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Human Rights Committee reviews situation of Civil and Political Rights in Equatorial Guinea

Human Rights Committee

11 July 2019

The Human Rights Committee concluded today its review of the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in Equatorial Guinea.

In his opening remarks, Don Alfonso Nsue Mokuy, Third Deputy Prime Minister of Equatorial Guinea, said the document that was being submitted to the Committee was the outcome of a wide participative process which involved public institutions, private entities and civil society.  The delegation looked forward to clarifying any doubts the Committee might still have after reading it.  The Covenant was at the highest level in the country’s legal system, on a par with the Constitution.  Consequently, it superseded organic laws and ordinary internal laws as well as customary laws.  This explained why the Government had launched a series of legislative initiatives aiming to ensure that domestic legislation was in line with the Covenant.  This was the case for the penal code and the law on prosecution, which were currently being revised.  The 2011 Constitutional reform had sought to provide the State with an institutional instrument that could adequately protect human rights.

Committee Experts said they were pleased to engage in a dialogue with the delegation and thanked the Government for having responded in writing to the Committee’s list of questions.  The Committee acknowledged that this had required significant efforts on the part of the State party.  They sought clarification on the legislation hierarchy and the amendment process in which the Government had engaged to harmonize the Constitution with international treaties.  Could they provide examples of legal procedures in which courts directly applied the Covenant? Committee Experts said a de facto state of emergency had been imposed on various occasions.  They asked how the State party ensured that defence and security forces did not commit violations of human rights in that context.  There were persistent cultural obstacles to the equal representation of women in private and public life, as well as in decision-making positions.  What was the Government doing to address this situation, as well as sexual harassment? 

Mr. Mokuy, in his concluding remarks, thanked the Committee.  Not everything that Equatorial Guinea had done was perfect, but neither was it all bad.  Equatorial Guinea remained open to advice that would help the country improve.  Mr. Mokuy apologized that Equatorial Guinea had not appeared before the Committee for 24 years.  The Government hoped that it would be able to attend similar meetings to which it would be invited in the future.

Yuval Shany, Committee Vice Chair, in his concluding remarks, thanked the delegation and said that, to conduct the dialogue in an effective way, it would be useful to establish an on-going reporting relationship.  The Committee was happy that it had been able to hold this dialogue and hoped that it would continue in the future.  The Committee had appreciated the State party’s frankness and was looking forward to it ratifying the Second Optional Protocol in the not so distant future.

The delegation of Equatorial Guinea consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the office of the Third Vice Prime Minister, the Directorate-General for Human Rights, the Directorate-General of Protocol, and the Permanent Mission of Equatorial Guinea to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

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, to begin to discuss a draft general comment on the right to peaceful assembly. 

Document

The Committee has before it the list of issues it prepared in the absence of the initial report of Equatorial Guinea (CCPR/C/GNQ/Q/1 ). 

Presentation by the Delegation of Equatorial Guinea

DON ALFONSO NSUE MOKY, Third Deputy Prime Minister of Equatorial Guinea, said the document that was being submitted to the Committee was the outcome of a wide participative process which involved public institutions, private entities and civil society.  The delegation looked forward to clarifying any doubts that the Committee might still have after reading it.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was at the highest level in the country’s legal system, on a par with the Constitution.  Consequently, it superseded organic laws and ordinary internal laws as well as customary laws.  This explained why the Government had launched a series of legislative initiatives aiming to ensure that domestic legislation was in line with the Covenant.  This was the case for the penal code and the law on prosecution, which were currently being revised. The 2011 Constitutional reform had sought to provide the State with an institutional instrument that could adequately protect human rights.

A special prosecutor had been set up to combat corruption.  There were various legal procedures underway and information about their outcome would be provided to the Committee at a later time.  The Government had steadfastly endeavoured to target a growing concern worldwide, namely gender equality.  It sought to eradicate any type of discrimination or violence against women.  The elaboration of a draft law on the comprehensive protection of women was at an advanced stage. Key issues regarding civil and political rights, such as ending torture and human trafficking, were covered by the criminal code reform.  The Constitutional reform also addressed the death penalty.  A moratorium on the death penalty had been put in place so that it may never be again applied in the country.  Debate and consensus were the best way to ensure the promotion and safeguarding of human rights.  In that regard, the Government would continue to foster broad consultations, whenever possible.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts said they were pleased to engage in a dialogue with the delegation and thanked the Government for having responded in writing to the Committee’s list of questions.  The Committee acknowledged that this had required significant efforts on the part of the State party.  They sought clarification on the legislation hierarchy and the amendment process in which the Government engaged to harmonize the Constitution with international treaties.  Could the delegation provide examples of legal procedures in which courts directly applied the Covenant?  Could they comment on the reports that the committee in charge of constitutional reform was mainly comprised of members of the ruling party and its coalition partners?  Experts requested information on customary laws and their ties with the formal system, and the available avenues for remedy for violations of the rights enshrined in the Covenant.  

