Cameroon: The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommends adoption of a law to protect the rights of indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples' NGO representatives preparing their report for CERD, January 2010, Yaoundé, Cameroon
By
Centre for Environment and Development (CED)

Cameroon: The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommends adoption of a law to protect the rights of indigenous peoples

At its 76th session held between 15 February and 12 March 2010, the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) examined Cameroon's 15th to 18th periodic reports. Numerous violations of indigenous peoples' rights (particularly those of the Baka, Bakola, Bagyeli and Bedzang people) had been raised in an earlier report submitted to the Committee by a network of NGOs from Cameroon. The information communicated by civil society informed the dialogue between the Committee and the Cameroonian State. The Committee then issued a series of recommendations pertaining to the situation of the Baka, Bakola, Bagyeli and Bedzang peoples in Cameroon, which included the right to education, access to justice and safety in protected areas.

Discussions between the Committee and the Cameroonian delegation resulted in, among other things, the definition of 'indigenous peoples' used in domestic law being brought into line with international law. The Committee noted "with satisfaction that the State party recognises the existence of indigenous populations on its territory and that the preamble to its Constitution ensures the protection of minorities and preserves the rights of indigenous peoples".* It also highlighted as positive the endorsement by Cameroon of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). However, the Committee wanted to know if the meaning of that concept as used in the Constitution was consistent with the definition used in international law.

The State responded by confirming that it recognised the existence of indigenous peoples on its territory and that the 'Pygmy' peoples (namely the Baka, Bakola, Bagyeli and Bedzang) and the Mbororo peoples enjoyed specific forms of protection associated with their status as indigenous peoples as defined under international law. The Cameroonian delegation explained that the terminology relating to indigenous peoples' rights used in international law had been recently introduced into the domestic legal system.

One of the problems raised by the civil society organisations was the draft law on marginal populations which Cameroon is planning to adopt in order to protect the rights of various groups, including minorities and indigenous peoples. Several members of the Committee took the view that "the concept of 'marginal peoples', which is contrary to the spirit of the Convention, […] stigmatises the minorities to which it refers and impedes recognition of the specificities of the indigenous peoples".* The Committee therefore recommended that Cameroon stop using the term "marginal peoples" and adopt a specific law on the rights of indigenous peoples.

In order to comply with the Committee's recommendations, the legislation on indigenous peoples should:

  • be drafted with the assistance and technical cooperation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Labour Organization;
  • take account of General Recommendation No 23 (1997) on indigenous peoples;
  • incorporate the definition of indigenous peoples as per international law.

Lastly, the Committee asked the State to take urgent measures to protect and strengthen indigenous peoples' right to land. In particular, the Committee recommended that the State party, while bearing in mind General Recommendation No 23 (1997) on the rights of indigenous peoples:

  • enshrine in law the right of indigenous peoples to own, use, develop and control their lands, territories and resources;
  • consult the indigenous peoples concerned and cooperate with them through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before approving any project that may impinge on their lands, territories or other resources, especially with regard to the development, use or exploitation of minerals, water or any other kind of resources;
  • guarantee indigenous peoples fair and equitable compensation for any lands, territories or resources traditionally owned, occupied or used by them which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, exploited or degraded without their free, prior and informed consent;
  • ensure that the current legal procedure for registering land duly respects the customs, traditions and land tenure systems of the indigenous peoples concerned without any discrimination whatsoever;
  • protect indigenous peoples against any attack on their physical or mental integrity and prosecute anyone responsible for acts of violence or assaults targeted at indigenous peoples.

* Unofficial translation from the French.

Moabi tree, Cameroon. The moabi is of cultural, medicinal, subsistence and economic importance to indigenous peoples in Cameroon
By
John Nelson