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Magdalena Sepúlveda Mission to Mozambique 8 - 16 April 2013 Preliminary observations and recommendations

Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,

I am addressing you today at the conclusion of my official mission to Mozambique, which I undertook at the invitation of the Government from 8 to 16 April 2013. My objective during this visit has been to evaluate the human rights situation of those living in extreme poverty in the country, and the following statement contains my preliminary findings and recommendations. I will present my final report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2014.

I would like to begin by thanking the Government of Mozambique for its invitation to visit the country.  I appreciate the engagement of those authorities that I met. It is regrettable however that due to last minute changes to my schedule made by the Government I was unable to meet with all of the Ministries initially proposed.

During my visit I met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Justice, the Vice-Minister of Women and Social Action and the Vice President of the Assembleia da República along with its respective Parliamentary Committees for Constitutional and Legal affairs and Human Rights and Social Affairs.  I also met with representatives from the Ministries of Health, Labour and Planning and Development.  In Gaza and Zambezia I met with the Governors of both provinces, along with representatives from relevant local authorities including the Legal and Justice Councils.  In addition, I held meetings with the National Human Rights Commission and representatives from international organizations, international community and donor agencies, financial institutions, as well as academics and a range of civil society and grass root organizations. 

I also visited communities living in poverty in the provinces of Gaza (Municipios de Xai Xai and Chibuto), Maputo (Barrios de Xipamanine and Chamanculo) and Zambeiza (Quelimane and Nicoadala).

I am also very grateful to the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator for the indispensable support provided both before and during the visit and for its assistance in coordinating these meetings. I would like to offer my sincere gratitude to everyone who took the time to meet with me as their contributions have been invaluable.

I am especially grateful to all those who shared their personal, and sometimes tragic, experiences of struggling with the plight of extreme poverty in Mozambique.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Following independence in 1975 Mozambique was faced with numerous severe challenges hindering development, the most significant of which was a brutal civil war that ravaged the country for almost two decades. Mozambique overcame this difficult legacy to emerge as a politically stable democracy, with the government embarking on a series of reforms that led to extraordinary progress and dramatic improvements in the country's growth rate.

Today Mozambique is on the brink of an unprecedented commodity boom, with the rapid expansion of its extractive industry sector holding great promise for the country’s economy.  In 2011 alone, the Mozambican government approved private investments of an estimated US$3.4 billion, through 261 new projects and up scaling of 97 existing projects (CPI 2012). The sector currently accounts for about five percent of GDP; it is further estimated that by 2017 coal and natural gas could double this to ten percent (WB 2012).

Over the past decade, Mozambique has ranked amongst the top ten fastest growing economies in the world (Economist based on IMF data).  Projections for the next decade predict continued high growth. However there is no room for complacency, Mozambique still ranks remarkably low in human development terms (185 out of 187 according to the 2013 UN Human Development Index).  

Despite strong economic performance and two decades of peace and political stability, according to the most recent Government poverty data (consumption-based poverty measured by the National Institute of Statistics in 2008) over half (54%) of Mozambicans lived below the national poverty line.
Available data shows that poverty reduction stagnated between 2002/2003 and 2008/2009. In the same period, the number of people living below the poverty line increased from 9.9 million to 11.7 million (2010 MDG report).

Significant challenges remain: the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to exert a terrible human toll and undermine development progress, rural infrastructure remains weak, the country is particularly vulnerable to floods and droughts and has also been negatively impacted by the high prices of imported food and fuel.  As the Government itself has recognized, Mozambique will need to double its efforts to sustain and increase the successes achieved until now, as well as tackle the challenges of the future (2010 MDG report).

The communities and particularly the women that I met during my visit shared with me their brave struggles to survive in extremely precarious conditions, often with very little food to feed their children and grandchildren, lacking opportunities for education or to overcome illiteracy; with no access to clean running water, sanitation facilities or electricity, often fearing for their personal security and the future economic wellbeing of those daughters and granddaughters, in an environment where gender based violence is prevalent and with little chance to seek redress from injustice. 

