The ILA (Nigeria) Committee on Justice and Human Rights, acting under the protective mandate of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, is concerned over the ongoing events in the Republic of Cameroon and has considered it imperative to add its voice to the variously expressed opposition to the wanton violation of the rights of the people of English speaking Provinces of Cameroon by the Government of the Republic of Cameroon.
The facts upon which the intervention of the Committee is established, as verified by CNN, Amnesty International and the African Bar Association, are as follow:
- That residents of Cameroon’s two English-speaking provinces have longstanding grievances against the largely-francophone central government, complaining of economic marginalization and the imposition of French legal and education systems upon them;
- That in November and December 2016, Anglophone lawyers led protests against the use of French in courts, resulting in clashes with police in which protesters were killed;
III. That the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) and Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), responded with series of strikes and “Operation Ghost Town” – a form of nonviolent resistance that requiring all supporters to stay at home;
- That following the strikes, schools and courts in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon have been shut since November 2016;
- That on January 17, the government banned the CACSC and the SCNC, holding them responsible for the protests. The CACSC President Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla and Secretary General Dr. Fontem Neba were arrested on charges relating to terrorism, and are yet to regain their freedom and have not been offered all the necessary facilities for fair and impartial trial.
Being aware that the issues leading to the current impasse are not new, the Committee takes cognisance of the following:
(a) that the current situation is intimately linked to the events that occurred in British Southern Cameroon in the context of decolonisation having its root in the League of Nations Mandate System that partitioned Cameroon between Great Britain and France and which culminated in the plebiscite of the United Nations on Southern and Northern Cameroon independence question;
(b) That matters arising from the plebiscite have been a subject of litigation and discussion at several international forums, particularly, at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the African Commission on Human and Peoples;
(c) That the Committee is aware that the facts presented to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights on the Southern Cameroon (‘Ambazonia’) in the case of Gorji-Dinka v Cameroon (2005) AHRLR 18 (HRC 2005), particularly, paragraphs 2.1 to 3.2, were unchallenged by the government of Cameroon;
(d) The Committee also takes cognisance of Kevin Mgwanga Gunme et al v Cameroon (communication 266/03) in which, after it had painstakingly considered the position of both parties, the African Commission made the following findings:
- On the facts presented that Cameroon’s law enforcement officers were employing torture, amputations and denial of medical treatment to suppress the Southern Cameroon question, against the claim of government of Cameroon that the agitators had perpetrated terrorist acts in the country, the Commission found Cameroon liable, emphasising that the methods employed by Cameroon were unjustified;
- On the imposition of French on the Anglophone regions, the Commission found that it was wrong for institutions, such as banks to force Southern Cameroon based companies to change their basic documents into French in violation of Article 2 of the African Charter;
- On the failure of Cameroon to guarantee fair trial to the Anglophone activists, the Commission found Cameroon in violation, for:
– transferring individuals from Southern Cameroon to Francophone Cameroon for trial by military tribunals,
– denying interpreters to those tried in civil law courts;
- The Commission found (concerning the individuals that were tried in French without the help of interpreters) that, having denied them the opportunity to adequately prepare their defence, Cameroon violated articles 7.1.b, 7.1.c and 7.1.d of the Charter.
- The Commission was categorical in finding that the tendency of military tribunals is to act as an extension of the executive, rather than the judiciary, and that they are not intended to try civilians but to try military personnel under laws and regulations which govern the military. The Commission finds that trying civilians by the Yaoundé and the Bafoussam Military Tribunals was a violation of the right to fair hearing;
- The facts before the Commission showed cases of suppression of demonstrations with excessive force as well as the unlawful arrest and detention of protesters, peaceably exercising their right to freedom of assembly. The Commission found that some of the detained persons were acquitted while some died at the hands of security forces or in detention. The Commission found Cameroon in violation of article 11 of the African Charter.
- The Commission also condemned the relocation of business enterprises and location of economic projects to Francophone Cameroon, which generated negative effects on the economic life of Southern Cameroon as a violation of article 19 of the Charter.
(e) Having carefully considered the similarities of behaviour of the government of Cameroon that gave rise to the aforementioned cases to those now being employed by the government (and which show that Cameroon failed to implement the recommendations of the Commission), it is the view of this Committee that for their currency and relevance to the presence situation, fitting to adopt and reiterate the recommendations and to strongly urge the Cameroonian government to take all necessary steps to implement the findings as an important step towards the resolution of the historic Southern Cameroon question.
(f) Accordingly, we call on the government of Cameroon to, among others:
- release forthwith all those who are currently detained or are being tried for and in respect of matters arising from the southern Cameroon question;
- commence a process of national dialogue and payment of compensation to all individuals whose rights have been violated by the unwarranted use of force by the government of Cameroon against the people of Anglophone regions of Cameroon.
- address the grievances expressed by the English speaking Provinces of Cameroon through its democratic institutions. The 1993 Buea and 1994 Bamenda Anglophone conferences raised constitutional and human rights issues which have been a matter of concern to a sizable section of the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon for quite a long time;
- immediately begin sincere, inclusive and purposive process of consultations towards the amendment of 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon to address the demands of the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon, particularly since it did not accommodate the concerns expressed through the 1993 Buea Declaration and 1994 Bamenda Proclamation;
- abolish all discriminatory practices against people of Southern Cameroon, including equal usage of the English language in business transactions;
- stop the transfer of accused persons from the Anglophone provinces for trial in the Francophone provinces;
- ensure that every person facing criminal charges be tried under the language he/she understands;
- locate national projects, equitably throughout the country in accordance with economic viability as well as regional balance;
- enter into constructive dialogue with the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon, and in particular, CACSC and the SCNC, to resolve the constitutional issues, as well as grievances which could threaten national unity; and
- to carry out judicial reform towards guaranteeing the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
- That the Southern Cameroonians’ should cooperate with sincere and meaningful attempts by the government to resolve their grievances by constitutional means.
Dr Amos O Enabulele,
ILA (Nig) Committee on Justice & Human Rights