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The year 2023 is off to a difficult start for the populations of Douala, the commercial capital of Cameroon. Nearly 500 inhabitants of the Bessengue Valley quarter of Douala saw their houses razed over more than 500m2 (2) by the authorities of the WOURI District on 5 January (1). The families spent their next nights under the stars after the eviction of a hundred constructions deemed illegally erected.
It should be noted that, already in 2022, the authorities destroyed 5,000 houses in the Bessengue quarter. At that point, the Sawa traditional chiefs of Wouri had unsuccessfully asked the authorities for support measures. And even already in November 2011, in the Bessengue quarter, about thirty families had been threatened with eviction.
Once again, the series of observations and recommendations of the United Nations Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have not deterred the continuous wave of evictions in Cameroon; and it is now Douala, the economic capital, coming under the spotlight.
Hundreds of families were left homeless following this demolition operation in Bessengue Valley. Assuming that a normal family consists of 4–5 members, the exact number amounts to 400 or 500 people. The victims are mostly street vendors, shopkeepers, hairdressers, workers with insignificant and middle incomes, families with children still going to school, young people and even elderly people. For this second round of destruction, the police had to use tear gas to disperse angry young people. A youth was injured by gunshot. For the moment, these victims have had no assurance of obtaining alternative accommodation, let alone alternative compensation. This is how since 5 January 2023, many families have been in distress and desolation. In the meantime, the authorities have remained evasive, if not silent, on the issue.
Figure 1 : Residents of the Berrengue Valley in the process of eviction with the few belongings they can carry. Source: ACTU Cameroon.
The parties responsible for the violations
The demolition of the Bessengue Valley quarter in Douala was a decision taken by the Minister of Domains, Cadastre and Land Affairs, of the Minister of Territorial Administration in consultation with the Town Hall of Douala, the railway company CAMRAIL (subsidiary of Bolloré Logistics) and the Cameroonian Company of Petroleum Depots (SCDP). The executors were the police under the supervision of the Prefect of the Department of WOURI Guy Emmanuel Tchapnga. The authorities mentioned proceeded to the destruction of temporary and even permanent dwellings made of local materials.
The events, developments and consequences After having built on public land allotted to the railway, the population of this quarter were ordered to clear the area for the benefit of a pipeline project that the SCDP intends to carry out. Announced Thursday, 5 January 2023 at 6 A.M., the demolition operation finally began in the afternoon of that day. Now 5 January 2023 will remain a dark and sad day for the inhabitants of Bessengue Valley: several families have seen their homes destroyed by the Cameroonian authorities. Announced for months, the breakages actually took place on 5 January under the supervision of the Prefect of Wouri.
The Prefect explained that the eviction was not arbitrary and that the population had been warned before: “we did not just get up and bring these bulldozers to raze these houses. Before this demolition, we organized a series of meetings with the population and the traditional chiefs. So, they knew about it.”(3)
2 Despite everything, the population feels mistreated: “We arrived here in 1982. Despite the marshy nature of the area, we decided to build our houses here. We had to invest a lot of money, especially for the construction of the foundations. We know that the government is aiming for [development plan] Emergence 2035, but then we should be compensated,” commented an affected resident. (4)
“The Prefect had promised that we would be compensated. But to my surprise, nothing was given,” continues the victim.4 Restrained by the forces of the riot police deployed, the victims of the demolition implored the authorities to allocate them a site where they could shelter and protect what remains of their property.
Armand Nouwe, member of Caritas Douala (CODAS), a International Coalition for Habitat (HIC) member organization, visited the Vallée Bessengue quarter. It appears to him that it was the employees of the former REGIFERCAM, which became CAMRAIL, the railway company which housed its employees 30 meters from the railway line. Gradually, the populations moved closer to 15 meters from the rails, others sensing possible evictions sold their plots at a high price and left. Since 5 January, the displaced populations have been forced to manage to find makeshift accommodation. Since the authorities have provided any resettlement, they promised to provide them with financial support in the coming days to hold on. But unfortunately, there is no more news related to this promise.
The official reasons
To justify the evictions in Vallée Bessengue, Prefect Guy Emmanuel Tchapnga explained that pipes and drainage systems will be built on the site: “the pipelines will allow us to supply gas and fuel to the whole country.” Thus, on 5 January of this year, and after months of negotiations, meetings and unkept promises, the demolition took place. To hear the many versions, there is not really a serious and solid thesis for this demolition operation.
