Cameroon can and should improve human rights protection for all – UN rights chief
Cameroon has the ability to ensure greater protection of human rights for all, a top United Nations official said today, calling on the international community to increase its assistance to help the country achieve this goal.
Wrapping up her first visit to the country, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a news conference in the capital, Yaoundé, that Cameroon has ratified six key human rights treaties, giving it a strong framework to guide the development and amendment of national laws and policies relating to human rights.
“The next step for Cameroon is to focus on rigorous implementation of recommendations from treaty bodies, special procedures and the Universal Periodic Review, so as to put in place a strong and inclusive human rights protection system for the benefit of its entire population,” she continued.
The Universal Periodic Review conducted in May by the UN Human Rights Council – which subjects each country's human rights record to a State-led peer review – highlighted a number of concerns such as violence against women, harassment of journalists, criminalization of homosexuality and the vulnerability of indigenous peoples, whose rights are threatened by the activities of mining and agri-business.
Ms. Pillay said she discussed these issues in her various meetings with government officials, human rights authorities, the diplomatic community, UN agencies and civil society.
In particular, she drew attention to the need to ensure that the independence of the judiciary is “real and guaranteed,” and expressed concern at lengthy and slow judicial processes. She also stressed to the magistrates that they should adopt a human rights-oriented approach, and consider as much as possible alternative forms of punishment to decongest the overcrowded prisons.
“One tangible and often devastating consequence of the current problems is reflected in the serious overcrowding of prisons and appalling prison conditions, with some 60 per cent of those behind bars awaiting trial,” said the High Commissioner.
Closer cooperation between magistrates, the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms along with “fine-tuned” national laws and sufficient resources will allow “swifter and more efficient” administration of justice, she added.
Ms. Pillay also cited the need to tackle impunity; ensure freedom of expression; ratify human rights treaties that are still outstanding; and address discriminatory laws and practices that affect women, such as sexual violence, the high rate of maternal mortality, harmful traditional practices, early marriage and lack of access to property.
“I welcome statements by the Government that the current revision of the penal code aims to tackle all forms of violence against women and to integrate provisions of several international human rights treaties dully signed and ratified,” Ms. Pillay stated. “I also strongly urge the Government to firmly combat harmful traditional practices.”
The High Commissioner said she believes that Cameroon can move forward in its effort to ensure greater protection of human rights for all, without discrimination of any kind.
“I urge the Government to continue to create a conducive environment for peace, security and respect for human rights, and to keep fighting poverty through effective protection of economic, social and cultural rights,” she stated.
“Government must ensure that the people of Cameroon benefit from the resources generated in the country. We stand ready to continue to offer the Government and everyone in Cameroon our advice and help in these endeavours.
“And I call upon the international community to increase its assistance to the country in its efforts to improve governance and respect for human rights.”