Human Rights Committee
MORNING 20 July 2010
The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Cameroon on the measures undertaken by that country to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Presenting the report, Anatole Fabien Marie Nkou, Permanent Representative of Cameroon to the United Nations at Geneva, said that in 1999, during the presentation of the third periodic report of Cameroon, the Committee had expressed concerns regarding the prison system in the country, including the monitoring of places of detention, penitentiary administration and overcrowding in prisons and he was pleased to inform the Committee that since 2004, the oversight of prisons had come under the Ministry of Justice, allowing better oversight and a streamlining of administration. Numerous visits had been carried out to places of detention by the country’s National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, which also visited police and gendarmerie stations. The International Committee of the Red Cross also carried out regular visits to places of detention. This month Cameroon would also ratify the Convention against Torture, which would help to effectively protect people against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments.
In 1999 the Committee also expressed concern about the prosecution of journalists and criminal sanctions against them. Mr. Nkou said that important measures had been taken since that time to safeguard freedom of expression, including the issuance of special licenses to private audio-visual companies establishing the conditions and modalities for the practice of private enterprises in the audio-visual area. One of the main measures taken in the area of freedom of expression was freedom from censure but the State still deplored the practice of some Cameroonian journalists who printed false information. Further, a number of other laws had been enacted, including one governing elections in the country, as well as a law for the protection of persons with disabilities. A third law governed the creation, organization, and operation of the National Human Rights Commission and specified principles in keeping with the Paris Principles.
Over the course of two meetings, the Cameroonian delegation answered questions posed by Committee Members relating to a number of issues, including freedom of expression and freedom of the press, capital punishment, prison conditions, the rights of detainees and extrajudicial killings. Committee Members asked a number of questions about the rights of homosexuals in Cameroon. The delegation was asked to clarify how the law criminalizing homosexuality in the country did not violate the Covenant and other international human rights laws and binding international agreements.
Committee Experts further expressed numerous concerns about the status of women in Cameroon, including their access to education and employment and equal pay for equal work. A number of questions were also asked about violence against women, both domestic and sexual violence, female genital mutilation, rape, and the rights of women vis-à-vis the traditional justice system in Cameroon. The status of women in polygamous marriages also elicited several questions about the legal rights of women in these marriages, as did the marriage age for young women.
The Cameroonian delegation included members from several governmental departments and ministries including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice.
The Committee will hold its next public session this afternoon at 3 p.m., when it will continue to discuss a draft general comment pertaining to article 19 of the Covenant on freedom of opinion and expression.
Report of Cameroon
The fourth periodic report of Cameroon (CCPR/C/CMR/4) states that Cameroon is a bijural country with the common law and the civil law systems being applicable. There exists a wide range of customary law given the multiplicity of ethnic groups in the country. In most cases the courts will readily apply statutory law. Customary law is only applicable when it is compatible with statutory law and not repugnant to natural justice, equity, and good conscience. The Cameroonian legislature and courts do not adopt and apply customary laws and practices aimed at fostering gender inequality and promoting male domination. However, there exist discriminatory customary practices in Cameroon which violate the rights of women. Examples of such discriminatory customs include: customs that foster levirate marriage and customs that promote the refund of the bride price. Levirate usually refers to the custom whereby when a man dies his widow is expected to marry one of the deceased husband’s relatives. The practice of levirate is contrary to Cameroonian written law. This practice has been outlawed by the Cameroonian legislature. Levirate marriage has also been denounced by the courts. Indeed, Cameroonian Courts hold that any custom which states that a woman or any other human being for that matter is property and can be inherited along with a deceased’s estate, is not only repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience but is also contrary to human rights.
