COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN CONSIDERS REPORT OF THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
11 July 2014
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined initial to fifth periodic reports of the Central African Republic on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Leopold Ismael Samba, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted the complex and profound crisis in the country in which all human rights were being massively violated and more than half the population was in need of humanitarian assistance and reiterated the political will to uphold human rights. Because of the crisis gender-based violence, gender inequality and discrimination against women were on the increase. The substantive support of the international community was needed to implement the priorities of the transition process and reduce discrimination against women.
Committee Experts acknowledged the complex situation and structural problems in the country and the challenges such as the lack of resources and capacity, particularly in the judicial and law enforcement sectors. The horrific level of violence in the country was an issue of great concern and Experts inquired about measures to prevent gender-based violence and put an end to impunity for crimes against humanity and serious human rights abuses. The situation in the education sector was both critical and complex. Experts raised a number of other issues of concern, including extremely high maternal mortality rates; negative cultural norms such as female genital mutilation, dowry and widowhood rights; and trafficking in persons and prostitution.
The delegation of the Central African Republic included representatives of the Directorate for Gender Promotion, Office of the Prime Minister and the Permanent Mission of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Mr. Samba, in his concluding remarks said that the questions and comments by the Experts provided potential solutions to the problems the country faced and hoped that it fostered understanding of what kind of engagement by the international community was needed to find a holistic way out of the crisis.
Pramila Patten, Committee Vice-Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, agreed that political dialogue on the top and reconciliation on the ground were the way to lasting peace, and stressed the importance of addressing impunity and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
The Committee has now completed all country reviews on its agenda and will next meet in public at 5 p.m. on Friday, 18 July 2014 for the closing of the session.
The combined initial to fifth periodic reports of the Central African Republic can be read here: CEDAW/C/CAF/1-5.
Presentation of the Report
LEOPOLD ISMAEL SAMBA, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that this interactive dialogue was taking place at a time of a complex and profound crisis in the country in which all human rights were being massively violated and more than half the population was in need of humanitarian assistance. The political will to uphold human rights was evident in the ratification of a number of human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1991. The Sectoral Committee on Gender and Poverty Reduction had been created in 2008; it was composed of several ministries, civil society and development partners and was in charge of gender mainstreaming in all sectoral policies and programmes. The draft law on gender parity was before the Parliament; the 2010 amendments to the Criminal Code prohibited all forms of violence.
The Transitional Government, for the first time, included three women, but inequalities in the status of women in the society persisted. Gender issues had not been taken into account in sectoral programming and gender budgeting was still not a matter of practice. There were many cases of violence against women and children and perpetrators enjoyed impunity. The crisis in the country meant that the Government needed to undertake significant efforts; gender-based violence was on the increase, together with gender inequality and discrimination. The Government had defined priority issues to address during the transition, but this could only be effective if peace and security were guaranteed, and this required substantive support by the international community. In closing, Mr. Samba appealed to all to support the efforts of the Government to reduce discrimination against women.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert expressed understanding for the difficult situation in the country and the need for the support of the international community. The Expert asked about mainstreaming of gender into reconstruction plans and programmes, disarmament programmes, re-establishment of security and payment of salaries for the staff in health and security sectors. The delegation was also asked to elaborate on the efforts and institutions tasked with reconciliation; the support provided to the country’s Muslim community which largely had to flee; and the specific legislative programmes to eliminate discrimination and bring the definition of discrimination in line with the Convention.
The June 2014 report by the International Federation of Human Rights described horrific levels of violence, including torture, mass rape and other crimes amounting to crimes against humanity, perpetrated by both anti-Balaka militia and Seleka rebels. Sexual violence was the most prevalent form of violence against women; it was urgent to address this issue, assist the victims and punish the perpetrators. Was the Governmental survey completed, what were its findings and what next steps were envisaged? The rate of HIV was reportedly very high and was expected to increase, particularly among women and girls; was preventive prophylaxis treatment provided to victims of sexual violence? What preventive measures were in place to prevent gender-based violence including sexual violence, and put an end to impunity for crimes against humanity and serious human rights abuses, particularly in the light of challenges such as lack of resources and capacity, especially in the judicial and law enforcement sectors?
More than 900,000 persons were displaced in the Central African Republic, including 650,000 internally; for a population of 4.5 million, this was an enormous number. How was the Government addressing the proliferation of weapons and what coordination mechanisms were in place with humanitarian organizations to assess the needs of the displaced population, particularly in the capital; what measures were in place to stop displacement?
Committee Experts also asked about the status of the Convention in the national law and its visibility in the country, and about the long delay in submitting the reports given that the Convention had been ratified in 1991, and the ongoing efforts to develop the judicial and penitentiary system, restore the criminal justice system and combat impunity.
