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an assessment of minority right in Africa under international law: case study Cameroon

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This chapter of the study focuses on the general introduction of the research and also covers the preliminary chapter of the study.

The General introduction of the chapter comprises the background to the study, the statement problem, the research questions, the research objectives, research methodology, literature review, theoretical and conceptual framework, and justification for the study, significance of the study, scope/delimitation of the study, the conceptual definition of key terms and synopsis of the chapters.

1.2 Background to the Study

After the Second World War came to an end, cities in Europe and Asia were in ruins. Millions of people were dead and homeless or starving.

In April 1945 delegates from fifty countries met in San Francisco with optimism and hope.

The goal of the UN conference on the international body was to promote peace and prevent future wars. The ideal organization were stated in its preamble to its proposed charter,

  ̎we the people of the united nation are determined to save a succeeding generation from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind ̎

The UN charter went in to effect in 24 October 1945 and it is today celebrated every year.[1]

By 1948 the UN’s new human rights commission had captured the world’s attention. Under the dynamic chairmanship of Eleanor Roosevelt president Franklin Roosevelt’s widow, a human rights champion in her own right and the United States Delegate to the UN, the commission set off to draft the document that became the universal declaration of human rights, it was adopted by the UN on10 December 1948.

Human rights are universal, civil, economic, political and cultural rights that belong to all human beings with no discrimination including members of minority groups.

It is very common that human beings everywhere demand the realization of diverse values of their individual and collective well-being.

However, these rights are denied through exploitation, oppression and persecution in many countries in the world today[2].  Members of minorities are entitled to the realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on equal terms with others in society, without discrimination of any kind.

Minorities both the individuals belonging to minorities and the minorities as a group also enjoy certain human rights specifically linked to their minority status, including their right to maintain and enjoy their culture, religion and language free from discrimination[3].

Most international legal-political concerns during the nineteenth century, however, were directed towards justifying the unification of linguistic “nations” based on the principle of self-determination, rather than the protection of minority groups.

As the lure of nationalism grew, people who did not share the ethnic, linguistic or religious identity of the majority within their country were increasingly under threat.

By the time of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, national or minority concerns were at the forefront of international politics, at least in Europe.

Following the end of the First World War, minority issues became a central concern for the League of Nations. The league of the nation was created in 1919 to promote international peace. A series of treaties on minority rights were adopted to protect certain specific groups, addressing many of their key concerns.[4]

Among the protections commonly included were the rights to equality and non-discrimination; the right to citizenship if a person commonly resident in a new State (or a State with new borders)so wished; the right to use one’s own language in public and private;

the right of minorities to establish their own religious, cultural, charitable and educational institutions; an obligation on the State to provide an “equitable” level of financial support to minority schools, in which instruction at the primary level would be in the minority’s mother tongue; and entrenchment of laws protecting minorities so that they could not be changed by subsequent statutes.

The Charter of the United Nations makes no mention of minority rights per se, but it does include several provisions on human rights, including Article 1 (3), which identifies as one of the purposes of the United Nations the achievement of international cooperation “in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction to race, sex, language, or religion”.

In 1948, the General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which articulated the content of human rights in much greater detail and remains one of the most important international human rights documents:

its anti-discrimination provisions and other articles are of central importance also for persons belonging to a minority group.

While the General Assembly was unable to agree on any formulation in the Declaration concerning minority rights per se, it did note that the United Nations “cannot remain indifferent to the fate of minorities”.

It added, in the same resolution that proclaimed the Universal Declaration, that it was “difficult to adopt a uniform solution for this complex and delicate question [of minorities], which has special aspects in each State in which it arises.”

 In 1966, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights included in article 27 a specific provision concerned with minorities, a principal legal tool to advance
minority rights.

While these developments were important, advancing the protection of minority rights received more attention as the cold war ended. The importance of minority rights and their contribution to the stability of States was increasingly recognized in the work of international institutions, including in Central and Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union.

In Europe, an important breakthrough came in 1990, when a review meeting of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (now the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), adopted a declaration on human rights, democracy, the rule of law and minority rights.

This Copenhagen Document commits the (now) 56 participating States of OSCE to a wide range of minority rights.

Although the Copenhagen Document is a political declaration, its impact has been significant and it helped to pave the way for the legally binding Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, adopted by the Council of Europe in 1994.

At the United Nations, a declaration on minority rights was under discussion for over a decade before the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Minorities Declaration) in 1992.

The Minorities Declaration contains progressive language, including minority participation in the political and economic life of the State.

In addition, the preamble recognizes that protecting minority rights will “contribute to the political and social stability of the state in which they live” and, in turn, “contribute to the strengthening of friendship and cooperation among peoples and States”.

Many African states are of the view that the minority problem is essentially European and are reluctant to admit that Africa is not immune to ethnic concerns[8].

At the same time, many indigenous minorities, ethnic groups, communities, Peoples and ethnic minorities living in Africa are suffering from a lack of attention certain African states give to their rights and their concerns.

In Africa, there are more more people described as minority groups or ethnic groups than there are states.