Violations of the Human Right to Adequate Housing
Regardless of the official reasons for evicting residents from their location, their treatment under eviction can be considered lawful only with certain safeguards and preconditions. Forced eviction without prior consultation with residents; their consent; due process; protection from abuse, including the condition of being homeless; other state-guaranteed protections would be a violation of human rights. A lawful eviction must not render individuals homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights, and the State must ensure adequate alternative housing, resettlement, or access to productive land, as appropriate.(5)
These evictions also have an impact on rights related to the human right to adequate housing, such as the right to food, water, health, education and livelihood. Cameroon remains obliged respect, protect and fulfill the human right to adequate housing, having ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on 27 September 1984. (6)
In the national sphere, the Constitution of Cameroon of 18 January 1996, in its preamble, guarantees the right to development to each individual, and to settle in any place and to move freely within the state, subject to the legal prescriptions relating to public order, security and peace. However, the Cameroonian land code does not provide for compensation in the event of demolitions for the development of State property and risk areas. So far, no measures have been taken for families to clear out.
At the international level, the State has violated articles 8, 12, 13, 17, 19, 23 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, articles 2 (7), 7, 11, 15 of the ICESCR, ratified by Cameroonin 1984, and General Comments nos. 4,8 7 and 26 (8), 9 as well as articles 1, 2, 17, 19, 21, 22, 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other legal instruments. Specifically, Article 11 of the ICESCR states that “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” (9)
In addition to the ICESCR, Cameroon also has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDaW) on 22 September 1994 and acceded to the Optional Protocol to CEDaW on 7 January 2005. The Convention on Rights of the Child, which Cameroon ratified on 10 February 1993, specifically requires States to protect the right of children to adequate housing (Article 27.3). The ICCPR, ratified by Cameroon on 27 September 1984, prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and/or punishment (Article 7) and arbitrary use of force (Article 17).
In addition to violating all these international standards, Cameroon’s current evictions in this neighborhood reflect a continuing pattern of violations of the human right to adequate housing. In its 1999 Concluding Observations, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) recorded its concern at “the reportedly high incidence of forced evictions in the rural areas of Cameroon, which have not been addressed in the written replies by the State party,” and urged Cameroon “to implement laws and policies to combat the problem of forced evictions, in accordance with General Comments Nos. 4 and 7.” (10) Furthermore, Cameroon’s use of violence and torture as instruments of intimidation and fear have been recognized by the Committee against Torture as matters of deep concern. (11)
After examining the periodic report of Cameroon in 2012, the Committee noted:
“with concern the high number of reported cases of forced eviction and demolition of houses conducted without sufficient notice, and without provision of adequate compensation or alternative accommodation. The Committee regrets that the State party has failed to provide details of Decree No. 2008/0738/PM of 23 April 2008 on land management procedures and requirements, or information on access to remedies for the persons concerned (art. 11).” (12)
And the Committee urged the State party to:
“to ensure that the legal framework regulating urban development projects guarantees the provision of appropriate compensation or alternative accommodation in case of eviction, as well as access to remedies for the persons concerned. In addition, the Committee urges the State party to ensure that, in practice, no one is left homeless as a result of eviction. In this regard, the Committee refers the State party to its general comment No. 7 (1997) on forced evictions.” (13)
In the context of the fourth review of Cameroon’s implementation of the ICESCR, the Committee further urged the State party to:
to take the necessary steps to provide protection against forced eviction, including the adoption and implementation of an appropriate legal framework which guarantees the provision of compensation or the option of adequate alternative housing for persons who have been forcibly evicted. The Committee draws the State party’s attention to its general comment No. 7 (1997) on forced evictions. (14)
At the regional level, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has also established that authorities should explore alternatives and options before eviction with the affected community, provide adequate notice and information, ensuring the availability of alternative housing, as well as an opportunity to appeal an eviction order. As in General Comment no. 7 of CESCR, African jurisprudence affirms that no one will be made homeless as a result of eviction. (15)
While authorities in Cameroon have claimed that these evictions are based on law enforcement requirements; however, through the cruel use of force, they also so violated the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officers (Article 3), (16) as well as the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms under Law Enforcement Officials.(17)
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights affirms these same principles, in particular under Article 6. In the case of Cameroon, the State not only violated its obligations under this treaty, but also failed to inform the affected population and did not provide any sustainable alternative, neither monetary compensation, nor alternative accommodation, nor reparation (18) for forced eviction as a gross violation of human rights. (19)
Actions already undertaken:
The only actions at present against the evictions of the populations of the Vallée BESSENGUE quarter are the denunciations of organizations for the defense of human rights and the media (printed press, private radio and television, websites) and of the populations who are organized into a negotiation committee to ask the State for human measures.
We suggest that you please write to the authorities in Cameroon, urging that they: • Immediately cease mass evictions and demolitions occurring in this neighborhood;
• Proceed with the compensation and resettlement of populations who have already left the neighborhood and who find themselves homeless.
• Proceed with the compensation of persons holding land titles and building permits.
