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Access to Justice and independence of the judiciary still a challenge in Mozambique - UN Expert on the judges and lawyers

GENEVA (8 September 2010) - The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, undertook a visit to Mozambique from 26 August to 4 September 2010 at the invitation of the Government. "I am grateful to the Government of Mozambique for having offered me this opportunity to examine the situation of the independence of the judiciary, the legal profession and the integrity of the judicial system" said the expert.

"The work to make human rights a reality for all in Mozambique depends upon many different factors, a key one of which is the proper administration of justice" she said, while underlining that “despite the progress made, the consolidation of an independent and impartial judiciary and an independent legal profession continue to pose profound challenges".

At the onset of her mission, the Special Rapporteur met with senior Government officials, among them the Ministers of Justice and Finance, and was given unrestricted access to the Maximum Security Prison in Maputo, where she was encouraged by the open and candid manner in which inmates were able to express their views.

“I was also encouraged to learn of a number of positive initiatives adopted by the Government and Civil Society Organizations with the support of UN agencies, funds and programmes and the donor community" said Ms. Knaul. “A robust and independent judiciary is a pre-requisite for any well-functioning democracy, and it was my perception that the Government of Mozambique is making efforts to move in this direction”.

Among other things, she praised on-going efforts to reform and improve prisons. She welcomed the establishment of the Central Office for Combating Corruption as an important step towards improving accountability, and called for this entity to reinforce its efforts to investigate and bring to justice persons found guilty of corruption, which is allegedly a widespread phenomenon. She was equally encouraged by continuing efforts to establish Justice Centers (“Palacios da Justiça”) aimed at making justice more accessible for people living in rural communities; she underscored the importance of the work carried out by the Maputo-based Center for Legal and Judicial Training, the mission of which is to provide quality training to legal professionals.

Despite the above-mentioned and other positive achievements, during her mission the Rapporteur also listened to concerns expressed by various interlocutors over cases involving a lack of respect for the principle of presumption of innocence, the need to ensure legal assistance and the right to a lawyer, prolonged and de facto indefinite detention, lengthy trials occasionally obstructed by undue external interference, the excessive use of preventive detention and the inadequate implementation of the principle of equality before the law.

Ms. Knaul found that many challenges remain before justice achieves universal coverage in Mozambique, becoming accessible to all; not least among these the consolidation of a truly independent judiciary, free from undue interference.

"The primary responsibility for ensuring high standards of judicial conduct as well as for improving the justice sector and securing the independence of the judiciary lies with the Mozambican judiciary itself" said the UN expert, who encouraged the international community, including the United Nations and other major donors, to increase its efforts to accompany Mozambique in this important process.

During her mission, Ms. Knaul and her team visited Maputo and the northern province of Nampula including the rural district of Meconta. The Special Rapporteur held meetings with a wide selection of interlocutors including representatives of the Government, the judiciary, civil society, the UN and members of the diplomatic community. She will submit a report on her visit to Mozambique to a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The expert reiterates her willingness to continue to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Government of Mozambique, including, if requested, the provision of advisory services and technical assistance.

Note: All meetings scheduled for Wednesday 1 and Thursday 2 September, as well as several meetings scheduled for Friday 3 September were cancelled due to serious disturbances in Maputo which broke out on Wednesday 1 September following recently introduced increases in the prices of several basic goods and amenities. The disturbances resulted in at least 6 deaths and 288 injured (Government estimate as at 2 September). The Special Rapporteur deeply regrets the loss of human lives during these events.

Ms. Gabriela Knaul, a Brazilian national, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Independence of judges and lawyers in August 2009. She has more than 10 years of experience as a judge and is an expert in criminal justice, particularly regarding issues of due process, sentencing and execution of sentences, as well as in administration of judicial systems. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers covers the independence of judges, lawyers and public defenders and access to justice. More specifically the mandate has addressed issues relating to safeguards to guarantee judicial independence and independence of lawyers, access to justice, training and capacity building, the right to fair trial and due process of law, states of emergency, military justice systems, traditional justice systems, judicial reform, transitional justice, and international justice systems. The Special Rapporteur analyzes these issues in detail in reports submitted to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/judiciary/index.htm

OHCHR Country page – Mozambique: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/MZIndex.aspx