- The secessionist propaganda
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Cameroun Republic habitually makes the claim that the on-going self-determination struggle by the people of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is a bid at secession from Cameroun Republic and that international law forbids secession and authorizes the use of force to suppress it. This claim lacks legal merit. It is a bogy conjured by expansionist Cameroun Republic in its pathetic attempt to silence on-going legitimate internal challenge and lawful external scrutiny of its colonization of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons. The secessionist rhetoric is deeply flawed in other ways.
Erstwhile British Southern Cameroons has never legally been part of French Cameroun either before or after its independence from France in 1960. Southern Cameroons’ legitimate and lawful struggle for statehood makes no claim to a single native, or to an inch of the territory, of Cameroun Republic. Southern Cameroons’ statehood does not in any way affect the spatial configuration of Cameroun Republic as it stood on the date of its attainment of independence from France on 1 January 1960, which is the only legal territorial framework Cameroun Republic is entitled to claim and to defend under international law consistently with the principle uti possidetis juris. The righteous assertion of Southern Cameroons statehood does not therefore result in any dismemberment of the territory of Cameroun Republic or any impairment of its territorial integrity. Analytically, the on-going struggle for independence by the people of Southern Cameroons is a case of revolt against annexation and colonial rule by Cameroun Republic. It hardly qualifies as a secessionist struggle. The Declaration on Friendly Relations adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1970 states that a colonial territory has a separate and distinct identity and status from that of the colonizing state.
Even if, for the purpose of argument and without conceding the point, it were to be supposed that Southern Cameroons is part of Cameroun Republic seeking to secede that aspiration and effort would not offend against international law. The contention that international law forbids secession is misconceived. That law is neutral in the matter of secession. It neither concedes nor denies a right to secede. But once the reality of secession has occurred and been made effective, international law has always eventually recognized that fact. This is so because secession per se, as distinct from unlawful means to bring it about, cannot be illegal and is indeed politically possible. State frontiers are not sacrosanct. They may be altered consistently with the law of nations. Historically, state formation and transformation have occurred, and, it is submitted, will continue to occur, through fission or fusion. In the contemporary world the process has been more of fission than fusion. Most of today’s 193-odd states came into existence through a process of state fission, that is, by seceding from an existing power, colonial or non-colonial.
In fact, there is, arguably, a ‘right’ of secession derivable from two sources: the natural right of all peoples to free themselves from subjugation by another people; and the right of self-determination, a norm of jus cogens. Firstly, the law of nature concedes to all peoples, whether or not in a colonial context, the natural or inherent right to liberate themselves from domination, oppression, subjugation or exploitation by another people, or to remedy a grave historical injustice of which they are collectively victims. The acknowledged legitimacy of national liberation movements proceeds precisely from the fact that wars of independence are just wars based on the natural law doctrine of the inherent right of peoples to free themselves from oppression or subjugation. Secondly, under contemporary international law, self-determination has evolved from a mere process used in de-colonization to a human rights norm, a continuing right of peoples exercisable in a colonial or non-colonial context. The legitimacy of the right of self-determination implies that any use of violence to suppress its exercise would constitute a forbidden use of force under international law and would, arguably, also qualify as aggression. Any retaliatory action by a colonized people to repel such aggressive force by the colonizing state would be a permissive measure of self-defence. The people fighting for their liberation may seek outside assistance to that end. It is so provided in Article 20 (3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and in Principle 5, paragraph 5 of the UN 1970 Declaration on Friendly Relations.
The United Nations and the UK Government failed to honour their legal, political and moral obligations to the people of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons who had put so much faith in them. Both that Organization and that Power thereby violated the inalienable right of the people of the territory to be free from colonial bondage by freely choosing to establish a sovereign independent state like other peoples of the world.
British Southern Cameroons either achieved independence or it did not. If it did not, that would mean the plebiscite was a pretended de-colonization exercise and a gigantic political fraud by the UN; it would also mean the territory remains technically a trust territory, a non-self-governing territory, still to be de-colonized. On the other hand, if the British Southern Cameroons achieved independence it cannot be contended that it was fused or that it became incorporated into Cameroun Republic, for history affords not a single example of an independent state voluntarily fused into another. If the British Southern Cameroons did achieve independence there is today not a vestige of that independence enjoyed by the territory. The absence of evidence of enjoyment of that independence is the clearest proof of its wanton suppression by Cameroun Republic, a state in armed occupation of the territory and exercising a colonial sovereignty over it. Indeed, the evidence shows that erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is a colonially occupied territory and a victim of Cameroun Republic’s expansionism.
As already shown the territorial claim of Cameroun Republic to erstwhile British Southern Cameroons is farcical and denuded of any legal basis. By annexing British Southern Cameroons and therefore suppressing its independence, Cameroun Republic is in breach of applicable UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting territorial expansion. It is also in breach of the principle of uti possidetis juris. It is further in breach of the principle of equal rights of all peoples. It is again in breach of the right of all peoples to freedom from domination by another people. Further still, Cameroun Republic is in violation of the unquestionable right of the people of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons to self-determination, to identity and nationality, to sovereign control over their wealth and natural resources, and to psychological integrity and mental health.
The evidence shows that the Southern Cameroons sovereignty question is a national liberation struggle for independence, a struggle firmly anchored in international and human rights law. It is not an inter-ethnic conflict. It is not a civil rights conflict. It is not a political transition conflict. Its solution cannot therefore lie in discourse on anti-corruption, transparency, democracy and good governance. It cannot lie in advocacy for participation and power-sharing within the colonizing state of Cameroun Republic. A colonized people seek freedom from colonial bondage, not participation in the affairs of the colonizing power. Would the conflict be resolved if Cameroun Republic were to renounce its unjust and illegal territorial pretensions to erstwhile British Southern Cameroons and accept and implement a two-state federal arrangement as conceived and agreed upon by the two parties before the plebiscite? That is doubtful to the extreme because in such a scenario the autonomy and status of erstwhile British Southern Cameroons would be by permission of, and will depend on, the continued goodwill (extremely doubtful) of Cameroun Republic. The Southern Cameroons would in effect still remain a dependency of Cameroun Republic with no water-tight guarantees whatsoever that Cameroun Republic will never again relapse into its congenital bad behaviour and colonize the Southern Cameroons yet again. The experience of the past half century teaches conclusively that Cameroun Republic lacks integrity and can never be trusted in any manner of dealing and under any circumstances. The only viable and lasting solution dictated by international and human rights law and consistent with the self-evident yearning of the people of the Southern Cameroons, is de-colonization of the territory and its emergence into sovereign statehood.