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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reviews the report of Mauritius

Committee on Economic, Social
  and Cultural Rights

27 February 2019

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded today the consideration of the fifth periodic report of Mauritius on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Maneesh Gobin, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Institutional Reforms of Mauritius, reaffirmed his country’s aspiration to become an inclusive high income country and said that it was heavily investing in modern and strategic infrastructure, in information and communication technology, and in support to the development of a strong, diversified, competitive, and resilient entrepreneur sector.  A new Ministry dedicated solely to human rights had been set up in 2017, and two historic measures to advance the living standards of low income groups had been put in place - the Negative Income Tax scheme and the National Minimum Wage.  The social contract scheme under the Marshal Plan against Poverty provided monthly subsistence allowance to 11,000 households.  Mauritius consistently consolidated its welfare state, stressed the Minister, dedicating over one third of the budget to social protection, in particular to social security, education, and health.  Maternity leave had been extended from 12 to 14 weeks and the benefit of paid maternity leave offered to women in both private and public sectors.  The Government had recently made a historical announcement of free tertiary education in public institutions.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts congratulated Mauritius on the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of 25 February 2019 concerning the right of return of the Chagos islanders.  The pending Protection of Human Rights Act should ensure that all the rights under the Covenant were enforced by domestic courts and that all its provisions were applicable in the domestic legal order.  There was a concern that the current mandate of the National Human Rights Commission did not sufficiently empower it to deal with the economic, social, and cultural rights.  Experts raised concern about criminalization of same sex relations and structural discrimination of the Creoles, and inquired about the implementation of reasonable accommodation, both in private and public sectors and in the provision of services.  Mauritius was not a party to international instruments on refugees and stateless persons, noted the Experts, asking about measures in place to protect their rights.  The delegation was asked about the impact of youth employment initiatives and steps taken to promote the employment of women and persons with disabilities; the methodology of deciding the minimum wage and the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work in different jobs and sectors; the privatization of health care; and the scope of coverage of the social security system.

In his concluding remarks, Olivier de Schutter, Committee Rapporteur for Mauritius, recognized the many promising initiatives that showed that Mauritius was on a progressive route.

Mr. Gobin concluded by thanking the Committee for a fruitful dialogue.

Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leão, Committee Chairperson, said in conclusion that this frank and open dialogue aimed to putting Mauritius in an even better place in the future. 

The delegation of Mauritius consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Institutional Reforms, Ministry of Health and Quality of Life, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, and the Permanent Mission of Mauritius to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Mauritius at the end of its sixty-fifth session on 8 March.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage .

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/ .

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today, 27 February, to consider the second periodic report of Kazakhstan (E/C.12/KAZ/2 ).

Report

The Committee has before it the fifth periodic report of Mauritius (E/C.12/MUS/5 ).

Presentation of the Report

MANEESH GOBIN, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Institutional Reforms of Mauritius, in the introduction of the report, emphasized that his country ranked 20th among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings.  Mauritius aspired to become an inclusive high income country, with Government investing heavily in modern and strategic infrastructure, which included the construction of light rail transit system, a new runway to accommodate bigger planes in Rodrigues Island, and the improvements in information and communication technology infrastructure, both in the mainland and the remote islands.  The Government recognized small and medium enterprises as a key pillar of the socio-economic development and was therefore keen to develop a strong, diversified, competitive, and resilient entrepreneur sector.  For that purpose, a ten-year master plan to improve their competitiveness and growth had been prepared.

Since the country’s last review by the Committee in 2010, the Minister continued, the overall human rights framework in the country had seen fundamental changes.  In 2017, a new Ministry dedicated solely to human rights had been set up, under which a national mechanism for reporting and follow up had been created.  In addition, the Independent Police Complaints Commission was fully operational since April 2018, while police officers were now allowed to associate and form trade union by a way of new legislation in 2017.  Mauritius had signed and ratified the Maputo Protocol, ambient with reservation, and the Arms Trade Treaty, while the ratification of the Genocide Convention was expected shortly.    

