COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE BEGINS EXAMINATION OF REPORT OF GABON
8 November 2012
The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the initial report submitted by Gabon on how it implements the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Eric Dodo Bounguendza, Director-General for Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice of Gabon, said while the notion of torture was only enshrined in adjectival form in the Constitution, it was included in article 253 of the Criminal Code which dealt with arrest, detention or abduction in cases of corporal torture. Gabon had taken significant legislative, administrative and legal steps to prevent torture, adopting 11 laws, issuing four orders and beginning to build new, modern prisons and to strengthen the Criminal Code. Gabon was also working with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and countries of origin to ensure the best possible treatment of refugees, who had access to courts, work, housing, health and education, among other services.
Essadia Belmir, Committee Rapporteur for the report of Gabon, noting that the Criminal Code did not set out a word-for-word definition of torture as it appeared in the Convention, said she would like to hear more about how the definition was specifically incorporated into domestic law. Also, as the Gabonese Council of Ministers had adopted a draft law on the abolition of the death penalty in 2008, could it be taken that there was already a de facto abolition of the death penalty or did this issue need further work?
Satyabhoosun Gupt Domah, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of Gabon, said just offering training was not the way to fully comply with the Convention. Article 10 required States parties to sensitize both officials and people at large about torture. He also wondered what had been done to improve interrogation techniques, asking whether authorities had engaged in rethinking the laws of arrest and detention.
Committee Experts also asked Experts a number of in-depth questions pertaining to conditions of detention, referring specifically to occupancy rates and the surface area available to detainees, as well as the hygiene and medical services provided to inmates. They also requested more information about the maximum duration of police custody, alternative measures to imprisonment which could ease prison overcrowding, and prosecutions for female genital mutilation and ritual killings.
The delegation of Gabon consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the Permanent Mission of Gabon to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will hear the replies of Tajikistan, which presented its second periodic report to the Committee on Wednesday, 7 November 2012. The Committee will hear the replies of Gabon at 3 p.m. on Friday, 9 November.
Report of Gabon
The initial report of Gabon can be read via the following link: CAT/C/GAB/1.
Presentation of the report of Gabon
ERIC DODO BOUNGUENDZA, Director-General for Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice of Gabon, introducing the report, apologized for the delay in submitting the report, which was due in 2001 following Gabon’s accession to the Convention against Torture in 2000 and its signing of the Optional Protocol in 2004. While the notion of torture was only enshrined in adjectival form in the Constitution, it was included in article 253 of the Criminal Code which dealt with arrest, detention or abduction in cases of corporal torture. The acceptance of torture in the legal framework of Gabon was in keeping with the sprit of the Convention and all other international commitments the country had made.
Gabon had taken significant legislative, administrative and legal steps to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on its territory. Specifically, Gabon had adopted 11 laws and issued four orders, while five decrees were being drafted and 2 decisions were underway. The Government also began to build new, modern prisons and to strengthen the Criminal Code by prohibiting the abuse of authority, outlining the obligations of the judicial police, and defining sanctions applicable to security forces.
Gabon welcomed all African peoples and people of the world on its territory, said Mr. Dodo Bounguendza. As far as refugees were concerned, Gabon was working with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and refugees’ countries of origin to ensure the best possible treatment of this group of people. Refugees had access to courts, work, housing, health and education, among other services. In June 2010 the Government had also inaugurated a modern centre caring for persons in an irregular situation before they were repatriated to their countries of origin while a bigger modern facility was planned in the Libreville area.
In line with the Convention, Gabon had adopted a draft law for the protection of minors and authorities were now separating minors and adults in detention on this basis. Hefty sanctions were in place to punish the exploitation of school-aged children, trafficking in children was strictly forbidden and monitored by a specialized committee and the fight against trafficking in persons had been strengthened thanks to the determined efforts of the Government. As far as the inhumane or degrading treatment of widows and orphans was concerned, some provisions of the Civil Code had been revised to strengthen the heritage rights of the surviving spouse and the descendant.
Questions from Rapporteurs on Gabon
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Rapporteur for the report of Gabon, thanked the State party for the information provided in the report and in the statement, as well as for the efforts it had made to align domestic legislation with international standards. Gabon had taken several measures to implement the Convention and its Optional Protocol.
However, the Criminal Code did not set out a word-for-word definition of torture as it appeared in the Convention, said Ms. Belmir, and she would like to hear more about the wording as it was set out in paragraph 9. How was the definition specifically incorporated into domestic law?
The Rapporteur would also like to have an idea of the status the Convention vis-à-vis domestic legislation – was it enforceable, could judges use it? Gabon said there were initiatives to make it applicable, but what measures had been taken to facilitate the work of judges in this respect?
In 2008, the Gabonese Council of Ministers had adopted a draft law on the abolition of the death penalty and, during the Universal Periodic Review, Gabon had been encouraged to go ahead with the legislation. Could it therefore be taken that there was already a de facto abolition of the death penalty or did this issue need further work?