The ethnic composition of African states is complex and the question of minority status, especially in terms of the non-dominance of particular groups is complicated by the way in which political elites have exploited ethnic or religious differences for political ends. In practice, some numerical smaller groups, through alliances with other groups may exert political dominance.

This is the case for example in Nigeria where historically dominant minorities such as the Efik or Ijaw find themselves now marginalized politically.

However, changes in the political fortunes of these alliances may change the situation of an ethnic group from a position in which they have access to power to that of non-dominance status[9] .

There are also examples in Africa where numerically large groups, the Hutu in Rwanda or the Oromo in Ethiopia have been largely excluded from power.

Denial of citizenship to particular groups despite the fact that the right to nationality is a well-established tenet for international law the question of citizenship continues to be a big concern in Africa and it is linked to participation in public life or access to land as is the case in the democratic republic of Congo, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cote D’ ́́Ivoire.

Minorities in Africa in line with international Norms include the following:

  • Any ethnic, linguistic of religious group within a state.
  • In a non-dominant position in the state in which they live.
  • Consisting of individuals who possesses a sense of belonging to that group
  • Determined to preserve and develop their distinct ethnic identity
  • Discriminated against or marginalized on the grounds of their ethnicity, language or religion.

Cameroon was annexed by the Germans in1884. After the First World War, the Germans were defeated by the allied forces and German Cameroon was partitioned between Britain and France. France had four fifth of the country and Britain had one-fifth of the country[10].

After the reunification of the two territories, the task was to implement a policy of national integration to accommodate the differences existing between former British and French Cameroon. The major challenge faced at that time was the question of national integration.

For national integration to succeed, it must accept the differences inherited by the two Cameroon’s from their colonial masters. To the francophone Cameroonians, integration was synonymous to assimilation.

In Cameroon, minority groups include; linguistic minority, religious minority, the pygmy community, the Mbororo pastoralist and the montagnards community[11].This study is based on the protection of the indigenous mbororo minority group in Cameroon and their right to equality and nondiscrimination.

Mbororo pastoralist communities are estimated to number more than 1 million people, which would account for some 12 per cent of the total population.

Some described a problem of general discrimination against the indigenous Mbororo minority group owing to a perception that they are a foreign presence or strangers who do not fully belong, and are consequently treated as second-class citizens. While in certain regions, such as the North-West region of Cameroon, the Mbororo are now largely settled communities, in other regions, such as the Far North, the Mbororo continue their nomadic, pastoralist lifestyle.

Over the years, the indigenous Mbororo minority group has experienced unexpected recognition due to political factors in the west region of Cameroon.

 The cause of this profound change is largely unknown. State policy of settlement has affected the mbororo favourably because it was associated with better schooling, producing a critical mass of elites. There was a mbororo political awakening in the context of changes in areas including but not limited to the following׃ the effects of a new legal institutional framework (the 1996 constitution), the effects of competition between political parties since 1990 and mobilisation outside political parties by the mbororo social and cultural development association of Cameroon since 1992[12].

The indigenous Mbororo minority group are discriminated against officially and by dominant groups. In addition to lack of representation in the political, economic and civil arenas, here are two glaring examples of discrimination[13].

The first is the abuse by authorities and people in position of power against the Mbororo which go unpunished. While this is a general phenomenon in Cameroon, the Mbororo suffer disproportionately from abuses without remedies or redress due to their low literacy and isolated geographical locations.

A specific example is the case of powerful billionaire commercial rancher, plantation owner and member of the Central Committee of the ruling Party, who has forcefully and arbitrarily displaced Mbororo people from their communal lands and persecuted and abused them in the North-West Region, Douala and Yaoundé.

The lands of Sabga community have still not been restored to them despite a Government Commission Findings and Recommendations for the lands to be restored going back 8 years.

Despite numerous court rulings, administrative decisions, UN and NGO interventions in favour of the Mbororo the situation has not changed and even deteriorated in 2012. He uses official police, gendarmes, government officials, judges and prisons to persecute the Mbororo therefore this constitutes official violations, discrimination and racism.

The second specific example is a discriminatory tax that has existed in Cameroon for over 100 years called “Jangali Tax”[14].

It is a tax on cattle and horses derived from Islamic tax systems prior to the arrival of colonisers which was inherited by the colonial and post-colonial authorities.

The tax is inherently unfair and discriminatory because it is levied on cattle and horses owned by individuals for subsistence and cultural reasons and not for purely economic purposes.

Given the fact that more than 90% of privately owned cattle and horses are owned by one ethnic group – the Mbororo people, this tax disproportionately targets this specific racial group indirectly.

While their neighbouring farming communities do not pay for their pigs, coffee and crop farms, the Mbororo pay for their animals. And in addition, every time they sell each animal the seller and the buyer both pay taxes and through each Council area they travel to the very highly underdeveloped cattle markets.

The grazing rangelands have also never received any development from the tax. . The tax constitutes double taxation. While paying a tax at the point of sale is not a problem, paying an annual tax for each animal by largely one specific ethnic group is unfair and must be abolished.[15]

The Cameroon constitution in its preamble states that the state shall ensure the protection of minorities and preserve the rights of the indigenous population in accordance with the law.

