Experts of Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Commend Benin on National Human Rights Institution

OHCHR

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined initial and second to ninth periodic reports of Benin, with Committee Experts commending the State on establishing its national human rights institution, and asking questions on the repatriation of Benin bronzes artefacts, and discrimination against people with albinism.

Bakri Sidiki Diaby, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, congratulated the State for the law which set up the national human rights institution and asked questions regarding the strengthening of this institution.

A Committee Expert noted that people with albinism were the most discriminated against in the whole of Africa; why were they not mentioned in the report? What measures had been taken to better protect people who had albinism in all areas of life? Could information be provided on the prosecution of crimes committed against people with albinism?

Another Expert asked if the delegation could share the Government’s actions regarding the Benin bronzes, the collection of artefacts scattered around European museums. Could information on this issue and the Government’s policy be provided?

Introducing the report, Séverin Maxime Quenum, Minister of Justice and Legislation and head of the delegation, said that that Benin was a hospitable country that welcomed many non-citizens who lived in harmony with the Beninese population. Legislative and regulatory measures had been taken to prevent and punish racial discrimination. Many developments had also been made at an institutional level, including the operationalisation of the Beninese Human Rights Commission since 2019, as well as the creation of the National Institute for Women.

Mr. Quenum said the Benin bronzes were plundered during colonisation and had ended up in different museums in Europe. When the inventory had been properly formed, Benin would lodge formal requests for return with countries; France had already made the necessary steps to return artefacts to Benin. 26 artefacts had so far been returned of the 3,000 Benin artefacts which were on display in a museum in Paris. Historians needed to carry out background work to determine exactly which artefacts were located where.

The delegation said that Benin marked International Albinism Awareness Day to raise awareness about the plight of people living with albinism. There had been three court cases of violence and discrimination against people with albinism, one of which had resulted in a life sentence which was now being served. There was also a case of a young girl with albinism who was abducted and disappeared who had been found by the police.

In concluding remarks, Bakri Sidiki Diaby, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for the useful information which had been provided, stating that the dialogue had been fruitful. The interactive dialogue had shed light on how the State party was working to address issues of racial discrimination.

Mr. Quenum thanked the Committee Experts for their questions, which were proof of their interest in the report. The exchange had been enlightening, and Benin would consider each of the recommendations provided by the Committee. Mr. Quenem affirmed Benin’s commitment to the Convention and to eliminating all forms of racial discrimination within the country.

The delegation of Benin consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation; the Ministry of Justice and Legislation; the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security; and the Permanent Mission of Benin to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Benin after its one hundred and seventh session, which concludes on 30 August. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s one hundred and seventh session and other documents related to the session can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 10 August at 3 p.m. to review the combined 15th to 21st reports of Nicaragua (CERD/C/NIC/15-21).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined initial and second to ninth periodic reports of Benin (CERD/C/BEN/1-9).

Presentation of Report

SÉVERIN MAXIME QUENUM, Minister of Justice and Legislation and head of the delegation, said that Benin was a hospitable country that welcomed many non-citizens who lived in harmony with the Beninese population. Benin had made the fight against all forms of discrimination one of its priorities, and was committed to building a State which protected human rights and guaranteed access to rights for all. Benin enjoyed a stable democratic regime at the political level, characterized by the peaceful conduct of all presidential, communal and local legislative elections. The revision of the Constitution in 1990 brought about several innovations, including the recognition by the State of traditional leaders, among others. A reform of the party system was also carried out which cleaned up the political landscape, reducing the number of political parties from 250 to 15. To support the 2018 national development plan, several public policies and institutions were developed including the national employment policy, the holistic social protection policy, the National Health Authority and the national school feeding program, among others. Benin had consolidated its legal framework by acceding to most international and regional human rights instruments.

Mr. Quenum said that legislative and regulatory measures had been taken to prevent and punish racial discrimination. These enabled the legislator to criminalize discrimination more strictly and criminalized hate speech. Many developments had been made at an institutional level, including the operationalisation of the Beninese Human Rights Commission since 2019, as well as the creation of the National Institute for Women. This national institute had all means needed to perform its mandate and could bring cases to court, whenever any human rights violation was recognised against women or girls. Efforts were being made to bring the courts closer to the public, with a new judicial charter adopted. The new judicial charter included the creation of a trade court, appeals court and a specialised court which had jurisdiction over violent crimes committed against women. The Government had implemented programmes aimed at improving the speed of the processing of cases in courts. Judicial staff were continuously recruited and deployed across the country, as soon as their training was complete. A law had been adopted on modernising the justice system, which sought to bring procedures online.

