GENEVA (21 February 2019) - The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its review of the fourth periodic report of Cameroon on its efforts to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Introducing the report, Lejeune Mbella Mbella, Minister of External Affairs of Cameroon, noted that Cameroon had not stopped its efforts to promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights, which remained among the core values for designing national policies, including the Growth and Employment Strategy Paper. Adopted in 2009, the Paper emphasized the acceleration of growth, the formal creation of jobs, and poverty reduction. The Government had taken legislative, institutional and judicial measures to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, namely the right to education and health. Furthermore, emphasis had been placed on the provision of adequate food, water, energy and decent housing. Attention was also paid to address concerns relating to decent work and the strengthening of social security. However, Cameroon’s efforts had been hampered by a security environment marked by the fight against terrorism and a disturbing humanitarian situation, as well as the social crisis threatening some regions of the country.
In the ensuing discussion, the Committee Experts began by inquiring about a concrete strategy to deal with the problem of internally displaced persons in the context of the security crisis in the north-west and south-west, and about a strategy to ensure the economic, social and cultural rights of persons living in those regions. They underlined the atrocities and heavy-handed approach of the security forces to the social protests there. The Experts observed that there was no general law to cover all aspects of discrimination, whereas the criminalization of homosexuality was still on the legal books. They further drew attention to gender inequality, low representation of women in decision-making positions, harassment of human rights defenders, lack of guarantees for indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and access to land and natural resources, granting of land concessions, anti-corruption efforts, measures to protect whistle blowers and victims of corruption, labour discrimination, child labour, trade union rights, low birth registration and poor access to identity cards, poverty reduction programmes, distribution of humanitarian aid, food insecurity, forced evictions, regional imbalances in the distribution of social services, poor school attendance by girls, implementation of the policy of bilingualism, protection of indigenous languages, and the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.
In his concluding remarks, Rodrigo Uprimny, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Cameroon, regretted that the delegation had not answered many questions, and expressed hope that the Committee would receive written answers to those questions in the next 48 hours.
On his part, Mr. Mbella Mbella stressed that Cameroon was open-minded, and it cooperated with the international community; it would strive to improve the situation with respect economic, social and cultural rights.
Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leão, Committee Chairperson, acknowledged Cameroon’s efforts to implement the Covenant. He thanked the delegation and wished it a safe trip back home.
The delegation of Cameroon consisted of representatives of the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and of Family, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, and the Permanent Mission of Cameroon to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the sixth periodic report of Bulgaria (E/C.12/BGR/6).
The fourth periodic report of Cameroon can be read here: E/C.12/CMR/4.
Presentation of the Report
LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister of External Affairs of Cameroon, assured that in Cameroon civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right to development, were afforded equal value. Accordingly, they should be promoted with the same enthusiasm. In that vein, in his address to the nation on 31 December 2018, President Paul Biya had called on his compatriots to strive in the coming years to restore security, to consolidate the country’s economic growth, and to improve significantly the living conditions of Cameroonians. Following its previous review, Cameroon had not stopped its efforts to promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights, which remained one of the core values for designing national policies, including the Growth and Employment Strategy Paper. Adopted in 2009, the Paper was a document of a shared vision for the development of Cameroon, which intended to make it a developing country by 2035. It emphasized the acceleration of growth, the formal creation of jobs, and poverty reduction. The Government had taken legislative, institutional and judicial measures to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, namely the right to education and health. Furthermore, emphasis had been placed on the provision of adequate food, water, energy and decent housing. Attention was also paid to address concerns relating to decent work and the strengthening of social security.