On the Ombudsman’s office, Experts requested information on its mandate, power and degree of independence as well as on the process to elect its members.  What were the concrete powers of the national human rights institution?  How did it interact with the ombudsman’s office?  Was the State party considering the establishment of a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles?  Experts also enquired about the series of measures that had been announced to combat corruption, and requested information on their outcomes. Could the delegation confirm that there had been no executions since 2010 and provide information on the number of executions that had taken place between 2008 and 2010?

Committee Experts said a de facto state of emergency had been imposed on various occasions.  They asked how the State party ensured that defence and security forces did not commit violations of human rights in that context.  How did the State party ensure that persons accused of terrorism enjoyed all their rights? Could the delegation comment on allegations that terrorism accusations were sometimes based on unrelated grounds and politically motivated?  Experts noted the information provided in paragraph 35 regarding anti-discrimination measures aiming to protect the rights of persons living with HIV.  They asked what measures the State party was taking for other vulnerable segments of the population.  

There were persistent cultural obstacles to the equal representation of women in private and public life, as well as in decision-making positions.  What was the Government doing to address this situation, as well as sexual harassment?  How did it ensure that pregnant girls had access to education?  Experts said that, while gender-based violence was a criminal offence, there were still gaps: conditions under which rape was criminalized were rather narrow, for instance.  They asked for information on plans to reform the criminal code in that regard.  Could the delegation provide data on gender-based violence and information on training provided to law enforcement officers and hospital staff on that issue?  Access to reproductive health was difficult, particularly in rural areas, and patients sometimes had to pay for health care services.  What measures would the State party implement to address this issue?  They requested information on family planning centres; conditions under which abortions were allowed; and measures undertaken to prevent the stigmatization of women and girls who had undergone abortions.

Experts asked if allegations of abuse, notably as regarded the cases of Oumar Kone, Blas Engo and Jose Vidal Ndong Micha, were true.  On torture, they said there were allegations that the police systematically used torture against people who refused to cooperate or were suspected of political crimes.  Were these allegations founded?  Was there a mechanism in place for the rehabilitation of victims of torture?  The Experts asked what measures were being taken by the Government to address overcrowding and hygiene issues, as well as the lack of access to medical treatment and inadequate food provision in detention facilities and police stations.  What measures was the Government taking to prevent the stigmatization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation appreciated the Committee’s efforts to help Equatorial Guinea implement a framework that would further promote and protect human rights.  On the hierarchy of international treaties and domestic legislation, international treaties were part of the “constitutional bloc,” which meant that they were part of the provisions of the Constitution.  Hierarchically speaking, they therefore stood above all domestic laws, except the Constitution.  They were considered to be both laws and provisions of the Constitution.  No customary law could prevail if it ran counter to the Covenant -- it would be considered null and void.  This principle had been laid down in the jurisprudence.

DON ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Third Deputy Prime Minister of Equatorial Guinea, said the commission for constitutional reform had invited members of all recognized political parties.  Only two people had rejected the invitation.  There had also been civil society representatives and representatives of other political groups.  The Human Rights Department was part of the Presidential branch and there was also a Human Rights Commission which fell under parliament, the primary aim of which was to verify and inspect cases of violations of human rights.  The Human Rights Centre was responsible for publicizing all decisions taken by all human rights bodies. 

Following a recommendation that an independent body that was in line with the Paris Principles should be created, it was decided that the Centre for Human Rights would be converted into a national observatory, said the delegation.

Mr. Mokuy said the Ombudsperson was a member of parliament.  That person was elected by parliament and the Senate to that position.  The Office of the President and the United Nations had signed an agreement to raise awareness amongst local authorities.  A national tour was organized in that context.  He said that there were significant shortcomings regarding data.  If the reform of the Human Rights Centre was successful, it would be brought in line with the Paris Principles.  There were a number of questions that had been put to the delegation to which responses had already been provided in the report.
The delegation explained that within the framework of the National Agency for Financial Investigations, the Government had established a specific anti-corruption office, which led all investigations in cases of alleged corruption.  There was a lack of allegations because corruption was not in Equatorial Guinea’s culture.  The agency was also designed to fight corruption at the sub-regional level.

