Universal Periodic Review
Second session meeting highlights
7 May 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record
The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Benin this morning, during which 40 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.
This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Gabon, following the review of the country on Monday, 5 May.
Presenting the national report of Benin was HONORÈ AKPOMEY, Director of Cabinet for Human Rights Legislation at the Ministry of Justice of Benin, who said Benin was of the view that the Universal Periodic Review made it possible to take stock of human rights situations in the country and would contribute to significant progress in implementing the obligations of Benin to the international instruments to which it was party. In preparation of its national Universal Periodic Review report, the State had engaged in broad consultations with members of civil society, NGOs and members of Benin’s National Consultative Council on Human Rights, as well as with academia. The head of delegation recalled that in February 1990 a conference was held in Cotonou which led to a new era of democracy in Benin embodied by a comprehensive, multi-party system and to the setting up of a legal framework for the eventual creation of a State of law based on pluralism and democracy. In December 1990 the Constitution of Benin was adopted which, among other things, stated that supreme authority was granted to international treaties to which the State was a party over and above national legislation. The institutional framework of Benin had also been strengthened through the creation of various institutions and structures which had the overall aim to strengthen and promote human rights.
Mr. Akpomey noted that pre- and primary school was free of charge in Benin as was health care for children form birth to five years of age and campaigns had been carried out to promote maternal health. It was recalled that in February 2005 an education policy was adopted which aimed to guarantee universal education for all by 2015, in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Special emphasis had been placed on improving school attendance rates for girls. Noteworthy progress had also been made in achieving economic, social and cultural rights. Benin adopted several strategies and programmes to combat and mitigate poverty. A strategy document on poverty reduction and a growth strategy for poverty reduction covering the years 2007 – 2009 were adopted. This reflected the Government’s vision and priority it gave to allow the poor to participate in society and decision-making matters. In this regard micro-credit facilities had also been available to poor families. A national land policy was also being pursued to improve adequate housing availability in Benin. Among the other notable actions taken was the setting up of national mechanisms concerning with the prevention of torture. In this regard, it was recalled that the United Nations Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture would be visiting Benin from 18 to 26 May. The State had also endeavored to provide rehabilitation to victims of torture.
During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included efforts and commitments to combating poverty and the provision of micro-credit facilities; steps taken to achieve the MDGs; the strategy to enable good governance; the establishment in 2006 of national institutions aimed at promoting the rights of the child, such as the national committee on the rights of the child; efforts to guarantee to the right to health and education; the Government’s successful immunization programme; efforts to strengthen border controls to prevent the trafficking in children and the activities of the village committee to combat human trafficking; measures taken by the Government to reduce illiteracy; and the declared moratorium on the death penalty.
Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to measures taken to achieve the objective of providing adequate housing; practical measures being taken to assure that the percentage of households with clean water supplies increased over the next years, in line with the achievement of the MDGs; steps taken to improve access to public facilities by disabled persons; the main elements of the Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy 2007 – 2009 and the next steps envisaged by the Government to combat poverty; to reduce inequalities between those villagers and those living in the cities; steps taken to improve literacy in Benin, especially for women and girls; measures to improve school attendance rates; and efforts to improve the health of women.
Other issues pertained to efforts to strengthen the fight against traditional practices such as sorcery and female genital mutilation; infanticide of the so-called "witch children" and steps being take to uphold the rights of the child, especially the newborn. plans to combat forced marriages; measures to protect the population, in particular children, in view of the current food crisis; the function and structure of the village committee to combat trafficking in children and the additional measures taken to combat trafficking in children; and the intention to prohibit corporal punishment.
Additional information was sought on the measures taken by the Government to improve prison conditions; intention to define acts of torture per the law; the intention of the State to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; efforts to combat impunity for police officers accused of abuse against inmates; how the Government was attempting to solve the lack of information which led to a lack of access to justice; steps taken to ensure that the 20 April elections were free and fair; steps taken to address corruption and additional steps envisaged for the future; the intention of the State to ratify the Convention on the rights of migrant workers and the intention of the State to ratify the Convention on disabled persons, and the role of the Constitutional Court in protecting fundamental rights.
· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To consider the extension of free education up to the secondary level; to continue its information campaign in favor of admitting girls to school; to intensify its support to the most marginalized families and to guarantee the rights of children to the basic standards of living, including the right to education; to consider to decriminalizing homosexual activities among consenting adults; to strengthen national mechanisms aimed to promote and protect the rights of women and girls; to take steps to strengthen the fight against discriminatory practices and violence against women; to reinforce measures to ensure that women were no longer subjected to forced marriages; to develop an awareness campaign about the traditional practices that were harmful to children; and to continue efforts to ensure the promotion of the rights of women and particular or girls in the area of health care and education.
Other recommendations included: To better apply the existing laws concerning the trafficking of children; to establish torture as a criminal offence in line with the Convention against Torture and to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment and bring those responsible to justice; to establish a reform of the judicial authority to strengthen in order to better combat impunity and justice; to take measures to ensure that no statement obtained under torture or duress can be invoked in proceedings and that orders form a superior may not be invoked as justification of torture; to display greater firmness in preventing abuses of police custody; for the international community to assist Benin to strengthen capacities in the penitentiary system; to take effective measures to ensure that prison conditions were consistent with international standards; to consider setting up a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles; and to extend an extension to the Special Procedures of the United Nations human rights system.
A number of delegations encouraged Benin to continue its focus on the fights against poverty and for the international community to support Benin in this regard. Some delegations also recommended that the international community provide Benin with technical and financial support to improve the national machinery to effectively promote and protect human rights and for Benin to take steps to promote institution and human rights bodies seeking the support of the international community. Others encouraged the State to develop a national policy for disabled persons and to combat discrimination against disabled persons by allowing them access to social services; to intensify efforts to guarantee the right to food to the people of Benin; to take further steps to establish laws against domestic violence and the trafficking of women and children, and to ensure that existing laws prohibiting female genital mutilation were reviewed and enforced throughout the country; and to systematically and continuously integrating gender perspective in the follow up process to the review.
Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Brazil, China, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Mali, Canada, France, Malaysia, Azerbaijan, Angola, Cuba, Bangladesh, the Republic of Korea, Senegal, Nigeria, Egypt, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Italy, Slovenia, Mexico and South Africa.
Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Belgium, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Latvia, Denmark, Holy See, Cote d’Ivoire, the United States, Ireland, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Sudan.
The 10-person delegation of Benin consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Ministry of the Prospective, Development, Evaluation and Public Action, the Service for the Promotion of Human Rights, the Service for the Protection and Defense of Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Benin to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Benin are Nicaragua, Madagascar and Germany.
· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Benin can be found here.
Adoption of report on Gabon: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Gabon are Nigeria, China and Azerbaijan. Introducing the report LI BAODONG (China) thanked the delegation of Gabon for its good preparation prior to and active and constructive participation during the interactive dialogue, during which 36 States took the floor. Representing the State under review, DIEUDONNÉ NDIAYE, Chargé d’Affaire of the Permanent Mission of Gabon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the comments, suggestions and recommendations posed by States during the discussion received the full attention of the delegation of Gabon. Since its election to the Human Rights Council, Gabon had been supporting an international legal order in order to give pride and place to promoting and protecting human rights. Gabon would continue to associate itself to efforts aimed at durable solutions to eradicate poverty, to protect the environment, to alleviate situations as a result of armed conflicts, and to combat illnesses and social injustices.
The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Benin on Friday, 9 May.
When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the Republic of Korea after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of Ghana.
Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.
To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp