22 November 2012
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today reviewed the situation in Equatorial Guinea in the absence of a report but in the presence of a delegation which spoke about the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Don Alfonso Nsue Mokuy, Second Deputy Prime Minister for the Social Sector and Human Rights of Equatorial Guinea, expressed the regrets of the Government for not having presented its report and said that the document submitted to the Committee highlighted the improvements in the economic, social and cultural situation in the country and the remaining challenges in the implementation of the provisions of the Covenant. The national plan for economic and social development titled Equatorial Guinea Horizon 2020 was in place, together with other mechanisms to improve economic, social and cultural conditions in the country.
Committee Experts stressed the importance of a proper report for the working of the Committee and wondered whether the absence of the initial report, which was 23 years overdue, indicated how seriously Equatorial Guinea approached its obligations under the Covenant. The Committee members asked a series of questions and raised issues which they said would facilitate the elaboration and submission of the report in the future, namely about the legal framework in the country and the impact of the dual legal system on women’s rights; the independence of the judiciary and measures to fight corruption at the highest levels; and policies to combat low birth rate and child malnutrition which affected 20 per cent of children under the age of five.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Nsue Mokuy said that Equatorial Guinea would continue to carry out programmes with a direct and indirect impact on the commitments enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Government understood that national reports stemmed from the commitments signed up to on a sovereign basis and reiterated the will to submit to the Committee a comprehensive report which would take into account the comments and suggestions received from the Experts.
Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay, Committee Chairperson, stressed that the summary discussion could not replace the regular dialogue with the State party and the replies to the list of issues could not be a substitute for a report covering all the range of Covenant rights. The Committee was looking forward to receiving within two years the initial report and encouraged Equatorial Guinea to avail itself of the advisory services of appropriate United Nations agencies and programmes and to engage with civil society organizations.
The delegation of Equatorial Guinea also consisted of the Presidential Advisor for Human Rights, the Director General for Human Rights, and representatives of the Office of the Prime Minister, the National Human Rights Commission and the Permanent Mission of Equatorial Guinea to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Friday, 23 November, when it will consider the situation in the Republic of the Congo in the absence of a report.
Address by the Delegation of Equatorial Guinea
DON ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Second Vice-Prime Minister for the Social Sector and Human Rights, reiterated the commitment of Equatorial Guinea to satisfy demands and requests from the Committee and expressed regrets for not having presented a report to the Committee. Equatorial Guinea would make any effort necessary to meet the demands of the Committee. Pursuant to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of a free human being who lived free from fear and extreme poverty was not possible unless the necessary conditions were created to ensure the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights.
The Government had put in place mechanisms to improve economic, social and cultural conditions in the country; the national plan for economic and social development titled Equatorial Guinea Horizon 2020 designed the outcome of the Second National Economic Conference of 2007. The report highlighted the improvements in the economic, social and cultural situation in the country and the remaining challenges in the implementation of the provisions of the Covenant. In addition, it contained geographic data and information about the political, administrative and judicial system; the work of the National Human Rights Commission; anti-corruption measures; non-discrimination and gender equality; employment, unemployment, work safety and social security; and gender-based violence, housing, health, education, culture and others.
Questions from Experts
RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEAO, Committee Rapporteur for Equatorial Guinea, noted that the Committee had received some information from Equatorial Guinea only this week and many Experts had not had a chance to read through it. Some positive achievements of Equatorial Guinea included the law on compulsory education, the 2009 law to combat HIV/AIDS, the creation of the national fund and the ratification of a number of international human rights instruments. The Committee had several concerns, however, including on the absolute lack of data and statistics and the lack of information on the status of the Covenant in domestic legislation. It would be important to highlight the linkages with the National Human Rights Commission and explain the use of national resources and expenditure for social services, particularly health and education, which were often provided by the private sector. Because of ethnic and political issues in the country and the situation of women, the issue of discrimination was included in the fundamental law; however, there was no information in the document about the application of the measures of the Covenant in this regard.
Customary law existed side by side with the civil law and the Committee asked about the application of the laws and about harmful practices, which were illegal as per the fundamental law. It was important for the Committee to have information about how minimum wage was determined and how a decent standard of living was ensured throughout the country; measures adopted for the effective implementation of labour rights; and social security measures and whether there were groups in the country which received no benefits.
The Committee was concerned about poverty and extreme poverty in Equatorial Guinea; in 2007, more than 70 per cent of the people lived in poverty; particularly affected were women and the rural population. Equatorial Guinea had economic resources to deal with this problem and the Committee needed information about the poverty eradication programmes and measures put in place to 2020.
Many children under the age of five suffered from malnutrition; what policies were in place to combat child malnutrition? The Committee needed the disaggregated figures about children enrolled in primary schools and what was being done to ensure that children completed primary school and that drop out rates were reduced.