In terms of the specific implementation of the right to education, the Government had constructed facilities, adopted special measures for students in the north-west and south-west regions of the country, recruited teachers, and professionalized education. However, various constraints, such as insecurity in some regions and financial difficulties, had perturbed the enjoyment of the right to education. The right to health was guaranteed by facilitating access to certain forms of treatment, ensuring capacity-building for medical personnel, and advancement in epidemiology. It should be noted that the availability of antiretroviral therapy and access to care for patients with chronic kidney diseases still needed to be improved. As for the right to an adequate standard of living, the authorities had promoted new strategic orientations in rural areas. However, there was still some pending risk of food insecurity, particularly in the far northern region where climate change had affected significantly the production of cereals. With regard to access to decent housing, some efforts were already underway to complete the project for the construction of 10,000 low-cost houses. In terms of labour and social security, an assessment of the Decent Work Country Programmes 2014-2017 had allowed for the revamping of labour inspection through qualitative and quantitative boosting of professionals in the field, and intense taking of actions targeting youth employment specifically.
In addition to the mentioned Growth and Employment Strategy Paper, Cameroon had also adopted the National Action Plan for the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour, the Cameroon Social Safety Nets Project, the High Labour Intensity Infrastructure Programme, the Poverty Reduction Sub-Programme at Base II, and the Multisector National Programme for the Fight against Maternal, Neonatal and Infant-Juvenile Mortality 2014-2018. However, Cameroon’s efforts had lately been hampered by a security environment marked by the fight against terrorism and a disturbing humanitarian situation, as well as the social crisis threatening some regions of the country. Since 2013, Cameroon had been threatened by the Boko Haram terrorist group, whose repeated attacks had already led to the loss of 2,000 lives, kidnapping, destruction of property, and the use of children as human bombs, combatants or sexual objects. That uncomfortable situation, coupled with the complicated security situation in some neighbouring countries, such as the Central African Republic and Nigeria, had brought about a massive influx of refugees and displaced persons. Despite those challenges, the Government had still managed to guarantee economic, social and cultural rights, the Minister concluded.
Questions by the Country Rapporteur
RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Cameroon, drew attention to the attacks in the far north of the country, and in the Anglophone regions of north-west and south-west Cameroon, and to the atrocities and heavy handed approach of the security forces to the social protests there. The security crisis in the north-west and south-west had produced more than 400,000 internally displaced persons, whereas more than 4 million people had been affected. Had the Government adopted a concrete strategy to deal with the problem of internally displaced persons? What was the strategy to ensure the economic, social and cultural rights of persons living in those regions?
Turning to the implementation of the Covenant, Mr. Uprimny asked about the strategies that the State party intended to adopt to that end. He further inquired about selection and appointment processes, as well as the funding of the national human rights institution (the National Commission of Rights and Freedoms). Furthermore, there was no clear legal framework to protect the legitimate work of human rights defenders.
The right of indigenous peoples to self-determination and to have access to land and natural resources was not guaranteed. As a result, foreign direct investment had had a negative effect on their land. What measures could be taken to guarantee their right to self-determination and the right to free, prior and informed consent?
The Country Rapporteur further noted that only 16 per cent of the public revenue was devoted to economic, social and cultural rights, which was lower than the African average. What measures had the State party adopted in order to counter corruption?
It seemed that Cameroon did not have a general law to cover all aspects of discrimination. Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons was widespread, and the criminalization of homosexuality was still on the legal books. What measures did the Government plan to take to ensure that they enjoyed the same rights?
In terms of gender equality, there were very few women in decision-making positions. Furthermore, there were unacceptable discriminatory legal provisions vis-à-vis women in terms of the right to property.
What role could the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism play in the current Anglophone crisis?
Replies by the Delegation
LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister of External Affairs of Cameroon, clarified that there were about 70,000 internally displaced persons in the north-west and south-west of the country, and not 400,000 as the Country Rapporteur suggested. The Government had come up with an emergency humanitarian assistance plan to respond to the crisis, worth 12 billion CFA francs.
Cameroon was a unitary and multi-ethnic country with 10 regions. There was no clear division between the Francophone and Anglophone regions; the population was mixed throughout the country. The current crisis was caused by those who did not want to respect the Constitution. Each of the 10 regions in the country received decentralization programmes and policies. There was a campaign of distortion of facts by those who wanted to partition Cameroon, the Minister explained.