In recent years the Government has undertaken several educational campaigns aimed at sensitizing traditional authorities on some aspects of human rights. The principal goal of this campaign exercise has been to build a human rights culture among the traditional authorities so as to make them to abandon obnoxious customs that discriminate against women. The Government has set up the Ministry of Women Empowerment and the Family (MINPROFF) whose duty is to empower women and combat discrimination against them. In this regard, the Ministry informs women of their rights by way of brochures, focal points on women’s issues, guidance and training programmes, projects in the area of health and the provision of financial support. In Cameroon, any woman who alleges that she is a victim of a discriminatory customary practice may apply to the court for redress on the basis that her human rights have been violated.
The fight against impunity is a major concern of the Cameroonian Government. This fight focuses on almost all cases of human rights violations including extrajudicial killings, torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment especially where such violations were perpetrated by agents of the State or State authorities. Judicial and administrative sanctions are meted out on prison administration personnel, policemen, gendarme officers, other civil servants and traditional rulers when they are found guilty of such violations.
There have been few or no cases of disappearance in Cameroon in recent years. This is due to government’s efforts to prevent the disappearance of persons. Whenever there are allegations of disappearance, measures are taken to investigate such allegations. If the allegations are founded, culprits are punished and the victims or their families are compensated accordingly. To demonstrate its determination to prevent the disappearance of persons, the State of Cameroon signed the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance of on 6 February 2007.
Presentation of the Report
ANATOLE FABIEN MARIE NKOU, Permanent Representative of Cameroon to the United Nations at Geneva, presenting the report of Cameroon, said that not everything was perfect in Cameroon but there was no question that Cameroon remained a haven of peace and stability in Africa. It was a State where rule of law prevailed and there was individual and collective rights and good governance. The country had more than 200 political parties and thousands of non-governmental organizations and groups that related to human rights, as well as active and vigilant trade unions. The media scene was also robust with 600 newspapers, 200 radio stations and dozens of television stations. The State had adopted all the major instruments to guarantee human rights and the judiciary dispensed justice with full independence.
Mr. Nkou said that Cameroon’s report looked at the progress accomplished in Cameroon, including a number of legislative accomplishments such as the ratification of a number of laws to strengthen human rights, including the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime as well as the three optional protocols to this Convention. Cameroon had also updated its penal code which now included the right of a suspect to counsel and to examination by a doctor; the banning of torture; a limitation on the length of detention; the introduction of formal action under habeas corpus; and the inadmissibility of evidence obtained through the use of torture.
In 1999, during the presentation of the third periodic report of Cameroon, the Committee had expressed concerns regarding the prison system in the country, including the monitoring of places of detention, penitentiary administration and overcrowding in prisons. Mr. Nkou was pleased to inform the Committee that since 2004 the oversight of prisons had come under the Ministry of Justice, allowing better oversight and a streamlining of administration. Numerous visits were carried out to places of detention by the National Human Rights Commission, which also visited police and gendarmerie stations. The International Committee of the Red Cross also carried out regular visits to places of detention.
Mr. Nkou said that this month Cameroon would ratify the Convention against Torture, which would help to effectively protect against cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments. Some of the measures envisaged, or already enacted, to combat overcrowding in prisons was the construction of six new prisons, which had been built and provided an additional 300 places per prison. The State had also increased the application of alternative measures to detention such as conditional release. In addition, pardons by the President, which led to immediate release each time, also led to a decrease in overcrowding. The national prison training school’s teaching curriculum had been revised and improved. Improvements in the budgets earmarked for health and food of detainees had also been made.
In 1999 the Committee had also expressed concern about the prosecution of journalists and criminal sanctions against them for the publication of false stories and had recommended that the freedom of expression be protected according to Article 19 of the Convention. Mr. Nkou said that important measures had been taken since that time including the issuance of special licenses to private audio-visual companies, establishing the conditions and modalities for the practice of private enterprises in the audio-visual area. One of the main measures taken in the area of freedom of expression was freedom from censure but the State still deplored the practice of some Cameroonian journalists who printed false information. However, prosecutions were generally done by individuals who felt their rights had been violated by the press, not by government ministries. At this time, there were no journalists being held in any Cameroonian prison.
