Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Examines the Report of Djibouti
In the ensuing discussion, Experts praised the modernisation of Djibouti’s institutions, reform of the judiciary and legal assistance, and the spread of open procedures
Discrimination was defined as any distinction based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, economic status, and health condition
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined first and second periodic report of Djibouti on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Introducing the report, Maki Omar Abdoulkader, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Justice of Djibouti, said that Djibouti’s presence in front of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was proof of the Government’s commitment to honour its international obligations. The late submission of the report did not mean that people in Djibouti were not protected from discrimination. The 1992 Constitution guaranteed equality before the law for all without any distinction based on race, gender and religion. Discrimination was defined as any distinction based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, economic status, and health condition. Women, children, the rural population, migrants and refugees, and persons with HIV were in particular focus of the Government.
In the ensuing discussion, Experts praised the modernisation of Djibouti’s institutions, reform of the judiciary and legal assistance, and the spread of open procedures. They raised questions about the participation of civil society in the drafting of the State party’s report, the ethnic composition of the population and the number of foreigners, the situation of national languages, administrative and legislative measures to establish peace and reconciliation between the Afars and Somalis, non-nationals and granting of Djibouti nationality, refoulement of asylum seekers, human trafficking, the status of the Convention in the hierarchy of domestic laws, the definition of racial discrimination and hate speech, freedom of assembly, the representation of women in elected posts and in the administration, the education gap between girls and boys, the penitentiary system, the selection of judges and the judiciary infrastructure, the mobile justice system, the independence of the judiciary, the availability of free legal counsel, the Ombudsman and the National Human Rights Commission, and the role of education in breaking down stereotypes.
In concluding remarks, Fatimata-Binta Victoire Dah, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Djibouti, noted that the delegation should not perceive the Committee’s concluding remarks as criticism, but as an opportunity to learn and to make progress to be reflected in the next periodic report.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Abdoulkader thanked the Committee Experts for the good will they had displayed towards the delegation. The Government would take into account the Committee’s concluding remarks.
Kadra Ahmed Hassan, Permanent Representative of Djibouti to the United Nations Office at Geneva, clarified that because the issue of ethnic composition had been used to divide the people of Djibouti during colonial times, and to undermine their desire to gain independence, the Government continued to make sure that it was not abused.
Concluding the meeting, Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and the country rapporteur for their contributions. She acknowledged Djibouti’s diversity, noting that diversity should be free from racial discrimination.
The delegation of Djibouti consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, and the Permanent Mission of Djibouti to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. when it will start considering the combined ninth to eleventh periodic report of Tajikistan (CERD/C/TJK/9-11).
The combined first and second periodic report of Djibouti can be read here: CERD/C/DJI/1-2.
Presentation of the Report
MAKI OMAR ABDOULKADER, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Justice of Djibouti, said that Djibouti was committed to the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to which it had acceded in 2011. The Government was aware that it was late in submitting the initial report and it apologized for the delay which was due to multiple reporting obligations. Djibouti had ratified most of the United Nations human rights instruments, namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Djibouti’s presence in front of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was proof of the Government’s commitment to honour its international obligations. The late submission of the report did not mean that people in Djibouti were not protected from discrimination. The legal framework of the country provided for such protection and the 1992 Constitution guaranteed equality before the law for all without any distinction based on race, gender and religion. Discrimination was defined as any distinction based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, economic status, and health condition. Women, children, rural population, migrants and refugees, and persons with HIV were in particular focus of the Government. The Ministry of Justice had given particular attention to access to justice, which was why it had launched the mobile justice system. In the north and south of the country there were cities that had accepted refugees from Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia. The legal reform sought to align the National Human Rights Commission with the Paris Principles and to increase its budget resources.
Questions by the Rapporteur
FATIMATA-BINTA VICTOIRE DAH, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Djibouti, reminded that the role of the Committee was to assess the efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention, and noted that the Committee aimed to offer relevant advice. She praised the modernisation of Djibouti’s institutions, reform of the judiciary and legal assistance, and the spread of open procedures.