Responses by the Delegation
The Central African Republic needed to be re-established because of the unprecedented destruction and crisis in the country. The National Gender Equality and Equity Policy was in place and in order to implement this policy several institutions had been created; the Committee for Equality and Equity and Poverty Reduction had been established, which involved several ministries, civil society and development partners. The strategy for gender equality and poverty reduction provided guidance to the Government which ensured alignment between all who worked on those issues. Today, the Government could do nothing without the support of the international community; freedom of movement was limited because of insecurity and the presence of law enforcement officers in the regions was insufficient to ensure security. The demobilization, disarmament and reintegration programme was in its exploratory phase, but the Government already had measures in place to ensure that women combatants were disarmed first. As a result of the measures undertaken by the Government to disarm, the security situation had improved and the National Action Plan on the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security would soon be implemented.
There were neighbourhoods in Bangui where Muslims could not move freely because of insecurity and risk to their lives, and there were also areas where non-Muslims could not move because of the insecurity. Three months ago the coordination committee had been established to improve the coordination and information exchange with humanitarian organizations. The country was vast and it seemed that the security situation in the southern areas was improving and that the population had started to return; the Government had increased the presence of gendarmes there. The security situation in central and north-eastern areas, which were still under the control of the Seleka groups, was weak and there were no law enforcement officers on the ground there. What was happening in the country was not ethnic cleansing but rather a case of the Muslim and non-Muslim populations being pitted against each other; that was why it was crucial to undertake a study into the root causes of the conflict in order to find adequate solutions.
Many internally displaced persons had started settling around the international airport where they felt more secure because of the presence of the French soldiers, and there were other camps throughout the city. A hotline had been set up by a non-governmental organization for women and girls victims of sexual violence. An agreement had been signed in May 2014 with the World Bank to provide free health care to all the population in the country; the implementation of this would be relatively easy in the capital, but the expansion of humanitarian assistance to the rest of the country would be a challenge because of the lack of security. In terms of coordination, a cluster system was in place and ensured coordination on the operational level; there was an issue of some humanitarian agencies which did not report back to the Government. The Government wished to demonstrate leadership in the crisis situation, this was fundamental and non-negotiable.
Since the invasion of the country by the Seleka, State income from customs and taxes had continued to decrease and the Government was obliged to take loans to pay salaries. The reconciliation process was underway; centres for humanitarian dialogue were in place to start up the process. There was going to be no amnesty; those who had committed crimes would be punished. The Seleka policy was to destroy the Government and its authority; destroyed Government buildings and infrastructure would have to be rebuilt. Unemployment was a major problem for youth who had become involved in all the political upheaval because they were not satisfied with the situation. There was no integrated care for victims of sexual violence in the country.
There were no instances of hate speech among the public officials, said the head of delegation, and stressed that the crisis was political in nature and it needed political solutions. Muslims had left the country when they felt threatened and the Government did not have the means to restrain them.
The presence of Kony rebels in eastern parts of the country was the major cause of violence against women and children, including the abduction of women to serve as sex slaves. The funding for the efforts to address this long-standing problem was stopped because donors had redirected their resources to the humanitarian response; this was the pathetic reality of the Central African Republic where many initiatives were not brought to conclusion because donors redirected funds elsewhere in response to wars and crisis. A survey was underway in internally displaced persons camps to understand the extent of sexual violence and the particular needs of women and girls.
The Criminal Code had been revised and discriminatory provisions had been removed, the amendment of the Family Code addressed the issues of violence against women and ownership while the ongoing revision of the Electoral Code would ensure greater political participation of women. Efforts were underway, but there was no formal timeframe for legislative reform.
Questions from the Experts
Another Expert inquired about national machinery for the advancement of women, specifically on the mandate and resources of institutions and measures undertaken to monitor the situation of women and protect their rights. What was the status of the organic law on the establishment on the national Human Rights Commission and would it also include the mandate on the protection of women’s rights?
There was a great deal to do on the legislative level to ensure the rights of women, said an Expert, adding that the experience from other countries had shown that the greater participation of women in Parliament ensured that laws and measures were promoted to respond to the specific needs of women. In the light of the upcoming parliamentary elections, were there any plans to increase the quotas for the representation of women in Parliament?
A Committee Expert asked whether the 2006 Act on the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence and the 2010 amendments to the Family Code criminalized gender-based violence, including domestic violence and marital rape, and whether article 46 of the Criminal Code that defined killing a spouse for adultery as a “forgivable act” would be repealed.
The Government should abolish negative cultural norms and should eliminate the discriminatory notion of the superiority of the husband from the Family Code, and remove the dowry as a legal aspect of marriage. The delegation was asked about the progress towards the elimination of female genital mutilation, a list of laws which were not in line with the Convention, and killing of “witches” with impunity, among others.
