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Human Rights Organisations Implore Lawmakers To Defer Adoption Of Bill To Establish New Cameroon Human Rights Commission

Human Rights organisations have called on Members of the National Assembly and Senators to hold on with the “Bill to establish a new Cameroon Human Rights Commission », tabled by Government for adoption during the current session of Parliament.

They want the Government to conduct an inclusive consultation exercise with key stakeholders on this reform, in order to propose a new national human rights Commission which is in conformity with the Paris Principles, that govern these commissions.

“The Network of Human Rights Defenders of the Central African region (REDHAC), Dynamique Citoyenne, Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme, Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, and Centre for Law and Public Policy, all civil society organisations, note with deep concern, the tabling before Parliament of a “Bill relating to the Establishment, Organization, and Functioning of the Cameroon Human Rights Commission”, without prior consultation with key actors in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country, notably civil society organisations,” the correspondence sent to lawmakers on Wednesday, July 3, 2019 read in part.

Reform of the NCHRF has been a standing point of concern for Cameroonian civil society for several years, especially the need to address shortcomings in the designation of the body’s Commissioners, and the implementation of its mandate.

Rights groups argue that a Bill intended to reform the said institution should logically have been tabled only after an inclusive process of consultations, organised with a view both to sensitise, and to elicit substantive contributions from key segments of civil society (such as human rights NGOs, and trade unions), as well as respective professional orders (such as the Cameroon Bar Association, the Cameroon National Medical Council, and professional corps of journalists).

“This would have been even more opportune, given that under Section 13 of the Bill as tabled, it is precisely these civil society segments and professional orders that would designate representatives to serve as Commissioners on the new body,” they say.
In addition to their above-mentioned concerns on the process through which this Bill has been tabled before Parliament, they also have concerns about the substance of the Bill, because it contains provisions which are at variance with the Paris Principles, which Government is seeking to conform to. Presented hereunder are the most worrisome of these provisions:

“Contrary to what the Paris Principles require, 1 the Bill in its Chapter II, and specifically in sections 4, 5, 6, and 7 which spell out the functions of the Commission in the areas of human rights promotion and protection, does not grant to the Commission, the duty to examine both existing laws and regulatory texts, as well as Bills being considered for tabling to Parliament, in order to ensure that their provisions conform to human rights principles, and to human rights instruments that the State has ratified. This must be corrected, in order to recognize the Commission’s role in scrutinising legislative and regulatory texts in the country (both prior to, and after their adoption), to ensure they confirm to human rights principles.
“The Bill (section 9, 4th bullet, and section 26, 7th bullet) makes the proffering of views and observations by the Commission on draft legislation (Bills) with an impact on human rights, conditional on its receiving a “request from” or “at the behest of” Government, without such a request being spelt out as mandatory. Obtaining the views and observations of the Commission should be mandatory and not optional for the Executive, when it is preparing legislation that has an impact on human rights. It should be noted in this regard that under the Paris Principles, national human rights commissions may act of their own initiative, in the area of proffering views and advice in the area of human rights.
“The Bill is vague and indecisive on the implications of a finding by the Commission, following its investigations or verifications, or after hearing a complaint submitted to it, that a human rights violation has been committed. While the Bill grants the Commission the power to receive complaints about alleged human rights violations (sections 36 to 39), the text grants the Commission neither the power to order a remedy or reparation to the victim of the violation, nor to order binding corrective measures to be undertaken by the entity/person that committed the violation. The text only provides that the Commission may “refer to the Minister in charge of Justice cases of human rights violation(s) established by the Commission” (section 7, 2nd bullet), and that the Commission may “make recommendations to relevant authorities in case of human rights violation” (section 26, 6th bullet). In so doing, it renders the Commission’s complaints procedure very non-binding in character.
“On the composition of the proposed new body, articles 12 and 13 of the Bill contain several areas of uncertainty as to the selection of the Commissioners, as well as their status. The entities that should designate some of the Commissioners are unclear (section 13). The professional profiles requested for some members appear to envisage appointing once more to the Commission, representatives of the public administration as full Commission members (section 13, bullets 1 to 3), whereas under the Paris Principles, such representatives may only participate in the Commission in an advisory capacity. The regime of incompatible functions for the body’s Commissioners appears inadequate (section 15, sub-section 1), while the mechanism of “secondment” from their service of origin of Commissioners who at appointment fall under the Cameroonian public service, needs to be reviewed (section 15, sub-section 3). While the text protects the Commissioners from being prosecuted for ideas or opinions expressed in the exercise of their duties (section 21), it does not afford them larger protection against acts of reprisals or retaliation during, or after their service on the Commission.
“Section 43 of the Bill provides that the State, its agencies, and any natural or legal persons shall be required to “help” the Commission carry out its mission. This is much weaker than what should be required: an “obligation to cooperate” with the Commission. Similarly, while the Bill provides a criminal sanction for a person who duly served with summons, fails to appear before the Commission (section 62), it provides no sanctions for persons: (i) who fail to produce, or otherwise conceal documents or other material requested by the Commission, (ii) who threaten or intimidate witnesses in the context of an investigation or procedure before the Commission, or (iii) who, in any other manner, obstruct or interfere with the work of the Commission.”
In light of the foregoing, the above-mentioned civil society organisations, and signatories of the July 3 2019 communiqué note with deep regret the approach used by Government in presenting this Bill, which has been conducted in a manner designed to exclude key stakeholders in the process to reform the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms.
They go on to draw Government’s attention to the non-compliance of provisions of this Bill with the letter and the spirit of the Paris Principles, and note that such non-compliance will likely undermine the effectiveness of the proposed new Commission.
Furthermore, they call on members of the National Assembly and the Senate, elected representatives of the people, to defer the adoption of this Bill during the current parliamentary session, and concomitantly to request from Government to organise an inclusive consultation process in order to improve the Bill. This will enable Cameroon finally to have a national human rights commission that is in conformity with international norms, and specifically the Paris Principles.
They end by re-affirming to Government, their willingness to work towards the common objective of implementing the regional and international human rights instruments, treaties, and conventions on the promotion and protection of human rights, that it has duly ratified.

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