Mr. Quenum said that drinking water had been provided to all local communes, with coverage increasing to 70 per cent, up from 57 per cent previously. An inclusive education system had been deployed, which included the integration of sign language. Benin was also continuing its efforts to promote respect for the rights of migrant workers and the treatment of foreigners, with Beninese legislation granting these people the same rights as nationals. In 2014, the State adopted a national action plan to eradicate statelessness, with a draft law on the status of refugees and stateless persons awaiting consideration in parliament. During the pandemic, the Beninese Government avoided implementing a total lock-down, allowing for the continuation of most economic activities. Mr. Quenum said that Benin remained aware of the challenges that still remained in the fight against all forms of racial discrimination, and reiterated the country’s commitment to achieving the enjoyment of rights by all citizens without discrimination of any kind.

Questions by Committee Experts

BAKRI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said there were many different cultures in Benin, with different linguistic and ethnic groups spread across the national territory. Mr. Diaby said that Benin was considered the birthplace of voodoo, which was a key part of daily life. Could the delegation provide examples of cases in which the provisions of the Convention had been invoked by the national courts? What measures had been taken to raise awareness about the Convention to the judicial population of the country as well as the population at large? Did the State party envisage making a declaration under Article 14 of the Convention, so the Committee could receive individual complaints, as well as complaints from civil society organisations? What measures had been taken to introduce a direct definition of racial discrimination in line with the Convention? Could more information be provided on complaints submitted to the courts and national human rights commission in Benin? What measures had been undertaken by the State to prevent racial profiling?

Mr. Diaby congratulated the State for the law which set up the national human rights institution. How did the State party plan to strengthen the national human rights institution to ensure it could carry out its responsibilities in line with the Paris principles? Was there a timeline for the setting up local offices to ensure availability of the institution to all persons? To what extent were the views of civil society organisations considered when drafting the report? Were there plans to adopt legislation to protect human rights defenders?

MAZALO TEBIE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee welcomed the statistical data provided in the report, however this was rough and was not disaggregated. Could statistics and data regarding refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons be provided? Could information be provided on the number of people who had arrived in Benin fleeing jihadist violence? Could updated statistics on the different ethnic groups be provided, as well as minority groups? What was the impact of programmes on poverty reduction? Had legislation been updated to bring it into line with the Convention? Ms. Tebie said that certain newspapers had reported that during the presidential election in 2016, one candidate was confronted with hate speech on the grounds of their dual nationality. Could more information on this case be provided, as well as what measures were taken by the State to avoid situations such as this in the future? How had the action plan for tackling xenophobia been implemented? What were the results of this plan?

GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-Up Rapporteur, explained that at the conclusion of the session, the Committee would release its concluding observations and assign the State party tasks for follow-up within one year. Mr. Kut said that punctuality was appreciated regarding the State’s follow-up report.

A Committee Expert asked about the children of immigrants and stateless persons and whether they were allowed to enter public school free of charge? What assistance was given to immigrants regarding language education and social integration? What was the percentage of women participating in the labour market, and the percentage of women who held senior positions in Government?

A Committee Expert asked about the national institute for women, saying that this body had the authority to submit cases to court. How did this happen? Could concrete cases be provided? In what circumstances had this body decided to pursue cases without the consent of the women in question?

A Committee Expert asked if citizens were free of injustice, tyranny and hunger and could exercise their right to vote. African countries needed to review the way in which democracy was defined. A raft of institutions and laws was not all that was required. Countries also needed to introduce mechanisms and encourage political determination to implement the legislation.

A Committee Expert asked about school meals and how they were organised. How were the courts being brought closer to citizens effectively? How many judges were there currently in the judiciary thanks to measures implemented to recruit and train judges?

A Committee Expert asked how the State succeeded in forcing political parties to reduce their numbers and streamline? People with albinism were the most discriminated against in the whole of Africa; why were they not mentioned in the report?