As for the rights of indigenous peoples, Mr. Mbella Mbella pointed out that the Government guaranteed them education and healthcare. Their access to natural resources was guaranteed by the Forestry Act, the Investment Charter, and the Environmental Rights Charter.
The Government had taken into account the Committee’s recommendations with respect to the National Commission of Rights and Freedoms, and they were part of the ongoing reform.
With regard to efforts to combat corruption, the Minister stressed that a number of instruments had been adopted. Relevant bodies, such as the National Agency for Financial Investigation and the National Anti-Corruption Commission, could launch investigations against any public servants involved in corruption. The Government had been quick to establish those mechanisms because it was aware that corruption was widespread.
Mr. Mbella Mbella noted that the army aimed to preserve law and order in the north-west and south-west regions of the country. It was the secessionists who committed atrocities. The army was just doing its job in order to secure the population.
The delegation underlined that army recruits underwent rigorous and thorough training, including on respect for national and international law. In the past several years, the national security and defense forces had been professionalized. All military personnel were reminded about the illegality of the excessive use of force, extrajudicial killings and torture. Those who committed atrocities and who were found guilty of misconduct were prosecuted under the military legal code. When human rights were violated, the Prosecutor General always launched an investigation.
LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister of External Affairs of Cameroon, noted that human rights defenders enjoyed full rights in Cameroon. The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression were fully respected. The authorities had created all the necessary mechanisms to guarantee the protection of human rights for everyone everywhere. Human rights defenders were entitled to hold organized but peaceful protests. No country allowed the disruption of social order and Cameroon was no exception in that respect. Human rights defenders were not always who they claimed to be.
As for the criminalization of homosexuality, that was the position of the society, not of the Government, Mr. Mbella Mbella explained. The Cameroonian society was not ready for “such practices” because homosexuality was deemed socially unacceptable. In the same vein, same-sex marriages were not permitted. Nevertheless, persons engaging in homosexual conduct were not detained or surveyed. Many of them lived peacefully.
There was no wage discrimination in Cameroon, the Minister underlined. Wages were linked to qualifications, not gender. The Ministry for the Promotion of Women and the Family worked to ensure gender equality. The appointment of women to senior positions in the administration, army, teaching, mixed private-public companies and civil society had seen much progress, even though Cameroon had yet to achieve gender parity in decision-making positions.
Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts
What was the legal status of the Covenant in the State party and could examples of court cases be given to show how it was applied? Did the Government carry out any human rights impact assessment before signing any foreign investment deals? What measures were in place to protect whistle blowers and victims of corruption?
What mechanisms were available to prevent discrimination against different ethnic groups? Wasn’t polygamy a form of discrimination?
An Expert observed the big discrepancy in the numbers of internally displaced persons in the country, as well as in the figures concerning atrocities committed by members of the army and the insurgents. Was training on human rights, especially on the rights of women, part of the military education? Were women included in the decision-making related to peacebuilding and conflict-resolution efforts?
RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Cameroon, emphasized that it was the duty of the Government to try to address the social inertia with respect to homosexuality. It could at least decriminalize homosexuality.
Mr. Uprimny clarified that he had taken the figure of 400,000 internally displaced persons in the south-west and north-west regions from a 2018 OCHA report on Cameroon. He said that the Committee knew that the separatists had carried out acts of atrocities, but there was also information that army members had carried out a significant number of extrajudicial killings.
The Country Rapporteur repeated his question about the structure of State revenue.
Second Round of Questions by the Committee Experts
What was the process for applying for the Government’s social security programmes for persons living in remote rural areas? What was the unemployment rate among young persons and women? How did the Government deal with the great prevalence of the informal economy?
