Cape Verde: In Dialogue With Cabo Verde, Human Rights Committee Experts Raise Concerns About Anti-Discrimination Legislation, Gender-Based Violence, the Court System and Corruption

Human Rights Committee

23 October 2019

The Human Rights Committee today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Cabo Verde on measures taken to implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In the dialogue, Committee Experts raised concerns about anti-discrimination legislation that needed to be comprehensive, gender-based violence, the courts system which seemed to be slow and ineffective, and corruption.

Introducing the report, Janine Tatiana Santos Lelis, Minister of Justice and Labour of Cabo Verde, said that transparency and the consolidation of the democratic process were the pillars of the country's development, a fact recognized by The Economist Magazine Democracy Index.

A new Statute for the National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship to bring it in compliance with the Paris Principles had been tabled and the State budget for 2020 already contained the funding for its implementation. The Ombudsman was an independent State body tasked with the defence and promotion of the rights, freedoms, guarantees and legitimate interests of citizens. The Constitution prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, descent, language, origin, religion, social and economic conditions, and political or ideological beliefs. The Constitutional Court had interpreted this prohibition as unlimited, the Minister underlined.

Cabo Verde had put in place the National Plan for Gender Equality 2015-2018, while a parity law had been presented to Parliament to increase the representation of women. This bill would be discussed at Parliament's October session. Starting in September 2020, access to pre-school education would be universal, basic education would be extended up to eight years, and secondary education would be free of charge. Legislative measures had been adopted to broaden the range of situations in which courts could use alternative measures of detention. The 2015 criminal reform had introduced house arrest and electronic monitoring. To combat youth crime, the 2017 Security and Citizenship Plan was adopted.

In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts urged Cabo Verde to "keep in touch now and then" and better respect its reporting obligations in the future. They took positive note of the efforts to strengthen gender equality, the adoption of the 2018 national action plan against trafficking in persons, of the legal framework that guaranteed the right to freedom of expression, and that the principle of respect for the autonomy of local power and democratic decentralization was the cornerstone of the constitutional system.

On the other hand, comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, particularly on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, was lacking. The legal framework for gender-based violence did not seem to be effective in practice and existing mechanisms to prevent violence against women were insufficient. Irrespective of the increased financing for the judiciary and the introduction of chronological processing, courts remained slow and ineffective. Reported interference of the executive in the judicial and prosecutorial processes was an issue of concern, as were the reports of corruption, bribery and nepotism in the Government.

Experts were extremely concerned about trafficking of children for purposes of sex and labour exploitation. Especially vulnerable were children engaged in begging, street vending, car washing, garbage picking and agricultural work, together with children living in impoverished neighbourhoods with little State presence. Another concern was that the Constitution limited the right to freedom of expression and information to protect the honour, good name, privacy and family life of individuals, while the Penal Code criminalized defamation.

In conclusion, Ms. Santos Lelis reassured the Committee of Cabo Verde's political commitment to strengthen civil and political rights in the country. Cabo Verde would continue to work tirelessly to address the concerns of its citizens, but it was important to acknowledge the futility of the commitments and policies if resources were lacking.

Ahmed Amin Fathalla, Committee Chairperson, concluded by taking note of the lack of resources, which hampered improvements on conditions of detention, data collection including on defamation, gender parity, and violence against women.

The delegation of Cabo Verde consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Labour and the Permanent Mission of Cabo Verde to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Cabo Verde at the end of its one hundred and twenty-seventh session on 8 November. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee's work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session's webpage.

All public meetings of the Human Rights Committee are webcast live at http://webtv.un.org/ while the meeting summaries in English and French can be accessed at the United Nations Office at Geneva's News and Media page.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Friday, 25 October to continue the first reading of draft General Comment No. 37 on article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right of peaceful assembly.

Report

The Committee has before it the initial report of Cabo Verde (CCPR/C/CPV/1).

Presentation of the Report

JANINE TATIANA SANTOS LELIS, Minister of Justice and Labour of Cabo Verde, said that for the first time, the Government of Cape Verde was before this Committee to assess its compliance with the commitments and responsibilities assumed with the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Transparency and the consolidation of the democratic process were the pillars of the country's development, a fact recognized by The Economist Magazine Democracy Index.

