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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers initial report of Gabon

21 August 2015

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Gabon on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In the presentation of the report, Alexandre Desire Tapoyo, Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Gabonese Abroad, said that Gabon had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and its Optional Protocol in 2014. The National Federation of Persons with Disabilities was involved in lobbying and advocacy on the rights of persons with disabilities, while campaigns to respect, protect and promote the rights of children with disabilities took place in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund. The Inter-Ministerial Council had adopted a bill which would criminalize sexual abuse of children and protect children victims of sexual violence, while the law on social protection of persons with disabilities was already in place.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts said that following the ratification of the Convention in 2007, Gabon had not made significant legislative advances to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Convention, and inquired about the plans to ensure that the approach to persons with disabilities was based on human rights and not on the outdated medicalized model. They called upon Gabon to adopt the disability anti-discrimination law and stressed the critical importance of the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in shaping disability policy, and noted with concern that in Gabon, this full participation did not seem to be forthcoming in decision-making processes. Also of concern was the lack of accessible and inclusive mainstream education for persons with disabilities, and the fact that most children with disabilities did not attend school because they were hidden away at home. The effective approach to the critically important early identification and intervention for children with disabilities was also lacking.

In concluding remarks, Diane Kingston, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Gabon, stressed that more was needed to ensure non-discrimination in the workplace and that more persons with disabilities were in employment. Compulsory accessibility measures for new buildings and construction in the country were essential. Policies and laws that protected and promoted the rights of persons with disabilities must be put in place, including the disability anti-discrimination law.

Mr. Tapoyo thanked the Committee for their support in the fight against discrimination and the creation of a happy society.

The delegation of Gabon included representatives of the Ministry for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Gabonese Abroad.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Gabon at the end of the session, on Friday, 4 September 2015. The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. on Monday, 24 August, when it will start its consideration of the initial report of Mauritius CRPD/C/MUS/1.

Report

The initial report of Gabon can be accessed here: CRPD/C/GAB/1.

Presentation of the Report


ALEXANDRE DESIRE TAPOYO, Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Gabonese Abroad, said that in 2007, Gabon had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and it had ratified its Optional Protocol in 2014. Gabon had in place a law on the organization of primary schooling for people with disability, and the law on social protection of persons with disabilities, while funding for the National Committee for Disabled was provided. Families of children with disability received child allowances, and with the United Nations Children’s Fund, campaigns had been carried out to ensure the respect, protection and promotion of the rights of children with disability. The National Federation of Persons with Disabilities was involved in lobbying and advocacy on the rights of persons with disabilities. The 1995 law required that all buildings and public roads must respect the accessibility norms and favour movement of persons with disabilities. The Inter-Ministerial Council had adopted a bill which would criminalize sexual abuse of children and protect children victims of sexual violence, while the Association for the Fight against Ritual Crimes worked, in partnership with others, on awareness raising in connection to ritual crimes.

The right to life and physical integrity of persons with disabilities, and any other person in Gabon, was guaranteed in the Constitution and Civil Code, as well as in the law on social protection of persons with disabilities. No one could be humiliated or tortured even if arrested or in prison; acts of torture and cruel and degrading treatment were a serious offence. Persons with disabilities had the right to free movement and to nationality and could choose their place of residence and exercise activities therein, with respect for public order and law. Gabon had six specialized structures for the education of children with disability, and a functional rehabilitation centre, while a technical commission was responsible for drawing policies in conjunction with the Health Code. Vaccination campaigns against polio, which was a particular concern with regards to persons with disabilities, were constantly organized. A Technical Commission for Re-adaptation and Functional Re-education was in place to orient persons with physical or sensory disabilities towards specialized medical structures, facilitate access to health care, and to conceptualize the creation of a National Centre for Re-adaptation and Functional Re-education.