Mr. Mokuy said that, since the amnesty, there had been no executions in the country.  In terms of the offences that were punishable by death, the only offence was murder.  

The delegation explained that since the moratorium had been adopted, there had been no executions.  The courts continued to hand down death sentences, as foreseen in the legal order, but they were not carried out, due to the moratorium.  This moratorium would remain in place until the Government completed the process of abolishing the death penalty.

Mr. Mokuy said the procedure in place during the elections was not tantamount to a state of emergency.  Border security was bolstered because Equatorial Guinea’s borders were permeable.  On the coup d’état, the Government was working on improving law enforcement forces.  Previously, it was impossible that any entity would speak out against the military.  Now, military staff could be held to justice for unlawful acts.  The Government still did not have any specific legal provisions against discrimination against women.  The Constitution, however, prohibited any form of discrimination.  On gender-based violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, the Constitution guaranteed the rights of all individuals.  The majority of citizens had a fairly patriotic mind set, and any form of homosexuality was “ill-looked upon” for that reason; it was not the Government’s doing.  What people did at home stayed within the realm of the home.  He denied the allegations concerning violations of the “rights of homosexuals”.  It was true that the percentage of women in political positions was low.  This was due to the country’s culture.  There were, however, women ministers.  He asked the Committee not to judge Equatorial Guinea with a foreign outlook.

Mr. Mokuy said that, in Europe, one could be accused of sexual harassment for merely saying hello to a woman, but the situation was different in Equatorial Guinea.  The Committee seemed to be describing the country as being the devil itself.

The delegation acknowledged that the civil code was “out of step with our times”, but assured that it was applied in line with the Constitution.

Mr. Mokuy said that it was not true that women were not allowed to own land.  Polygamy held sway across Africa, so it had to be seen as a custom.  The law stipulated that the Government should respect all marriages that were legal, and customary law was a valid type of law.  Polygamy did not imply female slavery.  In fact, a poll conducted when Mr. Mokuy was Minister of Information had shown that women’s favourite marital arrangement was polygamy.  The vast majority of the population of Equatorial Guinea was Catholic.  For them, abortion was tantamount to murder, and that was why it was not allowed.  The Government had, however, introduced exceptions to that ban.  There was no stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS or other illnesses. 

The delegation acknowledged that people had killed and committed homicides using their service weapons, but blaming the State or the service that they belonged to was an overstep.  The perpetrators had been prosecuted.  The service weapons had been used outside of official settings.

Mr. Mokuy said the Government had recognized that economic prosperity was on the rise in cities and in lockstep with this rise, there had been an increase in violence.  The Government had made efforts to ensure the number of inmates was within limits.  Prisons had been built and prisoners had been redistributed.  On Experts’ references to poor detention conditions, he said he disagreed with that.

Questions by Committee Experts

Experts requested additional information on instances where unconstitutional provisions of the civil code had been set aside by courts; the status of customary law vis-a-vis the “constitutional bloc”; the rape of women by their husbands; anti-corruption efforts; polygamy and violence against women; concrete measures undertaken to raise awareness about discrimination and violence against women and girls; measures taken to counter patriarchal practices; publicization of the Covenant; and bodies available to victims seeking redress for human rights violations.

They recalled that the delegation had 48 hours to submit additional responses in writing.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said the Covenant had primacy over customary law.  For example, customary laws related to the majority ethnic group, the Fang, provided that when a marriage was dissolved the woman should be left with nothing.  And yet, an equal sharing of the assets acquired during the marriage had been imposed in the country.  The Government sought to permit abortion in certain circumstances, linked in particular to the causes of the pregnancy and the risks faced by the mother and, to some extent, the mother’s desire to have children or not.  The Government would try to provide a possibility to terminate the pregnancy voluntarily, especially when the health of the mother and the foetus were threatened. 

DON ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Third Deputy Prime Minister of Equatorial Guinea, said that the country’s various ethnic groups had different definitions of marital rape.  Generally, people believed there was only marital rape when a man publicly assaulted his wife.  “We are not sure we want to endorse all aspects of globalization,” he added.  On polygamy, he said it had its pros and cons.