A proposal for a new Statute for the National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship to bring it in compliance with the Paris Principles, in particular as regards its independence and autonomy, had been tabled. The State budget for 2020 already contained the funding for its implementation, said the Minister. The Ombudsman was an independent State body tasked with the promotion and defence of the rights, freedoms, guarantees and legitimate interests of citizens. The Office received citizens' complaints and made recommendations to the appropriate bodies to prevent and remedy illegalities or injustices.

The Constitution prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, descent, language, origin, religion, social and economic conditions, or political or ideological beliefs. The Constitutional Court had interpreted this prohibition as unlimited. Other laws provided protection against discrimination for persons with disabilities and for victims of domestic violence, while the Penal Code prescribed sanctions for discrimination of up to two years imprisonment or a fine. The Telework Law facilitated access to work for people with disabilities and the Strategic Plan for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was in the final stages of preparation.

Turning to gender equality and violence against women, the Minister said that the National Plan for Gender Equality 2015-2018 included measures for gender mainstreaming in strategic and sectoral planning. The Second Plan of Action for Immigration and Social Inclusion of Immigrants 2018-2020 contained measures to eliminate harmful practices and stereotypes that discriminated against women, including a study on cultural practices and gender relations within immigrant communities and the mobilization of immigrant women to participate in associations and defend their rights.

A parity law had been presented to Parliament as a measure to increase the representation of women; it would be discussed at the October session. The Strategic Plan for Sustainable Development 2017-2021, the main tool for planning and defining budgetary effects, had adopted gender equality as a cross-cutting issue and a prerequisite for achieving inclusive and sustainable development. It contained two types of actions: gender-specific interventions and gender mainstreaming in public policies and programmes. The Inter-Ministerial Commission for Gender Mainstreaming, established in October 2018, was mandated with presenting public policy proposals and reporting annually on the state of incorporation of the gender perspective.

Cabo Verde was training 120 officers to improve the functioning of offices to support the victims of gender-based violence at the National Police Regional Commands. Gender equality was a central issue for the country's development. Starting in September 2020, access to pre-school education would be universal, basic education would be extended up to eight years, and secondary education would be free of charge. The National Plan to Combat Sexual Violence against Youth and Adolescents 2017-2019 was integrated in the municipal social services.

To protect communities and economies in the face of the damaging effects of climate change, Cabo Verde had adopted strategies and plans on climate change adaptation, resilient and low carbon development, and disaster risk reduction. The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution of Cabo Verde had set ambitious targets both for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and for adapting to the effects of climate change, while the country strove to develop using economic models of a green economy and a blue economy.

The national plan for social reintegration, one measure to combat overcrowding in prisons, would be approved soon. Legislative measures had been adopted to broaden the range of situations in which courts could use alternative measures of detention. The 2015 criminal reform measures had introduced house arrest and electronic monitoring. To combat youth crime, the 2017 Security and Citizenship Plan had been adopted. The First National Plan against Trafficking in Persons had been approved in 2018, with an emphasis on prevention, victim protection and repression of the crime.

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Committee noted that Cabo Verde had ratified the Covenant in 1993, the First Optional Protocol in 2002 and the Second Optional Protocol in 2000. And yet, it had submitted its initial report only in February 2018. In March 2012, the Committee had conducted a review of the State party in the absence of a report. The Expert urged Cabo Verde to "keep in touch now and then" and to better respect its reporting obligations in the future.

The Covenant could be directly invoked and applied by domestic courts, allowing for richer interpretation of domestic provisions. However, the State party's report had not made a single reference to a court decision invoking the Covenant. What could explain this scarcity of domestic decisions referring to the Covenant?

The Experts took note of the important mandate of the National Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship, including the implementation and evaluation of the national action plan for human rights and the preparation of reports for human rights treaty bodies. The delegation was asked about the overlap with the mandate of the Ombudsperson, when the Statute of the National Commission would be approved, and how its presence throughout the nine inhabited islands would be strengthened. Had the Commission been designated as the national prevention mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture?

In November 2017, Cabo Verde had adopted the Security and Citizenship Plan to combat insecurity and crime. What concrete measures and policies did it contain and what was the status of implementation? The Experts also asked about other plans and entities concerned by crime prevention, and measures adopted to combat youth gangs and juvenile delinquency.