• Take urgent action to ensure adequate alternative housing;
• Engage in frank dialogue with affected communities in accordance with human rights principles, especially CESCR General Comment No. 7;
• Uphold their obligations under international law and respect the right of all its citizens to legal protection of their human rights, including adequate housing, participation and expression; and full reparations grant them reparations for gross violations such as forced evictions.
What You Can Do
Join this call for responsible development and respect for the right to adequate housing, by immediately sending your letter of protest to the addresses below, or alternatively send your letter automatically through the HLRN website.
Please inform HIC-HLRN and Humanitas Solidaris (Cameroon) of any action you take at: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
1- Alain Dwaha, « Douala : une centaine de maisons détruites à la Vallée Bessengue », ACTU Online, no 3831 (9 Janvier 2023), https://actucameroun.com/2023/01/06/douala-une-centaine-de-maisons-detruites-a-la-vallee-bessengue/
2- Mathias Ngamo Mouendé, « Des centaines de familles dans la rue à Douala », le jour (9 janvier 2023), https://lejour.cm/des-centaines-de-familles-dans-la-rue-a-douala/; « Ce quartier de la ville de Douala sera déguerpi avant le 30 Décembre 2022 ( BESSENGUE DOUALA ) » (vidéo), LTM TV Officiel (6 Janvier 2023), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zd84MXEU_cg.
3- Theophile, « Douala-DÉGUERPISSEMENT:UNE centaine de maisons détruites à la Vallée Bessengue », Cameroun ACTU Online (6 janvier 2023), https://www.camerounactuonline.com/douaa-deguerpissementune-centaine-de-maisonsdetruites-a-la-vallee-bessengue/.
4 – « Douala : des familles sans abri après une opération de démolition à la Vallée Bessengué », cameroun actuel (6 janvier 2023), https://camerounactuel.com/douala-des-familles-sans-abri-apres-une-operation-de-demolition-a-la-vallee-bessengue/.
5- General CommentNo 7: right to adequate housing (Article 11, para. 1 of the Covenant): forced eviction, E/C.12/GC/7, 16 May 1997), paras. 15–16, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2FCESCR%2FGEC%2F6430&Lang=fr.
6- Pacte international relatif aux droits économiques, sociaux et culturels (PIDESC(, 16 décembre 1966, https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=IND&mtdsg_no=IV-3&chapter=4&clang=_fr.
7- General Comment No. 4: the right to adequate housing (article 11, para. 1 of the Covenant), E/1992/23, 13 December 1991, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2FCESCR%2FGEC%2F4759 &Lang=en.
8- General Comment No. 26 (4 January 2023) on land and economic, social and cultural rights, E/C.12/GC/26, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2FC.12%2FGC%2F26&Lang=en .
9 – ICESCR, op. cit., Article 11
10 – Ibid., para. 41
11- Committee against Torture, Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Cameroon, CAT/C/CMR/CO/5, 18 December 2017, https://docstore.ohchr.org/SelfServices/FilesHandler.ashx?enc=6QkG1d%2FPPRiCAqhKb7yhsvo7kjjQy53lGYOi8v5hl4gIpg %2Bj3mTf%2BmFhpzMF7yqFQ5aFlI6sXg4fs7Oaa4VUuieXJ%2BbRu9n4Ht07elVFzD%2BsOngfZtKe6uZliJYJBn36.
12 – CESCR, Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Cameroun, E/C.12/CMR/CO/2-3, 23 January 2012, para. 23, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G12/437/50/PDF/G1243750.pdf?OpenElement.
13 – Ibid.
14 – CESCR, Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Cameroun, E/C.12/CMR/CO/4, 25 March 2019, para. 54, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G12/437/50/PDF/G1243750.pdf?OpenElement.
15- African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) snd The Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) v. Nigeria, Communication No. 155/96, 6 June 2001.
16 – General Assembly, A/RES/34/169, 17 December 1979, https://documents-ddsny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/377/96/IMG/NR037796.pdf?OpenElement.
17 – Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba,7 September 1990, https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/basic-principles-use-force-and-firearms-lawenforcement#:~:text=Law%20enforcement%20officials%2C%20in%20carrying,of%20achieving%20the%20intended%20result.
18 – General Assembly, Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law,” A/RES/60/147, 21 March 2006, A/RES/60/147, http://www.hlrn.org/img/documents/A_RES_60_147%20remedy%20reparation%20en.pdf.
19 – Commission of Human Rights (CHR), “forced eviction,” resolution 1883/77, 10 March 1993, http://www.hlrn.org/img/documents/ECN.4-1993-77_EN.pdf; CHR, “prohibition against forced evictions,” resolution 2004/28, E/2004/23-E/CN.4/2004/127, https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/537775/files/E_2004_23–E_CN.4_2004_127-EN.pdf?ln=en.