A Committee Expert asked about the head of the opposition. How was the head of the opposition appointed and what were their powers?

A Committee Expert asked about education and training that had been implemented for judges, lawyers, police and other relevant State officials regarding Benin’s international obligations. How did the State offer equal access to legal aid for nationals and non-nationals? How did the State party ensure that the human rights commission retained independent review power?

Responses by the Delegation

SÉVERIN MAXIME QUENUM, Minister of Justice and Legislation and head of the delegation, said that a recruitment drive was carried out each year to appoint new judges and magistrates, and to ensure that there was enough judges. The country was proud of the new jurisdiction in courts, which tackled crimes of terrorism and corruption. Benin wanted to wage war against gender-based crime in this same way. It had set up a special chamber with a female judge who would oversee the new jurisdiction for gender-based crimes, which would come into effect in January 2023. If a victim refused to take a case forward, the institution could pursue a case on their behalf without their consent. Benin viewed the national human rights institution as a partner which would enable the country to promote human rights. The necessary reforms would be enacted, and it was not problematic that members of parliament served in that body. Mr. Quenum said that there was a training institution for judges and for other penitentiary staff, the curriculum of which included the provisions of the Convention and other similar instruments. Each Convention to which Benin was a party was the subject of a special training unit. The Ministry of Justice regularly organised awareness-raising courses on all international covenants to which Benin was a party, and ensured these teachings were disseminated across the country.

The delegation said that the free school meals policy was a flagship policy which had been duly recognised on the international stage. 51 percent of children enjoyed free meals under this national programme, and the budget for this programme was larger than that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As of 2021, two million pupils participated in this programme, irrespective of their nationality. The programme was led in partnership with the World Food Programme, and it had been rolled out in rural areas and territories. Two hot meals were provided per day to encourage children to stay in school.

The delegation said that Benin domesticated the Convention through various pieces of legislation, including a law which prevented discrimination against persons with disabilities. Following a reform, ethnicity was not included on identity cards to prevent instances of racial discrimination. It was important to note that there was a mechanism responsible for the roll-out of the social welfare programme, which made no distinction between members of the population. This mechanism’s activities targeted the most vulnerable in society, particularity those in the agricultural sector, with a focus on health insurance. There was sexual health education in schools, which was provided at a basic level at the kindergarten level, and more in-depth education provided as school years progressed. An action plan was underway to tackle child labour and trafficking, and agreements had been signed with neighbouring countries, including Nigeria, to ensure effective action against human trafficking. Steps had been taken to promote national languages as part of Benin’s literacy drive. Benin had created conditions for languages to flourish, so that there was no linguistic discrimination.

The delegation said that Benin had been hosting asylum seekers for decades, providing these people with protection and assistance. Refugees from Burkina Faso were a majority, representing 17 percent of asylum seekers, and they had been integrated into rural communities within Benin. Asylum seekers of any race or background were equally entitled to apply for asylum in Benin. Interpreters were involved in the procedure if the asylum seekers were not French speakers, or if they were deaf or mute. Unaccompanied minors were entitled to apply for asylum, and the Government and its humanitarian partners provided support to asylum seekers. The most vulnerable refugees were entitled to housing support.

The delegation said there were several kinds of remedies available to any person who wished to bring their case to the competent bodies if their rights had been violated. The ombudsperson received the complaints of the public, as well as groups and public establishments, and provided equitable solutions. There was not a specific law on legal aid, however a draft law was awaiting adoption.

SÉVERIN MAXIME QUENUM, Minister of Justice and Legislation and head of the delegation, said health insurance was now compulsory. Domestic workers needed to be declared, and their employers were required to provide them with mandatory health insurance.

The head of the opposition was the counterpart interlocutor to which the Government consulted directly, and entrusted with specific tasks in national cohesion. Through the election it was determined who received the most votes from the opposition, and this person was appointed as head of the opposition. Mr. Quenum said that political parties were not forced to merge. Many of these had only been regional, with very few members. The Government created a new law which changed political party requirements, demanding that each party must have at least 15 representatives from each commune over the country. This forced parties to merge and become true nation-wide parties, which reduced the number from 250 to 15.