Which civil society organizations had taken part in the workshops organised by the Inter-Ministerial Committee which had drafted the State party’s report? The report was quite short and lacked information. The core document seemed to be very careful to avoid mentioning the composition of the population in Djibouti. What was the number of foreigners and what was their economic role?
In addition to the official languages (Arabic, French, Somali and Afar), what was the situation of national languages? Would the Committee’s concluding observations be available in those languages? What was the impact of the Language Institute and Research Centre of Djibouti?
The State party preferred not to publish information on ethnic composition in order to avoid any biased exploitation of such information. Were there any tribes as defined by other countries in the region? Were there any special measures in line with the Convention?
There was a link between religion and race in Djibouti. What was the situation of marriage, divorce and inheritance for the non-Muslim population of the country?
Were there administrative and legislative measures to establish peace and reconciliation between the Afars and Somalis? How was history taught, especially the history of the parties involved in the civil conflict?
Ratified international treaties were superior to domestic laws. Had the Convention ever been referenced by judges and courts? As for the general principle of equality and non-discrimination, a separate article of the Criminal Code was necessary to criminalize acts of discrimination, hate speech or incitement to racial hatred. How many cases related to racial discrimination had there been?
Were there any complaints of racial discrimination, in light of the fact that political campaigns were often used to spread hate speech?
When would the National Human Rights Commission become fully independent and when would it gain A status in line with the Paris Principles?
What was the proportion of women in elected posts in the judiciary, police and administration?
The question of non-nationals was a concern for the Committee. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers had been coming to Djibouti in waves. Most of them came from Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia. Some of them were economic migrants. Despite the very high rate of unemployment, Djibouti was in a better position than the neighbouring countries. Most migrants lived in camps. What were the measures being taken to improve the living conditions in those camps? How did the Government deal with violence against women in the camps and how would it integrate migrant children into the national educational system?
How could one acquire the Djibouti nationality? What was the status of children born to non-Djibouti parents? There were reported cases of refoulement of asylum seekers.
Another issue of serious concern was human trafficking, and Djibouti was a platform for human trafficking in the Red Sea region.
Had the Government reached the goal of 100 per cent primary school enrolment? What obstacles had the Government faced in dealing with minorities? What was the situation with respect to the right to healthcare and water by minorities, migrants and refugees?
What were the measures to incorporate human rights and tolerance into the school curriculum? There seemed to have been systematic violation of the rights of Afar women in the north of the country.
Questions by Experts
Experts commended Djibouti for having increased the number of judges from 29 to 131. How was the selection of judges carried out? Were they appointed through a transparent and impartial process? What was the court hierarchy in Djibouti? The number of attorneys was rather small compared to the number of judges.
What budget had been allocated to legal counsel? What was the threshold for receiving free legal assistance? Who benefited from free legal counsel? Who were members of the Constitutional Council? Who appointed justices to the Supreme Court? Were the Constitutional Council and the Supreme Court two separate bodies?
Could the delegation provide details of the cases dealt with by the Ombudsman? What percentage of the cases had to do with racial discrimination?
Experts observed the exclusive manner in which the periodic report was prepared, and noted that the Committee needed statistics on ethnic groups in Djibouti in order to assess how they benefited from the Government’s development efforts.
Turning to the construction of the judicial infrastructure, Experts asked how long it took a mobile justice team to arrive in a region. It seemed that people had to wait for the judiciary to come to them in order to defend their fundamental rights. That question was very important for minorities because they often lacked the means to go to the capital. How was the functioning of the mobile justice team ensured?
Since the religion of the country was Islam, did courts take their decision on the personal status on the basis of Sharia? The justice system was supposed to protect the rights of citizens. Nevertheless, one judge had been prosecuted for treason because he had released opposition leaders. There seemed to be some confusion about the separation of powers.
With respect to the penitentiary system, what were the main ethnic groups in prison? Did prisoners have any means for recourse? Did minorities receive any support for legal counsel? Were judges familiar with the provisions of the Convention and were they trained on international legal instruments?
As for trafficking in persons, what measures were being taken to implement the new law on human trafficking? What measures were being taken to strengthen labour inspections to combat the worst forms of child labour?
