- Female genital mutilation (FGM), a widely practised and very harmful tradition, is the worst substantial human rights violation in Benin, civil society groups hold. Other human rights violations in the stable democracy included arbitrary arrest and torture, but on a much lesser scale than FGM.
A coalition of Beninese non-governmental organisations today welcomed the conclusions of the UN Committee on Human Rights, criticising Benin for the ongoing practices of FGM, arbitrary arrests and torture. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), organising several of the Beninese human rights groups, joined the UN recommendations.
According to Marie-Elise Gbedo of the Association of Female Lawyers in Benin (AFJB), the national government had taken positive legal steps to assure gender equality during the last few years. This included the March 2003 adoption of a law banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and an August 2004 Family Code, guaranteeing the equality between men and women.
- It is now urgent to implement the rights guaranteed in these law texts by adopting adapted action plans, however said Ms Gbedo. While the legal framework to fight FGM and gender discrimination now exists in Benin, little has yet been done by Cotonou authorities to implement these laws.
According to Julien Togbadja of the Beninese League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHB), "there prevails a general climate of arbitrary treatments in the juridical administration," in particular regarding arbitrary detentions and unbiased trials. Mr Togbadja urged the government of Benin to act more firmly against "abusive police custodies, torture and ill-treatments."
Benin is a politically stable and well developed democracy with freedom of the press and political plurality. According to local human rights groups, however, security Beninese forces have not implemented the pro-human rights legislation existing in the country.
Mr Togbadja holds that this may be a result of lack of training and urges the Cotonou government to "intensify the education of its police agents" to abide by national and international standards. Further, it was necessary to introduce disciplinary and penal consequences for police officers violating the human rights of their subjects.
According to Marc Deguenon of the Beninese Human Rights Task Group (HRTG), another serious problem is the lack of human dignity in national detention centres and prisons. In August this year, the Cotonou prison had an overpopulation of 400 percent, according to Mr Deguenon. Benin was further lacking prison facilities for women, thus provoking further abuses.
The Beninese and international human rights groups welcomed the debate held at UN offices in Geneva 18 October to 5 November, where the government of Benin had to defend its human rights record. The UN Committee on Human Rights gave several recommendations on how Benin could comply with the international standards the country is bound by.
- It is now imperative that the government of Benin quickly implements the principal causes of concern and recommendations formulated and that the Committee on Human Rights ensures a formal follow-up, concluded Patrick Mützenberg from World Organisation against Torture (OMCT).
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