Questions by the Committee Experts

DIANE KINGSTON, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur for Gabon, commended Gabon for the ratification of six other core human rights treaties and four optional protocols, which indicated a strong commitment to human rights in general. Ms. Kingston noted the philanthropic initiatives specifically focused on persons with disabilities by the First Lady Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, and expressed hope that those initiatives continued and in consultation with persons with disabilities on issues they regarded as a priority. The inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in shaping disability policy and implementation of the Convention was critical, but it seemed that in Gabon, the full participation did not seem to be forthcoming in decision-making processes. Lack of data and statistics was another issue of concern: according to current information only two per cent of the population constituted persons with disabilities, which was much lower than expected. It was vital to have a clear picture of how many persons with disabilities there were, broken down by age, sex, geographical location, impairment type and so on, in order to ensure that the implementation of the Convention was meaningful to the lives of all persons with disabilities.

It was also vital that national legislation was harmonized with the Convention and the rights within were enforceable in domestic courts. This would only happen if persons with disabilities were aware of their rights, and knew how to make complaints to uphold their rights. Part of this process could be the introduction of a disability anti-discrimination law, awareness raising, and in relation to women and girls, a definition of discrimination against women. The Country Rapporteur noted a lack of accessible and inclusive mainstream education at both primary and secondary level, which further limited the opportunity to gain employment or access vocational training. Early identification and intervention for children with disabilities was critical, but coherent and effective approaches were lacking. Many persons with disabilities were reliant on social protection to prevent them from falling further into poverty. It was critical to ensure that all persons with disabilities had an adequate standard of living, equal to persons without disability. Accessibility was one of the main barriers for the participation of persons with disabilities in the country; accessible information, communication, existing buildings, infrastructure and transportation were some of the areas of concern.

In terms of legislation and incorporation of the Convention, Committee Experts asked about the adoption in the law of a definition of reasonable accommodation, whether Gabon would prohibit discrimination against women and girls with disability and adopt measures to address multiple discrimination they faced, and when it would adopt anti-discrimination legislation to specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of disability. Following the signature of the Convention in 2007, Gabon had not made significant legislative advances to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Convention, Experts remarked and asked about legislative initiatives on the table and about initiatives in the pipeline for adapting the legislation in accordance with the Convention. How did Gabon plan to ensure that the approach to persons with disabilities was human rights based and not based on charity and the medicalized model? How could it ensure whether focal points for relationships with persons with disabilities were established and, how cooperation with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations was established.

In terms of children and women with disability, Committee Experts asked about
specific efforts in place to protect children with disability from sexual exploitation and from being victims of negative socio-cultural customs and traditions. Women and girls with disabilities were three to four times more likely to be victims of sexual violence, and the delegation was asked about concrete measures in place to protect them and prevent the violence from occurring.

Which legislation was in place, even in the pipeline, to address access to information for persons with disabilities, including to mobile, internet and media services, and to adopt a law on sign language, including the action plan for its implementation? When would legislation be in place to enable persons with disabilities to claim their rights in case of discrimination?

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the law prohibiting female genital mutilation, but noted that no action was being taken against female genital mutilation on women and girls with disabilities who were not nationals of Gabon. What concrete measures had been taken to address the ill treatment of children in care settings?

Response by the Delegation

In September 2014, a person with disabilities had been appointed as Health Minister, which showed the commitment of the Government to ensure the greater participation of persons with disabilities. The buildings of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Human Rights would be accessible to persons with disabilities, while help was available for people with visual impairment. Laws predating the signature of the Convention in 2007 were still valid; global measures had been taken since, and specific measures had been discussed during the social meeting of September 2014. News would be broadcast in sign language starting in September 2015. In terms of accessibility, help was being provided in airports and hotels; public buildings that were currently being built already incorporated the compulsory accessibility measures, including parking spaces for persons with disabilities.

Reasonable accommodation and universal design was an existing obligation which was enshrined in the Labour Code, which also prohibited all forms of discrimination against workers, from recruitment and throughout their careers. The Government was taking steps to amend the laws to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoyed their rights on an equal footing, and was committed to make a sizeable number of public spaces and buildings accessible to persons with disabilities. With regards to legal prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of disability, the delegation said that Gabon did not have a specific law, but a range of instruments was in place which addressed this issue, including core human rights instruments ratified by Gabon, and relevant articles of the Criminal Code which protected all persons from discrimination.

