8 May 2013
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today considered the combined second to fourth periodic report of Rwanda on the country’s implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Introducing the report, Soline Nyirahabimana, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the 1994 genocide had left Rwanda with no institutional framework to speak of, though in recent years the country had made significant efforts to rebuild its social and cultural structures. Rwanda had ascended to many human rights treaties, and would shortly ratify the Optional Protocol to the Covenant. All Rwandans were equal under the Constitution, and any form of discrimination was prohibited and punishable under the law. The number of health centres had increased, as had the number of district hospitals. New categories of health services at the local level had also been provided. On education, barriers that prevented children from attending primary education were being gradually broken down.
Committee Experts asked questions about the delay in Rwanda’s appearance before the Committee, the judiciary, the Human Rights Commission, human rights education, the Optional Protocol, the Batwa people, gender inequalities, gender stereotypes, domestic violence, family planning and abortion, poverty, refugees, returnees, ethnic minorities, female representation, the right to own land, the 1994 genocide, employment, disability rights and employment, domestic workers, vocational training, social security coverage, microfinancing, workplace health and safety, the minimum wage, labour inspections, maternity pay, free economic zones and the minimum pension.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Nyirahabimana said where the answer expected was not found, such as on the statistics, it was a lesson learned for the State party. The questions asked would inspire the next report. Rwanda as a country was at the very beginning and it was determined to move forward quickly. The country looked forward to developing and uplifting the people. The Covenant covered a difficult set of rights to protect, as they required financing, budgets and structures. Rwanda did not lack the will to implement and promote the rights of the Covenant, instead it lacked the means. The recommendations, once received, would be carefully evaluated and considered.
Nicolaas Jan Schrijver, Committee Expert acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Rwanda, speaking in preliminary concluding remarks, said much had been done to answer the many and varied questions of the Committee, though some questions had still not been answered and this would be noted in the concluding recommendations.
Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson, said the discussions had helped understand Rwanda’s approach. A lesson to be learned by the delegation was that the questions posed were quite specific and data and examples were needed. The assertion of the delegation that the next report would be delivered on time was most welcome.
The delegation of Rwanda consisted of representatives from the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Justice.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on Friday 10 May, when it will consider the fifth periodic report of Denmark (E/C.12/DNK/5).
The Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations on country reports reviewed this session will be published on the first working day after the end of the session on 17 May on its webpage.
Report of Rwanda
The combined second to fourth periodic report of Rwanda can be read here: (E/C.12/RWA/2-4).
Presentation of the Report of Rwanda
SOLINE NYIRAHABIMANA, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the 1994 genocide had left Rwanda with no institutional framework to speak of, though in recent years the country had made significant efforts to rebuild its social and cultural structures. Rwanda had established an inter-institutional task force on treaty reporting to coordinate the preparation of treaty reports and offer advice on adoption, accession and ratification of international treaties. The country had ascended to many human rights treaties, and would shortly ratify the Optional Protocol of the Covenant. The creation of the report was a collaborative process, and today's presentation would also offer updates and challenges on the issues it raised. All Rwandans were equal under the Constitution, and any form of discrimination was prohibited and punishable under the law. Despite this, a number of communities had experienced discrimination and the Government had put policies in place to tackle this.
The State party had sought to work to achieve the rights enshrined on the Covenant in its economic development and poverty reduction strategy which covered economic transformation, rural development, productivity and youth employment and accountable governance. On health, the number of health centres had increased, as had the number of district hospitals. New categories of health services at the local level had also been provided. Health insurance covered 96 per cent of the population, and this had increased the numbers of persons approaching facilities for care. Rwanda had achieved its infant mortality Millennium Development Goal. On maternal health, 98 per cent of women had received antenatal care from a health professional, and the number of related deaths had fallen. On HIV and AIDS, there was 91 per cent antiretroviral coverage and all health centres in the country offered advice, testing and counselling. Deaths from malaria had fallen.
On education, barriers that prevented children from attending primary education were being gradually broken down, such as the abolition of school fees, and the construction of more classrooms where children could easily walk home. The provision of free education had increased from nine to 12 years. On the right to work, Rwanda had progressively enacted laws that sought to guarantee the right to work, and this included the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. A Ministerial order detailed the process for registration of trade unions. On culture, Rwanda had sought to revive the inclusive cultural identity which historically characterised Rwanda through the promotion of values and the expression of Rwandan culture, national heritage and the arts.