Drawing attention to labour discrimination against ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, the Experts asked how the authorities ensured their access to formal employment. Even though some progress had been made on the legal front with respect to the employment of persons with disabilities, Cameroon had still not signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Another concern was forced labour in prisons.
How many cases of child labour had the Labour Inspectorate recorded? The Experts also inquired about bonded labour among indigenous peoples and figures on the gender pay gap.
Moving on to trade union rights, an Expert reminded that the International Labour Organization had assessed that Cameroon had not introduced relevant reform to the Labour Code to guarantee trade union rights. Was it true that some anti-terrorist laws could be applied to trade union leaders?
How far did the unemployment insurance scheme extend to persons in the informal economy? How did the Government plan to deal with the low birth registration and poor access to identity cards?
Replies by the Delegation
LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister of External Affairs of Cameroon, noted that the Government’s Growth and Employment Strategy Paper was the basis for the distribution of goods and products to all citizens. However, the problem of road infrastructure impeded the circulation of people and goods. It had to be understood that not all regions were equally developed and that regional disparities existed.
There was no forced labour in agriculture and husbandry. The Government was promoting modern techniques of farming and husbandry, which would also promote the creation of new jobs. The Ministry of Labour and Social Security offered vocational training for young persons and women. As for the gender wage gap, the Minister reiterated that since gaining independence Cameroon had followed a policy of equal wages for women and men. In the same vein, there was no discrimination against persons with disabilities in the labour market.
Mr. Mbella Mbella noted that figures of internally displaced persons were changing constantly due to the ongoing struggle against Boko Haram and due to the changing situation in the south-west and north-west of the country. The Government strove to provide suitable care to internally displaced persons. Its emergency humanitarian assistance plan was currently being assessed. A woman was in charge of the implementation of the emergency humanitarian assistance plan. She worked closely with civil society and international organizations in that endeavour. The Minister assured the Committee Experts that both women and men were involved in the Government’s humanitarian efforts.
The Minister also assured the Committee Experts that the army members who perpetrated “blunders” were prosecuted. The army personnel were trained on human rights and they were professionalized to such an extent that the United Nations had asked that they serve in peace-keeping operations.
Third Round of Questions by the Committee Members
What obstacles did Cameroon have to overcome in order to eradicate child labour? What could be done to speed up the implementation of mobile birth registration and document delivery units? Some of the obstacles cited were corruption of public servants and high costs. Were provisions of the Penal Code on marital violence effectively implemented?
With respect to the fight against poverty, the Experts wondered to what extent the Government’s poverty reduction programmes were rights-based?
What measures had the State party taken to ensure that humanitarian aid was distributed to internally displaced persons and refugees without any discrimination?
It was estimated that some 3.9 million people in Cameroon faced the risk of food insecurity, whereas 211,000 in the far north faced severe food insecurity. Had the Government created a legislative framework to guarantee the right to food? Had it strengthened dialogue with civil society with respect to the formulation of food security policies? Had measures been taken to ensure that local community mayors used relevant funds to offset food insecurity?
As for forced evictions, the Experts wanted to know whether those who could not pay their rent received legal aid, and whether the authorities took into account families’ overall situation when taking decisions on evictions.
Committee Experts also raised concern about the alleged destruction of 170 villages in the south-west and north-west of the country by Government forces. Could the delegation confirm whether that had indeed taken place and if yes, whether the Government planned to grant compensation to the affected persons?
Between 2012 and 2016 VAT revenues had increased significantly, whereas at the same time direct tax revenues had dropped. That decrease had created difficulties for the State to be able to provide for the right to health in rural regions, leading to regional imbalances, which were important to consider in the context of the nature of grievances of the Anglophone minority.
The Experts further inquired about the severe restrictions on the right to abortion imposed by the Penal Code, which did not allow abortion in case of rape. Did that situation lead to clandestine abortions?
Replies by the Delegation
LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister of External Affairs of Cameroon, answering questions about the implementation of the Covenant, explained that judicial personnel attended human rights modules on themes, such as human rights disputes, governance, and the rule of law. Cameroon’s domestic law was in line with the international treaties it had ratified.