Another Expert noted that the application of the dual legal system could create problems and had discriminatory effects and asked about measures to ensure that the rights of women were not adversely affected, particularly in customary law. The Expert further inquired about the independence of the judiciary and how the Government ensured the protection of human rights defenders. Equatorial Guinea was a rich country and did not have resource issues; it had the obligation according to the Covenant to invest resources in services for the population, but nevertheless, the situation in the country as far as health and education were concerned, was deplorable.
The information provided to the Committee by Equatorial Guinea was not a report, stressed another Expert and asked about the reasons for which a report had not been submitted, particularly as Equatorial Guinea had undergone the Universal Periodic Review and had submitted in 2011 its sixth periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Responding to this question, the delegation recognized mistakes it had made in the past and reiterated that the presence of the delegation in the Committee today was a sign of the commitment to address the pertinent issues.
Experts further asked whether the National Human Rights Commission had ever expressed concerns about the non-reporting of the State to the Committee and how those concerns had been dealt with? According to the World Bank, the national per capita income of Equatorial Guinea exceeded that of some European countries, and yet two thirds of the population lived with less than one dollar per day; how was this possible?
It was hard to believe that Equatorial Guinea took the International Covenant seriously; otherwise it would have submitted its report which was 23 years overdue. Could corruption, especially at the highest levels, be the reason behind poverty in the country? What were the reasons that the Government failed to fulfil its promise to allocate 40 per cent of the State revenue to social services? Could the delegation provide more information on the national strategy to combat poverty, which was essential for the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights? How transparent was the tax system and what did it consist of? What was the status of the national law on cultural heritage?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that the replies and the information requested by the Committee Experts would be provided in the next report. It was unfortunate that Equatorial Guinea had not sent the report with proper figures and information, which would have stopped Experts from getting their information about the situation in Equatorial Guinea from entirely unreliable sources.
With regard to the dual legal system, customary law referred only to marriages and certain ancestral practices were applied to women whose husbands died, such as to look for another husband within the late husband’s tribe.
The judiciary in Equatorial Guinea was independent and a separation of powers existed. Concerning harassment of human rights defenders, the delegation noted the recent case of the arrest of Don Fabian which generated lot of publicity; what was not so known was that Don Fabian was a member of a political party. There were 25 non-governmental organizations registered and operating in Equatorial Guinea.
For the time being, Equatorial Guinea indeed had a high level of income; two national conferences had been convened to decide how to invest the oil revenue, and it had been decided to invest into infrastructure which had been practically non-existent in the country. Once the infrastructure part was over, the Government would move to other sectors, particularly social sectors and ensure they received more resources.
Equatorial Guinea had not known that it could seek technical assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the preparation of reports.
The National Human Rights Commission depended on the judiciary and was made up of independent members. The Commission shared the concerns of the Committee about the current situation of economic, social and cultural rights in the country. The law creating the Commission dated back to 1997 and many things were missing in that law that would enable the Commission to operate in accordance with the Paris Principles.
There was a lack of statistical data in the country which had experienced real difficulties in obtaining disaggregated data and looked forward to receiving expert support from the Committee in this regard. The population of the country was 1,014, 099, while the World Bank claimed it was 600,000; this created errors in the calculation of national per capita income and opened the door to accusations of corruption. One look at the infrastructure in the country gave the idea of the achievements of the Government. Something must be wrong with the information received by the Committee which seemed to have heard rumours about corruption that were circulating everywhere.
Current Government expenditure on social services was 22.4 per cent of the State budget and the Government was committed to raising this expenditure in the future. There was no unemployment in Equatorial Guinea, and the rate was at two per cent; everyone had a little farm so one could not speak of unemployment. The minimum wage 2010-2012 was 117,304 CFA and this level was readjusted regularly.
Questions from Experts
In a second round of questions, Committee Experts acknowledged the difficulties to change overnight traditional practices such as polygamy and stressed the obligation of Equatorial Guinea to change discriminatory practices and discriminatory legislation. Was it true that in Equatorial Guinea, a women had to repay her dowry to the husband in case of divorce, and that a widow had to marry one of late husband’s brothers?
A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund dating back several years ago had stated that nearly one third of children were engaged in child labour, which went hand in hand with the phenomenon of dropping out from school. The population of Equatorial Guinea was very young which meant than many children were involved in child labour; what was being done to address this phenomenon and ensure that children stayed in school? One in ten children under the age of five was underweight, which was indicative of poverty in the country; life expectancy for both men and women was 50 and this was rather low for a country with such high gross national income. What measures were being taken to reduce the unequal division of income and to integrate the poorest segments of the society into the development process and provide them with a decent standard of living?
