COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS CONSIDERS REPORT OF GABON
19 November 2013
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today completed its consideration of the initial report of Gabon on how the country is implementing the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Introducing the report, Eric Dodo Bounguendza, Director-General for Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice of Gabon, said that ever since Gabon had acceded to the Covenant in 1983, numerous efforts had been made to include its provisions in the national legislation. Gabon had a national strategy on gender equality, which gave particular attention to the protection of vulnerable groups. Fair employment policies were implemented with the view of ensuring that everyone could make a decent living through their work. Youth unemployment, which was a serious issue, was one of the priorities for the Government. Education rates were among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. The system of social security was serving as an essential mechanism for stability, maintenance of a certain standard of living and fighting poverty.
The Committee noted the very long delay in submitting the report and wondered what the reasons were for that. Committee Experts thanked the delegation for the sincere and straightforward answers to their questions on a wide array of issues, which included regularization of the informal economy, implementing agricultural reforms, fighting corruption, conditions of trade unions, youth unemployment, polygamy, and the treatment of indigenous peoples.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Bounguendza explained that the reason the initial report had been produced with such a delay was that the national Human Rights Reports Committee had for a long time had no means available to begin compiling reports. The delegation regretted the delay and pledged to abide by its commitments in a timely manner in the future.
Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leao, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Gabon, said that the dialogue had been frank and showed that the Government had yet to address a number of challenges. The State party did not seem to have all the bodies and procedures in place yet.
The delegation of Gabon included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the National Agency for Health and Social Insurance, and the Permanent Mission of Gabon to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 20 November at 10 a.m. to consider the fourth periodic report of Austria (E/C.12/AUT/4).
The initial report of Gabon (E/C.12/GAB/1) can be seen here.
Presentation of the Report of Gabon
Presenting the report, ERIC DODO BOUNGUENDZA, Director-General for Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice of Gabon, said that Gabon had acceded to the Covenant on 21 January 1983. After Gabon had received preliminary questions and the list of issues of interest from the Committee Experts, inclusive national consultations had ensued, with the valuable participation of the National Commission for Human Rights, various national and civil society organizations, labour unions and religious movements.
In addition to the provisions in the Constitution, Gabon had over the years adopted and passed 14 laws, four ordnances and 17 decrees with the view of ensuring the good application of the Covenant. With regard to equality between men and women, Gabon had established structures and adopted instruments in line with article 3 of the Covenant, such as the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs, and there were no discriminatory references in national legislation. A document called National Strategy on Gender Equality had, inter alia, provided special protection to widows and orphans.
Everyone in Gabon was given an opportunity to earn a living through a profession of their choosing. In 2011, a new national policy on employment had been implemented, in cooperation with the African Development Bank. Quality employment was a priority for the Government, with the focus on providing employment to young people. Gabon had a significant programme of training, supported by the European Union, for 3,000 youths. Minimum wage had recently been increased, and there were more than 30 provisions in the Labour Code promoting and protecting mental and physical wellbeing of the labour force. There were some 133 labour unions operating in Gabon, which were given annual subsidies by the Government.
In Gabon, the system of social security served as an essential mechanism for stability, maintenance of a certain standard of living and as part of the fight against poverty. Economically disadvantaged persons benefitted from the National Agency for Health and Social Insurance, which was financed through taxes as well as fees on certain financial transactions.
The Constitution of Gabon placed the family in the centre of State care and attention, for which a dozen social structures existed. All the discriminatory references with regard to marriage had been revised, with the view of the better protection for minors, widows and orphans. Asylum seekers and refugees, who counted for as much as 13 per cent of the population, were also protected and provided the same conditions of living as Gabonese nationals.
The rights of all persons to enjoy mental and physical health had been in the Government’s focus, particularly through the application of 10 different basic health programmes. A National Plan to combat HIV/AIDS had been adopted, while the Government had reinforced its efforts to eradicate tuberculosis.