The Committee was concerned about the lack of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, particularly on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Violence against persons based on their sexual orientation was also a source of concern. What was being done to fill this gap, to adopt a comprehensive definition of direct and indirect discrimination and criminalize all forms of discrimination, on all grounds recognized by the Covenant? Commending the decriminalization of same-sex conduct in 2004, the Experts asked about practical steps to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in practice and in all areas.

The legal framework for gender-based violence did not seem to be effective in practice and mechanisms and institutions to prevent violence against women were not sufficient. The four centres for victims of domestic violence were not sufficient given the magnitude of the phenomenon and were not available to women in 22 municipalities. What was being done to ensure the inclusion of victims of gender-based violence in the formulation of the National Plan for Gender Equality 2019-2023? What was the impact of the previous plan, especially in reducing the incidence of violence against women and increasing their representation?

The efforts to eliminate harmful traditional practices seemed focused on the immigrant community, although deep rooted attitudes and patriarchal stereotypes were present at all levels in the society. What was being done to address this issue?

The Committee took positive note of the significant decrease in maternal mortality rates. Still, abortion - the main cause of maternal mortality - did not seem accessible in all of the country's nine inhabited islands. Access to sexual and reproductive health services was especially difficult for vulnerable groups of people, such as men having sex with men, the poor and others.

In its General Comment 36 on the right to life, the Committee had highlighted that climate change constituted one of the most pressing and serious threats to the right to life. The delegation was asked to explain how it ensured meaningful and informed participation of all populations in the process of developing strategies, policies and programmes, and how it planned to put in place a more inclusive and more gender-sensitive climate change policy.

Commending steps taken to address the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, the Committee expressed concern about complaints of police brutality against children, especially those living in the street. What was being done to investigate and prosecute all allegations of torture and ill treatment of children by the police, sanction the perpetrators, and provide child victims with remedies? Had any steps been taken to strengthen independent monitoring in police stations, for example, by human rights organizations and the National Commission for Human Rights and Citizens?

On conditions of detention, the first concern was prison overcrowding in four of the country's five prisons. The Experts welcomed the implementation of four social reinsertion programmes in prisons in 2017 and the entry into force of the new Code on the Execution of Prison Sentences that aimed to eliminate all isolation cells. They also took positive note of the steps toward the humane treatment of prisoners, such as inspections and oversight visits by the Public Prosecution Service.

Was the Code on the Execution of Prison Sentences being fully implemented in practice and how effective was the statutory social reintegration service? What measures had been adopted to ensure that the conditions in prisons were in line with article 10 of the Covenant?

Secondly, only two central prisons, Praia and São Vicente, met the Covenant standard that juvenile detainees be separated from adult detainees, and the Beijing Rules (1985 United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice).

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the new Government, which had taken office in 2018, wanted to bring the reporting to human rights treaty bodies up to date, even though providing statistical data remained a challenge. An inter-ministerial commission had been recently established under the Prime Minister to lead the preparation and presentation of reports to treaty bodies.

The courts did not fail to invoke and apply the Covenant. What was lacking was a database of jurisprudence which would enable the collection and extrapolation of the required data on cases in which the treaty had been invoked.

The National Commission for Human Rights and Citizens had been set up in 2004 and the Office of the Ombudsman in 2015. The Ombudsman was a constitutional body with a mandate that was much broader than the Commission's. There were no plans to expand the Commission to other islands due to budgetary difficulties, the delegation said. This, however, did not diminish the Commission, since the Government had set up focal points in municipalities to ensure linkages with the Commission and its policies and activities.

Cabo Verde had conducted its very first prison census in 2018 and had produced the national plan for social reintegration to reduce reoffending. This would be achieved, inter alia, by a greater level of social and community inclusion, especially of juveniles. Another measure to reduce juvenile delinquency was free of charge secondary education, which would keep youth off the streets.

On women in politics, the delegation said that in previous years, women had been designated rather than elected. The parity law, to be debated and hopefully adopted in Parliament next week, would address this issue.

Cabo Verde was an archipelago with a particular economic reality. What this meant in practice was that access to services varied from one island to another. There was only one hospital which offered a full range of abortion services. Mobile health units composed of medical staff and Femme Verte, a non-governmental organization, travelled to remote islands to provide sexual and reproductive health care.