Mr. Nkou said a number of other laws had been enacted, including one governing elections in the country, as well as a law for the protection of persons with disabilities. The aim of the latter was to increase access to education, sports and leisure facilities for persons with disabilities as well as socio-economic integration for these citizens. A third law governed the creation, organization, and operation of the National Human Rights Commission and specified principles in keeping with the Paris Principles.
In conclusion, Mr. Nkou said that the delegation of Cameroon had come before the Committee not only to inform it of what the State had accomplished, but also to gather the wise advice and valuable recommendations of the Committee, so that they could consolidate hand in hand what they had so far managed to accomplish in the defence, protection and promotion of human rights.
Questions by Committee Members
One Committee Expert asked whether there were any cases the delegation could cite in which the Covenant had been invoked by the courts. The delegation was also asked whether it could provide more information on the traditional justice system and whether there were any plans to outlaw traditional justice and the sometimes harsh sentences handed down by traditional leaders.
The Expert also asked if there were any plans to pass a specific law prohibiting discrimination against women. There seemed to be a schism between customary laws and statutory laws, which was compounded when it came to the rights of women. Non-governmental organizations had mentioned on several occasions that women did not enjoy the same rights as men in Cameroon and that customary laws were very discriminatory toward women.
One Expert noted that there was a law against rape but that it did not include marital rape. Non-governmental organizations had alleged that police rarely investigated allegations of rape and that few sexual assault cases had been prosecuted in the country. Domestic violence was also not punished by a specific law and penalties for domestic violence were rarely effective; partly because police considered domestic violence to be a private matter, thus socially legitimizing it through impunity.
Female genital mutilation was still an issue in Cameroon, said one Expert and he asked if there were any plans to criminalize it and whether there had been any prosecutions for this act.
An Expert had questions regarding the independence of the National Human Rights Committee, which had also been discussed during the review of Cameroon’s last periodic report. To whom was this Committee reporting to and how were its members being appointed? Appointments should be open and transparent; this was directly linked to the independence of this body. Financial independence was also important. Who controlled the National Human Rights Committee budget? Were funds being provided by the Government and how so? Other Committee Experts also wanted to know what matters was this body empowered to take up, whether the public had the right to petition it directly and what happened when it made recommendations or findings?
Early marriages still seemed to be a problem in Cameroon and a Committee Expert asked what was being done to combat this and to ensure that the age of marriage was the same for men and women. The delegation was also asked how polygamy could be reconciled with the provisions of the Covenant, particularly articles 2 and 26.
A Committee Member said that progress appeared to have been made in increasing women’s access to education and the labour market, but obstacles they faced included sexual harassment. Did the State have statistics on sexual harassment against women in the workplace?
An Expert noted that abortion was criminalized, but allowed in some circumstances; this led to a high level of mortality because of abortions performed in unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. There was also a lack of gynaecologists and other trained medical personnel as well as insufficient medical facilities to address women’s reproductive health needs. What did the State propose to do about this situation?
With regard to gender equality, a Committee Member said women were in an unfavourable position vis-à-vis the law since the law in Cameroon was a combination of the Napoleonic Code, common law, British law and traditional customs. Abuse of women was not considered a legal basis for divorce and women were often married off by their families. Women had little possibility to participate in the political life of the country and their access to the labour market was restricted largely to the informal sector.
A Committee Expert addressed the issue of the repression of homosexuality. In its responses to the list of issues, the State said that no particular freedom was violated for homosexuals, but the Expert said a right was being deprived, namely the right to choose one’s sexual orientation. There were cases of gays and lesbians who had been subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment and who had been detained by police simply on suspicion of homosexuality and allegedly subjected to violent sexual assault while in jail. This also violated the right to privacy. How many cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation had been brought in the courts and how many people had been charged for discrimination against gays and lesbians? What was being done to decriminalize homosexuality and make Cameroon’s laws consistent with those of the Covenant?
An Expert asked whether there were any plans to place a moratorium on the death penalty, whether minors were afforded special guarantees not to be sentenced to death, what the clemency process for death penalty cases was and what the appeal process for death penalty killings was.