Education free of charge was provided for all children between the age of six and 16, and the attendance rates stood at 84 per cent in 2010, and were among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. More resources had been invested in training of teachers, salaries had been increased, and additional pedagogical and logistical educational centres had been opened.
Taking into consideration traditional and cultural realities was necessary when preparing public policies for development. The Government had made internet, TV and radio more accessible to the local population at an affordable cost. National libraries and archives were being currently reorganized with the view of providing better access to culture to the population at large.
Questions by the Experts
RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEAO, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Gabon, said that the report had been submitted with a delay of several years, and asked for an explanation of why that was the case. The State Party’s initial report was an important exercise of self-assessment on its compliance with the Covenant, and helped the State party to identify the remaining flaws.
Could the Covenant be directly invoked by the State party’s courts? Was the Human Rights Commission established in line with the Paris Principles?
How were the rights of indigenous peoples being protected? Were they aware of their right to participate in the exploration of natural resources in their lands?
Which laws and provisions had the State party adopted to tackle corruption?
With regard to discrimination, the Rapporteur requested updated information on fighting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as albinos. What had been done to counter the so-called “witchcraft attacks” against such persons?
Could the State party provide more information about concrete legislative amendments to rescind provisions discriminating against women?
Questions on the Family Code and related issues such as the treatment of widows and family succession and inheritance needed to be clarified for the Committee.
The young were estimated to represent some 60 per cent of the unemployed in the country. Which practical measures had the State party taken to deal with that problem?
What prosecutions had been conducted to combat human trafficking, and which sentences had been passed in that regard?
What was being done on the subject of minimal wage? Were the rights of all workers belonging to trade unions, and their leaders, respected, given that there had been reported cases of intimidation? Could more details be provided on the system of subsidies which the State party was providing to trade unions?
An Expert noted the lateness of the initial report – Gabon had acceded to the Covenant in 1983, while the report had been submitted only in 2011, and asked for an explanation.
Could the rights enshrined in the Covenant be directly invoked in courts in Gabon, and had there been any such cases, the Expert inquired.
Could more details be provided on the regime to prevent and punish unlawful enrichment? Had there been any prosecutions or proceedings on unlawful enrichment and corruption?
Another Expert also referred to the issue of direct applicability of the Covenant to Gabon’s domestic legal order.
Regarding the State party’s commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, to which extent were human rights aspects being mainstreamed?
Could more details be provided on the issue of the involvement of non-governmental organizations in the preparation of the report?
There was no desegregated data on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, another Expert noted, and asked if the State party could provide such data.
No response had been provided with regard to the national Human Rights Commission – what was its mandate, how many complaints had been received, and how well did it cover the scope of rights covered by the Covenant? Was it guaranteed independence and plurality?
An Expert asked whether the Ministry of Health, Social Affairs, Solidarity and the Family was no longer dealing with gender equality, and was that issue being directly dealt with by the Observatory for Women’s Rights and Parity, and what was the relation between the two bodies?
Another Expert noted that it would have been better if the State party had provided answers to the list of questions before the commencement of the current session.
Gabon’s Human Development Index seemed not to be in line with the reported per capita income. Could more details be provided on how social spending had evolved over the years?
Would the State party consider adopting a comprehensive anti-discrimination law? That could significantly strengthen the existing anti-discriminatory framework.
If there was no legislative body to take care of the rights of women, how could the discriminatory practices be changed? The Observatory seemed to have a more advisory than legislative or executive role.
What was Gabon’s position on the people’s right to self-determination, an Expert inquired.
Gabon had at least 40 ethnic groups with diverse languages and cultures, but was nonetheless a unitary state. The Baka people were an indigenous minority, mostly living in forests. Were those people consulted when the State was exploring forests or oil resources in their lands? What mechanisms were there in place to protect economic, social and cultural rights of the indigenous population?
What was the position of Gabon with regard to the rights of the Sahrawi people for self-determination, who might be among the last peoples in the world not to have yet benefited from that right?