Did Shia Muslims have access to their own courts? What was the official status of the Afar and Somali languages, and how were they used in school curricula? What was the language of the administration?
What was the position of the State party with respect to the Convention provisions related to individual communications?
Was civil society governed by a law? What was the proportion of women in the Government and what was their ethnicity? Could refugees obtain Djibouti nationality?
What was the status of the Convention in the hierarchy of laws in Djibouti? Could it be invoked in courts? Had there been cases brought to court using the Convention? What were specific measures to disseminate the Convention and raise awareness about it?
There was no detailed definition of racial discrimination; a law should be adopted with a definition of racial discrimination in line with the Convention provisions. How did the law of 1992 prohibit political parties from using hate speech? It was important to adopt a clear definition of hate speech and sanctions for it.
Freedom of assembly was undermined by the prohibition of the creation of political parties based on ethnicity. Was the creation of assemblies subject to any formalities?
Given Djibouti’s colonial legacy and relatively recent independence, Experts commended the fact that the Government had made education a vehicle for post-colonial transformation. Strategies for bridging the education gap between girls and boys were not clear, however. How did the Government plan to eliminate those disparities and achieve gender equality?
Replies by the Delegation
MAKI OMAR ABDOULKADER, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Justice of Djibouti, explained that the Constitution guaranteed freedom of association. Unfortunately, there was no special law that organized civil society as such, because there had been no need so far. There were 750 associations in Djibouti, most of them working in the human rights protection area. The most important of those associations had been involved in the drafting of the periodic report. They had also taken part in the validation stage of the draft report. Civil society in Djibouti was understood in a particular fashion; it covered those bodies that were not identified by a legal personality. There were no organizations with a clear goal of fighting racial discrimination. Associations needed to apply to a prefecture and submit a formal declaration of their statute. If the prefecture refused to issue them recognition, they could appeal directly to administrative courts.
With respect to the hierarchy of laws in Djibouti, international conventions held primacy over domestic laws and judges were able to invoke the provisions of the Convention. But most of them felt that national legislation already drew inspiration from the Convention. Djibouti was facing the challenge of the codification of laws. The judiciary infrastructure comprised the Court of First Instance, the Personal Status Court, the Labour Dispute Tribunal, and the Supreme Court. Judges were appointed through a competition and screening of qualifications and ethics standards. Ethnic origin played no role in the selection process, and there were more female magistrates than male. The President of the Supreme Court was a woman.
There were between 550 and 600 detainees on average in the only detention centre in Djibouti. The majority of the prison population came from the capital. Women had never comprised more than five per cent of the entire prison population, and they were held separately from men. The office of the International Committee of the Red Cross was very active in detention matters in Djibouti. Detainees received legal and judicial aid. In 2015, legal aid had been requested 17 times and the budget for legal aid was often not fully spent. The mobile justice system (“traveling courts”) was needed because there were no first-instance courts in the countryside, and because a significant proportion of the countryside population was nomadic. The mobile justice system mostly dealt with family and personal status issues, but it also dealt with problems in the Markazi refugee camp. The Sharia law was not applied in Djibouti; the family law was applied instead, with some elements of the Islamic law.
Vulnerable groups, such as minorities and migrants, were not often mentioned because the country had adopted a universal citizen approach. Ethnic distinction was not fostered and there were no specific policies for ethnic minorities. The Markazi refugee camp had become home to refugees from Yemen. In a number of cases families in the camp found themselves abandoned, with the rights of women and children being violated.
A child of unknown parents automatically received Djibouti nationality in order to avoid the phenomenon of statelessness. Foreigners could gain Djibouti nationality after 10 years of residence, and if they were married and with a child, they needed to have lived in the country for only five years.
Mr. Abdoulkader said that it was not true that the region of Obock was a hub for human trafficking; it was rather a centre of migration. The State party spared no effort to combat human trafficking. The Government had amended its 2007 law on trafficking and migration to raise awareness, improve aid to victims, and provide relevant training to prevent human trafficking. A distinction was made between human trafficking and migrant trafficking. There were 27,000 refugees in Djibouti, out of which 3,000 were asylum seekers.