Questions by Experts
NICOLAAS JAN SCHRIJVER, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Rwanda, acknowledged the turmoil in Rwanda but wondered why, in the last 10 years, it had taken so long for the country to appear before the Committee? Could the delegation say a few words on the International Tribunal on Rwanda? Why was the State party not a signatory to the International Criminal Court? What were the problems with the hybrid judiciary operating in the country? How independent was the Human Rights Commission in Rwanda? Was awareness-raising needed to increase reference to this Commission? Was there a need for more human rights education? What was the attitude of the country towards ratification of the Optional Protocol? How were all groups in Rwanda accorded their rights, while still stipulating there was only one nation? About the Batwa people, what efforts were taken to ensure these people had access to all services? A question about this was asked in the list of issues, why was there no response?
There were long standing gender inequalities in economic participation in Rwanda, what was the reason for this? There seemed to be gender stereotypes against women working in the public sector, was this the case? On gender violence, reports by non-governmental organizations had been received that showed high numbers of women had suffered from gender violence at some time. Women also had little access to family planning and abortion, and this also needed to be discussed. Although the situation in Rwanda had improved, there were still high numbers of people living under the poverty line; what was the policy for the integration of these people? On refugees, it was reported that the law in this area was not up to international standards and many refugees could not enjoy their rights to access services and education. There were also reports that returnees were not able to reclaim their property and access services. What measures had been taken by the Government to correct this situation?
Another Expert wondered whether it was possible for citizens, such as a member of the Batwa community, who felt they were not given their rights under the Covenant, to approach the courts? There was no case law offered on this. A comment was offered in the list of replies that this community would be integrated fully by 2020. Was Rwanda willing to take immediate special temporary measures to assist this group? On another point, would the Optional Protocol be ratified this year? How successful had the policy of not recognising any ethnic minorities been? What was the impact of having high levels of female representation in the Parliament? What was being done to break down gender stereotypes? How were women actually able to exercise their right to own land?
Had the wounds of the genocide healed in Rwanda? Also, although the State party had not reported to this Committee for some time, it had reported to others. Did that mean it did not hold the Covenant in high regard? In the wake of the genocide, what steps were being taken to deal with tensions? What about the situation of Rwandans in refugee camps? To what extent were international donors doing what was necessary insofar as supporting Rwanda in implementing Covenant rights? What was being done to improve the high unemployment among women? What measures were in place to tackle sexual harassment? The figures on employment seemed high, were they correct? If so, how had the Government achieved this? Were there quotas for the employment of persons with disabilities? Was this only in the public sector? What were the responsibilities and powers of the Disability Council? Had microfinancing programmes for persons with disabilities been implemented? If yes, how many had received them and what were the conditions of receipt? How many persons with disabilities had received training?
More generally, what percentage of the population benefited from educational training? How many of these went on to be employed? What was the mismatch mentioned in regards to the bridge between education and training? How were the rights of domestic workers protected? A law had been adopted on the rights of persons in the informal sector; did this mean that all these persons received social security and other coverage? How was a decent minimum standard of salaries ensured? Maternity pay was six weeks at full pay, then six weeks at 20 per cent of salary, could this be explained? What was the situation of labour inspections in the special economic zones? What was the pre-retirement benefit of housing mentioned? How did the level of the minimum pension relate to the cost of living? How was this reviewed?
Response by the Delegation
A member of the delegation said Rwanda was moving in the right direction with regard to submitting reports on the various conventions, including that of the Committee. In the future the State party would submit reports on time. The Government of Rwanda had been able to investigate over 90 per cent of cases concerning the genocide. The remaining cases would be dealt with in the national court. The international tribunal was a recognition of the work done by the international community, and although there were opinions about the length of cases and the number completed, it was recognised that it was important. The Human Rights Commission was based on the Paris Principles, though the law on which it was established was not clearly worded concerning its budget and composition. The law had now been revised and everything requested in terms of amendments was carried out. Concerns had been allayed over its independence.
The Constitution of Rwanda stated that ratified treaties had a value higher than all domestic laws, other than the Constitution. The provisions of the Covenant were being applied but there were no statistics. With support from the United Nations Development Programme training had taken place for lawyers and judges at all levels to ensure they were aware of the role of the treaties. It was hoped that following this process more examples could be offered in the next report. The Optional Protocol would be ratified soon. A Ministry for Refugees had been established and it was responsible for monitoring the way they were treated. A law spelt out how the status of refugee could be granted. Work had been carried out with UNHCR and IOM. In general, refugees and returnees enjoyed their rights.