Was polygamy allowed in the country’s Civil Code and what was being done to eliminate this practice? Was anything being done to address the issue of contracted or arranged marriages?
Another Expert noted the five priorities of the State party’s socio-economic policy. The Expert wondered if structural adjustment programmes put in place with the help of the International Monetary Fund would take into account the provisions of the Covenant. Could the State party provide an analysis of the results of the Government’s economic policies in recent years?
An Expert asked for clarification on the current unemployment rates in the country. Had the Government’s measures borne fruit?
Could an assessment be provided on whether any discriminatory acts had been taken against Gabonese nationals when it came to the right to work? What was the delegation’s assessment on the conditions in those sectors where the majority of the workforce was foreign? Were all the provisions of the Labour Code provided there?
Regarding Gabon’s social security system, were employers contributing, and was there a monitoring system in place for that purpose?
Another Expert inquired about how many persons with disabilities there were in the State party. What were their employment rates, and was their employment encouraged?
On health and safety in the workplace, did labour inspections exist and what were their powers? Were they adequately staffed and financed? Could some data be provided on a number of accidents at work in recent years?
Were the provisions for minimum wage enforced in the private sector?
The Expert asked whether foreign nationals working in Gabon could join trade unions? Did trade unions exist for those working in the civil service? Could self-employed workers be registered in the system?
With regard to the age of retirement, were there differences between public and private sectors, or between men and women? What portion of the population was covered by the pension scheme?
The Chairperson asked about the impact of the State party’s initiatives to decrease the level of unemployment among young people.
Were decisions to create, join or leave trade unions fully a matter of free will of employees? On which criteria were subsidies provided to trade unions? Would the system of trade unions survive without subsidies?
Given the fact that the right to strike was recognized, could the delegation inform how many strikes there had been over the past five years, and in which sectors of the economy.
Responses by the Delegation
In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation of Gabon said that the Covenant was applied in the national legal system as the national legal instruments almost fully represented the relevant provisions of the Covenant. Those provisions were not often invoked by judges or lawyers in their work, but were at their disposal and this could be done if they so wished. The Ministry of Education had introduced in the national curricula information on the rights to citizenship; the Ministry of Health was applying progressively provisions of the Covenant, while Parliament was ensuring that the freedom of expression was protected in line with the Covenant.
A law of 2006 and a decree of 2007 provided for the establishment of the national Human Rights Commission, which had been created fully in line with the Paris Principles. The Secretariat had started operating in 2010, and was headed by the Secretary-General, who was a State employee. Twelve members of the Commission had been elected by the Parliament, representing various spheres of society. The Commission had financial independence in its work, and was a member of the network of commissions in central Africa.
The Commission had received five complaints in the course of its existence, which had subsequently been looked into. It was a platform for the work on human rights in the country. It regularly visited detention centres and prisons, communicating with the police and the gendarmerie, and preparing suggestions for the Government on how to improve existing conditions in numerous aspects. The Commission reminded the Government, when necessary, on the need to implement certain international commitments.
Answering the question on the rights of indigenous peoples, who represented 0.3 per cent of Gabon’s population, the Baka were recognized as other groups. Their traditions and customs were indeed an integral part of the culture and a source of pride for Gabon. They sometimes had problems admitting that they were pygmies because stereotypes were nonetheless still somewhat present in the country.
Since 2005, Gabon had been implementing a special plan for indigenous peoples, promoting and protecting their environment and ensuring that all development projects respected the dignity and cultural rights of the indigenous peoples. Territories where they lived were protected by the Government, which was making it possible for the indigenous peoples to use and manage their lands. The Government was also helping associations of indigenous peoples, which were working on the protection and promotion of their lifestyles.
Significant resources were being put in national and higher education. National law did not limit itself only to racial or ethnic discrimination, but was also applicable to education. Equal access to education and training was guaranteed to everyone without social distinction. There was a special law on children with disabilities, who were to be treated the same way as other children. A legal regime for the protection of minors was also in place.
