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Cameroon lawmakers examine legislation to address statelessness

Proposal could extend legal identity to tens of thousands
Cameroon lawmakers examine legislation to address statelessness

The Parliament of Cameroon is examining a bill that will allow the country to accede to two United Nations Conventions relating to the recognition of stateless persons. If it passes into law, stateless people in Cameroon could soon receive legal identity documents.

The bill, which was submitted to members of the National Assembly (the lower chamber of parliament) recently, seeks to authorize the President of the Republic, Pual Biya, to proceed with Cameroon’s accession to the United Nations Conventions relating to the status of stateless persons and on the reduction of statelessness adopted, respectively, on September 28, 1954 and August 30, 1961.

In an explanatory statement, the government said it recognizes the plight and usefulness of these category of persons who have the stateless status largely by no fault of theirs.

“Our country’s accession to these conventions would facilitate the incorporation of duly identified stateless persons into the mass of Cameroonian citizens and help to significantly reduce discrimination against persons who often are only victims of circumstances,” the statement reads.

“This category of persons moreover constitutes a good source of usable human capital,” it adds.

UNHCR estimated there were 120,000 people in Cameroon at risk of stateless status as of 2017.

After the bill has been examined at committee level, it will be presented in plenary where it shall be further scrutinized before being adopted by the chamber. When the National Assembly okays the bill, it shall be sent to the Senate for a similar exercise.

Once the text is okayed by both chambers, it shall be sent to the President who will have no more than 15 days to assent to it, according to Section 31 of the country’s Constitution.

The convention relating to the status of stateless persons, which was adopted by the UN in 1954 and went into force six years later, in June 1960, codifies the rights of stateless persons and governs their international protection.

That on the reduction of statelessness sets rules for the conferral and non-withdrawal of citizenship and establishes principles for preventing and curbing statelessness.

Cameroon’s move to accede to these conventions many decades after they went into force has been interpreted as a reflection of its willingness to making legal identity reach everyone on its territory.

A large number of stateless persons are believed to live on Cameroonian territory in the Bakassi peninsula, where access to legal identity is a veritable headache especially for persons who have their origin from Nigeria but no longer enjoy the citizenship of that country following the takeover the territory by Cameroon.

Like Cameroon, many other African countries are showing willingness to reduce statelessness as reflected in a commitment taken recently during the 2024 ID4Africa AGM, a move that was hailed by the UNHCR.

In February, African leaders were also praised by the UN agency for adopting the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights Relating to the Specific Aspects of the Right to a Nationality and the Eradication of Statelessness in Africa.

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