By Ernest Sumelong
In spite of a ruling by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights urging the Government of Cameroon to pay compensation to over 100 victims of 1992 post electoral violence, nothing has been done in that regard.
The victims are over 100 people who suffered violence and loss of property at the hands of militants of the Social Democratic Front, SDF, in 1992 for their support to the Cameroon’s People Democratic Movement, CPDM, following the proclamation by the Supreme Court that President Paul Biya had won the October 11 Presidential Election. The Commission had ruled in favour of the victims after a prolonged legal battle between the victims and the State of Cameroon that had moved from Cameroon’s Supreme Court to the African Commission.
Among other things, the Commission recommended to the State of Cameroon to "pursue its commitment to give fair and equitable compensation to the victims and without delay, to pay fair and equitable compensation for the prejudices suffered by the victims or their families". After the ruling was delivered at the 46th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights which held from November 11-15, 2009, in The Gambia, the State is yet to make any official statement or any move towards compensating the victims.
While the victims continue to patiently wait for government to end their almost eighteen years of frustration, they have begun nursing sentiments that they continue to suffer neglect because they are from an Anglophone region. Their argument is buttressed by the fact that the people of Nsam who had gone to ‘steal’ petrol from a tanker and got burnt in the process were promptly compensated by the State.
They have compared the continuous attention given the Nsam fire disaster victims and the ‘shabby treatment’ given them by the government they were vandalized for and judged it to be a classical example of Anglophone marginalisation. While the 1992 post electoral victims seem to be abandoned to themselves, the absence of a clause in the African Commission’s ruling penalizing the State of Cameroon in case of failure to comply is to blame.
According to a complaint by the victims to the African Commission, on October 23, 1992, following the proclamation of the Supreme Court that President Paul Biya of the CPDM was winner of the October 11, 1992 Presidential Election, members of the SDF attacked militants of the CPDM in Bamenda, destroying property and causing some of them physical harm.
Going by the complaint, the damage caused to Messrs. Albert Cho Ngafor and Joseph Nchi Adu was estimated at FCFA one billion each, while that caused to about one hundred others were estimated at FCFA 800 million. Following the incident, the complaint states, the State set up a Committee in February 1993 responsible for the compensation of the victims.
But, having waited in vain for their compensation, the victims organised themselves into an association and embarked on certain activities in order to have the matter settled amicably. However, this proved futile as in spite of firms promises made by President Paul Biya, no concrete result was obtained by the victims.
Thus, the victims prayed the Commission to declare the refusal by the Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court of Cameroon to consider their appeal against Government as contrary to the principles of the right to fair hearing, as stipulated by the African Charter and to request the Government of Cameroon to enact positive legislation to ensure the fair, equitable and rapid compensation for the victims of human rights violations.
In making their case, the victims submitted to the African Commission that their complaint was being deposited at the African Commission five years after the same complaint had been brought before the Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court of Cameroon without any response.
Meanwhile, the government of Cameroon pleaded, during the hearing of the 34th Ordinary Session of the African Commission, that the delays observed in the administration of justice in Cameroon are due to the underdeveloped nature of the country, which does not have the means to provide all the facilities required for a diligent justice system, and not a deliberate desire by the Government to hinder the administration of justice.
Also, during the subsequent hearing of the African Commission in its 35th Session, the State of Cameroon argued that the complaint by the victims was "still under consideration before one of the highest national courts, which is aware of the situation and that the parties require that the case be concluded by the national legal Authorities. Thus, on the 25th of February and the 31st of March 2004, the Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court had two ordinary sessions. The debate on the case in question, scheduled for the 31st of March 2004 had been postponed to the 26th May 2004 on the request of the Counsel for the Complainants".
But the Commission observed that the delay on the part of the Court in the treatment of the case was unduly prolonged. Also, it held that, "pertaining to the Compensation Commission set up under the Prime Minister’s Office, its operation were highly inefficient as 12 years after its creation and 11 years after hearing the victims, it had not published its report".
It was thus with regard to its Charter which imposes on member states the obligation to protect the rights and properties of its citizens that the Commission held that the State had failed in its responsibility. The Commission thus found the State of Cameroon wanting and urged it to pay compensation to the 1992 post electoral violence victims.
But Government’s silence almost a year after the Commission’s ruling has added to the victims’ frustration considering that they had been deprived of their property and businesses because of their support of the ruling party.