On extrajudicial killings, were there mechanisms in place to investigate them and were there an estimated number of such killings. An Expert also asked to comment on allegations by non-governmental organizations that mob violence was a problem in the country as people were frustrated by what they saw as impunity and often took justice into their own hands.
A Committee Member noted that a better gender balance in the delegation would have been very helpful in answering many of the Committee’s questions.
Going back to Cameroon’s written answer to the list of issues regarding homosexuality, one Expert said that there was an answer he had never seen before and that he was curious to know on what basis Cameroon used Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to justify its stance on homosexuality. Also, in what way did Cameroon’s culture dictate a prohibition of homosexuality, which was also an argument used in the written answers to the list of issues. The Expert was also interested in knowing how Cameroon determined who was a homosexual, as in most States it was same-sex sexual acts that were criminalized, not homosexuality itself as it was the case in Cameroon. Also, how did the State go about educating the gay and lesbian community on health matters such as HIV/AIDS and other issues?
According to a non-governmental organization, the National Human Rights Commission in Cameroon had only put forward 19 complaints out of the 729 it had received, said an Expert. Could the delegation comment on this number?
An expert also asked if planned to establish a national action plan to combat abuse of power by traditional chiefs.
A Committee Expert asked for more information on a draft law regarding the family, and asked why the bill had not yet beet ratified, especially as the bill contained provisions to fight against discrimination against women.
Response by Delegation
The delegation began its responses to the questions raised by Committee Members by saying that it appreciated that non-governmental organizations were included in the process and Cameroon respected the work and the rights of human rights defenders and civil society groups. However, the delegation did believe that there were some politicized organizations which, when they could not advance their agendas via political parties, masqueraded as non-governmental organizations.
Homosexuality was a non-issue and decriminalizing it was not right for Cameroon at this time. This was also something they had stated during Cameroon’s Universal Periodic Review. Any politician who would propose to end the ban on homosexuality would not get a lot of support in Cameroon, due to the current attitudes in the country. Such mentality changes needed time.
The delegation further noted that Cameroon was fighting illiteracy, diseases and other major problems. Democracy was not always perfect and this was why they were appearing before the Committee, to do a better job in the protection and promotion of human rights.
Women in Cameroon were free said the delegations. They were free because they went to school. Attendance rates at all levels in schools were almost the same for women as it was for men. Educated women knew about their rights and they would not stand for polygamy. They also knew about their inheritance rights. There was no reason for the Committee to be concerned on those fronts. There was equal pay for equal work and no politician would ever try to support discrimination against women because women were also voting. Further, Cameroon did not recognize female genital mutilation, but there were 5 million refugees in the country which were importing these practices. Such cases were being prosecuted by the courts and punished.
Cameroon was not exempt from human rights violations, but it was making every effort to meet and comply with its obligations to promote and protect human rights, said the delegation.
In terms of the application of the Covenant to case law and its use in Cameroonian jurisprudence, the delegation responded that international law did enjoy primacy in Cameroon. But a judge turned to international law only when there was a void in domestic law or a contradiction between domestic and international law. This explained why there was only one case in which the Covenant had been referred to in a ruling. Education and training had been implemented for judges and they were being instructed that when a domestic law was contrary to international law, the international law enjoyed primacy and should be taken into account. Judges had been instructed that domestic law was not the only tool at their disposal.
Turning to the coexistence of modern law and customary law, the delegation said that Cameroon had many tribal and ethnic institutions because the State’s resources still did not allow for full judiciary coverage. There were 422 city councils and the judiciary should have a first instance court in every arrondissement. There were also courts that dealt with civil cases only, which filled in the blanks in coverage. In terms of traditional law versus statutory law, every time a custom ran counter to the law, the law was applicable. Generally, these tribunals were being presided over by professional magistrates. It also took time to educate people and change attitudes until people understood that one not treat a woman in the twenty first century the way women were being treated in the eighteenth century. This was why the education of women was so important; when they knew about their rights they could stand up for themselves. Today a girl or a woman would not allow herself to be taken to a marriage the way cows were being led to a slaughter.