Laws on political parties and elections guaranteed all men and women the right to exercise their rights, and prohibited discrimination between men and women in the work of political and civic associations.
There existed a special solidarity allowance for those workers who were receiving less than a minimal wage. The same labour protection and guarantees were provided to everyone, including foreigners.
Some legal texts which had been of discriminatory nature with regard to inheritance and family relations, had been modified. The Family Council played a role in addressing family disputes.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert asked about the percentage of the population living in poverty in Gabon, and whether the Government’s anti-poverty plan had been effective in reducing it. Was there an official poverty line? Was there a housing deficit in the country, and how widespread was homelessness?
The issue of the provision of water, sanitation and electricity to rural areas was also raised. Could the delegation provide information about the provision of drinking water to the public, given the wide prevalence of water-borne diseases?
Addressing health-related issues, another Expert asked if the plans to combat HIV/AIDS had been implemented and what the results were. Were all minority and vulnerable groups included in the action plans, and did they have effective access to primary care, especially in rural areas?
On the issue of marriage, an Expert wanted to know if a new bill had been adopted and implemented. In the case of customary marriages, when did consent happen?
Was domestic violence specifically criminalized in Gabon, and did statistics on that matter exist?
Malnutrition was raised by another Expert. What was the prevalence of that phenomenon among the urban and rural population, and among children?
Did the Government have the intention to regularize the informal employment sector? Did farmers have ownership titles to the land they were tilling?
Another Expert inquired whether and how the 2008 law was being implemented with regard to the prevention of female genital mutilation.
A question was asked about practical steps being taken to ease access to education for children with disabilities.
An Expert suggested that the State party’s following report ought to include relevant and desegregated statistics.
An Expert congratulated the State party for having very high school enrolment rates, but expressed his concern over high dropout rates, and whether there was a strategy to address that challenge.
Responses by the Delegation
Flaws had been detected in the Labour Code and the Nationality Code, which was why legislative amendments had been provided to discriminatory provisions, especially those related to women. Substantial amendments had also been provided.
Since 2012, there had been a mechanism in place for widows and economically deprived orphans to receive economic aid, and the relevant law had also been amended. The Family Council had been replaced by the Succession Council. Death certificates were now to be passed on to the surviving spouse and not only to the parents of the deceased person. Some 60 per cent of the alimony was paid to the widow, as long as the marriage had been officiated before a public servant. There was also a system in place for pro bono judicial assistance to widows and orphans, which was being provided through a legal aid cell.
There was no mechanism in place for reciprocal passing of the Gabonese nationality between spouses if one of them was a foreign national. Regarding labour laws, some major multinational firms headed by expatriates used to circumvent provisions and provide a preferential status to foreigners. Wage discrepancies were becoming commonplace in such firms, but now the law had factored in quotas and salary scales for expatriate employees in Gabon; most decision-making positions were still held by foreigners, who frequently did not respect some important labour rules.
Youth constituted 30 per cent of the unemployed in Gabon. A joint project with the European Union intended to train and prepare for the job market some 3,000 youths. The Government was also promoting self-employment and was encouraging the creation of small and medium enterprises.
The National Tax Authority was working on incorporating the informal sector of the economy, an estimated 10,000 companies, into the legal framework, and making them pay taxes. Single stop shops for registration and tax matters were also established to alleviate the business regularization process.
Children were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, and Gabon, as a country of transit, was now working on implementing the Palermo Protocol. The Special Rapporteur had visited the country earlier in 2013, and Gabon was now implementing her recommendations. Gabon had established a committee to fight against human trafficking, particularly trafficking in children. Efforts were being made to help the reintegration of trafficked persons into their countries of origin.
Questions by the Experts
A follow-up question was asked if women could own property in Gabon.
An Expert noted that children who still had one parent living, the mother in particular, should not be considered orphans. What was the division of inheritance between the widow and the children following the husband’s death?
The idea of polygamy seemed to be still present in Gabon, and was apparently encouraged, another Expert commented. The Expert stressed that polygamy should not be allowed in the first place, which would then, in turn, eliminate discrimination among multiple widows.