The Government had been notified of allegations of harassment of human rights defenders in the field of economic, social and cultural rights, including of the case of Nasako Besingi, head of the non-governmental organization Struggle to Economize Future Environment. Mr. Nasako and members of his organization had staged a demonstration against the exploitation of palm plantations in Mundemba by the American firm Agro-Industrial Plantation Company on 31 July 2012. They had been arrested and charged with the offence of having organized a public demonstration without having required prior announcement. In the second case, Mr. Nasako had attempted to forcefully enter the premises of the Agro-Industrial Plantation Company with journalists of France 24. For that he had been sentenced to a three-year prison term and to pay damages for defamation on 25 August 2015. On 27 September 2017, Mr. Nasako had been arrested for having incited insurrection, secession and rioting, but had been released on 27 November 2017.
The Minister stressed that Cameroon had made serious efforts to eliminate all legal discriminatory provisions against women, for example through the direct application by courts of the Maputo Protocol. Amendments to the Electoral Code in 2012 had allowed for a rise in the number of women in decision-making positions. The percentage of women in the National Assembly had risen from 13.9 per cent in 2012 to 31 per cent in 2019. In 2013 the number of female mayors had reached 7 per cent. Women made up 22 per cent of members of the Supreme Court and 18 per cent at lower-level courts.
The emergency humanitarian assistance plan 2018-2019 aimed at establishing an appropriate standard of living for the populations affected by the crisis in the north-west and south-west of the country. It was also aimed at renovating the destroyed infrastructure and facilities, mainly schools and hospitals. The plan was coordinated by several ministries and was undergoing assessment.
Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts
Underlining the link between contaminants and the right to food, the Experts asked whether there was there any control of the use of pesticides on Cameroonian farms. What was the rate of cancer in the country?
RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Cameroon, reminded that Cameroon’s contributions to the health and education sector had diminished, which was surprising given the overall economic growth. Given the non-progressive character of Cameroon’s tax system and the drop in its GNI index, what was the Government’s strategy to combat inequalities?
An Expert asked whether the State party had a monitoring system together with civil society on the involvement of women in the national action plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.
Since 2009 many people had protested against the Government granting concessions to the company Herakles Farms and against what they saw as land grabbing, the Experts reminded. What was the procedure for assessing the impact of foreign investments on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights? In that context, it was important for the Committee to know about the outcomes of the Government’s anti-corruption efforts.
What specific measures were in place to protect whistle blowers and victims of corruption? The Experts cited the case of Paul Eric Kingue who had been imprisoned unlawfully for seven years because he had denounced a French-owned banana producing company (Plantations du Haut Penja, which belonged to French multinational Compagnie Fruitière) for alleged tax fraud and human rights abuses.
Replies by the Delegation
LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister of External Affairs of Cameroon, noted that Cameroon’s situation in terms of corruption was not good. At the end of 2018, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC) had published a list of persons apprehended, tried and convicted for corruption. Colossal sums had been recovered from their illegal activities. Whistle blowers were allowed to remain anonymous, while those who wanted to disclose their names had so far not been targeted. Persons holding public office were required to declare their assets upon assuming their position and upon leaving.
Land disputes in Cameroon were difficult to settle because in the past, many multinational companies had wanted to impose their interests on young countries with underdeveloped legal systems. However, progress had been made in 2013 with the adoption of a relevant law and the establishment a commission to deal with illegal land grabbing. In the Office of the President there was an office which scrutinized concessions granted to foreign companies.
Cameroon had almost 300,000 refugees from the Central African Republic. Another situation that hampered the Government from investing more in social services was the occupation of the Bakassi Peninsula by Nigeria, the Minister explained.
