Speech on the State of Human Rights in Cameroon in 2017
The Representative of the President of the Senate,
The Representative of the President of the National Assembly,
Distinguished Representatives of the Members of the Government,
His Excellency the Ambassador of the United States of America,
Madam Representative of the Ambassador, Head of the EU Delegation,
Mr President of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms,
Honourable Senators, Honourable Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen in your respective titles, qualities and ranks,
Mr Coordinator of ACAT-LITTORAL, Co-applicant of the Bar Governance Rule of Law Project,
Ladies and gentlemen of the press,
Mr Vice-President of the General Assembly of the Bar Association,
Distinguished Members of the Council of the Bar Association,
My dearest fellow Lawyers,
Ladies and gentlemen, Distinguished guests
As in 2016 and 2017, it is my honour again this year to present the third edition of the REPORT ON THE STATE OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CAMEROON, this time on the reference period covering the year 2017.
This titanic work is indeed the result of one of the aspects of the mandate that I gave to the Human Rights Commission of the Bar (CDHB), in connection with the expected contribution of the Bar Association, to the construction of the rule of law in Cameroon... I had just been recently elected as President of the Bar by my peers.
Perhaps I should, first of all, rephrase what I had in mind through this important command.
Indeed, no one can ignore the role historically assigned to the Bars of the world in the quest for respect for Human Rights and the realization of the rule of law…
Let us remember the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted at the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Havana, Cuba, from 27 August to 7 September 1990…
On this occasion, it was underlined through Principle 04,
«(…) the important role played by Lawyers in protecting fundamental freedoms »,
Just as it had been affirmed through Principle 14, that
« (…) Lawyers must seek to ensure respect for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms recognized by national and international law and act freely and diligently at all times ».
Even more directive is Principle 23 since it states that :
« Lawyers, like all other citizens, must enjoy freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they have the right to take part in public discussions relating to the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights (...) without professional restrictions as a result of their legitimate acts… »
From the above, I had deduced that observing and monitoring the human rights situation is one of the normal prerogatives of any Bar.
But beyond mere observation, the Bar must be able to move on to objection in order to contribute efficiently to the improvement and consolidation of the rule of law.
As I have often indicated, the imperative of observation calls for an objection on the part of the Bar…
This objection must not be confused with pointless and non-constructive criticism, incantation or lamentation, let alone noise…
The Bar Commission on Human Rights (CDHB), which has understood this well, has made the choice over the past few years to observe and report...
You will no doubt have understood it, from my humble point of view, to produce a Human Rights report in our environment is to confront their global situation while evaluating it, in order to propose points for improvement.
This is therefore an opportunity for me to thank the Bar's Human Rights Commission (CDHB) assigned to the project management on behalf of the Bar Association, for this consistent and rigorous work carried out with the greatest assiduity for three years.
Madam SALLMANN Ann-Charlotte,
You do us the honour here today to represent the Ambassador, Head of the EU Delegation,
The Report on the State of Human Rights, since it is really about it, is one of the oldest sons of the cooperation between the Cameroon Bar Association and the European Union.
It is now in its third edition thanks to the valuable financial support inherent in this cooperation.
I could not continue my speech without reiterating to you, to the European Union, all the recognition of the Cameroon Bar.
Ladies and gentlemen;
My dearest fellow Lawyers,
Allow me to present to you the substance of the Bar's Report on the Human Rights situation in Cameroon in 2017, which, as Me Simon Pierre ETEME, President of the CDHB, has indicated, is structured around four parts, in addition to the preliminary chapter.
Therefore, the amenities of the presentation suggest that I follow the common thread of the structure of this report, in particular in chronological terms.
Referring on a preliminary basis to a selective set of questions on the rule of law which generally affect the realisation or exercise of human rights, the Commission on Human Rights has identified and dealt with three categories of concern which I will not confine myself to raising.
Sometimes they are obstacles to the rule of law because of difficult implementation standards,
Still others are ways of proceeding which, for the most part, are in breach of the fundamental principles of the laws of the Republic,
Sometimes, finally, there are constraints linked to the need to bring our texts into line with universal human rights standards, without which any rhetoric on implementation would be in vain.