Cabo Verde had adopted the national action plan for climate change, the strategy for resilient development and low carbon, and the strategy for disaster risk reduction. It had adopted very ambitious goals to mitigate and adapt to climate change in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. The Strategic Sustainable Development Plan 2017-2021 promoted the green and the blue economy, and contained measures to promote a just and informed participation of people in different sectors, especially agriculture and fishing.

Cabo Verde was very well aware of international requirements in terms of separating juveniles from adults in prisons. There were not too many young people in prison. The delegation was concerned that separating them from adults would lead to other kinds of problems, first and foremost overcrowding.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In follow-up questions, Committee Experts commended the delegation of Cabo Verde for acknowledging the challenges in meeting its obligations under the Covenant. They were also encouraged by measures in the pipeline that would strengthen the compliance. The delegation was asked to describe the mechanisms in place to ensure the participation and inclusion of the population in the formulation of plans and strategies.

It was particularly important for the Committee to learn about the outcomes of investigations of police for excessive use of force and about measures to strengthen independent monitoring in police stations.

In the next round of questions, the Experts turned to access to justice and noted the concerns of the population related to the functioning of the courts, which were slow and ineffective. They commended the increased financing for the judiciary over the past five years and the introduction of certain other measures such as chronological processing which would have a significant impact on the functioning of the courts. How was this new system being perceived by the judges, prosecutors and judicial officials?

What measures were being taken to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and the public prosecutor? Noting reports of the interference of the executive in the judicial and prosecutorial processes, the Experts asked whether the Ministry of Justice could instruct the Office of the Public Prosecutor on whether or not to prosecute a certain case.

The Committee took positive note of the 2018 national action plan against trafficking in persons and the Observatory for Rapid Monitoring and Identification of the Trafficking Situation. Concern remained, however, about trafficking of children for purposes of sex and labour exploitation, trafficking of women for forced prostitution, and trafficking of men for forced labour. What was being done to vigorously investigate, prosecute and sanction the perpetrators, and to strengthen victim identification and support?

Another concern was that children in domestic service often worked long hours and at times experienced physical and sexual abuse. Children were engaged in begging, street vending, car washing, garbage picking and agricultural work. Those children, and children living in impoverished neighbourhoods with little State presence were particularly vulnerable to trafficking.

What progress had been made in amending the Penal Code on matters related to child exploitation for sexual purposes, including to criminalize exploitation for sexual purposes of children aged 16 to 18? Taking note of the national action plan to combat sexual violence against children and adolescents 2017-2019, the Experts asked how effective it had been in curbing this phenomenon.

The law in Cabo Verde recognized two categories of children that needed protection, those in need of protection from the State and minors in conflict with the law. Children in conflict with the law were divided into two age groups, 12 to 16 and 16 to 21 - what provisions applied to those two groups?

Cabo Verde was a party to several international treaties concerning the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers, including the 1967 Protocol to the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees. However, those were not being adequately implemented on the ground. The law on the protection of those groups lacked implementing legislation and mechanisms were lacking to provide them with protection.

The Constitution defined that the right to freedom of expression and information was subject to limitation to protect the honour, good name, privacy and family life of individuals. The Penal Code criminalized defamation, which was sanctioned with up to 18 months imprisonment. Such a sanction was rather severe and might have a very chilling effect on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in line with article 19 of the Covenant. How many persons had been prosecuted and sentenced for defamation? Was there a plan to develop legislation on freedom of information to ensure public access to information held by public entities?

Although the right to freedom of association was guaranteed as a general rule, the Committee had received reports of the State party using civil requisition to prevent members of the trade unions and workers to exercise this right and the right to strike. How did Cabo Verde implement the International Labour Organization recommendation to limit the use of civil requisition?

The Experts noted that the principle of respect for the autonomy of local power and democratic decentralization was the cornerstone of the constitutional system in Cabo Verde. While local authorities were regarded as "true institutional guarantees" and municipal elections were held every four years, nepotism and bribery, particularly at the municipal level, had been reported. Furthermore, the 2015 code of ethics and conduct for public officials did not apply to elected officials, as they were excluded from the definition of "public officials".

The delegation was asked about measures to ensure a safe and favourable environment for anti-corruption activists and whistle-blowers and to protect them from reprisals and arbitrary actions. It also requested information on the implementation of the recommendations that the United Nations Convention against Corruption Implementation Review Group had made in 2017, particularly those related to preventing corruption in the private sector.