In order to advance the living standards of low income groups, Mauritius had adopted two historic measures, namely the Negative Income Tax scheme, introduced in 2017, provided additional financial assistance to some 30,000 workers a month, while the National Minimum Wage of 8,140 rupees per month was payable since January 2018 to all full time workers.  The combined effect of the two measures had impacted positively the wages of some 100,000 workers.  Major steps had been taken to address absolute poverty, in line with the Marshal Plan against Poverty, including the social contract scheme under which 11,000 households were benefiting from a monthly subsistence allowance, said the Minister, stressing that 39 per cent of the households were headed by women.  Some 20,000 students benefited from the education support in the form of school bags, uniforms, notebooks, and stationary.  A major social housing programme was ongoing to support access to housing for vulnerable and low-income families, under which 10,000 housing units would be constructed.  Mauritius had consistently consolidated its welfare state and dedicated over one third of the budget to social protection, with top three recipients being social security, education and health.

Employment was another area where an immense improvement had been seen.  Mauritius had prohibited discrimination in employment on the grounds of person’s criminal record, increased the maternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks, and had extended the eligibility for maternity leave with pay to women workers in both private and public sectors, even to those with less than 12 months continuing service.  Some 21,600 youth had been employed through Youth Employment Programme since 2013.  The definition of domestic violence had been widened with the 2016 amendments to the Protection of Domestic Violence Act and Mauritius was finalizing its action plan to combat trafficking in persons.  A “Know Your Rights Pamphlet”, set to be launched next month, would inform migrant workers about their rights and possible remedial actions in case of violations. 

An important investment was being made in the health sector too, said the Minister, emphasizing free of charge access to health care, a comprehensive programme to prevent and address non-communicable diseases, and the success in maintaining the HIV prevalence under one per cent.  Education was free at primary and secondary level, with historical announcement of free tertiary education in public higher education institutions.  Finally, to promote the cultural sector, the Government provided grants to 11 speaking unions and five cultural centres, with the aim of promoting intercultural dialogue and foster mutual and cultural understanding, and safeguard the cultural heritage of the population through languages.  

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Committee Rapporteur for Mauritius, at the beginning of the dialogue congratulated Mauritius on the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of 25 February 2019 said that the United Kingdom should ensure that the Chagos islanders could exercise the right to return to their territories and provide compensation for the denial of this right over an extended period.  The opinion had cited article 1 common to both International Covenants, and so showed the power of human rights and the ability of the international community to ensure the full respect for the Covenants.

On the applicability of the Covenant in the domestic legal order of Mauritius, the Rapporteur remarked that according to the national human rights action plan 2012-2020, not all the Covenant provisions were domesticated, rather only those capable of domestic application.  Mauritius should make sure that the pending Protection of Human Rights Act aimed to ensure that all the rights under the Covenant were enforced by domestic courts. 

The Rapporteur asked the delegation to comment on the prospects of the ratification of the Optional Protocol and on the ability and capacities of the National Human Rights Commission to deal with the economic, social and cultural rights, as its mandate did not explicitly cover those rights.  The progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights human rights in the country would benefit from a larger mandate of its national human rights institution, remarked the Rapporteur.

Would Mauritius include in the Public Procurement Act of 2006 clause that prohibited the award of public contracts to companies that violated the labour code? 

Despite the fact that the Employment Rights Act and the Equal Opportunities Act explicitly prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, there was no recognition of non-heterosexual couples, which could lead to their discrimination in housing and inheritance rights, the Rapporteur noted, and asked about the steps taken to address structural discrimination against the Creoles, including temporary special measures and affirmative action measures in order to improve their status in the society?