The Expert noted that dealing with the irregular sector of the economy would need to go beyond just taxing such companies.
The delegation was focusing on legal amendments rather than the practical application of the legislation in place. In that sense, could more clarity be provided on the working conditions for Gabonese and foreign workers, particularly in the timber industry.
Responses by the Delegation
A mandatory national system of health insurance and social security was in place. It provided for all Gabonese, particularly those from the low-income sectors of the population. The health care basket, subject to private agreement, covered medicines, medical and surgical interventions, prenatal and postnatal care, preventive check-ups and non-emergency analyses. The objective was to provide the most universal coverage possible; it had been extended to cover students, and in the following year, all self-employed and those employed in the private sector would also be covered. Asylum seekers and refugees would also be included in the scheme.
Regarding the rights of trade unions, Gabon had ratified the relevant ILO conventions, and the Gabonese Labour Code provided protection to labourers and unions in accordance with those international legal instruments. The Labour Code did not make it mandatory for employees to join trade unions; it was left to each individual to make a decision on such matters. As for foreign workers, they were entitled to join any trade union of their choice, provided that they had lived in the country for 18 months. Public officials were free to form and join trade unions. Some professional organizations might have had problems collecting enough contributions from their members to make their operations viable.
The law did not provide for purely political strikes, those which would involve violence or negatively affect the rights of others to work. Over the previous five years, a number of strikes had taken place in the country, and there were strikes in the education sector at the moment, involving both teachers and pupils. Recent strikes in 2013 had included those of public transportation workers and farmers. The right to strike was thus a real, applicable right.
On gender-related issues, the Head of Delegation confirmed that women could be rightful owners of property, and no obstacles existed for that to happen. An orphan was defined as a child whose both parents had died, but traditionally some ethnic groups defined orphans as those children who had lost either of their parents.
Polygamy was also a matter of culture and tradition. Many young Gabonese people travelled frequently and brought back Western norms to the country. Polygamy was thus gradually losing its roots in the country, especially in towns, where 80 per cent of the population lived. Historically, polygamous husbands had become rich as his wives would bring abundant dowries. There had been some very heated debates in the National Assembly on that matter, but until now attempts to legally abolish polygamy had not been successful.
Informal workers were primarily migrant workers from other African countries. There had been a number of attempts to register them, but none had been fully successful yet.
Contracts awarded to expatriates should not be exactly the same as those awarded to Gabonese citizens, but for equal qualifications the wage gap was still disproportionally high. Business had agreed, in principle, to work on reducing that gap.
Gabonese courts were indeed applying laws as amended, and all those who were trying to avoid the new provisions were fined.
The Government had had consultations with the Pygmy people on economic development, which had made the State aware of what was important to them. Such consultations, which were inclusive in nature, were also designed to protect their cultural traditions and what they considered sacred.
Answering the questions on human trafficking, the Head of Delegation said that the Government’s policy had developed measures to support victims of trafficking, while those in security agencies who were fighting against trafficking were properly trained.
Prison sentences of up to 10 years were in place for those exploiting or sexually violating children. Measures with neighbouring countries and Interpol had been reinforced to prevent trafficking and exploitation of children. A network of trafficked Pygmy children had been dismantled in 2013, salvaging hundreds of children and reintegrating them in their home countries.
On the subject of maternal health care, 95 per cent of expectant mothers were provided with prenatal care, while children were born with the assistance of health care professionals in more than 70 per cent of cases, with percentages higher in urban than in rural areas.
There were some 14 maternal and child care health centers, which were also involved in family planning. The majority of high school age girls were reported to have been already pregnant and to have terminated their pregnancies. Contraception was condoned and accessible through family planning centers, which was a change to earlier regulations. The Government now viewed family planning as one of its health programme priorities. Sexual education and reproductive health care were now addressed in school curricula.