Although female genital mutilation was not a part of the culture in the country, the practice was imported from neighbouring countries, and was now practiced; even though the number were very low, the practice was prohibited by law. A Guide on the Protection of Children, which included children with disability, had been drafted in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund. Persons with disabilities and women with disabilities were involved in drafting of the Law on Violence against Women. The Ministry of Human Rights had not existed before 2013, and its creation was evidence of the commitment of the Government to improving human rights in the country.

Questions by the Experts

A Committee Expert asked about the process of drafting the Law on Violence against Women and how the recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women would be therein incorporated. Introducing laws was not enough to address this violence, which was deeply rooted in culture, the Expert remarked, and asked how this traditional practice could be overcome.

Substituted decision-making was still permitted for persons with disabilities and not all persons with disabilities were allowed to fully exercise their legal capacity, another Expert noted and asked about the plans to revise those legal provisions and move to the model of decision-making with support. The Expert expressed concern about certain social practices rooted in prejudice and myths, for example that it was possible to cure HIV/AIDS by having sex with women or girls with disabilities. There were almost no programmes in place to ensure redress, rehabilitation, and compensation for women and girls with disabilities who were victims of violence, while data collection on the phenomenon was not adequate.

Experts asked about the inclusion of persons with disabilities in emergency, crisis and evacuation plans and to comment on the involuntary detention of persons with disabilities in institutions because of their impairment. They expressed concern that Gabon had not yet adopted the definition of torture nor had it criminalized torture and asked how this was being addressed. The delegation was further asked about the situation of institutionalized living, as well as about assisted living in a community, where persons with disabilities could exercise their freedom of choice and be supported in inclusion in the society, and about the provision of good quality assistive devices affordable to persons with disabilities.

Persons with disabilities were often rejected by their families and communities because of prejudices but also because of the lack of support services available in the communities; they often lived in ghetto-like settlements, called “cite”, said a Committee Expert and asked what measures were being undertaken to ensure the social inclusion of persons with disabilities and also to address the horrible ritual crimes and protect persons with disabilities, particularly girls. Another Expert asked how persons with disabilities were registered at birth. What proportion of the gross domestic product would have to be allocated to ensure the implementation of the Convention for the next five years, and what support would Gabon need from international organizations in this regard?

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, asked how persons with disabilities were declared not legally and criminally responsible and how persons with disabilities who were declared incompetent to stand trial were dealt with?

Response by the Delegation

Anyone could be a victim of a ritual crime: children, women, youth, elderly, persons with disabilities. The Government was taking steps to address those crimes. There was shame in families of persons with disabilities, who were often shunned. They created their own communities, the so-called cité of ghettos, and the Government believed that they should not be abandoned and left to themselves. The National Fund for Social Assistance was in place to support persons of limited means, including persons with disabilities, but the data was not sufficiently disaggregated to understand which groups of the population received support and how much; the same was the case for the national health insurance funds. All children in Gabon were registered at birth, including children with disability.

There was no specific law prohibiting discrimination in Gabon, but the lack of a specific law was made up for by a legislative arsenal in place to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including compulsory medical insurance, family allowance, and protection from discrimination by the Criminal Code and the Labour Code. Violence against persons and children with disabilities was prohibited by nine articles of the Criminal Code, including children affected by mutilation, amputation, forced blindness and other impairments; the protection included in the Criminal Code had been extended to include protection from sexual violence against persons with disabilities. In 2015, Gabon initiated the process of drafting the Family Code which aimed to remove any discriminatory provisions against persons with disabilities.

The delegation provided the available statistics and data on persons with disabilities, saying that two per cent of the population of Gabon, or 27,100 were persons with disabilities; of those 15,000 were males and 12,100 females, who lived mainly in urban areas, principally in Estuaire province. Key causes of disability were disease (38.6 per cent) and congenital malformations (25 per cent), and various kinds of accidents; disease was the leading cause of disability for women. A coordination mechanism for information about birth had been set up in order to create a central file with data on birth in the country, and so have a reliable bank of data on civil status; this removed the need to set up a specific registry of persons with disabilities. Some 8,000 persons with disabilities were illiterate, while 37 per cent completed primary school, 27 per cent completed secondary school and five per cent had higher education. Some 51.4 per cent of persons with disabilities were employed as domestic workers, 19 per cent were in agriculture and fisheries, and 13 per cent were in general administration.