The 2012 Equal Opportunities Act imposed on employer a duty to provide reasonable accommodation to persons with disabilities, the Rapporteur noted, asking whether the employer was compensated for the costs incurred and whether the law applied to both public and private sectors.  The law applied to employment only, which left open the question of the duty to provide reasonable accommodation in services and other sectors.

The delegation was asked whether Mauritius intended to ratify the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Stateless, and in the meantime, which measures were taken to strengthen the protection for refugees and asylum seekers.  Lastly, did Mauritius consider that the provision in the Section 250 of the Criminal Code that criminalized same sex relations had no place in the Criminal Code today?

Replies by the Delegation

In response to the questions raised, the delegation stressed the importance of taking into account the progressive nature of the advances in Mauritius, in particular in the field of education, since the announced free access to public university education would reduce the burden of tuition which for many families represented an insurmountable financial obstacle. 

When it came to the applicability of the Covenant in the domestic law, domestication by amendment of the Constitution was perhaps a tall order while the amendment of the provisions of the Protection of Human Rights Act was more realistic option, responded the delegation.  The delegation said they would prepare a document to clearly show the influence of the Covenant on the improvements of economic, social and cultural rights in Mauritius.  The position concerning the ratification of the Optional Protocol did not change and Mauritius maintained that the domestic law provided the ground to address all possible issues.

The corporate tax system was clear and transparent, and strong cooperation with the European Union, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the Financial Action Task Force ensured that the country was a clean and transparent financial centre.  The personal income tax rate was ten per cent for low income and 15 per cent for incomes over 650,000 rupees.  The Negative Income Tax was a paradigm shift; introduced in 2017, it entails an allowance paid monthly by the tax authorities to people earning less than 10,000 rupees.

The Public Procurement Act was in line with the International Labour Organization Conventions.  The issue of reasonable accommodation for the persons with disability was being tackled in the draft Disability Act.

The delegation stressed that any legislative changes in relation to rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons must take into account the degree of acceptance of the population as a whole.  The Ministry of Justice was conducting a constructive consultative dialogue in order to obtain a consensus prior to embarking on a legislative reform. 

While not a party to international instruments on refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons, Mauritius respected the right of non-refoulement and fully intended to apply the principles of the Conventions mentioned.  The applications for asylum seekers were being processed and a temporary accommodation was being provided until a third state welcomed the applicants.

In relation to a wage gap between men and women, the delegation replied that the principle of equal value for equal work was enshrined in the legislation.  A perceived differential treatment in quantum of wages was related to sugar, tea, and salt industry workers and was based on the inherit requirements of the job and the description of the work based on the tasks allocated to men and women working in those industries.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, the Committee Experts raised the question of youth employment and asked the delegation to comment on the impact of the programmes and initiatives taken to increase the number of youth in work.  What measures were in place to accelerate the rate of women’s employment, and was there a system of parental leave for both mothers and fathers after the 14 weeks of leave for women and five days of leave for men?  Were the quotas for employment of persons with disabilities applicable in both public and private sectors and what mechanism was in place to ensure the implementation of this measure?

The delegation was asked to explain the methodology of deciding the minimum wage and the difference between minimum wage in export and non-export oriented enterprises; the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work in different jobs, and especially in sugar, tea, and salt plantations; and whether the mandate of labour inspectors covered informal sector and rural farms.  The Experts also inquired about the scope of coverage of the social security system, and basic retirement pension in particular, and about measures to address rights violations of migrant workers.

Responses by the Delegation

Responding to questions on rights of migrant workers, the delegation said that the Ministry of Home Affairs was about to publish a “Know Your Rights Pamphlet” in Hindi, Bengali, Mandarin, Tamil, English, and French, to inform migrant workers about their rights and possible remedial actions in case of violations.  The pamphlet would be distributed at the places of work, places of residence, and immigration centres. 