Let me say a few words to illustrate this :
- According to Article 92 (1)-b of the Code of Criminal Procedure, "the person summoned is obliged to appear and testify" before the judicial police officer, whereas according to Article 116(3) of the same Code, the said "judicial police officer is obliged, from the opening of the preliminary investigation and, under penalty of nullity, to inform the suspect (among others) of his right to remain silent".
As we can see, one of the articles enshrines a right (the right to silence universally enshrined as a variation of the right to a fair trial) while the other text ignores !
There are two contrary provisions which are at the source of multiple misunderstandings and especially of various violations of rights.
- Since we are talking about the rights of the suspect, the Report of the Bar has observed that while the suspect enjoys many guarantees before the judicial police officer or, later, before the Judge, his situation is on the other hand characterized by total ignorance of the guarantees and rights of defence of the suspect during his deferral to the public prosecutor's office, a phase during which it is rather urgent to devote a formal defence to him. Obviously, this is a real matter of concern in the eyes of the Bar, which here launches the plea for an urgent revision of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
- Speaking of obstacles to the separation of powers, the CDHB regretted, among other things, the signing of Circular No. 133034P of 5 October 2017 of the Minister of Justice Keeper of the Seals, relating to provisional seizure, addressed to the Attorneys General, quite simply because it creates, in addition to judicial control of provisional seizure, a concurrent administrative type of control, at the risk of putting on the back burner, the powers of the Judge as enshrined in the supranational law that constitutes the OHADA system.
- The same criticism is also levelled against the circular of the Minister of Land Tenure of 10 August 2004 (the subject of a decision by the Administrative Chamber of the Supreme Court in 2017) because it instructed land conservation officers and those responsible for Regional services in the fields to require the prior agreement of the Minister before any court decisions against MINDCAF are enforced, which constitutes a double violation of the authority of res judicata and the separation of powers.
- I will conclude this preliminary chapter with the major task of bringing our laws into line with universal human rights standards, for which the Bar Association has proposed to the Government, since the last quarter of 2017, a contribution in terms of a roadmap to help it make up for delays in this area, particularly in the field of civil and political rights.
Moreover, the incomplete internalisation of international criminal law (war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity) for lack of elements of criminalisation in substantive criminal law is in line with compliance constraints.
Ladies and gentlemen,
My dearest fellow Lawyers,
I would now like to present to you the situation of civil and political rights in Cameroon, the particular nature and essence of which require the Government to scrupulously respect its international commitments, and therefore to take measures to prevent violations and, if necessary, to punish such violations.
And in this regard, the Bar is able to indicate that, in general, the responses of the State of Cameroon to violations of civil and political rights have not always met the expectations dictated by universal standards of protection.
You will allow me to illustrate, through clichés, some situations experienced during the reference year of the Report.
I would be remiss if, with regard to the situation of the right to life, I were to remain silent about the tragic death of the late Bishop Jean Marie Benoit BALLA on May 31, 2017, in conditions that remain disturbing to this day.
The evocation of this macabre memory is less intended to awaken pain than to point out that in the face of a probable attack on life of this scale, the judicial response has so far fallen far short of expectations, in view of the triple duty to investigate, punish and repair, all without excessive delay... This case has therefore fallen “into the water” ? As one wonders at the Bar Commission on Human Rights.
The same observation applies to the situation of the prohibition to harm the physical and moral integrity for which the Bar Commission on Human Rights notes that, as a result of the stubbornness of certain public officials, torture and ill-treatment persist, especially in detention environments, to the great displeasure of detainees or persons who are about to become detainees.
The Ibrahim Bello case has made enough headlines in addition to other cases, such as these images of suspect persons arrested, humiliated and filmed naked by Cameroonian gendarmerie forces, in violation of the prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.
These images clearly show that in 2017, the level of appropriation of the prohibition of ill-treatment remained approximate.
The Bar is without echo of the sanctions against this type of behaviour of a particular gravity which was in its time denounced by the President of the Bar to the Governmental authorities.
In substance, this Report, which deals in depth with issues of the prohibition of torture, wherever it originates, has come to the conclusion that torture is far from being eradicated, at least during the reference period, which contrasts with our country's status as a State Party to the main instruments for combating torture.