In years past, some parents did not want their daughters to go to school because of religious strictures, but this was less of a problem now. In general trade terms, it turned out that married women could have a career separate from their husbands without having to get his permission and they were entitled to have their own assets, property and belongings, said the delegation.
On the question of discrimination against women, including female genital mutilation, domestic violence and employment discrimination there was a draft bill in development for a family code. But the Ministry of Justice was currently undertaking significant legislative work, starting with the criminal procedure code. As the Committee knew, Cameroon had two criminal procedures which applied depending on whether one lived in the Anglophone or Francophone part of the country. Cameroon had now synthesized the two to come up with a national code. The Ministry of Justice was doing an overhaul of this law to apply international law as well. In this draft law there would be sentences for female genital mutilation and domestic violence. They were awaiting the completion of this legislative overhaul of the civil and criminal codes to see what work remained to be done in the area of legislation on discrimination against women.
With regards to the situation of women in Cameroon, the delegation said the Committee Members could put their minds at ease. In Cameroon, women weren’t just spouses; they were mothers, daughters and sisters. While men might not want to see their spouses treated on an equal footing, they would not be upset to see their mother or sister in a position of power. In Cameroon, women were protected throughout their lives by their sons, brothers and spouses. Any man who would dare to strike a woman would be confronted by men defending that woman. The delegation admitted that violence against women did exist in Cameroon, but perpetrators ran the risk of suffering the same fate. Women were valued in Cameroon and the education of women was helping improve their situation.
Turning to capital punishment, the delegation said that the most serious crimes were punishable by capital punishment. For example, treason, incitement to civil war during a state of emergency and blood crimes such as murder and theft committed with violence that led to death or serious injury were punishable by capital punishment.
With regard to the legal remedies, the delegation indicated that there were the regular channels of appeal to the Supreme Court and an appeal to the President for a pardon. Pregnant women could not be executed before they gave birth. On the minimum age of criminal liability, the delegation said that the age of criminal liability was 18 years of age; children between the ages of 14 and 17 could also be criminally liable but were deemed to have extenuating circumstances and could not be sentenced to capital punishment.
With regards to the question on whether the moratorium on the death penalty could be de jure rather than de facto, the delegation said the suggestion would certainly be examined by the Cameroonian Government. On the question of vigilante or popular justice, it was true that in 2006 Cameroon had faced a resurgence in popular justice, due to the frustration of people that criminals would be apprehended, but not convicted. The delegation said the frustration had been understandable, but people were innocent until proven guilty and when one was accused of a crime there was a presumption of innocence and people had to understand this. Today there was a change in attitudes coming about and the criminal procedure was becoming more ingrained in society.
With regard to rape followed by marriage, the delegation said that according to the criminal code a man would be exonerated or forgiven if he married the victim of the rape. This was not a way of giving impunity to the perpetrator; this was only applied when the victim had forgiven the perpetrator and freely consented to marriage. This measure was part of pardon and reparations in justice, but it could be eliminated in the new criminal code that was currently being discussed.
Turning to extrajudicial killings, the Government did not condone this practice and anyone found guilty of such killings would be punished, said the delegation.
The delegation said that spousal rape could be prosecuted as a crime under existing laws, which stated that anyone who forced someone to have sex, whether through physical violence or any other type of coercion, could be prosecuted.
Turning to the human rights and freedom committee, the delegation said, with regards to the independence of this institution, that its members were being appointed after consultation with civil society, opinion leaders and political parties. Appointment as such, did not lead to dependence. In terms of the resources provided to the body, there was a special line in the finance budget allocated to the commission. Reports of the commission were being sent to the Head of State. For the last few years the reports had been made public and had been widely reported on by the press. Any individual with a complaint could address the commission which could open an investigation and decide if there were merits and whether reparations were in order.