Cabo Verde had approved the law on national and local referenda in 2015, while legislation was in the pipeline to decentralize certain Government functions from the State to the municipal level. How were the consultations with local communities incorporated into the decentralization process to ensure the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs? What was being done to bring decision-makers closer to the communities through the decentralization legislation?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the transfer of detainees from police stations to prisons should happen as soon as possible. It was important to remember that prisons were not present in all of the nine inhabited islands.

In 2019, there had been 17 disciplinary cases against police officers. Of those, four had been dismissed, in two cases police officers had been suspended awaiting judicial decision, seven had concluded with a conviction, and four were ongoing. Also in 2019, two criminal investigations into police conduct had been initiated.

Cabo Verde was in the top 10 most inclusive middle-income countries according to the Homophobic Climate Index and there had been no complaints lodged for discrimination or violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Government was preparing a Citizenship Project which would, inter alia, seek to strengthen the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning individuals.

There was no intention to change the abortion law. Torture was criminalized and was classified as a crime against human dignity. It carried sentences ranging from two to six years in prison, or from five to 12 years in case of aggravated crimes.

The Constitution defined that no one could spend longer than 36 months in pre-trial detention. The draft bill on chronological processing had been sent to the Higher Council of the Judiciary and the Office of the Public Prosecutor. The initiative stated that apart from urgent cases, the cases must be dealt with in the order in which they had been registered.

On judicial independence, the Higher Council of the Judiciary was responsible for budgetary and human rights issues in the judiciary and there was absolutely no Government interference in the functioning of the judiciary. Cabo Verde had an effective system of legal aid, the cost of which was covered by the State.

The Code of Criminal Procedure now contained revised provisions governing the isolation of detained persons. This disciplinary measure could only be imposed within the limits set by the Code of Criminal Procedure and in adapted premises.

The courts punished the perpetrators of human trafficking, while the victims received psychological and medical assistance. The Government worked to raise awareness about trafficking in persons, strengthen prevention, and train the officials concerned.

Concerning the crime of defamation, the delegation underscored that the freedom of everyone was limited by the freedom of others. While Cabo Verde had an adequate legal framework in place to guarantee freedom of expression, that freedom was limited. The State had an obligation to protect the dignity and good standing of all citizens, therefore defamation was prohibited. The self-censorship of the newspapers, if it existed, was not attributable to any action of the State. The law on the media, which guaranteed the protection of sources, did not prevent journalists from doing their work independently, the delegation said.

On the right to freedom of association, the delegation stated that the Government was still trying, through negotiations, to avoid having to use civil requisition to provide the minimum service in certain sectors. It was also working to implement the recommendations made by the International Labour Organization in this regard.

The law against cybercrime had significantly increased the penalties for those guilty of using children in pornography, the delegation added.

The delegation highlighted the important efforts made in recent years to report to human rights treaty bodies in a timely fashion. These efforts also focused on informing and raising the awareness of relevant departments and services.

Responding to questions raised on corruption, the delegation said that there had been no two-thirds majority in Parliament to enable the adoption of a government bill against nepotism. The monitoring of the award of public contracts by the Court of Auditors had been put in place. Elected officials who were not covered by the 2015 code of ethics and conduct for public officials had to comply with the code of conduct for the administration.

Concluding Remarks

JANINE TATIANA SANTOS LELIS, Minister of Justice and Labour of Cabo Verde, in her concluding remarks, said that this review had shed light on the long road Cabo Verde had travelled and the challenges that still remained. She reassured the Committee of the country's political commitment to strengthen civil and political rights. Cabo Verde would continue to work tirelessly to address the concerns of its citizens and to realize all the obligations laid down in the Constitution. But all the commitments and policies were futile without adequate resources, the Minister said. That was why the socio-economic development of the country was a priority.

AHMED AMIN FATHALLA, Committee Chairperson, concluded by appreciating the efforts of Cabo Verde to provide the required information and took note of the resources' constraints. This might hamper Cabo Verde in addressing the challenges, such as the conditions of detention, data collection including on defamation, gender parity, and violence against women. Hopefully, many of the bills that were on Parliament's agenda in October would be passed and so address some of the concerns the Committee had raised in the dialogue.

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