As for the situation of the right to personal security, I must point out that the Bar has repeatedly denounced the recurrence of abusive deprivations of freedoms, and that the CDHB has taken a particular interest in one of the legal guarantees against these practices, namely the Habeas Corpus procedure.
From the observation of the CDHB, it resulted in the observation of a form of disaffection on the part of the Lawyers to resort to this procedure which had however been presented as the answer to these infringements, at least in theory.
According to the statistics, such disaffection can be attributed to its uselessness (procedures that get bogged down when immediate release solutions are expected) or to the judges' reluctance to take the expected action, as revealed by a figure in the Report.
What about conditions of detention in Cameroonian prisons ? The situation of juvenile detainees, that of persons living with a disability have been presented, beyond the general problem of prison overcrowding, all things that are always a burning subject of concern on which I will not expand further, at the risk of repeating myself.
Ladies and gentlemen,
My dearest fellow Lawyers,
There are, however, more burning situations, in connection with this subject !
The phenomenon of prisoners detained in prison after a decision to release or acquittal, or that of persons forgotten in prison without their knowledge of any pending proceedings. This phenomenon reached frightening proportions in 2017.
In this pathetic case, the detainee stayed in prison from January 31, 2017 to September 21, 2017, that is to say nearly 09 additional months of detention and precisely 240 days of arbitrary and abusive detention.
It has been observed that in most of these cases, the reasons for detention, which are essentially administrative, are therefore totally foreign to the person of the detainee who suffers in this way, errors, caprices, heaviness or even omissions of the Administration.
The Human Rights Commission of the Bar is very concerned about this, and the Bar Association, by my voice, denounces it with the greatest vehemence !
There is no justification for an additional minute in prison for a detainee who has been acquitted or released by the Judge !
This situation, which has become both endemic and exceptionally serious, requires urgent solutions. The Bar Association already hopes that the imminent appointment of the Commission specially instituted by the Code of Criminal Procedure against abusive detention and custody will contribute to such solutions.
I will confine myself to mentioning the situation of the right to a fair trial on which the CDHB is about to produce a thematic report devoted entirely to it in the form of a white paper, even if the report has looked at this fundamental right from the perspective of the perennial issue of reasonable time limits.
Turning now to the situation of political rights, the CDHB has proposed an assessment that provides information on factors likely to limit the right to vote, particularly at the institutional level, with the dysfunctions observed within the body in charge of elections throughout the reference year, due to a conflict between the Electoral Council and the General Directorate of Elections, which were unable to agree on the management of this body, everything that has plagued its functioning with unfortunate consequences on the social climate and infrastructure.
Other factors limiting this right are found in the law which calls for a rewriting, notably for a better consideration of the sociological components in relation to the largest part of the population, but which is weaned from the right to vote under the law. Shouldn't the age of the political majority be aligned with that of the nuptial majority, for example ?
As far as the right of equal access to public offices and functions is concerned, a certain tumult was still observed during the entrance exams to our Advanced Schools, which provides sufficient information on the deficit of equal treatment of applications.
How can we not be moved by the fact that in 2017, candidates who had not submitted a competition file were subsequently admitted to the École Nationale d'Administration et de Magistrature (ENAM) ?
How to admit that a candidate who has taken the entrance tests to category B is admitted to category A ?
How can it be explained that a candidate was declared definitively admitted as the first in his batch when he had never taken the oral tests because he died and was buried before they took place?
In any event, there is here a concert of questions that provide information on the lack of transparency that still prevailed in 2017 in the competitions for access to schools whose vocation is to train senior managers.
With regard to the freedoms of assembly and demonstration, the Report noted with concern the setback in the exercise of these freedoms.
The prohibitions have given pause to reflect on the fallacious and sometimes laconic nature of the grounds for rejection : public disorder, incitement to hatred, inappropriate timing…
The reluctance of some Divisional Officers to issue permits for demonstrations by some political parties is a major obstacle to the democratic process, particularly to the detriment of opposition political parties.
On this point, it was clear to the Commission that all prohibited meetings and demonstrations have always targeted opposition parties, to the exclusion of those close to power.
Similarly, in quantitative terms, the recurrence of prohibitions suggested that in 2017, the exception in this area was established in order.