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development figures, 26 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed in 2004. It could not be denied that the country enjoyed a very high income from oil revenue, and the question was whether the State was fulfilling its obligations to ensure the resources for social services to the highest extent possible. The child mortality rates were among the highest in the world; only a small part of women had access to reproductive health services; there were serious shortages of drinking water in the country; and life expectancy was low.
Response by the Delegation
With regard to traditions and customs, the delegation said it would issue a recommendation to study the issue of polygamy. In customary law, the dowry was a symbol between families from different tribes, and it was true that some people misunderstood its purpose. In terms of life expectancy, the delegation said that Africans had to follow the standards set by white people; the country was told that the life expectancy of its men and women was 55 because it suited the interests of some groups.
There was no forced labour and labour involving minors in Equatorial Guinea; it was a misunderstanding at the international level. Immigration to Equatorial Guinea from neighbouring countries had been on the increase since the discovery of oil; those workers had arrived with their families and the country had been accused of trafficking in persons. Most cases involving child labour were not from Equatorial Guinea. Primary education for any child in the country was compulsory.
Government policies to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality involved several sector and included programmes to prevent mother-to-child HIV infection, education to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, setting up of committees at the village level, the increase in the number of midwives and the increase in the number of health posts in rural areas. The target was to achieve 20 per cent reduction in maternal mortality by 2020.
The national programme for education had achieved greater enrolment rates and a decrease in drop out rates; primary education was compulsory for all children aged 7 to 14. Great strides were being made in private education, and each private institution had a formal authorization to do so; the national university had been established as well. The education law had been amended and the national action plan for education 2001-2012 had been implemented. A total of 992 teachers had been trained within those programmes.
There were regional disparities in access to safe drinking water. Equatorial Guinea looked at other countries to find a solution and had initiated several projects to bring water to the population; most of those projects had been completed. The Internet offered a lot of information about Equatorial Guinea, but did not reflect the true situation in the country. Efforts had been made by the Government to address child mortality; the figure of 38 per cent child mortality rate quoted by the Committee was obtained from sources that the Government did not consider credible.
Questions by Experts
In the absence of a report it was impossible to obtain official information from the Government concerning educational trends in the country, an Expert said. Other sources such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization were used instead. The Government had adopted the 1999 Education Act, further amended in 2006, and had established a certain number of programmes to further education. Despite those efforts, it seemed that there was a drop in schooling rates, particularly at the primary level. Education was the driver of development and States had an obligation to provide education to its citizens.
Only 33 per cent of students completed primary schools and this proportion was even lower at the secondary level. The adult illiteracy rate in 2008 was 93 per cent, which was very high also in comparison with other countries south of the Sahara. What measures were being taken to address the decreasing schooling rates, education for all and the quality of education? How could the high rates of adult illiteracy be explained, what measures were taken to address it and what was being done to ensure education for children with disabilities?
Response by the Delegation
Responding to these questions and comments, the delegation said that illiteracy in Equatorial Guinea was not higher than 20 per cent; the Committee had quoted the figure of 93 per cent. The Government had all respect for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization but refuted the information on the 93 per cent illiteracy rate. Equatorial Guinea had adult education programmes, and was taking corrective measures and ensuring that all heads in districts and municipalities applied the measures. The Government did not agree with the data quoted by the Committee Experts.
Education was one of the priorities for the Government, which had followed the constitutional provisions stating that education was a vital duty of the State and that all citizens had the right to education which was compulsory for all. In the academic year 2010/2011, there had been 86,981 students enrolled in primary schools, of which with 49.3 per cent had been girls. The United Nations Children’s Fund had supported the training of pre-school teachers, which had been extended throughout the country.
The country would undergo general elections in February 2013 and it would be rather difficult to have a Working Commission in place to draft the report and submit it to the Committee in a year’s time; a deadline of two years would be more realistic. There were deaf-and-dumb schools in the country and a task force dealing with children with disabilities, who received various types of support. The percentage of persons with disabilities did not exceed 2 per cent; they were provided with social housing, special vehicles to support their mobility and other benefits.
DON ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Second Deputy Prime Minister for the Social Sector and Human Rights, said that Equatorial Guinea would continue to carry out programmes with a direct and indirect impact on the commitments enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Government understood that national reports stemmed from the commitments signed up to on a sovereign basis and reiterated the will to submit to the Committee a comprehensive report which would take into account the comments and suggestions received from the Experts.
ARIRANGA GOVINDASAMY PILLAY, Committee Chairperson, stressed that the summary discussion could not replace the regular dialogue lasting for nine hours that the Committee would like to have with the State party which should be based on the comprehensive report which Equatorial Guinea was obliged to submit. Equally, the replies to the list of issues could not be a substitute for a report covering all the range of Covenant rights. The Committee was looking forward to receiving within two years the initial report of Equatorial Guinea and encouraged the State Party to avail itself of the advisory services of the appropriate United Nations agencies and programmes and to engage with civil society organizations.
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