Non-governmental organizations had provided verifiable reports that security forces perpetrated deprivation of the right to life, specifically following the presidential elections. It seemed that the Government was trying to tackle this problem, but there was no indication that any punishments or mitigations of such acts had been given out. Could the delegation comment on this?
Ms. Belmir wondered whether any police officers had been prosecuted for torture and if so, what punishments were inflicted. The conditions of detention were also somewhat unclear and it was difficult to put them in context with the Convention.
The report referred to a national refugee commission, and she would like to know more about its operational nature and the treatment of migrants, said Ms. Belmir.
According to the State party, the return of Congolese refugees was a success. Could the delegation provide more information on this and why it was considered such a success?
The Rapporteur wondered whether the Criminal Code criminalized attempts to commit torture and, if so, whether the delegation could read out the relevant provision. If this was not the case, were there any plans to criminalize attempts to commit torture. According to the Convention, not only actual torture but also attempts to perpetrate acts of torture were punishable.
Trafficking was prohibited in Gabon and the Special Rapporteur on Torture had recently pointed to several shortcomings. While efforts had been made in this area, this serious problem required more attention. Gabon was still a destination country for trafficking, particularly trafficking of children for economic exploitation, but also adults. Also, the 2004 law did not protect persons beyond the age of 18.
According to Gabon’s report, conditions in detention facilities had improved and efforts had been made to build new prisons. But it would seem that rural prisons did not fulfill all requirements; there had been cases of poor hygiene and malnutrition.
The Rapporteur also asked for more information on the draft law on sexual violence, the removal of people who had entered Gabon illegally, the generalized harassment in detention, and whether detention for debt was still being used.
SATYABHOOSUN GUPT DOMAH, Co-Rapporteur for the report of Gabon, said just offering training was not the way to fully comply with the Convention. Article 10 required States parties to sensitize both officials and people at large about torture. And the question was not only which people were being trained, but how many, and whether the effectiveness of training been assessed.
What had been done to improve interrogation techniques, wondered Mr. Domah, asking whether authorities had engaged in rethinking the laws of arrest and detention. Article 11 of the Convention set out the expectation that States parties should systematically review their interrogation rules. When was this last done in Gabon, when were the instructions to officers last reviewed to make them compliant with the Convention obligations?
Article 13 of the Convention gave individuals an enforceable right to launch complaints against acts of torture and to have their cases heard impartially and be dealt with promptly. What facility was there in Gabon to ensure these rights? The rights of victims also went beyond this, including, for instance, psychological help and redress. How was this being provided for in Gabon? And what were the laws regarding confessions obtained through torture – was this procedure allowed, be it in terms of procedure or of substance, and were there any statistics?
Questions by Committee Members
An Expert asked what the conditions of detention were, referring specifically to occupancy rates and the surface area available to detainees, as well as the hygiene and medical services provided to inmates. Overcrowding was a major concern, the Committee member said, pointing to reports suggesting that the central prison in Libreville was heavily overcrowded. What measures had the Government undertaken to ease overcrowding?
Another Committee member asked whether Gabon, following its signature of the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture, envisaged discussing the establishment of a possible prevention mechanism with civil society. Were there any plans in this regard?
Gabon did not only lack a definition of torture; it seemed the State party also failed to criminalize this crime specifically. If that was indeed the case, this would constitute an important gap which must be addressed, an Expert underlined.
A Committee member noted with satisfaction that the central prison in Libreville had been visited in 2010. However, no reference was made to any reports on this, the outcome and possible complaints and whether other prisons had also been visited.
Another Expert also expressed concern at prison conditions, which were dangerously sub-standard. There were numerous issues relating to the safety of prisoners, their access to decent food and their right to contact with family members and legal counsel. While some progress had been achieved, numerous issues were still pending.
Numerous reports referred to discriminatory practices against refugees and asylum-seekers, notably regarding the expensive health care services. How did the Government plan to tackle this situation? Did it intend to officially recognize asylum-seekers and did it envisage acceding to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons?
An Expert noted that the State party had said it had recently expelled more foreign nationals, asserting however that their rights had been preserved. Could the delegation shed more light on how that had happened and whether there could be a possible violation of article 3 of the Convention?
It would appear that 62 ritual killings had taken place in Gabon last year, often involving the amputation of children’s limps. While noting that an anonymous hotline had been created for reporting these crimes, the Committee member wondered how many people had been prosecuted for ritual killings.
According to different reports, Gabon had conducted a census of its pygmy population with the aim of issuing birth certificates for them. This was laudable as people had no rights and children could not go to school without being registered. Was there a specific timeline for completing this undertaking, the Committee member wondered?
Experts also asked a number of in-depth questions pertaining to the manual for effective investigation of torture, the number of processes launched for female genital mutilation, and the access to places of detention granted to civil society organizations. More information was also requested regarding the maximum duration of police custody, alternative measures to imprisonment which could ease prison overcrowding, and the protection of witnesses from reprisals. Could the delegation also elaborate on the rehabilitation of victims of torture and clarify whether there was a minimum legal age for marrying and, if so, whether protective measures against forced marriage were in place.
For use of the information media; not an official record