Ethnic groupings in Rwanda were largely a remnant of colonisation. Today these groups were set aside in terms of the population of Rwanda, which considered itself a single entity. The groups were often based around certain occupations, though these were fluid and other dimensions such as physical characteristics were considered. The people of Rwanda spoke the same language and had the same culture. Historically those that were marginalised were not treated as they should have been and vulnerable groups now received focused attention and support from the Government. Economic activities traditional to some of these groups had been made redundant by the march of modern technology, and this created the inequality.
Questions by the Experts
An Expert asked whether citizens that had been resettled were either consulted or compensated? The rate of women using modern contraceptives was very low, what measures had the Government taken to enhance the provision of family planning services? Why was the Government trying to take from view the right to safe and legal abortion? What was being done to remove the stigma from those suffering from HIV or AIDS? How successful had measures in poverty reduction been? Had the number of persons living in poverty decreased? Did the Government intend to pay compensation to the communities that had been forcibly evicted?
The Special Rapporteur on adequate housing said following a visit to Rwanda that housing was below standard and recommended the building of social housing. Did the Government plan to implement these recommendations? Was homelessness a problem? How did the State party cope with it? Did the Government have a special programme to address chronic malnutrition in children? How many street children and orphans were there in the country? What were the results of strategic programmes to help these groups? Did families that tilled the land have formal ownership of the land? What happened to these rights when land was consolidated? How was the high rate of health insurance coverage reached; were there just mutual plans or other systems? Had the bill on domestic violence been promulgated? Why were children allowed to go against the spirit of the law against child labour by working in agriculture?
Why was corporal punishment allowed in homes and schools? What were the reasons behind the high rate of maternal mortality? What did the health insurance cover? What sort of campaigns had been launched to promote the use of contraception? Were there any situations where abortion could be offered? Was more information available on human rights education? How was it possible to balance the interests of the State party and ensuring tensions between ethnic groups were not exacerbated when this was played against the need for cultural diversity? Had the State party considered adopting the recommendations given to it by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination? The role of an intercultural or cross-cultural approach could be of value and should be considered. Another Expert asked about the definition of the name of the Batwa group? Was there proper birth registration for refugee children?
Response by the Delegation
Rwanda had set the goal of eliminating all discrimination, related to gender or otherwise. There was work to be done on the implementation of policies for equality to be achieved and this was being gradually done. There was an institution that monitored equality between men and women and a policy had been adopted on having a mix of the sexes in the government, public sector and civil society. This was an ongoing process, though politically and institutionally everything was in order. Both women and men had the right to own land and both a husband and wife were required to sign papers of shareholding. There were some instances of poor application, though work continued to iron these out. The representation of women in parliament had influenced the passing of the gender violence law and gender considerations were central to budgets. There were a range of vulnerable people in the society that were to benefit from the infrastructure foreseen in the country’s 2020 vision. This plan also set out to eradicate extreme poverty.
With regards to refugees, if there were articles where the country was not in conformity with the conventions it had ratified, then it was willing to change its national laws. Harassment at work was considered an offence under the new criminal code, and this included sexual actions. The penalty was up to two years in jail. A ministerial article on the minimum wage was being revised. In relation to child labour, children were prohibited from working in mining or certain domestic tasks. Children under the age of 14 were simply not employable. In practice, some children still worked though it was hoped to make progress on this in the years to come. On informal work, many policies had been put together to motivate people to work together in cooperatives, so that they could then be identified and moved towards the formal sector. It was thought this would resolve the question of the informal sector and offer benefits such as social security.
With regard to maternity leave, three months was available to women, though it was not fully paid for the whole period as it was difficult to get employers to cover this length of time. A statistical institute existed, though it was often difficult to find good figures. Where they were found they were not disaggregated. Work was underway to improve this situation. The law on the social sector was currently being revised to see how social insurance coverage could be increased. On trade unions, the right to association was enshrined in the Constitution. A decree had been enacted last year which set down the procedures for this. The registration of unions was subject to condition, though there were criminal sanctions to be handed down if this right was denied when it was, in fact, appropriate. On vocational training, persons finishing courses were given a kit to allow them to start work straight away.