Mr. Mokuy said that all of Equatorial Guinea’s Prime Ministers had been from the Bubi minority, and so were some Ministers, the Vice President of the Senate and other senior officials.  Claiming that this group was not represented in Equatorial Guinea’s institutions was therefore out of step with reality.  Saying that land was seized from the Bubi was also not in line with reality: the land that was seized was the land of the colonists.  The Government was now ceding it, based on individual requests.

The delegation said there might not be many examples where the Covenant had been directly cited by courts, probably because its provisions were already enshrined in the Constitution and laws stemming from it.

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts

Committee Experts asked about allegations that State party officials were involved in trafficking and that they restricted freedom of movement, notably that of journalists.  Could they comment on allegations that diplomats, activists, and members of the opposition were targeted by surveillance?  Experts asked about measures in place to ensure legal safeguards for persons in detention.  There were allegations that people were being detained for long periods of time without being informed of the reasons for their arrest.  Pre-trial detention lengths were reportedly particularly long.  Could the delegation confirm that all detainees had access to legal representation and could be released on bail?  Was there a central registrar of persons being held?  If so, how could persons access it?  What measures had been taken to ensure the independence of the judiciary?  The Experts sought clarification and additional information on the executive’s powers related to judicial appointments and decisions.  They enquired about the military justice system’s compatibility with article 14 of the Covenant.

It seemed that freedom of expression was limited in the country.  A lot of media outlets were State owned.  Experts took note of the Government’s openness to reviewing the relevant legislation.  Concerns had been raised about the lack of legal protections for journalists as well as the lack of unions or other organizations to represent them.  What measures had been taken by the Government to foster a pluralistic media landscape?  On the freedom of peaceful assembly, they requested information about the legal grounds that had been used to limit it.  How were law enforcement agencies trained on this freedom?

Experts asked the delegation to comment, and provide more information, on the early elections that had been called by the President, and the comments and reactions that that had generated.  Opposition members seemed to be victims of various forms of harassment and criminal procedures.  Police had reportedly arrested some of them, and courts had ordered the dissolution of some opposition parties, and imposed fines and prison sentences on some of their members.  Experts asked for more information about the electoral commission, guarantees of its independence, and on the appointment process of its members.  

Could civil society participate in decision-making processes that impacted them, such as those related to environmental issues and constitutional reform?  Turning to the death penalty, Experts pointed out that the moratorium was a commendable measure.  Could the delegation comment on allegations that, before it entered into force, all prisoners on death row were summarily executed?  They asked if people holding public office had to declare their assets prior to taking office.  If so, how did they go about doing that?

Replies by the Delegation
DON ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Third Deputy Prime Minister of Equatorial Guinea, said there was no slavery whatsoever in Equatorial Guinea.  The Government had deployed efforts in collaboration with representatives of neighbouring countries to address the trafficking issue.  There had been no cases of sale of children of which the Government was aware.  The Government would be more than willing to conduct a comprehensive investigation of such cases, if they existed.

On freedom of movement, the delegation had been misunderstood, Mr. Mokuy added.  The country’s borders were porous.  Passport control machines had not been established when the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa’s freedom of movement agreement was due to come into force.  The borders had therefore been closed until an agreement was reached with other members of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa to ensure proper border protection measures.  The allegations that freedom of movement within the country was limited was simply not true.  On the allegations that minorities and members of the opposition could not move freely within the country, he said that notifications were required to protect members of political parties.  On claims of surveillance, he said that non-governmental organizations established themselves as political parties and attacked the Government.  There were many cases of human rights defenders that had been found at gatherings speaking with members of recognized opposition parties.  If the Committee could suggest other ways, apart from checkpoints, to ensure border security, the Government would consider them. These checkpoints and barriers were necessary as Equatorial Guinea had a population of about 1.2 million and was surrounded by tens of millions of people in other countries.

The delegation recognized that there were arbitrary detentions in the country but denied that the Government tolerated them.  The cases of which the Government had been made aware had led to disciplinary and legal actions.  The Government did not tolerate arbitrary detention, the delegation emphasized.  Pre-trial detention was legally permitted in the country and the length was tied to the potential sentence that could be handed down.  The pre-trial detention of a person accused of having stolen a motorcycle would presumably be shorter than that of an individual accused of murder.  The legislation related to pre-trial detention was strictly applied.  The Government had bolstered the Supreme Council of Justice’s capacity, sought to professionalize the judiciary, and adopted necessary measures to enable it to exercise its powers.  There were shortcomings, the delegation acknowledged, and asked the Committee to recognize the work that had been done to address them.  The delegation did not have any evidence of the military justice system ruling on civilian cases.