Turning back to the rights of women, the delegation said that rape, spousal rape, and violence against women had been included in the family code, the criminal code and the civil code. These were difficult problems to address because they dealt with cultural norms and issues of intimacy. Changes in society had to go hand-in-hand with changes in the laws. Customs could not be changed through legislation, but through opinion leaders in communities. Cameroon needed a major campaign to raise awareness of the population and educate people. Programmes were being carried out in local languages via radio programmes to raise awareness and educate people in rural communities. This awareness raising had to begin at an early age and include young boys and girls so that they understood that there was no difference in the rights they enjoyed.
With regard to the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations, the delegation said they had a procedure in place that included sharing information with the press. The Government would also analyze the Committee’s suggestions and work on a concrete approach to implement its recommendations.
In regards to questions raised about the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, the delegation said a law passed in 2004 had improved the operation of the Commission by changing it from a committee to a commission. This change had also increased the body’s financial autonomy, since its budget was now approved by the Parliament and was not subjected to the sole discretion of the Executive anymore. The Commission could now conduct hearings and provide legal counsel to victims and it could publish its recommendations and reports publicly and not just submit them to the Executive.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Members
In follow-up questions, a Committee Expert said it would be helpful to know the numbers of annual cases in which a sentence of capital punishment was handed down.
On extrajudicial killings, a Committee Expert said he would like to have more information on killings carried out by security forces, not just those by vigilantes. Could the delegation provide figures on extrajudicial killings carried out in Cameroon each year?
Questions were also raised on the independence of the judiciary. There seemed to be a provision in Cameroonian law, article 64, in which the Attorney General or the Minister of Justice could intervene in court cases. Could the delegation provide more information on this article?
The delegation had mentioned that there were politicized non-governmental organizations and a Committee member asked for clarification of this assertion. Civil society groups were critical to human rights work and a diversity of political viewpoints surrounding human rights was essential to a democratic society. In terms of the registration of non-governmental organizations in Cameroon, it was extraordinary that there were only 16 registered non-governmental organizations in the country, and not one of them was dealing with human. Could the delegation shed more light on this?
A Committee Member also asked about the anti-gang unit in Cameroon and whether more information could be provided about that group.
The delegation had also mentioned that there was a lack of parliamentary will to change the laws on homosexuality. This did not relieve Cameroon of its obligations under legally binding international agreements, said one Expert. The very state of being homosexual was what was criminalized in Cameroon, not homosexual acts. This undermined the very principle of universal enjoyment of human rights. Could the delegation please provide information on how it was being determined that someone was homosexual? What were the penalties for being homosexual, how did the State ensure against mischievous prosecutions and how did the State deliver public health information to this group?
A Committee Expert pointed out that a father, brother or son should not protect women from violence. Rather it should be the State’s role to protect women from violence.
In terms of a man being forgiven for raping a woman if he married her, an Expert wondered whether prosecutions were also halted when someone burgled a house and the person who had been burgled forgave the burglar. A State could not derogate rights. What needed to be condemned was the act. It had to be made clear that violence against women was not acceptable. Would violence against women be explicitly criminalized in the draft legislation that was under consideration?
A Committee Expert raised follow-up questions regarding the appointments of the members of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms. Consultations regarding appointments were not enough to ensure independence when the final decision was being made by the President. The Expert said that even though there had been improvements on this matter, they were not enough.
An Expert noted with pleasure that major campaigns were underway to educate women. But the fact that the law prohibiting discrimination against women had not yet been passed was of concern to him. The Expert then asked for more information on the traditional justice system in general and wanted to know if there were any plans by the Government to curb the excessive sentences that were being handed down by traditional leaders.
Response by Delegation
On the issue of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, the delegation said that the Government was also made up of men and women who valued human rights and it was not just non-governmental organizations that were upholding these rights. The Government of Cameroon was responsible for upholding and enforcing these rights and the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms was certified under the Paris Principles. The fact that its members were elected by the President did not infringe on their independence.