Questions by Committee Experts

BAKRI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee welcomed the determination of the Government to consider making a declaration under Article 14 of the Convention, and its commitment to reviewing the 2012 law on the creation of the national human rights commission. Could the delegation commit to increasing the rural representation of the national human rights commission? How many workshops had been held on the Convention? Had legal aid been provided to defend human rights defenders?

MAZALO TEBIE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, welcomed that citizens could now take cases directly to the Committee. How many perpetrators of people trafficking had been apprehended? What was their fate and what was the fate of the victims?

BAKRI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked how many cases of racial discrimination were taken to courts in Benin.

Responses by the Delegation

SÉVERIN MAXIME QUENUM, Minister of Justice and Legislation and head of the delegation, said it was unfortunate that the national human rights commission had been unable to travel to Geneva and appear online. There were no political detainees in Benin. Politicians and public servants had been convicted of crimes, such as a mayor arrested for embezzlement of public funds, however these people were not recognised as political prisoners. Benin had voted in favour of the resolution which recognised the contribution of human rights defenders and the enjoyment of their human rights.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked about women’s education, saying this was a big challenge within the country, with less than half of girls going to schools, and only a 30 percent literacy rate among women.

A Committee Expert asked for clarification around the independence of the judiciary.

Responses by the Delegation

SÉVERIN MAXIME QUENUM, Minister of Justice and Legislation and head of the delegation, said he was the oversight authority of 310 judges, however he did not command judges or involve himself in their rulings or provisions. Education for girls was a key part of delivering on women’s rights and had been part of Benin’s actions to target violence against women. Romantic relationships between teachers and pupils were now prohibited. These steps had been taken to protect girls and women in schools and university settings.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked what the government was doing to encourage more girls to go to school?

Responses by the Delegation

SÉVERIN MAXIME QUENUM, Minister of Justice and Legislation and head of the delegation, said free education was provided to girls until the age of 16, while boys only received free education until the end of primary school.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert asked what the government was doing to encourage more girls to go to school.

A Committee Expert asked how about meals being served to inmates; did they now receive two meals per day? How many staff were in the central prison? Had progress been made in terms of staff shortages?

MAZALO TEBIE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about the education of indigenous girls. What strategies had been rolled out to encourage indigenous persons to send their girls to school?

BAKRI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked the delegation about the national action plan on racial discrimination, how it had been implemented, and the effects it had. What was being done to give stateless men and women the same rights as Benin nationals? What happened with a child whose father was unknown? How could non-nationals access property? Could additional information be provided on non-nationals’ access to the social security system and to health care in general? How would a national language be selected; would every region have a national language? What measures had been taken by the Government to guarantee a safe working environment for human rights defenders? What strategies had been set up to guarantee education for all without discrimination? In the towns which had a history of slavery, what legislative measures had been taken to manage this heritage? What reparation measures had been taken regarding slavery? What was being done to provide concrete human rights training? What measures had been taken to preserve memory and promote reconciliation regarding the historical slave trade? What was the State doing to prevent all forms of trafficking? What was being done for the more than one million people who were undocumented in Benin? Why were there so many people without identification papers and what was being done to rectify this?

MAZALO TEBIE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the whole world faced an unprecedented health crisis due to the pandemic. Could information about the pandemic on the most vulnerable people in Benin, including refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, be provided? What measures had been taken to protect these people against the pandemic and discriminatory acts? Reportedly, the State had paid for the quarantine of nationals during the COVID-19 pandemic, with non-nationals being forced to pay for their own quarantine. Could this matter be explained further? How did the State deal with non-nationals who did not pay their quarantine bills; were their passports confiscated at the airports as had been reported?

What measures had been taken to support indigenous peoples and help them protect their culture and lifestyle, and to be included in national development policies?

Ms. Tebie noted that children with albinism sometimes had their limbs cut off, so these could be used in witchcraft rituals. Had comprehensive strategies been taken to ensure that people with albinism were entitled to the same protection under the law? What measures had been taken to better protect people who had albinism in all areas of life? Could information be provided on the prosecution of crimes committed against people with albinism?

A Committee Expert asked whether there were courses to learn the national languages, and whether all school subjects, including maths, were taught in all national languages? Which national ethnic languages had been selected for use in schools, and why were those languages selected?

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