Mr. Abdoulkader clarified that in the case of a judge who had been suspended for having acquitted alleged opposition leaders, the judge had been subsequently found in the company of the acquitted persons previously known to the police. The Bar Association of Djibouti gave opinions about the performance of lawyers to avoid bad professionalism.
As for human rights education, there were modules and programmes at the University of Djibouti to disseminate knowledge about human rights.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
FATIMATA-BINTA VICTOIRE DAH, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Djibouti, acknowledged the need to differentiate between trafficking and smuggling. Notwithstanding that distinction, the Convention required that victims should be in the focus of the Government’s efforts.
Ms. Dah also reiterated her questions about education and healthcare, and the activities of the National Human Rights Commission.
What was the situation of albinos in Djibouti? In some Africa States albinos were discriminated against, and even killed.
Could the delegation provide information about the law on racial hatred? What was the degree of independence of the judiciary vis-à-vis the executive? How were judges prosecuted in cases of professional mistakes?
One Expert observed disparities between different groups in the country and he inquired about policies to remove them.
How was education, namely the content of history textbooks, helping breaking down stereotypes? Was history being written from the perspective of Djibouti’s people?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation clarified that national institutions in Djibouti sought to provide services to citizens and to protect their human rights. Since the 1992 Constitution, a number of new institutions had been established, namely the Ombudsman and the National Human Rights Commission. Those institutions had a non-discriminatory composition and their primary mission was to protect human rights in the country. They received complaints coming from citizens within the jurisdiction of Djibouti. The Commission and the Ombudsman produced annual reports and sent them to the President and Parliament.
During Djibouti’s Universal Periodic Review, recommendations had been made to improve the status of the National Human Rights Commission, and to strengthen its financial and human resources, which had been done. The Commission had its own premises, staff and budget, which had increased by 42 per cent. The Ombudsman and the Commission shared the same goal, with the Ombudsman playing the role of a mediator between the administration and the administered.
Any institution had to keep up with the developments in the society that it served. During colonial times, only Europeans had access to courts. One of the consequences of Djibouti’s independence was the end of the so-called dual system of justice. In 2000, the country had reorganized its judicial system in order to set up judicial unity.
There were no major concerns in the area of education because everyone had access to education. There was no discrimination among children. In the same way, the Government had set up universal healthcare three years ago.
MAKI OMAR ABDOULKADER, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Justice of Djibouti, explained that some 50 albinos had been identified in the country, and an assistance office had been set up as part of the Ministry of Health. They had never suffered discrimination of any kind.
There prosecutor and judges carried out their work independently. The reconciliation agreement aimed to bring together the communities in Djibouti, following the civil war during the 1990s.
There were three women in the Government, out of 17. Ethnic composition had nothing to do with it. The working languages of the administration were French and Arabic. Afar and Somali were recognized as national languages. Television and radio stations had been opened to be dedicated to those two languages.
As for the role of education in breaking stereotypes, the Djibouti society had not demanded the change of history textbooks.
FATIMATA-BINTA VICTOIRE DAH, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Djibouti, thanked the delegation for the answers provided, openness and sharing of experience. She noted that the delegation should not perceive the Committee’s concluding remarks as criticism, but as an opportunity to learn and to make progress to be reflected in the next periodic report. The Convention was nowadays more necessary than ever in light of the global increase in racism. The Government should, thus, start working on a definition of racial discrimination.
MAKI OMAR ABDOULKADER, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Justice of Djibouti, thanked the Committee Experts for the good will they had displayed towards the delegation. The Government would take into account the Committee’s concluding remarks.
KADRA AHMED HASSAN, Permanent Representative of Djibouti to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that disaggregated data on the ethnic composition of Djibouti needed to be contextualized. The issue of ethnic composition had been used to divide the people of Djibouti during colonial times, and to undermine their desire to gain independence. The Government continued to make sure that it was not abused. Ms. Hassan reiterated Djibouti’s commitment to the Convention, whose implementation the Government treated with great seriousness.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and the country rapporteur for their contributions. She acknowledged Djibouti’s diversity, noting that diversity should be free from racial discrimination.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).