. Did women know about their rights regarding land ownership, so that they could access their land on the equal basis as men? Another Expert raised the issue of customary courts, which did not allow women the same rights in that regard as ordinary courts would. How were the widows of spouses who had died because of HIV AIDS treated and protected?
The Family Law in 2004 admittedly marked progress in achieving equity between men and women, but there seemed to be some problems in its interpretation, another Expert noted. Regarding child marriage, she asked whether minors could be married in certain circumstances, provided for by an exception under the law. She also asked whether the number of cases of polygamy gone down?
The Expert noted that, despite the provisions of the law, child labour still remained a significant problem in Mozambique and the rates were among the highest in the world. Had there been any prosecutions under the child protection law? Had legislation on protecting children from all forms of sexual exploitation been adopted? Courts were reported to be slow in processing cases of sexual violence against children, taking up to three years, which was discouraging with regard to reporting similar such cases.
Had there been any reaction by the authorities to more than 500 cases of corporal punishment of children in 2012, as registered by non-governmental organizations? Did the Government campaign on violence against children specifically include corporal punishment?
Could more details be provided about the work of National Council on Children’s Rights? Was the Ministry for Women and Social Affairs, which was responsible for the Council, still receiving a meagre one per cent of the overall state budget?
Regarding registration of children, the Government was reported to be conducting free of charge registration campaigns for up to 120 days after birth, which was commendable. Were any other actions being considered by the authorities in that regard, especially for frequent cases of children born away from hospitals? An Expert asked about girls’ access to education, especially with regard to the high rates of illiteracy and drop-out rates.
Had cases of corruption and bias in courts been investigated, an Expert asked. Could more information be provided about the judiciary budget drafting process? Were judges allowed to retain their membership in political parties after being elected? Was there a requirement to pay a fee for someone’s case to be heard by courts?
An Expert requested further details on trafficking in persons. Was the special brigade in charge of combating trafficking in persons able to cover the entire country?
Was defamation considered a criminal act, and had there been cases of journalists being imprisoned for criticizing the President or other high ranking officials? The Expert listed several cases when scheduled public demonstrations had been prohibited and asked for clarifications.
Responses by the Delegation
The head of the delegation commented that there was a tendency to make general statements based on individual situations, which should not be the case. Turning to the question of gender equality, she said bad traditional practices existed around the world and the Government in Mozambique was fighting against them. The practice of giving priority to men in owning and inheriting property was one such example, but time would be needed before men and women really started to enjoy same rights and opportunities.
The inheritance law discriminated against both male and female spouses, who were only the fourth category when it came to receiving inheritance, after children, parents and blood relatives.
Mozambique had one of the best land laws in the world. Women were the ones mostly working the land, while men were frequently away working in the cities. The Government was working hard to ensure that every woman working the land had the documented right to the usage of that land. Women were significant beneficiaries of local funds for support of small businesses, which was one of the ways to help empower women. Regarding the access to credit, there was no longer a provision in the Family Law that a woman would need her husband’s permission in order to ask for it. Providing warranty for credit remained an issue for many women.
Regarding education and school drop-out rates, a delegate said that many young boys were deciding to leave school early and look for work, often in neighbouring countries. The current proportion of girls among the student population stood at 48 per cent. The Government’s goal was to have all girls and all boys in school until the end of their primary education.
A delegate explained that the Government of Mozambique normally had very good relations with the civil society. There were a number of memoranda of understandings on many issues, including human rights. When the Government was preparing for the Universal Periodic Review, it had gone to the provinces and organized a widely participative process. Because of the limited time for the current report under discussion, the Government had not conducted the same comprehensive process, but the draft report had nonetheless discussed with the civil society.
There were still some traditional practices which were contributing to violence against women, which was why laws were being passed and the Government was strongly cooperating with the civil society to address those issues. Not everybody knew about the law, and many people still did not know what was in the Constitution. That was why the Government was continuously explaining to the population across the country that domestic violence was prohibited and would be penalized. In many cases, men were the sole breadwinners, which was why women were reluctant to report their husbands who were beating them. Women’s empowerment was seen as a possible remedy to that problem.
Situations between rural and urban populations, including women, were significantly different in many aspects, primarily when it came to the access to information and resources. Because of that, the Government was making a particular effort to disseminate information to rural women.
Penal Code differentiated between cases of rape when a girl was a virgin, under the age of 18 years, and an adult woman. A lot of cases had been denounced and prosecuted, and the exact numbers would be provided subsequently. In some cases, families would decide to keep it a secret and make arrangements with the offender. Delays were present across the judiciary, and rape cases were not worse than any others in that sense. Rape against boys also existed and the plans were in place to have those sanctioned the same way as those against girls.
The Government would submit to the Parliament a proposal to extend the current 120-day period for the registration of children. The Government was not aware of many cases of corporal punishment of children in schools. There existed an exception to the prohibition of marriage before 18 years of age, especially applicable to the Muslim minority in the country. Likewise, polygamy existed as a part of the country’s tradition.
Regarding HIV AIDS, the population at large today was much more knowledgeable about the issue than had been the case ten years earlier.
On the issue of election of judges, each magistracy had their own councils of magistrate judges, and there was also a High Council, which was presided by the President of the Supreme Court. Those councils had never stopped working. Anyone to be elected judge had to be an accomplished jurist, and political party affiliation was never raised. If one was elected a judge, they would not be required to denounce their political affiliation, but were not allowed to be involved in politics in any way. Mozambique had only 600 judges for a population of more than 21 million, which was not sufficient. Fifty new judges were being trained every year, but budgetary realities provided limitation for that increase.
The High Council was very severe when it came to judicial corruption, and all judges whose involvement in corruption had been proven had been dismissed. The budget of the judiciary was discussed between the judiciary and the Ministry of Justice, which was then taken by the Ministry of Justice to competent authorities and passed by the Parliament. The courts had full freedom on using the approved budget. Judicial taxes existed, but those who did not have resources did not need to pay the fees, as long as they provided a written proof of that.
The State did not have the monopoly on justice, as community courts existed along state judicial courts. Persons were allowed to address judicial courts after having addressed community courts.
When it came to defamation, freedom of expression existed, but there was a need for journalists to tell the truth. If a person felt that they were unfairly denigrated by journalists, those could be brought to courts. The law on the access to information was in the Parliament at the moment.
MARIA BENVINDA LEVI, Minister of Justice, stated that the dialogue with the Human Rights Committee had provided Mozambique with a great opportunity to discuss achievements, challenges and everyday obstacles. Mozambique was a young country, which had only become independent in 1975, and then suffered from the civil war which lasted until 1992. Much had been achieved, but Ms. Levi agreed that a great deal of work still remained to be done.
MARGO WATERVAL, Vice-Chairperson of the Committee, said that the two days of discussion had shown many positive aspects but also raised some concerns. She added that the delegation had 48 hours to provide, in writing, answers to the outstanding questions asked by the Committee.
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