The Government was taking steps to eliminate the middle men from the migrant workers’ recruitment process; discussions were underway for a memorandum of understanding with Nepal, and on the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers.  The delegation reaffirmed that no employment contracts for foreign nationals were less favourable than that of a locally recruited worker.  Special Migrant Workers Unit staff had been doubled and now had 16 full-time employers. 

Regular inspections of places of work were being carried out by the Migrant Workers Unit to ensure compliance with the conditions of employment, and migrant workers could file complaints to labour inspectors who had offices throughout the country.  In the case of domestic work, labour inspectors did not have the right to enter private homes, which made it impossible to note any abuse, except if a complaint was filed, in which case, the labour inspectorate took steps to investigate the case.

Youth Employment Programme for youth aged 18 to 35 ensured their placement within an enterprise for a year, with a possibility of extension for another year, and received a monthly allowance in line with their educational levels.  The programme had been expanded to the public sector as well and had benefitted 30,000 youth to date.

The Back to Work programme, a joint public-private partnership to tackle the issues of labour mismatch, provided training for unemployed women; it was designed on dual and sectorial basis and performed in both industry and public institutions.  To date, 1,058 women went through this programme.  Work from home regulations had been published in the Official Gazette on 23rd of February and they were gender neutral.

Parental leave was not available in Mauritius at the moment, the delegation said, stressing that the employment of persons with disabilities was not a matter of legislation but of mentalities, and that was the barrier.  That was why it was important to raise awareness among employers in order to implement the three per cent quota.  The methodology and explanations about the minimum wage, including differences between sectors, were available in the Wage Council’s report, while Basic Retirement Pension was universal and available to everyone.  The pension system covered more than 286,000 people.  The assessment of disability was available upon request by the person concerned and was performed by a medical practitioner.

Sexual harassment was included in the criminal law, said the delegation and stressed the importance of informing the workers about their rights and encouraging them to file complaints. A special video on the subject had recently been produced and shown at workplaces.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Continuing the dialogue, Committee Experts raised questions on the protection of the elderly, raising concern about reports of their abuse in retirement care homes and asking the delegation about the inspection of those facilities and steps taken address the large number of unregistered care facilities.
As for domestic violence, the Experts asked about progress in regard to marital rape as well as the use of the provisions for occupation and tenancy orders under the Domestic Violence Act, including measures taken to improve women’s awareness of those provisions and provide them with legal assistance to invoke those provisions before the courts.  The delegation was also asked about the implementation of recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concerning child marriage, and protection of women’s rights upon the dissolution of unrecognized marriages and in the context of inheritance upon death of a spouse.

Turning to the Social Register of Mauritius, the Experts asked about the programme’s targets for the next five years, how many people were eligible for the programme and how they got registered.

The Experts commented on the growing privatization of health care services, asking about the proportion of the population private facilities catered for, and asked the delegation to comment on the burden of non-communicable diseases and the measures to improve early identification, and the current status of psychiatric health services and initiatives to increase the number of psychiatric health care practitioners.  What was the impact of the criminalization of same sex relations on access to HIV/AIDS treatment programmes by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons?

Turning to education, the Experts remarked that more than 85 per cent of the population spoke Creole and yet, the language remained optional in the education system.  The Experts were concerned that many households choose private schools and asked the delegation to explain why a large number of children attending public schools failed to acquire the minimum level of education.  What concrete initiatives were in place to improve the enrolment of girls in technical and vocational education?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions raised about private health care facilities, the delegation said that according to the latest data, about 20 per cent of population used private services.  Although the private health care was rapidly developing, high tech health equipment was still more available in public health care centres.  The ratio of doctors to population was higher than the recommendations of the World Health Organization.  Mobile caravan teams circulated in the archipelago to visit patients and people in need of health care who did not have the means or the opportunity to come to health facilities. 

As for non-communicable diseases, the early detection and screening programmes for high blood pressure and some types of cancers were in place, as were referral mechanisms to hospitals.  Screening programmes run by mobile health caravans in villages and schools covered more than 40,000 people so far.

