Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at a news conference at end of her mission to Cameroon
GENEVA, Switzerland, July 3, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Opening remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at a news conference at end of her mission to Cameroon
Yaoundé, 2 July 2013
Good afternoon and thank you for coming.
This is my first visit to Cameroon, and it has been a very fruitful mission. I had the opportunity to hold detailed talks with the Ministers of External Relations, Justice, Women and Family as well as with the President of the National Assembly and the President of the Senate.
My meetings also included discussions with magistrates and the Chair and other members of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms.
Our talks focused on the achievements of Cameroon as well as the challenges the country faces in meeting international human rights standards and I reiterated my Office's readiness to support this process.
On Monday, I also hosted meetings at my Regional office headquarters for representatives of the diplomatic community, UN agencies and civil society organizations.
Civil society in Cameroon, rich in its diversity, faces numerous challenges which the various groups outlined to me. I responded by stressing that civil society activists everywhere have my full support.
Cameroon's enjoyment of peace and security in recent decades makes it a key player in the region and home to many refugees.
It 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 country has made great efforts to submit overdue reports to the treaty bodies that monitor the implementation of these conventions, and is to be commended for ratifying several regional human rights instruments.
Cameroon underwent the Universal Periodic Review in May, a process that went smoothly with the delegations acknowledging that there have been many achievements in terms of human rights.
But the review also 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. These are issues I discussed during my meetings.
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.
In my talks with the Minister of Justice and with leading magistrates and judges, I drew attention to the need to ensure that the independence of the judiciary is real and guaranteed. I also expressed concern at lengthy and slow judicial processes and stressed to the magistrates that they should adopt a human rights oriented approach, and consider as much as possible alternative forms of punishment in order 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.
I believe that closer co-operation between magistrates, the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms along with fine-tuned national laws and sufficient resources will allow the administration of justice in Cameroon to become swifter and more efficient.
Tackling impunity is another key challenge for Cameroon. The Committee Against Torture in 2010 expressed concern that security forces who committed human rights violations were not brought to account.
I commend the Government for its effort to end impunity for senior government officials allegedly involved in embezzlement of public resources, but it is also important that efforts to combat impunity must themselves abide by International human rights norms and standards, as I told the Chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights and the magistrates' representatives.
I was told women continue to suffer from discriminatory laws and practices. In my meetings with civil society I heard about challenges women and girls face, including violence and sexual violence, high rate of maternal mortality, harmful traditional practices, early marriage and lack of access to property.
I was also told how important it is that the Government move forward with the adoption of the family code which is seen as a key document for the rights of women in Cameroon.
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. I also strongly urge the Government to firmly combat harmful traditional practices.
Other major issues I have discussed at length include freedom of expression. Cameroon's constitution guarantees freedom of the press, and the media is to be encouraged to report ethically and responsibly. At the same time it is of concern that defamation is considered a criminal offence and can result in imprisonment. I have raised this with the authorities as well and would also add my voice to international appeals to the Government to reverse this provision.
As I noted, Cameroon has ratified six core human rights instruments. I encourage the government to align its national laws with these treaties and also to ratify those treaties that are still outstanding. These include the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other forms of degrading treatment and punishment; the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Convention on Migrant Workers and the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.
In the same vein although there has been a moratorium on using the death penalty for two decades, ratifying the Second Optional Protocol on Civil and Political Rights relating to the abolition of the death penalty would send a strong message about Cameroon's commitment to human rights standards. I also encourage the Government to issue a standing invitation to the United Nations Human Council Special Procedure mandate holders.
I do believe 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. 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.