Questions by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert noted with concern the remaining prejudices surrounding disability, leading to hiding or even abandonment of children with disabilities, and asked about information and awareness raising campaigns on children and disability which targeted families, communities and professionals. What measures were in place to increase access to sexual and reproductive health services and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention for persons with disabilities?

One of the major concerns was the lack of persons with disabilities to inclusive mainstream education: primary and secondary schools were inaccessible both physically and in terms of social attitudes and prejudices, while the majority of children with disability did not attend school at all; they were hidden at home and that was where their socio-economic exclusion started. The Committee needed the political commitment of Gabon to help children with disability.

The politics in the disability field might be improved by more continuous input from the organizations of persons with disabilities, but there was no commitment by the Government for the support to those organizations to enable them to provide sufficient guidance on adjustments in the legislation for the creation of a more inclusive society.

A Committee Expert urged the delegation to think about removing social and physical barriers rather than to deal with children with disability through traditional medical systems, and asked about incentives for the private sector for the employment of persons with disabilities. Gabon was not the only country struggling with a sub-standard level of living for persons with disabilities and the Expert asked how the situation was being addressed.

DIANE KINGSTON, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur for Gabon, asked about the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals vis-a-vis persons with disabilities and how Gabon would ensure the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals. What was the role of persons with disabilities in the monitoring of the implementation of the Convention in Gabon?

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, asked about specific steps by Gabon to comply with the recommendations issued by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2013 related to statistical data on persons with disabilities and the enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights.

Response by the Delegation

Prejudices against disability were numerous in Gabon despite the legislation in force which condemned discrimination. Becoming a parent was not covered by the legislation and anyone could become a parent; marriage and age of marriage were regulated by the law.

A Sport Federation of Persons with Disabilities was in place in Gabon, and persons with disabilities took part in sports competition in several disciplines; the Federation was financially supported by the Government and was very active and dynamic.

The Law on Education, Training and Research granted the right of all children in Gabon to education, without any discrimination. The establishment of an inclusive educational system was happening very slowly, and there was a need to further improve the legislation. Disaggregated data on convictions for sexual offences did not exist, so it was not possible to say what percentage referred to offences against persons with disabilities.

Gabon received technical assistance and cooperation from a number of international organizations to implement its treaty obligations, as was evidenced by the recent cooperation on the preparation of the law against torture and ill-treatment. An estimated 63,000 persons in Gabon lived with HIV/AIDS. There were 50 mobile treatment centres for people living with HIV/AIDS which provided services to all. In 2011, the funding to combat HIV/AIDS had been increased from one billion CFC to 2.5 billion CFC, which was used for purchase of anti-retroviral drugs, while free prenatal care and free birthing services were available for women living with HIV/AIDS.

The law on education, training and research paved the way to employment for all people in Gabon regardless of disability, and was focused on social inclusiveness. All children were given a unique identity number upon their entry into school; children were steered towards higher education, and there was professional training of special schools in case of disability.

Concluding Remarks

ALEXANDRE DESIRE TAPOYO, Minister for Human Rights, Equal Opportunities and Gabonese Abroad, thanked the Committee for their support in the fight against discrimination and the creation of a happy society.

DIANE KINGSTON, Committee Expert and the Country Rapporteur for Gabon, stressed the importance of upholding the right of persons with disabilities to a voice and said that more was needed to ensure non-discrimination in the workplace and that more persons with disabilities were in employment. Compulsory accessibility measures for new buildings and constructions in the country were essential. Policies and laws that protected and promoted the rights of persons with disabilities must be put in place. The steps Gabon was taking were baby ones, while passing a law on disability anti-discrimination required great strides. Ghettoization of persons with disabilities in the capital city Libreville was an issue of concern, as was the very narrow understanding of violence against women with disabilities. The provision of technical materials and devises should not be a charitable undertaking of the First Lady, it was an international obligation of the Government of Gabon.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee would study carefully the replies provided by the delegation and thanked the delegation and the representatives of civil society organizations, and all those watching the webcast.

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