The campaign against smoking, launched in 2009, had been targeting school-age young people. Each pack of cigarettes now contained warnings and its sale was prohibited to those under the age of 18. Advertising, even if curbed, still remained strong, particularly in social media. Smoking would soon be prohibited in offices and public transportation. Schools and universities provided no tolerance for smoking, alcohol or drugs on their premises. There was also pressure on bar owners not to serve alcohol to minors.
On the question on malnutrition, the Head of Delegation said that more than 20 per cent of all children under five were affected.
Traditional medicine provided the most accessible and least costly health care, especially in rural areas. Many traditional healthcare workers were registered with the Ministry of Health, which oversaw their activities.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert asked how the State party’s support for polygamy was reconciled with Gabon’s ratification of a number of international conventions which included women’s rights.
Traditional medicine, if not supervised, could be harmful. Could the delegation elaborate on what Gabon was doing to avoid this.
Regarding the fight against poverty, another Expert inquired whether a national, cross-cutting plan existed.
Answers by the Delegation
As far as housing was concerned, measures had been taken at the national level, including the establishment of a national agency for land planning. There used to be 134 steps necessary in order to acquire property, which had since been significantly simplified. In order to give the people incentives to construct property, the prices of construction materials had been decreased, while housing subsidies for Government officials had been increased.
A census was being carried out in order to ascertain the real figure of those living in Gabon. An estimated 46 per cent of homes were owned by those who lived in them; two thirds of property owners were male. The Government had embarked on two projects – one to build social housing flats and the other to provide land plots for those who wanted to construct their own homes. In African culture, people preferred to live in houses, not high buildings, but a mentality shift was necessary in that respect.
The main reason for poverty was the lack of housing in urban areas, which was why aggressive housing initiatives had been undertaken. Economically vulnerable people in Gabon were spared from paying water and electricity bills. Hundreds of hectares had been set aside for social housing projects. The percentage of people living in poverty in Gabon stood at 33 per cent; the poverty threshold was set at some 55 euro per month. The majority of Gabon’s poor lived in urban areas, and the majority were men. A survey of refugees would also be conducted soon.
On traditional medicine, the Head of Delegation explained that there was a specialized unit for traditional medicine at the Ministry of Health. The unit was in charge of overseeing risks of having some illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, treated with traditional medicine. Traditional doctors passed their knowledge orally, and formal training for such practitioners was hard to provide. In many aspects, traditional and modern medicine were complementary.
Answering questions related to education, the delegation said a tremendous increase had been seen in funding for education since 2005. Provisional seminars run by education experts for teachers aimed at improving the overall quality of teaching. In the same context, in 2013, new advanced evaluation tools had been provided. The Government had formed a committee overseeing quality indicators, training and school curricula. No student was ever expelled from educational institutions; those underperforming were instead transferred to different state educational institutions. Everybody who received a high school diploma was given a grant to continue their studies at the university level, be it in Gabon or abroad.
Efforts were being made to increase public awareness on the need for the education of young girls. Measures had also been put in place to make the education of disabled children possible; for example, special classrooms for education of those with impaired hearing had been established.
In terms of protecting Gabon’s national heritage, the Government was working on providing conditions for the existence and development of various local cultures, particularly including those of indigenous peoples.
On whether there was a protection scheme for traditional knowledge, the Head of Delegation explained that knowledge was conveyed and transmitted orally, which could not be easily protected. Practices of rites of transition might be recorded. What the State could do was to help preserve written works of researchers, and thus help preserve the wealth of traditional knowledge.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert asked if the Government had official, stated goals and targets in the areas of agrarian reforms and the informal economy and its regularization.
The subject of albino persons was raised again by an Expert, who asked for clarification on whether discrimination existed and what was being done about it.
Another Expert inquired about the number of prisoners who were forced to work for private enterprises without giving their formal consent.
School failure and school dropout rates, with the gender breakdown, were something the State party should include in the following report, an Expert noted.