With regard to women, everything was done to defend and promote women so that all their rights could be realized. Rape followed by marriage was not an obligation. In all criminal activity there was the civil aspect and the public aspect. In the case of a rape, if both persons agreed to marriage then civil law had been satisfied.
The delegation indicated that since 1997, no Cameroonians had been executed. While the law for capital punishment was still on the books, it had not been employed in over a decade. The delegation would also transmit to the Government the fact that a Committee Expert had insisted on the abolition of the death penalty in Cameroon.
Concerning the anti-gang unit, the delegation said that it was a specialized unit to quickly help people who were under attack. The members of this rapid intervention force had special training in human rights. They were not a trained band of assassins and if they violated the law they were prosecuted.
In terms of extrajudicial executions, the delegation said that this regrettable conduct existed since Cameroon existed. But perpetrators were arrested and brought to the courts. Anyone was free to file a complaint and it would be investigated. There was however no specific legal provision to prosecute the crime of extrajudicial killings by security forces. Perpetrators were prosecuted under the regular penal code.
The delegation said that it had taken note of the Committee Members’ concerns regarding homosexuality and that it would transmit those to the Government.
The delegation said it would send the information requested by the Committee on capital punishment cases at a later date.
On the issue of the independence of the judiciary and article 64 in the criminal procedure code, the delegation said there was a historical context linked to this. The code was a synthesis of the common law system and the roman system. The second reason was that Cameroon had 250 ethnic groups, many religions and two legal systems. This fact made Cameroon a country that could potentially be on the verge of a conflict. Thus, the criminal procedure code contained this exceptional tool to control any arising tension. Article 64 had only been invoked once, when there had been a conflict between traditional peoples in the northwest part of the country that could have had led to violence in that area.
The delegation agreed that the provision for a rapist marrying his victim was a problematic law and hopefully it would be addressed in the new criminal code. It was however difficult to provide a specific answer as to when this code would be promulgated as there were many things to go through. The family code had been delayed because the civil code was also under review and the State was waiting to see identify areas of overlap between the two.
The delegation further said that traditional justice systems had a competence that was residual in nature. In terms of family matters the two parties involved had to agree that this jurisdiction was a competent one. It could only apply the customs when these did not run counter to domestic laws, public order and public morals. The rulings handed down by these jurisdictions could be appealed to the appeals courts and all the way up to the Supreme Court. The delegation said these traditional means helped to get rid of the backlog of modern courts, but there were safeguards in place to ensure that justice was being administered in accordance with international standards.
Questions by Committee Members
Regarding the second half of the list of issues, Committee Members turned to the allegations of torture in detention and excessive use of force by security personnel. Some victims had been reported to be afraid to report instances of torture, even when the evidence of such treatment was physically visible. What was being done to address this?
A Committee Member also asked about allegations that a significant number of 147 dead bodies left at a hospital had come from detention centres. Could the delegation please clarify this information? Also, were there any plans to better balance security needs and human rights and to review the penalties for excessive force and police excesses? Could the delegation provide more information on the social riots of 2008 that had led to the deaths of at least 139 people?
Another Committee Expert said there were allegations that the rioters had received mock trials. How did this meet the provisions of Article 14 of the Covenant?
A Committee Expert asked about the long waiting times for trials of detainees. He noted that according to data he had, in one prison 85 per cent of the inmates were accused and not convicted. There was also a lack of access to legal aid and legal counsel, as well as a lack of access to doctors and to family members for detainees. Could the delegation address these issues?
A Committee Member also raised the issue of the persistent overcrowding in prisons, poor prison administration, and poor or non-existent medical care in prisons and asked if the delegation could supplement the information provided by non-governmental organizations.
With regards to corporal punishment of children in the education system as well as in the home, an Expert noted that the act had been sanctioned by a 1998 law, nevertheless it still existed. What were the appeals mechanisms guaranteed to children? Another Committee Member inquired about people imprisoned for the non-payment of debt.
