Challenges in the Protection of the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in Cameroon
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Internally displaced persons are mostly seen as a result of armed conflicts. Armed conflict is defined as any organized dispute that involves the use of weapons, violence, or force, whether within national borders or beyond them, and whether involving state actors or nongovernment entities. Examples include international wars, civil wars and conflicts between other types of groups. The definition of internally displaced persons (IDPs) most commonly used comes from the United Nation’s (UN) Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Despite many international human rights and humanitarian provisions for the protection of internally displaced persons in armed conflict, the sobering and often shocking reality is that these persons are still too often the victim of grave violations of their rights. The general objective of the research is therefore to examine the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in Cameroon. In order to achieve this, the work adopts the qualitative research methodology. This methodology deals with observation and interpretations. This methodology is adopted because the researcher lives in Cameroon; she has observed how internally displaced persons suffer as a result of the ongoing war in the North West and South West Regions and so carrying out the research based on qualitative methods makes it easier for the researcher to achieve the aim of the research. From the findings, it is realized that internally Displaced persons also known as IDP’s are mostly victims of the inhumanity of man against man. They are victims of various kind of injustices or violence confrontations, perpetrated by either their own government against them or by others, such as, communal clashes, terrorism, riots, religious conflicts, natural disasters and so on. In order to protect IDPs in Cameroon, the work therefore recommends that government authorities must conduct thorough and impartial investigations into human rights abuses on all sides and subject all perpetrators to a fair trial
Internally displaced persons are mostly seen as a result of armed conflicts. Armed conflict is defined as any organized dispute that involves the use of weapons, violence, or force, whether within national borders or beyond them, and whether involving state actors or nongovernment entities. Examples include international wars, civil wars and conflicts between other types of groups. The definition of internally displaced persons (IDPs) most commonly used comes from the United Nation’s (UN) Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. The Guiding Principles define IDPs as “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.”
The effects of armed conflicts are both direct and indirect and are associated with immediate and long-term harm. The direct effects of conflict include death, physical and psychological trauma, and displacement. Indirect effects are related to a large number of factors, including inadequate and unsafe living conditions, environmental hazards, caregiver mental health, separation from family, displacement-related health risks, and the destruction of health, public health, education, and economic infrastructure.
Unlike refugees who cross national borders and benefit from an established system of international protection and assistance, those forcibly uprooted within their own countries, by armed conflict, internal strife, systematic violations of human rights, or natural disasters, lack predictable structures of support. There are currently 25 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide in at least 50 countries. No continent has been spared. Internal displacement has become one of the more pressing humanitarian, human rights and security problems confronting the international community.
Protection “involves using the law to secure the rights, the security and the welfare of persons.” In the case of IDPs, however, there is no international legal instrument specific to their plight, which defines the nature and content of protection for them. For refugees, a body of law specific to their situation provides the basis for their protection. Although refugee law cannot be applied directly to IDPs, by virtue of its focus on persons who have been displaced (albeit across a border), it nonetheless can contribute to defining, by analogy, the nature and content of protection for IDPs. For civilian victims of conflict, there is the Fourth Geneva Convention and its Additional Protocols which, though not defining the term “protection” per se, set out guarantees indicating its meaning in situations of armed conflict. Protection under these circumstances, the International Committee of the Red Cross explains, entails “preserving victims of conflict who are in the hands of an adverse authority from the dangers, sufferings and abuses of power to which they may be exposed, defending them and giving them support.”
While the frequent occurrence of internal displacement in the context of armed conflict makes the protection provided by international humanitarian law particularly relevant, this legal standard does not necessarily apply in all situations of internal displacement. The protection provided by human rights law, by contrast, remains relevant in all cases of internal displacement, with IDPs being entitled to enjoy, in full equality, the same rights and freedoms under domestic and international law as the rest of a country’s citizens.
The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement represent the first attempt to articulate what protection should mean for the internally displaced. The Principles identify the rights and guarantees relevant to the protection of IDPs in all phases of displacement: providing protection against arbitrary displacement; protection and assistance during displacement; and providing for safe return or resettlement and reintegration. Protection as elaborated in the Guiding Principles also is comprehensive in scope, covering not only needs for physical security and safety but the broad range of rights provided for in international law (including the right to food, to education and to employment, for instance) which, by virtue of their nature as rights, also falls within the meaning of protection.
In the case of children internally displaced, Article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is to the effect that “States Parties must undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child. States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities. States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, States Parties shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest.”
This therefore means that, the principles and provisions to protect internally displaced persons including children in armed conflict are laid out in The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the Geneva conventions (1949) and their additional Protocols (1977), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (2000), and the Rome Statute (1998) of the International Criminal Court.
Protection problems are endemic to the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs), arising not only as a cause of flight but also often during displacement and in the search for durable solutions. Yet, the international response has tended to focus on assistance, with less attention to protection concerns. This is true both in the field as well as at the Headquarters level. Part of the problem exists at the conceptual level, as the meaning of protection for IDPs has not yet been fully determined by the international community.
International humanitarian law provides broad protection for vulnerable persons like internally displaced persons. In the event of armed conflict, either international or non-international, internally displaced persons benefit from the general protection provided for civilians not taking part in the hostilities. Non-combatant civilians are guaranteed humane treatment and covered by the legal provisions on the conduct of hostilities. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 lay down a series of rules according them special protection
Despite many international human rights and humanitarian provisions for the protection of internally displaced persons in armed conflict, the sobering and often shocking reality is that these persons are still too often the victim of grave violations of their rights.
In current armed conflicts like the Anglophone war in Cameroon, schools are targeted by armed forces and armed groups, including forced recruitment and forced closure. Women are being raped and tortured and so on. The shocking reality is that atrocities committed against vulnerable persons like internally displaced persons during armed conflict go far beyond our imagination.
What are the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in Cameroon?
- What is the Legal Framework on the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in Cameroon?
- Is there any Institutional Framework on the protection of the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in Cameroon?
- What are the challenges faced by Internally Displaced Persons in Cameroon?
- Are there policy recommendations for a better protection of internally displaced persons in Cameroon?
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.l, February 11. New York: United Nations.
Rodolfo Arango Rivadeneira, Judicial Protection of Internally Displaced Persons: The Colombian Experience, Bern University, Project on Internal Displacement, 2009, p.5.
Guy S. Goodwin-Gill,”The Language of Protection”, USA, International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 1, No. 1 (1989), p.16.
Cameroon signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the 25th of September 1990 and ratified it on the 11th of January 1993.