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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


5 February 2009 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Cameroon this morning, during which 54 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Canada, following the review of the country on Tuesday, 3 February.

· Presenting the national report of Cameroon was JOSEPH DION NGUTE, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cameroon, who said the national report of Cameroon was product of three years of cooperation between the Government and representatives of civil society. The 1990s, the speaker noted, was a time when a great many legal reforms were undertaken in Cameroon. A national committee for human rights and freedoms was established (later referred to as the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms) and in 1997, the Constitution reformed leading to a strengthening of efforts to promote and protect human rights. The Constitution proclaimed the commitment of the people of Cameroon to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Charter and the African Charter on Human Rights, as well as all international treaties which had been ratified. Cameroon ratified a large number of international and regional human rights instruments, and had signed the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court.

A number of efforts had been made to raise the standards of living of the people of Cameroon, despite obstacles such as the social crisis of February 2008, the Deputy Minister added. The realization of the right to adequate housing in the country had been particularly difficult over the last two years. The Government adopted a decree in 2008 to grant compensation to individuals who had been evicted from their homes. While noting that there was an existing phenomenon of street children and violence against children in the country, he noted that the protection of the rights of the child was one of the main priorities of the Government. In 2007 there was a census conducted to identify and eventually rehabilitate street children; centres were also established for the rehabilitation of street children and sexually exploited children. Efforts were also underway to address the problem of child labour. In conjunction with the International Labour Organization, the Government was working to combat the exploitation of children in the cocoa plantation and on the trafficking of children. Moreover, a series of measures were being made to reform the juvenile justice system, including the training of judges. Primary education was free and compulsory in Cameroon, the Deputy Minister added.

In 2004 a ministry was created to address issues pertaining to women and the family, Mr. Ngute stated. The ministry elaborated and implemented a national plan of action on the rights of women in society with the aim of eliminating discrimination against women and to guarantee gender equality. The Government also strived to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Special education needs were also provided for by the Government. The rights of indigenous peoples and minorities were guaranteed by the Cameroonian Constitution and the Government had enacted a number of programmes of action addressing the economic and social needs of these groups. The rights of refugees were also upheld in Cameroon. Under the national human rights education programme human rights education was introduced into schools in Cameroon. In conclusion, the Deputy Minister said his country was determined to be a serious and committed actor in the promotion and implementation of human rights. To reach this goal Cameroon required international assistance in form of training of personnel and developing the country’s infrastructure. It was hoped that the international community and the Human Rights Council, in particular, would heed this call.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the de facto moratorium on the death penalty; cooperation with the Commonwealth in the reform of the prison system; steps to combat acts of corruption and towards upholding good governance; the creation of a special division of oversight in the police; accession to most of the core international human rights treaties; the establishment of the Commission on Human Rights and Freedom and the National Labour Advisory Commission; improvements made in the health sector, including the reduction in the price of medicines; the reform of the electoral process; the introduction of free and primary education; measures to promote gender equality; and the steps taken to protect the rights of vulnerable groups.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to policies to promote gender equality; the causes of forced marriages and actions envisaged to prevent forced marriage of young girls; measures to sensitive the public in the area of domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and the sexual exploitation of women and girls; steps to fight acts of violence against children in detention facilities; when the State envisaged signing the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; steps taken to ensure all citizens routinely had access to necessities fulfilling basic needs; measures being taken for the provision of free and equal primary education for all children; the experiences gained in the Plan of Action for Human Rights to integrate human rights education into the primary school system; the obstacles faced in providing basic health care; whether HIV/AIDS-related cases can be litigated in Cameroon; and specific steps to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation.

Additional issues pertained to the specific areas where international assistance is required; plans to upgrade the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms in conformity with the Paris Principles and the functioning of the Commission; clarification on the State’s policy on forced evictions and on squatting and whether and ordinary Cameroonian citizen living below the poverty line had access to land; efforts to end impunity for Government officials; measures to eliminate all forms of torture by security forces; the process of ratification of the Convention of the Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; plans to encourage a coordinated strategy to combat the scourge of corruption, either on a regional or sub-regional level; measures intended to reduce the time of lengthy trials; and steps to lift restrictions on the media.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: For Cameroon to identify and define its needs from the OHCHR and international partners in the various domains of human rights; for the international community to assist Cameroon with technical and financial support to effectively honour its human rights obligations; for international development partners to extend the aid required by Cameroon; to take steps to ensure the independence of ELECAM [independent electoral body], including allocating a budget sufficient for its tasks; to intensify cooperation with the United Nations human rights treaty bodies; to subscribe fully to the principles of equality in all areas of life; to conduct a comprehensive review of the national human rights strategy in collaboration with the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms with reliance on civil society; and to extend an open invitation to the United Nations Special Procedures.