The Social Register of Mauritius was an on-going programme and the results were still to come.  The registration of people was done both through independent field visits and upon an individual application.  Every village had an elected representative and a local community centre for registration and field inquires.  11,000 households, representing two to three per cent of the population, had been registered so far.

Mauritius was taking into account the recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and together with other recommendations received by human rights bodies, were immediately disseminated to all stakeholders and included in the national action plan.  Criminalization of marital rape was a work in progress, while the definition of domestic violence had been expanded to any violent act or conduct among the spouses. 

With regard to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, the delegation said that for over half a century, the Chagos archipelago was administered illegally by the colonizer.  Mauritius relied on international assistance in the process of restoring the rights of Mauritians of Chagossian origin.

Elderly abuse, the delegation said, was a serious issue and each case was one too many.  In the first eight months if 2018, 770 cases had been registered.  Mauritius had updated the legislation to strengthen the sanctions and had put in place campaigns, free hot lines, and elderly watch committees.  Inspections were conducted and complains looked into when it came to elderly care institutions.  In addition, the 2018 budget had provided resources for the training of 50 carers specialized for working in care institutions.

The Marshal Plan against Poverty for the Rodrigues Islands included a scheme that covered 1,000 poor families with monthly allowance.  The investment in the Internet connectivity in the Rodrigues had ensured that the area was now on a par with the mainland.  The improvements of the road network and the investment in the airstrip aimed at supporting tourism and increasing the economic activity.  The port was also being developed and there were future projects for a shipyard.

Mental health services were fully decentralized and were available in all five regional hospitals, including in the Rodrigues, and the national mental health plan had been developed with the assistance of the World Health Organization.  There were adequate human resources, 23 for general mental health care and two for child psychiatry; capacity building was an on-going process.

It was estimated that 12,000 to 15,000 people were infected with hepatitis C, and the reception capacity in public health establishments was 200 HIV-positive patients for this pathology.  The treatments were effective but extremely expensive and went beyond the financial ability of the local health systems.  Mauritius was using generic drugs.

All Mauritians spoke Creole and it was commonly practiced in public forums such as the courts, and was taught in a number of primary and secondary schools.  The use of Mauritian Creole in the primary cycle was gradual, the delegation said, noting that 18,036 primary school and around 1,000 secondary school students were currently studying in Mauritian Creole, which – like other optional languages - was subject to final examination at the end of academic year.

School drop-out was related to a number of factors and not only to student only speaking Creole.  A range of programmes had been put in place to improve school completion rates, including the initiative that allowed four additional years for the students to require essential competencies to complete basic education.  There was also a secondary school readiness assessment, both academically and emotionally, that was done in the seventh grade.  A special support had been extended to include medical and dental screening, as well as psychiatric guidance, if needed.  Parents were encouraged to enrol their children into pre-primary education, but it was not obligatory since it would create a disturbance between the parents.

The delegation explained that the consent for marriage at the age of 16 had to be given both by the spouse and the parents.  Muslim Family Council had a responsibility to maintain a marriage register.

Mauritius was one of the few countries with a total ban on alcohol and tobacco advertising, as well as sponsorship by such brands.  During the 2012 to 2017 period, a total of 36 abortions had been registered in public hospitals and none in private clinics.

Concluding Remarks

OLIVIER DE SCHUTTER, Committee Rapporteur for Mauritius, in his concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the quality of the dialogue and their detailed and precise answers.  Many promising moves had been announced and it was obvious that Mauritius was on a progressive route.  That was why three crucial recommendations would be additionally provided in order to fruitfully use the time before the presentation of the next report.

MANEESH GOBIN, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Institutional Reforms of Mauritius, concluded by thanking the Committee on a fruitful dialogue and welcomed the continued dialogue.

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson, concluded the meeting by saying that the dialogue was frank and open, with the aim of putting Mauritius in an even better place in the future.

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