The right to housing of indigenous peoples in Cameroon is still very precarious due to the discrimination they face and the non-recognition of their way of life in legislation, which facilitates their relocation.
Ongoing land reform offers an opportunity to strengthen their land rights. During the seventy-fourth session of the United Nations General Assembly, which is being held this week, Canadian Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, presented her report on the right to adequate housing for indigenous peoples to member countries. This presentation, which is intended to be a global challenge on the need to ensure the promotion and protection of this fundamental right of indigenous peoples, led me to reflect on the situation of indigenous peoples in Cameroon. On the basis of the identification criteria established by the United Nations (Word document), the term "indigenous peoples" includes the Baka, Bagyeli, Bakola and Bedzang, hunter-gatherers from the forests of the East, South and Centre, on the one hand, and the Mbororo, nomadic transhumant herders from the savannah and mountains, on the other hand.
As in most sub-Saharan African countries, millions of people continue to live in Cameroon in unsanitary, precarious and totally insecure conditions. While the problem affects all social groups, it is significant among indigenous peoples, who are particularly vulnerable to forced evictions, relocations, involuntary resettlements and deprivation of their ancestral lands and resources. This land insecurity seriously hinders the fulfilment of their right to adequate housing.
A right recognized in international texts
Everyone aspires to live in a place with peace, security and dignity: this is the spirit of the right to adequate housing in international instruments. From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the many international texts addressing the right to housing refer to freedoms and rights that include, among others:
- the right to choose one's residence and to move freely;
- non-discriminatory and equal access to adequate housing;
- the right not to be subjected to arbitrary interference with one's home, private life or family;
- security of tenure, including legal protection against forced evictions and real and accessible guarantees in the event of eviction (fair and equitable compensation and effective remedies);
- respect for the cultural environment;
- and participation in housing decision-making at the community and national levels.
However, this ideal is difficult to achieve in Cameroon, where the housing rights of indigenous peoples remain very precarious.
Cultural and spiritual negation
Closely linked to their land situation, the right to housing of indigenous peoples does not enjoy any real protection in Cameroon. Indeed, these peoples share a common attachment to their ancestral lands and territories, which represent the basis of their existence. The forest, more than a home for them, is their foster mother, their source of health, their place of recreation and cultural and spiritual celebration. Moreover, unlike dominant groups, indigenous peoples perceive ownership as collective and based on the sharing of natural forest resources and the consumption of forest products.
These characteristics have a definite impact on their right to housing, including their security of tenure, protection against forced evictions and the provision of guarantees where appropriate.
In the various texts governing land in Cameroon (1974 Ordinances and all subsequent texts), the specificities of the indigenous peoples' way of life, which does not leave any control over the land, have been ignored in a context of the prevalence of development, which on the contrary implies an obvious human control over the land that is likely to modify its natural environment.
Violation of their right to adequate housing is thus achieved through the development of agro-industrial projects, forestry and other natural resources, or biodiversity conservation. When these projects are created on lands traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples, they have no voice and no basic procedural guarantees in the event of a violation of their rights.
As their traditional habitats do not meet the criteria for identifying a building subject to compensation or compensation, these dwellings are systematically destroyed on the false pretext that the material necessary for their manufacture is easily accessible, in total negation of the entire cultural and spiritual dimension they have.
In some cases, indigenous peoples are also forcibly evicted from project areas without resettlement plans, and forced to settle along roads on Bantu customary lands, where they are forced to live in makeshift shelters and face all kinds of intimidation and threats.
Thorny, but not impossible
The situation of indigenous peoples clearly shows the indivisibility and interdependence of human rights: the realization of their right to adequate housing requires the recognition of their customary land rights. These land rights, which are essential for balance and well-being, should be taken into account in the definition of housing policies in Cameroon.
How, then, can the right to housing of indigenous peoples be guaranteed? In view of the above, the issue is thorny, but not impossible to resolve. On the one hand, the recognition of the way of life of indigenous peoples will make it possible to integrate their specificities into the development of a national housing policy. In this perspective, a synergy would be welcome between the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (in charge of housing) and the Ministry of Lands, Land Registry and Land Affairs (in charge of land issues).
More broadly, the adoption of a comprehensive policy and legal framework dedicated to the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples will ensure that basic principles applicable to all future policies affecting them are enshrined in law.
Until these crucial policies are developed, there are several opportunities to legally recognize and secure indigenous territories and their collective rights to the spaces they occupy and which constitute their habitat and the resources they use, including the ongoing land reform. This reform will benefit from integrating the socio-cultural dimension of certain types of buildings and housing and taking it into account when compensating.
This article was first published by: https://www.landcam.org/fr/linconvenable-droit-au-logement-des-peuples-a...