While they all retain their strong sense of dignity, they are forced to live in undignified conditions.  It is an unavoidable fact that significant numbers of Mozambicans are living in extreme deprivation and social exclusion. Therefore, those better off in society should strengthen their efforts to ensure everyone can lead a dignified life, a goal that is certainly achievable even within the limited resources of the country.

Judging from my interactions with people from all walks of life in Mozambique, there seems to be a general feeling that more should be done to ensure a better wealth distribution, so that more Mozambicans can begin to enjoy the benefits of the last 20 years’ progress. This is particularly the case with regard to profits from the mining and extractive sector: the natural resources of the country should be envisaged as common goods which benefit the whole population. The State must thus make all necessary efforts to ensure that the economic and social benefits flow to the poorest sectors of society - particularly those living in rural areas - who are still being left behind, despite all the progress made.

Vigorous efforts must be made to improve the living standards of the vast majority of the country’s population (70% according to the World Bank, 2012) who rely on subsistence agriculture for their livelihood. Despite existing efforts, smallholder productivity is still low, leaving families living in rural areas with high levels of malnutrition. This creates a vicious circle, making them more vulnerable to chronic diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS, which in turn decimate the labour force so even less food is produced.  Their situation is compounded by weak infrastructure making access to basic social services, such as health care, education and justice extremely difficult. For example, the average distance people have to travel to reach a health facility in Manica province is 14km, although many have to travel much further – up to 100km - often by foot (DFID, 2010).

The country is extremely vulnerable to natural disastershose most affected by these events are the poorest sectors of the population who often live in areas prone to natural disasters and have few resources for coping or resilience.  Often, they are forced to leave their homes in search of safer areas, exposing them to health risks, loss of livelihood, shelter and food.  It is crucial therefore that the State put in place more effective policies and programmes to protect the population, in particular the poorest, from natural disasters that will only become more frequent. The fact that the country is prone to natural disaster cannot excuse violation of the rights of the most vulnerable.

While poverty is most evident in the rural areas of the country, it is also becoming more prevalent in urban centres. During my visit I witnessed the very high standards of comfort in some areas of Maputo city, contrasting dramatically with the harsh reality in bigger areas of the capital. The majority of the urban population have little opportunity to access formal employment, relying instead on informal economic activity with low and precarious income. As a result, they survive in dire conditions sometimes equivalent to those experienced in rural communities.  If not addressed urgently, such marked disparities and high levels of social exclusion may pose a threat to social stability, as foreshadowed by protests in Maputo in recent years. After the successful efforts over the last two decades to establish peace and stability, and impressive strides in improving economic and social welfare, progress must not be allowed to falter. The significant risks of stagnation in poverty reduction must be dealt with forcefully. 

The political will and desire for a better future for Mozambique that led the country to a new era of independence and eventual stability, must be reinvigorated with renewed purpose. Now is the time for Mozambique to redouble its efforts, including through use of international assistance and cooperation, building on existing achievements to set an example for the region. Exploiting its enormous potential for growth, the country must ensure that all of society, including people living in extreme poverty, reap the benefits.

Some of the policies in place to reduce poverty are robust, as is the country’s general legal framework. However, I have found that there are severe implementation gaps in almost all social policies - ranging from domestic violence to access to justice - and steps must be taken to ensure that the poverty reduction policies already in place are implemented fully.  In order to achieve this, the State must ensure synergy and coordination between all sectorial ministries, towards the common goal of eradicating extreme poverty.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
During my visit it has been clear to me that several sectors of Mozambican society are particularly vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion, such as women, children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities.  While my report will address in more detail the specific human rights issues and deprivations affecting these vulnerable groups, I would like to take this opportunity to voice particular concerns about the situation of the following groups.

Women
Following independence, emphasis was placed on gender issues at the policy and strategy level. As a result, progress has been made in improving gender parity.  Despite this however social indicators show that that women are lagging behind men in practically all areas (UNICEF 2012).  I have been struck by testimonies I have heard from women representing all spectrums of society, in relation to the endemic structural discrimination that still persists.