Since the 1960s, Cameroon had been known as an agricultural country that used traditional farming techniques, without the use of pesticides. However, as modernization was necessary to yield more crops, farmers had begun using fertilizers and chemicals. The Ministry of Agriculture had instituted guidelines for their use. In general, the authorities promoted organic farming, Mr. Mbella Mbella noted.
Fourth Round of Questions by the Committee Members
Moving on to the right to education, the Committee Experts drew attention to the fact that enrolment in primary education had dropped. Access to education by girls was problematic due to early pregnancy, household chores, and exposure to sexual violence at school. The literacy level of girls was 10 per cent lower than that of boys. What measures were in place to address those problems?
Other issues concerned the lack of legal guarantees that primary education was free of charge, substandard school infrastructure, and acute insecurity in the north-west and south-west regions, which prevented children from attending school.
As for Internet use and access, only 25 per cent of the population had access to it and the infrastructure was still underdeveloped. In addition, since 2017 there had been several instances of Internet services disruptions in the predominantly English-speaking parts of the country. Why had those disruptions happened? What was the status of the relevant case before the Constitutional Court? How did the Government plan to ensure that such restrictions no longer occurred?
The Experts wondered whether the unbalanced use of the two official languages was an issue of concern for the Government, and whether the Government had any concrete measures to tackle that problem. Had the Government envisaged any measures to adapt its educational system to respond to the needs of indigenous children, and how did it intend to prevent the extinction of indigenous languages? What measures were in place to ensure the cultural and linguistic diversity of the country?
Replies by the Delegation
LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister of External Affairs of Cameroon, reminded that Cameroonians had been forced to speak the languages of the colonizers, which had resulted in the suppression of indigenous languages. Local languages had been reduced to the status of “dialects”. Cameroon had had to wait for independence to be able to take a look at its indigenous languages and to classify about 300 of them. The Ministry of Culture worked to enhance the country’s linguistic and cultural heritage.
The Government had set up the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism because it wanted to ensure that both French and English were used equally. Bilingualism began in primary schools. Linguistic pilot centres had been established in each of the 10 regions in the country for adults who did not master French or English.
The Minister stressed that Cameroon ranked first in Africa in the provision of primary education, adding that primary education was free of charge. During the colonial times, education for the local population was sidelined and parents were not used to sending their children to school. The Government had broken that “feudal practice.” In no region were girls told to stay at home to perform household chores.
In 2017 the Internet shut down did occur in certain regions of the country because it had been taken over by the secessionists to incite the expulsion of French speakers, Mr. Mbella Mbella clarified. The Government had taken very strong measures to ensure that the economy of the north-west and south-west regions was not disrupted, in spite of the crisis.
There were many human rights defenders in Cameroon, and the Government had to draw on their work in its attempt to promote economic, social and cultural rights. Nevertheless, human rights defenders had to respect the national law just like other citizens. Cameroon could not achieve its goals with respect to economic, social and cultural rights if there was disorder.
With respect to the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, the Minister noted that Cameroonian women took part in peace-keeping operations at home and abroad, whereas women’s associations had taken part in the drafting of the national action plan for the implementation of resolution 1325.
Reacting to the Experts’ reference to the case of Paul Eric Kingue, the delegation noted that sometimes those who had misused public funds claimed that they were human rights defenders in order to avoid prosecution.
RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Cameroon, regretted that the delegation had not answered many questions, and expressed hope that the Committee would receive written answers to those questions in the next 48 hours. He reminded that the Committee would select three issues for immediate follow-up.
LEJEUNE MBELLA MBELLA, Minister of External Affairs of Cameroon, expressed appreciation to the Committee Experts for their questions, agreeing with the Country Rapporteur that the dialogue needed to be frank and cooperative. Cameroon was open-minded, and it cooperated with the international community; it would strive to improve the situation with respect economic, social and cultural rights.
RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson, acknowledged Cameroon’s efforts to implement the Covenant. He thanked the delegation and wished it a safe trip back home.
For use of the information media; not an official record