Responses by the Delegation
The Head of Delegation explained that in Gabon, unlike many other African countries, albino persons were not particularly discriminated as such. Albinos were fully integrated in the family, and considered and treated just as anyone else. Persons with albinism went to schools and worked with others without any obstacles, and albinism did not carry a pejorative connotation. On the contrary, it was almost considered to be bringing good luck and to have an albino child was sometimes viewed as a sign of divine providence.
There were absolutely no private companies which employed prisoners without pay.
According to the most recent figures available, overall there seemed to be no difference between dropout rates of boys and girls. Girls and boys had comparable rates of attendance in pre-school and primary school attendance. In higher education, there were 64 per cent boys and 36 per cent girls. Literacy rates were over 80 per cent for men and around 77 per cent for women.
For several years, there had been a project, launched in partnership with UNESCO, which came up with a human rights manual to be used in the education system. However, the project had not produced the expected results. For 2013, the Human Rights Directorate had launched an initial phase of a project to further promote human rights in the school system and amidst the population at large. The project had the Government’s financial backing.
On the issue of agricultural reforms, the Head of Delegation said that Gabon was an oil-producing country, and the country’s economy was based on oil exploration. That, in turn, meant putting agriculture aside, and agricultural development was missing. Farmers in Gabon had initially been working the land in order to live off it and to sell the surplus. Following the first oil crisis, more importance started to be given to agriculture, which still accounted for not more than 3 per cent of national GDP. A national agency for agriculture had been in place since 2010, and six large farms had been opened to increase the national food production. Nonetheless, the country was still largely dependent on agricultural imports, mostly from Cameroon.
The Government’s policy to regularize the informal economy was based on two pillars: establishing a tax system for that sector, so that traders would be encouraged to become structured and legalized, and formalizing the existing unregistered firm.
Female genital mutilation was not a part of Gabon’s customs and traditions. In fact, this practice had been introduced to the country from countries of West Africa. Given the size of the West African population in Gabon, the Government had passed a law to prevent the practice from occurring and protect the girl population.
A legal system for the protection of minors had been set up. Anyone engaged in arranging forced marriages for minors could face up to five years in prison. Severe measures were taken against those involved in incest.
On whether the State party’s policies to fight against corruption had borne results, the Head of Delegation listed several cases in banking and road construction sectors, where officials had been prosecuted for embezzlement. Such sanctions had had an impact, and since 2009, with the passing of the second Gabonese President, attitudes had started to change regarding corruption and illicit self-gain.
Questions by the Experts
The Chairperson asked whether Gabon had ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and whether it was considering establishing an agency to fight corruption.
Answers by the Delegation
Gabon had ratified the Convention against Corruption, and for several years now a national commission had been in place to combat corruption and illicit self-gain. Chairpersons of the Commission could serve only one term.
ERIC DODO BOUNGUENDZA, Director-General for Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice of Gabon, said that he understood the concern expressed by the Experts on the late submission of Gabon’s initial report. The reason why it had taken so much time had to do with a number of different reports being drawn up over the years. In Gabon, the national Human Rights Reports Committee had had no means available for a long time to begin compiling reports. The State party had thus had to wait until 2010 before the Committee got a budget and could start to prepare the current report. The delegation regretted the delay and pledged to abide by its commitments in a timely manner in the future.
The ongoing meeting had provided a learning opportunity, and made the delegation wonder if they were heading in the right direction on various fronts. As soon as the delegation was back to Gabon, all the comments and questions would be transmitted to all branches of the Government as well as to civil society at large.
RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEAO, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Gabon, said that the dialogue had been frank, and the Government had yet to face a number of existing challenges. The State party did not seem to have all the bodies and procedures in place yet.
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Chairperson of the Committee, expressed his hope that the meeting had been enriching for both the members of the Committee and the delegation. The Committee was looking forward to hearing about actions taken on the implementation of the concluding observations and recommendations. The State party should feel free to consult the Committee in the course of the implementation of the recommendations. The period for submitting reports under the Covenant encouraged contacts between the State party and the Committee and provided sufficient time for report completion.
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