Association of Victims of Post Electoral Violence & INTERIGHTS v Cameroon

Forum: African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
INTERIGHTS’ role: Co-representatives
Keywords: State’s obligations, post-electoral violence

On 2 September 2011 INTERIGHTS wrote to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation in the Directorate of Political Affairs in Cameroon to follow up on implementation in this case. It is now almost two years since the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ decision, but it is yet to be implemented. Our letter respectfully draws the non-implementation of this decision to the Government’s attention and suggests proposals for the final resolution of this matter. Click here to read the letter.

At its 47th Ordinary Session in May 2010 the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) found that the State of Cameroon was in breach of its due diligence obligations when it failed to prevent post–electoral violence in Bamenda. The African Commission found violations of provisions on discrimination, integrity of the person, fair trial guarantees and the right to property. The case concerned the eruption of violence after the Supreme Court confirmed the victory of Paul Biya Cameroon Peoples’ Democratic Party in the presidential elections of 11th October 1992. As a result of the violence that followed several of the applicants were injured and had their property lost or damaged.

The African Commission found that the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights obliges the state to guarantee rights in the Charter and that the victims have a right to compensation even where it is established that the State officials are not directly responsible for violations. It held that because it did not prevent the 1992 post electoral violence the State of Cameroon failed its obligation imposed on it by Article 1 of the African Charter. It then went on to decide that the victims and their dependents should have their rights restored in full. The Commission adopted a strict approach to the responsibility of the state in the circumstances of this case. It found that Article 1 imposes on states an obligation of result and not a mere obligation of means, which requires states to implement all measures likely to produce the result of preventing violations of the African Charter. This strict interpretation imposes an obligation that states might have difficulty meeting. It also deviates from the positive obligation principle which imposes upon the state a duty to take positive action in order to ensure the effective enjoyment of rights are protected.

The Commission’s decision underscores that where there are delays in the judicial process at the national level the individual can proceed to the Commission despite proceedings pending at home. In examining whether the applicants had access to a remedy at the national level, the African Commission found that the remedy available to the applicants was not appropriate because the petition had remained pending before the Court for five years. The Commission decided that the government’s responsibility had been established in regard to the damage to property and it followed that the applicants should be paid for the prejudices suffered.

In line with the arguments submitted by INTERIGHTS, the African Commission recommended that the government of Cameroon take all the necessary measures for guaranteeing the effective protection of human rights at all times, and everywhere both in times of peace and war and that the government pursue its commitment to provide fair and equitable compensation without delay.  It requested that the government pay fair and equitable compensation for the prejudices suffered by the victims or their beneficiaries and concluded that the amount of compensation for the damages and interest be fixed in accordance with applicable laws. 

Underpinning the case brought by INTERIGHTS was the principle that the state is obliged to offer protection to all in times of violence irrespective of whether the authors of such violence are non-state actors. If the state fails in its positive obligations to prevent and protect; adequate reparation must be offered to those whose rights have been violated.

Click here to read the judgment

INTERIGHTS contact: Judy Oder, Lawyer, Africa Programme, email