Other recommendations included: To ratify the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; to take all necessary steps to ensure the conformity of prison conditions with international standards; to grant full access to prisons to international observers; to continue efforts to reform the judicial system; to abolish the death penalty; to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; to put an end to impunity for members of the police and security forces; to establish an independent and effective mechanism to prevent and combat impunity; to intensify efforts to educate and train police, prison staff and justice officials on all aspects of human rights; to consider creating a constitutional court; To ratify the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; to ratify the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court, which it has signed; and to take additional measures to combat corruption.

Additionally, States recommended that Cameroon take all measures to ensure that the media can work freely; to reform the legal framework regulating the founding and operation of independent media enterprises in a way which amounted to being conducive of the practice of free and unrestricted media; to reform the press law to lift existing restrictions on the media; to further advance the freedom of the press and freedom of expression; to agree to the visit of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; and to fully respect the right of human rights defenders and perpetrators of violence committed against them.

Another set of recommendations included: To ensure equal access to education for all children in the territory without discrimination; to take steps to increase school enrolment rates; to strive to provide adequate housing in order to fulfil the right of families to decent housing conditions; and, if HIV/AIDS-related cases were not litigated in Cameroon, to consider enacting a specific law for that; to continue to implement initiatives in combating HIV/AIDS; to consider ratifying the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education; to ratify the Convention on the right of persons with disabilities; to ratify ILO Convention 169 concerning indigenous peoples and tribes; to adopt legislative measures to compensate and resettle indigenous communities forcible removed from their land; to put in place a special law that will take into consideration the land rights of the pygmy community; to accede to the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their families; and to consider the possibility of reforming existing the laws making homosexuality a crime.

Lastly, Cameroon was recommended to accede to the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; to implement the recommendations of the Committee of the Rights of the Child; to take additional steps to reintegrate and rehabilitate street children; to prevent and combat the sale of children, children exploited in the labour market and child victims of commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution and pornography; to abolish domestic legislation that reinforced discrimination against women; to consider adopting a comprehensive strategy at all levels to combat all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence; to raise awareness as to the issues and adopt legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation; and to set up an anti-trafficking public campaign.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were China, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Argentina, Canada, Azerbaijan, Chile, France, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Egypt, the Philippines, India, Ghana, South Africa, Gabon, Mexico, Nigeria, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Pakistan and Djibouti.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Israel, the Holy See, Morocco, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Chad, Turkey, Côte d’Ivoire, Latvia, Estonia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Burundi, Belarus, Uganda, Serbia, Lesotho, Niger, the Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and Haiti.

· The six-person delegation of Cameroon consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Office of the President and the Permanent Mission of Cameroon to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Cameroon are China, Cuba and Senegal.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Cameroon can be found here.

· Adoption of report on Canada: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Canada are the United Kingdom, Azerbaijan and Bangladesh. Introducing the report PETER GOODERHAM (United Kingdom), firstly read out a few oral amendments, after which he underlined Canada’s constructive and serious approach towards the review and willingness to highlight areas which needed to be improved upon in the area of human rights. Representing the State under review, GWYN KUTZ, Director in the Department of Foreign Affairs, noted that Canada had been an early and committed supporter of the UPR process which was one of the key innovations of the Human Rights Council. Its emphasis on frank and constructive dialogue to promote human rights was among its unique strengths. While recognizing that no country had a perfect human rights record, she said it was important that all countries open itself to scrutiny of its human rights records. Canada would carefully examine the recommendations in the report and report back on them at the June session of the Human Rights Council. It was the hope of Canada that the Human Rights Council would find a way of incorporating the views expressed in the statement which were not delivered during the interactive discussion.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Cameroon on Monday, 9 February.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Cuba after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of Bangladesh.

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