Women in rural communities, who make up the majority of women in the country, are particularly disadvantaged. Still more than half of girls (52.3% in 2009, 2010 MDG report) have no access to primary education, limited access to secondary education, and no access to technical professional training. They are therefore prevented from acquiring skills and fully enjoying all their rights.  The fact that the majority of women in Mozambique are still illiterate (56% in 2009, 2010 MDG Report) is a major barrier to overcoming poverty and improving the enjoyment of their rights and those of their families.

Women working in agriculture are burdened with significant responsibility to provide food for the family and care for their children.  While they are often largely responsible for growing food crops, they have little access to or control over productive resources and are not aware of their legal rights, such as property and inheritance rights. It comes as no surprise that families headed by women have higher levels of poverty than those headed by men (2010 MDG report).

Despite the significant progress made, maternal mortality continues to be high, particularly in rural areas where the great majority of women do not have access to quality care, specialised maternal health professionals (including maternal and infant health nurses), or sufficient emergency care when complications arise (MDG 2010 Report). 

The structural discrimination against women is also reflected in the higher prevalence of HIVAIDS among women in Mozambique, with stigmatisation and discrimination often causing them to be expelled from their homes by their husband or family, leaving them with nowhere to go (AIDS Council, GARPR, 2012 Global AIDS Response, National Progress Report 2012). Discrimination in accessing basic social services and land, along with harmful traditional practices, leave them vulnerable to poverty.

Another acute problem in the country is gender based violence. I met with a number of women who had been victims of domestic violence and it seems that the existing legal framework in particular the Law against Domestic Violence (2010) does not necessarily reach those most in need.  A general lack of awareness at the societal level, combined with the perception that the issue should be dealt with domestically and not at the justice level, only exacerbates the problem.  

I commend several measures taken by the State to improve the situation of children and women victims of domestic violence, such as the establishment of specialized police centres and the ongoing process to establish a functional referral system for assistance to victims. However, these initiatives must be scaled up to ensure meaningful protection nationwide. Moreover, additional efforts must be made to promote a culture of zero tolerance in the fight against sexual abuse at all levels of society. Comprehensive, multi-sectoral strategies implemented at all different levels are required to support the empowerment of children, young people, families, and communities, break the culture of silence and take practical measures to prevent, detect and denounce cases of harassment and abuse.
While the principles of gender equality and equality of rights are strongly reflected in the existing legal framework, overall women’s rights to food, health in particular sexual and reproductive health, education and access to justice must be improved. To this end, the State must take all appropriate measures in line with international human rights standards to eliminate discrimination, prejudices and customary or other practices that undermine women’s enjoyment of rights.

Children
More than half of the population in Mozambique are children (11.8 million, Census 2007), and the Government has shown a commitment to develop policies to protect the rights of children, especially over the last year.

Indeed, recent years have seen significant improvements in the life of Mozambican children: fewer children die within their first five years of life, more children are enrolled in school, have access to health services and are protected from abuse.

Despite improvements, great and accelerated efforts are still necessary in order for the rights contained in the existing legal instruments to become a reality. 

Just by looking at the situation of girls living in poverty, one can understand the enormous challenges that children face to fully enjoy their rights in Mozambique. From a young age girls face social, economic and cultural challenges that negatively impact on their enjoyment of fundamental rights such as education, health and food.
  
Mozambique has one if the world’s highest rates of child marriage. Data from 2008 shows that 18 per cent of girls between the age of 20 and 24 years married before the age of 15, while 52 per cent of them married before the age of 18 (Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey, 2008). Child marriage not only affect the girl’s right to education and health, but also studies show that child marriage is one of the reasons why girls do not begin secondary education or later drop out (World Bank 2007).

Adolescent pregnancy is also extremely high: 41% of girls aged between 15 and 19 years old are pregnant or have been pregnant (DHS, 2003).  Studies (MICS) show that the nutritional status of children varies substantially according to the mother’s level of schooling: almost half of under-fives whose mother has not been to school are affected by chronic malnutrition, against one quarter of children whose mother has a secondary level of schooling. These girls also have a higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, particularly in rural areas where access to information on sexual or reproductive health is limited or seen as culturally inappropriate.  Without basic quality education, the prospects for these young mothers to overcome poverty are extremely limited.