Mr. Mokuy said there was freedom of expression in the country, and no censorship. There had been no cases of detained journalists in Equatorial Guinea or at the very least there were none at the moment.  There were organizations representing journalists in the country.  Most political parties had their own media outlets.  To print papers, one had to go abroad as there was a lack of paper and printing facilities in the country.  CNN and France 24 broadcast in Equatorial Guinea, and people had satellite television, which allowed them to watch these channels.  Freedom of expression prevailed in the country.
Most political parties had webpages, and the Government did not close them down, Mr. Mokuy added.  Those who organized an assembly or gathering had to bear responsibility for clashes and problems that might happen, and therefore prior notice was required before assemblies took place.  An organization that pretended to be a non-governmental organization but acted as a political organization would face problems when seeking funding from the Government.  Everyone who wished to create a political party may do so in accordance with the law.  If a party was dissolved, there would have been legal reasons for it.  On the National Electoral Commission, when the parties prepared for elections, the Government and all political parties sat down to appoint those who would sit on the commission.  It was not the Government itself that formed the Commission.  Political parties were a manifestation of political pluralism.
Throughout the world, Governments strove to provide information to their citizens, but sometimes citizens did not take an interest in the bulletins that publicized governmental decisions, said Mr. Mokuy.  Civil society was sometimes a source of confusion, as political voices tended to merge into it.  There were political actors who tended to clash with Governments.  Mr. Mokuy said he had been personally told unbelievable things, and the Government was sometimes treated very poorly by the public.  On executions, he said that they had taken place.  The bill on the abolition of the death penalty was before parliament.  There was a special commission in charge of looking into the assets of holders of public office.

Questions by Committee Experts

Experts asked for more information on the number of people currently deprived of liberty; incommunicado detentions; the mandatory nature of statements of assets for holders of public office, the composition of the body that reviewed them and the process through which such statements could be accessed; the possibility that the Government might consider requiring mere notifications rather than prior authorizations for assemblies; parliamentary independence; the application amnesty in the wake of the most recent election; slavery and forced labour; pending legislative changes to the penal code and criminal procedural code; and the recent elections that were held earlier than initially planned.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said there were about 1,000 persons in detention.  The period of pre-trial detention was proportionate with the foreseen conviction that would be handed down if the person was found guilty.  Persons held in detention could communicate amongst themselves as well as with people outside the facility.  If they violated some internal administrative rules, they could be put in incommunicado detention.

Mr. Mokuy said he did not even know if the law enforcement officials had tear gas.  The delegation would keep the Committee informed on that matter.  On assemblies, he said political parties provided notification and non-governmental organizations had to obtain authorization.  Parliament could propose laws, he assured.

The delegation said a new law had been put in place on migrant smuggling and human trafficking.  An inter-sectoral and inter-ministerial commission had been created in that context, and training would be provided to focal points throughout the country.  The Government was also committed to set up shelters to provide assistance to potential victims.  Turning to the forced labour of children, the delegation assured that it did not exist in Equatorial Guinea.  The Government had firmly condemned and banned such practices.
Mr. Mokuy said that political parties had agreed to convening the elections early.  

The delegation said that the National Electoral Commission’s composition was good.  The Commission had fulfilled its role.
Concluding Remarks

DON ALFONSO NSUE MOKUY, Third Deputy Prime Minister of Equatorial Guinea, thanked the Committee.  Not everything that Equatorial Guinea had done was perfect, but neither was it all bad.  Equatorial Guinea remained open to advice that would help the country improve.  Mr. Mokuy apologized that Equatorial Guinea had not appeared before the Committee for 24 years.  The Government hoped that it would be able to attend similar meetings to which it would be invited in the future.

YUVAL SHANY, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and said that, to conduct the dialogue in an effective way, it would be useful to establish an on-going reporting relationship.  The Committee was happy that it had been able to hold this dialogue.  Mr. Shany expressed hope that it would continue in the future.  The Committee had appreciated the State party’s frankness and was looking forward to it ratifying the Second Optional Protocol in the not so distant future.

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