Responses by the Delegation
The mechanism for promoting the rights of women on the national level was headed by the General Directorate for the Promotion of Gender, Ministry for Gender. The resources were provided by the Government and from project finances supported by external partners. Women participated in the activities of communal and village councils and thus in the local development. With the crisis, a number of other departments had become involved in gender issues alongside the General Directorate, and in addition there was the Sectoral Committee on Gender and Poverty Reduction. Gender focal points had been created in all departments and staff received gender training. During its Universal Periodic Review in October 2013, the Central African Republic undertook the commitment to establish the national Human Rights Commission; unfortunately this would not be possible now. The draft Law on Parity dealt with appointing women to posts of responsibility and decision-making posts and did not guarantee seats for women in the Government.
The head of delegation said that not all customs and traditions were negative, adding that change must take time and happen gradually and not everything could be undertaken all at once. A member of the delegation said that the new Criminal Code criminalized all forms of violence against women and did not grant grace or pardon for acts of murdering a spouse on grounds of adultery. The Government was in the process of creating a rapid response unit to respond to violence against women and children that would be composed of the police, gendarmerie and medical staff; the decree should be signed soon and support was provided by the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic. The killing of “witches” was not condoned and the law protected everyone; the legislation recognized that witchcraft was not good for society and the reality was that many cases of killing of “witches” were before the customary tribunals, which accepted the notion of witchcraft as true.
Female genital mutilation had been criminalized since 1966, but because it was considered by many to be a cultural value of highest importance, it was a tenacious practice that was still carried out. It existed in the country but not in all of the territory; the rate had been dropping thanks to the 1996 law forbidding the practice and the public awareness and information campaign.
Questions from the Experts
The crisis in the Central African Republic had created an enabling environment for trafficking in persons, thus putting refugees, internally displaced persons, children and women at high risk. A Committee Expert asked whether the Government intended to ratify the Palermo Protocol on trafficking in persons; how it would fully implement article 151 of the Criminal Code and the new Labour Code which would help the society to tackle this crime; and what kind of regional cooperation was envisaged in this regard.
Prostitution was illegal, but women engaged in prostitution were not criminalized which was commendable. What were the most important preventive elements to assist women not to engage in prostitution and how could those programmes be implemented?
The Committee shared the concern about the continued under-representation of women in politics and wondered about measures to increase representation of women in decision-making and their contribution to peace and reconciliation.
Responses by the Delegation
There was no trafficking in persons in the country, but it was possible that some facts were escaping the attention of the Government because it did not exercise effective control over the whole of the territory. The Central African Republic was a part of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region which was a mechanism through which to develop regional cooperation.
Prostitution was a global phenomenon, and because of the crisis there were cases of pimping with parents or relatives of girls pushing them into prostitution to earn money. The National Committee to Combat Harmful Practices carried out preventive work to combat prostitution, but its work was on a back burner because of the crisis.
The draft Law on Parity was on the table and it might be reviewed to introduce quotas on the number of seats for women in Parliament.
Questions from the Experts
Women could give nationality to their children which was commendable, but not to their husbands. In the context of displacement because of the crisis, what measures were in place to ensure that children born outside of the country obtained nationality, to ensure that refugees had personal identity papers and that children born as a result of sexual violence had a nationality?
Many schools had been looted or occupied by armed forces. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, schools had been opened for only four weeks on average since October 2012. The conflict had affected two school years and many families refused to send their children to school for security reasons. The situation in the education sector was both critical and complex, with only 9 per cent of girls and 17 per cent of boys enrolled in 2011. The delegation was asked about the accuracy of the assessment of the situation, how the financing of the massive investment into the education system would be secured, the timeframe within which a functional education system would be established at least at the basic level, safety and security in schools, and treatment of trauma in children and teachers.
Responses by the Delegation
Nationality was not automatically acquired and there were a certain number of preconditions that had to be met before a spouse could obtain nationality of the husband. Consulates were present in a number of countries and provided consular services to citizens of the Central African Republic. Given the situation it was difficult to provide services in all countries; international agencies needed to assist the country to make a census of refugees and citizens residing abroad. Because of the destruction of hospitals, issuing of birth certificates to people in the country and internally displaced persons was also an issue. The United Nations Children’s Fund supported the Government to run the programme on birth registration of internally displaced persons. Children born from rape were stigmatised in the community and there were programmes in place to raise awareness and ensure that communities accepted both the children and their mothers.