The prevalence of violence, sexual abuse and harassment in schools is of particular concern, and has had a shattering effect on the lives of many children in the country, especially girls. In a 2008 study (Ministry of Education, UNICEF 2010 Report), 70% of students interviewed stated that they were aware of cases of child abuse in their school.  Girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse through coercion from some teachers in return for good grades. Often these cases go unpunished, as girls are unwilling to report the abuse or prevented from doing so for fear of repercussions from school authorities. With no support or protection, the physical and psychological consequences for girls are devastating.  The high level of sexual abuse at schools also influences the decision of parents, sometimes causing them to resist sending their daughters to school.  I heard repeated calls from the various sectors of society that I met for immediate action to be taken to work with communities to raise awareness of this issue and to implement a policy of zero tolerance.  Concerns were also raised about the fact that girls are forced to move to night schools when they become pregnant aggravating the stigma against them and preventing them from continuing their education.  To this end, immediate steps must be taken to revise Decree 39 (Despacho) in line with Mozambique’s human rights obligations, and guarantee its enforcement and dissemination to ensure that perpetrators of sexual abuses at schools are held to account and not simply transferred to another school.

Despite progress made, the number of schools is still inadequate and in several parts of the country adequate infrastructure is still lacking.  Furthermore the issue of the quality of education, particularly in the rural provinces, is of particular concern.  Lack of adequate training as well as limited access to resources often prevents teachers from providing children with basic skills. 

Children with disabilities are extremely vulnerable members of society. Societal attitudes, often based on traditional beliefs, subject them and their families to stigmatization, resulting in the majority of them being kept hidden behind closed doors.  A lack of teaching professionals to instruct children with special needs, along with limited dedicated resources, prevents children with disabilities from obtaining a basic education and integrating into society.  Awareness raising campaigns must be implemented at the community level to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities, recognizing that children with disabilities should have full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children. Overall mechanisms must be in place to ensure the mainstreaming of disability issues as an integral part of sustainable development strategies, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to which Mozambique is a party.

Older persons
Mozambique has the third largest older population in Southern Africa (1.2 million people over the age of 60 - HelpAge 2013). The majority of them are living in extremely precarious conditions, vulnerable to extreme poverty and disease. 

Due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic many older persons, and in particular older women, are carers to orphaned grandchildren, which exacerbates their already-vulnerable situation. In these cases older persons not only struggle for their own survival but have to ensure the wellbeing of the children. 

Considering the extreme vulnerability of older persons and the fact that they are often supporting several children, the care responsibilities assumed by older women in particular should be fully recognised and supported by the State to ensure the welfare of all members of the family.

The Government has made significant advances in establishing a social assistance programme to benefit older persons (the Basic Social Subsidy Programme).

While the efforts of the Government to expand the programme and to improve it by establishing more transparent and accountable systems are commendable, capacity must be strengthened to implement the programme and ensure that the benefits are at least sufficient to cover the basic needs of the families receiving it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
There is no doubt that Mozambique has made remarkable achievements in the fight against poverty but one cannot be satisfied with the existing situation. Much of the population continues to live in poverty and the great majority of them are living in dire conditions.

Today, the privileged situation of the country with regards to natural resources gives the State a unique opportunity to provide a better future for all Mozambicans by ensuring that the extractive industries create inclusive jobs and benefit the local communities most directly impacted. There are several measures that the State should take, such as: introducing an innovative legal framework; ensuring transparency and access to information in all relevant matters regarding the extraction of natural resources; requesting social impact assessments; and taking the necessary measures to ensure that the operation of the extractive industries also benefits women and girls.