This is backed by article 65 of the Cameroon constitution which states clearly that the preamble shall be part and parcel of the Cameroon constitution. Article 45 states that duely approved or ratified treaties and international agreements, shall be following their publication, override national laws, provided the other party implements the said treaty or agreement.

Article 7 prohibits discrimination, stating that, all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Cameroon has no laws that explicitly forbid discrimination based on race, religion, language, or social status; to date, the prohibition of racial discrimination has therefore not been fully incorporated into legislation, including the criminal code and the criminal procedure code.[16]

1.2 Statement of the problem

 Even though Cameroon has ratified international conventions and regional treaties, the rights of minorities in Cameroon are still being violated. One of the underlying problems of the League of Nations enforcement of minority was its inability to commit to a clear-cut definition of Self-determination.

A particular problem relating to minorities and citizenship is that all too often members of certain groups are denied or deprived of their citizenship because of their national or ethnic, religious and linguistic characteristics.

This practice is contrary to international law, particularly in regard to article 9 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which states that “a Contracting State may not deprive any person or group of persons of their nationality on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds.”

In a similar manner, the lack of a universally recognized and accepted definition of the term ‘minorities’ poses a very pertinent problem to the protection and enhancement of the rights of minority groups.

Though legal scholars and institutions have coined various definitions of this term, the terminology minority is still found wanting.  This makes is difficult to ascertain who can be considered as a minority.

The definition of minority given by UN Special Rapporteur Capotorti define minority within the context of article 27 of the ICCPR[17] and Jules Deschenes again at the request of the UN sub-commission in 1985[18], only help in the understanding of minorities.

These definitions are still not satisfactory and thus poses a problem as to what criteria can be adopted to ascertain who truly is a minority and who is not. This work seeks to address this problem.

The existence of a compendium of legal provisions to ensure minority protection causes a problem that also needs to be addressed.

Even though there exist instruments for the protection of Mbororo minority right in Cameroon, a problem appears in the effectiveness of these instruments for the protection.

This study seeks to address this problem.

1.3. Research Questions

1.3.1 Main Research Question

  • To what extent is the protection of minority rights in Cameroon effective?

1.3.2. Specific Research Questions

  • Who are minorities and what problems do the Mbororo minority face as a group in Cameroon?
  • What are the legal and institutional frameworks that protect the Mbororo minority right in Cameroon?
  • How effective is the protection of Mbororo minority right to equality and nondiscrimination in Cameroon?
    • Research Objectives

1.4.1. Main Research objective

  • The General research objective of this work is to examine how effective is the protection of minority rights are in Cameroon.

1.4.2. Specific Research Objectives

  • To examine who are minorities and identify the problems faced by the indigenous Mbororo minority group in Cameroon.
  • To examine the legal and institutional frameworks for the protection of indigenous Mbororo minority rights.
  • To examine how effective the protection of the indigenous Mbororo minority right of equality and non-discrimination are in Cameroon.
  • To make a conclusion and give policy recommendations.

[1] https׃// ˗of˗ human˗ rights/a˗ brief˗ history of ˗ human˗ rights.html brief history of human rights, accessed January 2021.

[2] Weston, Burns, H. Human rights, (1984) Human Rights Quarter,6(3)˸257˗83.

[3] Human rights of minorities ‘The People’s Movement for Human Rights Education’ available at https// accessed January 2021

[4] Promoting Minority and Protecting Minority Rights. A guide for Advocates Geneva and New York 2012

[5] Universal Declaration of human right Article 1 (3)

[6]Ibid  P 6

[7]Ibid P6

[8]Ghana before the Africa commission on Human and people’s rights responded to the question as to whether there was domination or one people by another, they answered negatively, Gabon too also replied negative. Their reply was that there was no domination of one people, ethnic group against the other.

[9] Minority Rights: International Standards and Guidance for Implementation New York and Geneva 2010.

[10] Season, N F, “The Reunification question in Cameroon history: Was The Bride An Enthusiastic or a Reluctant One?”, Africa today .

[11] Report of the independent expert on minority issues on her mission to Cameroon (2˗ 11 September 2013)

[12]Recognition of mbororo in the northwest Region of Cameroon; available at https//

ll/1o.1177/ooo203971104. Accessed on February 2021

[13] Joint NGO Report Submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of Cameroon

16th Session May/June 2013.

[14]Ibid P 11

[15] The Mbororo also have serious problems with regards access to education, healthcare,

security, jobs or income generating activities.

[16] Report on the independent expert on minority issues on her mission to Cameroon (2˗11september 2013).

[17]A group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of state, and in a non-dominant position, whose members –being nationals of the state- posses ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population and show , if only implicitly, a sense of solidarity, directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religious and language.F. Capotorti, study on the rights of persons belonging to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, new York, united nations, 1991,  pg 2 para. 568

[18]‘a group of citizens of a state, constituting a numerical minority and in a non-dominant position in that state, endowed with ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics which differ from those of the majority of the population, having a sense of solidarity with one another, motivated, if only implicitly, by a collective will to survive and whose aim is to achieve equality with the majority in fact and in law. Proposal; concerning a definition of the term ‘minority’, UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/31

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