Problems in the country were systemic and the support of the international community was needed in order to find solutions. The delegation agreed that it was the responsibility of the Government to ensure education for all, but there were certain traditions among the population, such as sending children to religious schools, that were hard to fight. Recreational activities were being organized for children in internally displaced persons camps. Many schools in rural areas were destroyed and teachers had fled; high incentives were offered for their return but with not much success because everyone was concerned about security and feared for their lives. Lack of security in the country affected not only education but all walks of life. The country was preparing together with its partners to move from the emergency phase to early recovery. The State was in a very delicate situation: it did not have many resources and had received only one third of what it asked from the international community, which had the responsibility to assist. It was up to the Government to launch programmes on health, education and other areas, despite lack of resources; so far, nothing had been done.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert asked about measures to ensure economic participation of women in the upcoming reconstruction process and cooperation with the International Labour Organization, and stressed that the payment of wages for civil servants was crucial in order to make the system function.
Another Expert took up the issue of health and asked whether the Government would consider increasing budgetary allocations to solve the current public health crisis in the country and in particular women’s health? What was the status of abortion? The 2010 maternal mortality rate was 850 per 100,000 live births, and early sexual relations often before the age of 15, resulting in teen pregnancy and illicit abortions leading to death. What plans were in place to offer adequate reproductive health services, especially in rural areas and to deal with obstetric emergencies?
Responses by the Delegation
As far as employment was concerned, there was a need to look at the issue from a macro perspective. The largest employer was the State and the unemployment was not the issue of sexes but that of structural problems and the current crisis; at the beginning of the crisis there had been 200 private companies, today there were 10. Since January, the State had had to borrow to pay the salaries, and it was very uncertain what would happen when resources ran out.
The head of delegation said that there were forced abortions and accidental abortions; malaria killed many more people than abortions, it killed many more women and children than abortions.
The national policy for the development of the health sector had been in force for 10 years and had a genuine impact throughout the country, particularly on medical professionals. In order to address the lack of midwives, the Government was training a new category of health professionals: nurses who specialised in obstetrics. There had been a major discussion on abortion in the country and the trend was to support therapeutic abortion, otherwise it was illegal. The crisis had upset everything; fortunately thanks to non-governmental organizations there were health professionals throughout the country. Three major causes of maternal mortality were the poor referral system and distance to hospitals, lack of motivation of health personnel because of non-payment of salaries, and shortages of medical materials and equipment. A plan had been revised with the World Health Organization to reduce maternal mortality rates, and now there was a need to find resources for its implementation.
The Central African Republic was a poor country in which 80 per cent of the people earned their living from agriculture, in which women played a crucial role. Social security for women meant social security for farmers and the problem was who would pay the money.
Questions from the Experts
Women in the Central African Republic were courageous; they had a great deal of determination and played a central role in the productive sector, which posed an obligation on the State to support rural women. The crisis posed a new set of challenges on rural women, including security, poverty and limitations to freedom of movement, but rural women also suffered structural problems such as inheritance, and lack of access to health, education or drinking water and participation in decision-making.
Another Expert addressed the situation of women detainees and noted that there were no operating prisons in the country with the exception of the central prison in Bangui.
A Committee Expert pointed at the link between the legal framework and the situation of women on the ground in situations of conflict and asked about measures to address the urgent crisis of early and forced marriages enforced by members of Seleka. Change could not happen overnight, but the starting point was the recognition by the Government of discriminatory laws and practices.
Responses by the Delegation
The return of security and peace was crucial to enable rural women to produce, otherwise the country would be facing a food crisis in six months’ time. The Government had a roadmap with four pillars, including economic recovery. The Food and Agricultural Organization supported over 400 women groups to restart food production through the provision of agricultural inputs. Measures were in place to ensure the participation of women in local decision-making and more and more women were becoming heads of villages or neighbourhoods; if a mayor was a man, his advisor must be a women and this was verified on the ground.
There was no legislation in place making it an obligation for a man or woman to engage in polygamy, but the Family Code authorised men to have up to four wives. Dowry was a question of culture and there were people against it and people who condoned it. Socio-anthropological studies conducted in the country found that rural women were in favour of polygamy which they saw as an economic issue because more wives meant more hands for work; urban women were against and saw it as issue of love. Dowry should be of symbolic value and should be a present to give to parents who were losing their daughters. Early and forced marriages were considered harmful traditional practices; unfortunately despite the information campaigns, the practice persisted among Muslims, said a member of the delegation.
LEOPOLD ISMAEL SAMBA, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said in his concluding remarks that the questions and comments by the Experts provided potential solutions to the problems and could help the country emerge from the crisis. It was a process and could not be done overnight, the situation was difficult and complex and time would help solve many problems. The dialogue would hopefully lead to understanding of what kind of engagement by the international community was needed to find a holistic way out of the crisis.
PRAMILA PATTEN, Committee Vice-Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue and agreed that political dialogue on the top and reconciliation on the ground were the way to lasting peace, and stressed the importance of addressing impunity and bringing the perpetrators to justice.
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