Immediate measures must be taken to promote a national debate around sustainability and the establishment a policy of corporate social responsibility and accountability. An open and participatory national dialogue should be held regarding the most adequate model for the inclusive distribution of benefits, and the role of the State in protecting and promoting the rights of Mozambicans in the context of natural resource extraction.

Considering that the exploitation of natural resources as well as the impacts of climate change may continue to force population resettlement in some areas, the State must take all necessary measures to ensure that the affected communities can meaningfully and effectively participate in the resettlement processes, including by providing all necessary information in an accessible manner.  Resettlement should always be considered only as a last resort in line with international practice.

However, if it is the only solution then procedures must be put in place to ensure strategic land use planning and urban planning, and that basic services and housing are made available to resettled families, including access to water and sanitation, education, and health facilities. Monitoring systems should also be implemented to ensure that human rights principles are respected and the rights of communities upheld. Clear and transparent criteria for compensation must also be established.

As Mozambique enters a period of economic growth there is a real and tangible opportunity to eradicate poverty in the country, with great potential for future shared prosperity for everyone.  The enormous progress that the country has achieved to date has been possible because Mozambique now enjoys peace and stability.  In order to benefit from this new-found growth peace must be maintained, alongside a commitment to open and constructive dialogue.  Any return to past conflicts would jeopardise the enormous sacrifices the country made to end the devastating civil war and would prevent the country from moving forward and enjoying the benefits of economic prosperity.   The State must apply the same political will it generated in the past to actively take all steps possible to provide space for open and constructive dialogue between all parties with due respect for the rule of law and human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and association.

The full report will contain a number of detailed recommendations to the State.  In the meantime, I urge the Government to take into account the need to strengthen its compliance with human rights principles – including non-discrimination and equality, participation, access to information, transparency and accountability - across all its policies. For instance, the principle of non-discrimination and equality requires that the State must actively prioritise women living in poverty in order to improve their dire situation and remedy their entrenched disadvantage, moving towards real equality.  In terms of participation, the Government must ensure that all people, including people living in poverty, are able to meaningfully participate in the design, implementation and evaluation of all public policies, particularly poverty reduction policies.

People living in poverty have a right to have their say about policies and programmes designed to help them, and to identify their own priorities from their experience. In order to enable meaningful and fair participation, the State must put information about resources, budgets, policies and programmes in the public domain, in formats and mediums accessible to people living in poverty, taking into account the high rate of illiteracy. Similarly, the Government must become more accountable to the people of Mozambique. This can be achieved by improving access to justice, ensuring effective monitoring mechanisms and putting in place easily accessible complaints and grievance mechanisms to address any shortcomings or abuse in the design or practical implementation of policy – for example, social protection programmes.  Additional efforts must also be made to identify and remove the physical, economic, and administrative obstacles that prevent people living in poverty enjoying their rights.  For example, massive registration drives should be implemented free of cost to ensure that all Mozambicans, young and old, have the necessary documentation to access their rights.

In order to tackle poverty effectively, it is also crucial that the State improve coordination of policies and programmes between different sectors, departments and ministries. This will enable a more comprehensive and efficient approach to poverty reduction, within the country’s limited resources.

In this regard, I draw the Government’s attention to the Guiding Principles on extreme poverty and human rights, approved by the Human Rights Council by consensus last year. The Guiding Principles provide guidance for the all Governments in ensuring the human rights of people living in poverty are upheld in all public policies and poverty reduction programmes.

The State has already shown its commitment to human rights through the ratification of a number of important international human rights treaties and conventions, some of which have been incorporated into domestic legislation. It has also shown its willingness to engage positively with international human rights mechanisms, including through its recent successful interaction with the United Nations Universal Periodic Review process in 2011. I am confident that Mozambique will fulfil its international human rights obligations to ensure that those living in extreme poverty fully enjoy their rights, and will strengthen the implementation of policies to eradicate extreme poverty. I also commend the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission and hope that the rules and procedures will be approved as soon as possible so that it will be a fully functioning body.

I will finish by reiterating my commitment to continue the dialogue initiated during this visit. I look forward to working with the Government in a spirit of cooperation on the implementation of my recommendations.