The law was clear that there should be no limitations on labour inspections. There was, however, the possibility that inspectors were afraid to go into certain areas and the Ministry of Labour perhaps needed to do more by way of training. Old age and social payments were not really in place and this was the reason for the social security review, to see how to help people. There was no minimum wage, though this was also to be considered in the review. On housing, vulnerable persons that had been moved from inadequate housing received compensation, though those with the financial capacity were expected to make a contribution to this. As to the reason for these displacements, basic infrastructure required people to live in groups, against the tradition of the country in living widely spread-out. Consultations had taken place on the level of the grant that would be offered to these persons. The Government was happy with the progress made to achieve this access to basic services and improve living standards.
Monitoring had been completed on regional disparities. This showed that poverty rates had been reduced and plans going forward hoped to bring this down further. Rwanda had made tackling gender-based discrimination a priority and there was a law that criminalised sexual violence and there was another plan to combat violence in general at all levels. The strategy on gender violence was victim-orientated. At the village level there were health partnerships and units where there was a telephone to make complaints. Teams were made available at the local level including both the police and health professionals to take on cases and instigate action. Figures indicated that the amount of families using family planning services had increased, and these were offered free of charge. Community health posts allowed people access to family planning activities. The amount of time spent travelling to access health services had been cut. Maternal mortality rates had fallen, though in regard to abortions specifically measures had been introduced such as anti-hemorrhage treatment.
HIV and AIDS treatment was part of the normal health services and this helped curb the stigma. On malnutrition, new growth curves explained the apparent increase in figures, rather than an increase in the problem. Acute malnutrition had actually decreased and it was thought the same would happen for chronic malnutrition. Each district had a malnutrition plan and children’s growth was monitored in the villages. Severe cases could then be referred or advice offered on the spot. On sickness insurance, the scheme was run by a health mutual which covered 9 per cent of the population, the remaining civil servants and security services had other arrangements. There were a number of levels of insurance, depending on the package chosen.
The number of home births had more than doubled. There was a system of community healthcare information which had been proven to be reliable. If a women went to a maternity ward then finance was provided, and this was to try to achieve the goal of having all births in maternity wards.
An Expert asked how many maternal deaths were due to unsafe abortion? How many women were now in prison due to abortion-related prosecutions? What was the public opinion on the new bill related to abortion?
Response by the Delegation
A member of the delegation said the reform of the abortion law did not seek to make punishments harsher. There were certainly cases in the courts related to abortion but statistics on this were not immediately available. On fertility rates, the average number of children that a woman gave birth to was declining, and was currently down to 2.6. Efforts were being made to diagnose deaths due to illegal abortion. On the right to education and multilingualism, Rwanda was a polyglot country and English and French were used in schools. The main enemy of the country was poverty, said a member of the delegation, as well as treatable infectious diseases.
Rwandans were looking to find their roots, and would continue to discuss cultural and funding matters with non-governmental organizations and partners. The progress noted on annual and economic growth was a lot of work, and although Rwandans knew they had to take their destiny in their own hands, this progress was due to international cooperation.
Women's social roles had changed and it was recognised that when they were well-paid, they could also support a household. There was a lot of work to be done in this area. On political balance, the President could not put more than 50 per cent of his own party in his cabinet, ensuring the representation of other groups. There were good chains of communication through the political system to keep citizens and civil servants informed. On this point, the information offered in the report was what was available, though it was accepted that there were still gaps. Governance and leadership were considered important so that the country could move forward.
NICOLAAS JAN SCHRIJVER, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Rwanda, said much had been done to answer the many and varied questions of the Committee, though some questions had still not been answered and this would be noted in the concluding recommendations.
SOLINE NYIRAHABIMANA, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for the interactive dialogue and said that although there were some questions, where the answer expected was not found, such as on the statistics, it was a lesson learned for the State party. The questions asked would inspire the next report. Rwanda was a country at the very beginning and it was determined to move forward quickly. The country looked forward to developing and uplifting the people. The Covenant covered a difficult set of rights to protect, as they required financing, budgets and structures. Rwanda did not lack the will to implement and promote the rights of the Covenant, instead it lacked the means. The recommendations, once received, would be carefully evaluated and considered.
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson, said the discussions had helped understand Rwanda’s approach. A lesson to be learnt by the delegation was that the questions posed were quite specific and data and examples were needed. The assertion of the delegation that the next report would be delivered on time was most welcome.
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