YAOUNDÉ (11 September 2013) – The United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, Rita Izsák, recognised the Cameroonian Government’s efforts to protect and promote the rights of all of Cameroon’s diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. However, she stressed, “important next steps” are still required for some marginalised minorities.
“Cameroon has over 250 ethnic groups speaking many different languages and is rightly proud of its record of stability and peaceful coexistence of such diverse communities,” Ms. Izsák said at the end of her first official visit to the country. “Numerous development and social policies, general respect for minority rights, and emphasis on national unity in diversity are important factors contributing to such stability.”
“As in all countries in the region many challenges remain, however I do believe that the political will exists to overcome them in time, and with the full participation of minorities in shaping effective solutions,” she noted.
Problems faced by Pygmy and Mbororo pastoralist communities, who identify as indigenous minorities, were frequently raised during the UN Expert's visit. Many belonging to such groups are among the poorest in Cameroon and continue to face unique problems that require dedicated attention to improve their situations and enjoyment of their rights.
“Solutions to the problems of Pygmy and Mbororo must take into account and respect the unique cultures, traditions and lifestyles of these peoples if they are to work in practice and be appropriate and sustainable for communities,” Ms. Izsák said. “Issues relating to land tenure are of primary importance and require dialogue and review of current legislation to secure their essential land rights.”
Mbororo frequently stated that they face conflicts over access to and ownership of land and access to water. The Government encourages sedentary lifestyles, however some wish to continue their traditional nomadic ways of life. Ms. Izsák highlighted that the government should accommodate such wishes where possible.
“Pygmy communities also face unique challenges often related to their forced removal from their forest lands and the loss of their forest based, hunter - gatherer lifestyles,” the UN Expert said, stressing that their right to remain on their ancestral forest lands must be respected, where possible, even in the face of national resource development projects. These communities are often poorly equipped to manage away from their traditional forest habitats.
Ms. Izsák noted her concern about the decline and possible disappearance of some of the many mother - tongue languages spoken in the country and welcomed some positive initiatives to record and maintain these languages alongside French and English. She welcomed a pilot project for bilingual education for some mother-tongue languages.
Despite the official bilingual language policy throughout the country, the rights expert urged the government to address concerns about discrimination against the English speaking minority, and to ensure equality and equal opportunities for English speakers in all areas of life.
The Independent Expert welcomed the freedom of religion and harmonious coexistence of various religious groups which is evident across the country. However, she met leaders of Pentecostal Churches who raised concerns, including the recent closure of a number of Churches in the country. “Registration and authorisation processes should be non-discriminatory and clear criteria and time-frames should be established and respected in practice,” she emphasized.
“Government leaders at local and national levels must consult and involve grass roots community representatives in decision-making processes in order to maintain peaceful coexistence of various ethnic and religious groups." Ms. Izsák noted numerous local level disputes that should be effectively resolved to avoid tensions between communities. “National level human rights commitments must be better implemented and monitored at the local level.”
The expert visited the national capital, Yaoundé, before travelling to different regions, including the North West, South and Far North regions. She met with senior Government officials at the national and regional levels, representatives of non-governmental organizations, community members, academics, and others working in the field of minority issues, social inclusion and promotion of equality and non-discrimination.
Ms. Izsák concluded by thanking the Government of Cameroon for inviting her to visit and for its excellent cooperation with her. The Independent Expert will present a full report with her findings and recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2014.
Rita Izsák was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2011 and took up her functions on 01 August 2011. As Independent Expert, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/IExpert/Pages/IEminorityissuesIndex.aspx
UN Human Rights, Country page – Cameroon: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/CMIndex.aspx
Check the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Minorities.aspx
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