A Committee Member requested information on the protection of natural resources in regions populated by ethnic minorities. What was the State doing to respect environmental rights and to establish compensation for minorities and their natural resources?
An Expert asked if the delegation could provide additional information on the withdrawal of passports from citizens. This had a clear impact on the right to freedom of movement. What were the criteria used to take such a decision?
On the issue of military justice, a Committee Expert wanted to know to what extent military tribunals could try civilians. What was the coverage of military courts and what behaviour could be tried by military courts versus ordinary courts?
Turning to the right of journalists to disseminate information and the right of citizens to receive independent and objective information, a Committee Expert expressed concern over the punishments for libel and defamation. Journalism should comply with its duty to inform but it should also be independent and objective. The Committee had received allegations from non-governmental organizations that punishments often went beyond what the Covenant allowed for.
A Committee Member inquired about a radio station that had been shut down and asked the delegation for details on the reasons behind this and under what laws this had been possible. Also, according to some information, Government officials had used libel laws to prevent the press from disseminating information. Could the delegation comment on that?
Experts also asked the delegation what protections were in place for human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations.
A Committee Expert noted that it would be helpful to have more statistics to help get a fuller picture of the human rights situation in Cameroon.
Returning to the issue of judicial independence, a Committee Member wanted to know how judges were being removed and what were the functions and powers of the higher judicial counsel and how its members were being appointed. Also, how was legal aid administered and were there any statistics on how many people had been the recipients of such aid?
Also, had any action been taken to abolish child labour in Cameroon, wondered one Expert.
Response by Delegation
The delegation said the freedom of the press was absolute in Cameroon and Reporters without Borders could attest to this. There were no reporters currently held in Cameroonian jails.
With regards to prison overcrowding, the delegation said that Cameroon was a poor country and everything was a priority including schools, roads, security and hospitals. The choices they had to make were often difficult and tragic. Choosing between building a hospital and a prison was not really a choice. Despite this, there was an ongoing programme of prison building and reconstruction. The delegation was here for this very reason; to get help from the Committee to help Cameroon build its capacity to tackle such issues.
On the question of non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders, the delegation said the State of Cameroon worked hand in hand with these organizations. A report on human rights in Cameroon, signed off by non-governmental organizations was available in the room.
Concerning the protection of natural resources, resources discovered anywhere in Cameroon were automatically shared with local populations, regardless of whether they were minorities or not, said the delegation.
In terms of excessive use of force by police and police brutality, the delegation said that what was important was that these acts were being prosecuted and punished. In Cameroon these acts were systematically prosecuted. A total of 700 police officers had been the subject of disciplinary sanctions in 2009. It was a matter of education and training. Looking at the oversight of police custody, there was a lack of staff. There were 924 judicial officials for 20 million inhabitants which meant that there was one official for every 20,500 inhabitants. It was difficult to oversee all the police with a shortage of people. A recruitment effort was underway to recruit and train more court officers and judicial officials. They also needed one prison guard for every five inmates but currently the current figures were of one prison officer for every 5,000 inmates. The State had budgetary restraints and could not recruit all the civil servants it needed and this created problems.
On the question of prison overcrowding, the delegation said there was a psychological issue at play because when judges released people, even on bail, they were accused of being corrupt. This made judges not want to apply the law because the police would say the judges and prosecutors were letting them go the people they had arrested.
ANATOLE FABIEN MARIE NKOU, Permanent Representative of Cameroon to the United Nations at Geneva, in concluding remarks, said the Cameroonian delegation was interested in making dialogue being the highlight of their discussion. He thanked the Committee for all its support and advice. The delegation had been candid about what they could do in Cameroon to protect and promote human rights in the country and Cameroon was determined to work hand-in-hand with the Committee in this ongoing struggle to defend human rights. He also appreciated the atmosphere that had prevailed in the Committee.
YUJI IWASAWA, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their candour and reminded the delegation members that they could submit written responses to outstanding questions and wished the delegation a safe trip back to Cameroon.
For use of the information media; not an official record