“The Commission, however, finds also that the Respondent State violated various rights protected by the African Charter in respect of Southern Cameroonians. It urges the Respondent State to address the grievances expressed by the Southern Cameroonians through its democratic institutions." African Commission on Human Peoples' Rights
In a communiqué read on state-run media on October 1, 2009 – the 48th anniversary of the (re)unification of Southern Cameroons and the Republic of Cameroun – Issa Tchiroma Bakary, Cameroon’s Minister of Communications, informed the public that the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights had ruled on the case filed by SCAPO and the SCNC. He stated that “In its final decision, the commission has rejected all the secessionist claims made by the representatives of SCNC and SCAPO. The commission has also rejected allegations that the Anglophone community is victim of violence and discrimination.”
Not surprisingly, the Minister did not make public actual text of the ruling which was not as clear-cut as the communiqué claimed, and contained a litany of violations committed by the Cameroonian state against the former British Southern Cameroons. As the Commission unequivocally states in its ruling, “The Commission, however, finds also that the Respondent State violated various rights protected by the African Charter in respect of Southern Cameroonians”. Specifically, the Commission found that “the Republic of Cameroon has violated Articles 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7(1), 11, 19 and 26 of the Charter.”
A detailed reading of the 41-page ruling shows that the victory which the government of Cameroon has been celebrating since October 1 is actually a stinging rebuke of the Cameroon’s executive and judiciary, along with its military and Para-military forces who are clearly indicted in the mistreatment of citizens of the former British Southern Cameroons. Even on the issue of “secession”, which is the most significant victory for Cameroon, the Cameroonian state was forced to concede, for the first time ever, that there are indeed situations under which Southern Cameroons could legitimately and legally secede from the union. This is without doubt, the most significant victory scored by SCAPO and the SCNC, especially since no one ever expected the commission to sanction the break-up of an African state. One doesn’t need a crystal ball to realize that this declaration by will come back to haunt Cameroonian authorities down the road.
Before we look at each of the violations of which the Republic of Cameroon is accused of, here is an overview of the Commission’s take on three key issues; Southern Cameroonians as a distinct people, the annexation of Southern Cameroons by “la Republique”, and Southern Cameroons’ right to self determination.
Are Southern Cameroonians a “Distinct People”?
In their complaint, the SCAPO and SCNC argued that the “unlawful and forced annexation and colonial occupation” of Southern Cameroon by the Respondent State constituted a violation of Article 20 of the Charter.”, and claimed that Southern Cameroonians are entitled to exercise the rights to self determination under Article 20 of the Charter as a separate and distinct people from the people of “La Republic du Cameroon.””
The Republic of Cameroon, however argued that the people of Southern Cameroons could not be considered a distinct people
“because the specificities of former Southern Cameroons stem solely from the heritage of British administration and the legacy of Anglo-Saxon culture. No ethno-anthropological argument can be put forward to determine the existence of a people of Southern Cameroons, the Southern part being of the large Sawa cultural area, the northern part being part of the Grass fields’ cultural area. Since 1961, although some specificities had been preserved on more than one aspect, there had been remarkable rapprochement at the administrative and legal levels. The ‘separate and distinct people’ thesis is no longer valid today.”
The Commission rejected the Cameroon’s argument and insisted that:
“the people of Southern Cameroon can legitimately claim to be a “people.” Besides the individual rights due to Southern Cameroon, they have a distinct identity which attracts certain collective rights… the Commission finds that “the people of Southern Cameroon” qualify to be referred to as a “people” because they manifest numerous characteristics and affinities, which include a common history, linguistic tradition, territorial connection, and political outlook. More importantly they identify themselves as a people with a separate and distinct identity. Identity is an innate characteristic within a people. It is up to other external people to recognise such existence, but not to deny it.”
The Annexation of Southern Cameroons
The Commission refused to rule on SCAPO’s claim that La Republique du Cameroun had “forcefully and unlawfully annexed” Southern Cameroons and “… established its colonial rule there, complete with its structures, and its administrative, military and police personnel, applying a system and operating in a language alien to the Southern Cameroon, … and continues to exercise a colonial sovereignty over Southern Cameroon to this day.”
This refusal “to adjudicate on the legality of those events” was not due to the alleged “Baselessness of the SCAPO claim as the government of Cameroon now claims but solely because the commission found itself incompetent “due to limitation imposed on its jurisdiction rationae temporis” – limitations that are outlined in great detail in the commission’s ruling.
The Right to Self Determination
On this key issue of the SCAPO case, the Republic Cameroon was forced to go against its long-standing “one and indivisible” stance, and conceded that there were indeed conditions that would legitimately force Southern Cameroons to leave the union:
“[t]he self determination of the “people” of Southern Cameroon… would be understandable where there are tangible evidence of massive violations of human rights, and where there is evidence
ascertaining the refusal of the nationals of Southern Cameroon, the right to take part in the management of public affairs of the State of Cameroon. There is no such proof..."
A significant concession, if ever there was one, which the commission did not fail to notice, pointing out that “In their submission, the Respondent State implicitly accepted that self determination may be exercisable by the Complainants on condition that they establish cases of massive violations of human rights, or denial of participation in public affairs.”
In the end, though, the commission rejected self determination through secession arguing that the violations of Articles 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 19 and 26 of the Charter committed by the Republic of Cameroon had not yet met the threshold for secession.
Nonetheless, this key victory by the Republic of Cameroon was put in check by a stinging rebuke from the Commission:
“The Commission, however, finds also that the Respondent State violated various rights protected by the African Charter in respect of Southern Cameroonians. It urges the Respondent State to address the grievances expressed by the Southern Cameroonians through its democratic institutions.
The 1993 Buea and 1994 Bamenda Anglophone conferences raised constitutional and human rights issues which have been a matter of concern to a sizable section of the Southern Cameroonian population for quite a long time. The demand for these rights has led to civil unrest, demonstrations, arrests, detention, and the deaths of various people, which culminated in the demand for secession.”
The Commission concluded by once again poking the Republic of Cameroon with a series of recommendations that asked it to clean up its act towards Cameroon’s English language community.
The African Commission therefore recommends as follows;
That the Respondent State
- Abolishes all discriminatory practices against people of Northwest and Southwest Cameroon, including equal usage of the English language in business transactions;
- Stops the transfer of accused persons from the Anglophone provinces for trial in the Francophone provinces;
- Ensures that every person facing criminal charges be tried under the language he/she understands. In the alternative, the Respondent State must ensure that interpreters are employed in Courts to avoid jeopardising the rights of accused persons;
- Locates national projects, equitably throughout the country, including Northwest and Southwest Cameroon, in accordance with economic viability as well as regional balance;
- Pays compensation to companies in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon, which suffered as a result of discriminatory treatment by banks;
- Enters into constructive dialogue with the Complainants, and in particular, SCNC and SCAPO to resolve the constitutional issues, as well as grievances which could threaten national unity; and
- Reforms the Higher Judicial Council, by ensuring that it is composed of personalities other than the President of the Republic, the Minister for Justice and other members of the Executive Branch.
- to transform into political parties,
- to abandon secessionism and engage in constructive dialogue with the Respondent State on the Constitutional issues and grievances.
The African Commission places its good offices at the disposal of the parties tomediate an amicable solution and to ensure the effective implementation of the above recommendations.
The African Commission requests the Parties to report on the implementation of the aforesaid recommendations within 180 days of the adoption of this decision by the AU Assembly.