However, the public administration must remain neutral and not interfere in the political game.
It must supervise the activities of political parties without favouring one or the other of the actors of the political game.
Ladies and gentlemen, Distinguished guests
My dearest fellow Lawyers,
My remarks on economic, social and cultural rights can be summarized as a general comment,
For, with regard to the said rights, the programming nature of which is known, the CDHB noted that the improvement of the condition of citizens remains very little perceptible in their living environments.
This finding, you will agree, is implacable !
In order to be convinced of this, it has sufficed to consult the Government's various timetables in relation to the deadlines to be reached for the realization of these rights to realize the generalized delay that has been observed.
The GESP, for example, is far from in agreement with its forecasts at the date of the Report... its corollary VISION 2035 seems less so.
More generally, even the Government's Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Cameroon between 2015 and 2019 shows, within a few months of its deadline, a clearly unsatisfactory rate of achievement of its results.
In addition, and in the unanimous opinion of some informed observers shared by the CDHB, it is the shortcomings identified from the outset and the lack of rigorous coordination of most of these tools that make it difficult for development to emerge.
Is the time not ripe, rather than proceeding by successive and random alterations (emergency plans), to rewrite an updated economic program to the Objectives of Sustainable Development in the political, social, economic and cultural context of our country ?
In any case, we are able to say that the precarious situation of the right to food, the right to housing, the right to health, the right to work, the right to social security, among others, depends on the above-mentioned reasons.
With regard to the situation of certain vulnerable categories, the Bar's Report focused in particular on:
- women and children
- And refugees
This last category has a particularly trying daily life which contrasts with the generous public policies in terms of the reception of refugees by the Cameroonian Government.
In fact, the CDHB's investigation shows that serious constraints remain in relation precisely to the right to an adequate standard of living, to economic, social and cultural rights, to formal identification by the Cameroonian authority - in short, to legal protection according to international standards.
The refugee situation in Cameroon suggests that there is still a long way to go.
Refugees remain victims of discrimination in the world of employment, are victims, for young girls, of early marriages, and even, in general, of expulsions without respect for the relevant regulations.
According to the CDHB, this state of affairs is partly attributable to the lack of training and information of public actors and populations on the philosophy underlying refugee law.
Ladies and gentlemen,
My dearest fellow Lawyers,
What to retain from the cross-cutting issues examined by the Bar Commission on Human Rights ?
Three important issues were addressed.
FIRST OF ALL, the urgency to take seriously, the threat to the right to a healthy environment that comes from the somewhat hazardous or even catastrophic management of our garbage cans. Thus, the lack of response or the weak response given to waste management has erected the rubbish bin as a major threat to the environment and the health of populations in Cameroon in 2017.
Cholera is no longer a virtuality, and I can even say that it is the most serious threat facing Cameroon, especially since we do not have the necessary tools to deal with it…
I hope that the story of the coming weeks will prove my pessimists' findings and forecasts wrong…
This situation is all the more worrying as a known normative framework governs the management of such waste.
Despite the multitude of administrations in charge of the garbage and waste issue, the impression remains that everyone is concerned, but no one is doing anything about the rubbish that has become more of a decorative element, a characteristic feature of our large cities, in particular.
Household waste, hospital waste that is so sensitive to the environment, special waste then becomes a real threat to populations…
This situation then makes it possible to question the monopoly exercised by the company HYSACAM in the collection of garbage in our cities because it seems, the harvest is abundant and the workers few.
NEXT, what is the contribution of the Special Criminal Court to the fight against corruption 5 years after its creation ?
The state of play of this judicial institution has made it possible to take a critical look at its capacity to recover funds embezzled for the benefit of the State.
If we were to look only at the figures established by the decisions already handed down, the TCS, at this stage of its operation, would legitimately claim the position of a powerful instrument for securing public funds, even if this remains insufficient, not in terms of convictions imposed but in terms of recovery.
Of the 140,500,000,000 FCFA in cumulative fines handed down for the State of Cameroon during the period in question, only the sum of 4,088,390,196 CFA francs, or 2.56% of the recovery rate, has been recovered to date…
Clearly, this result appears to be a poor performance in relation to the aims assigned to the Special Criminal Court, in terms of the restitution of public property dissipated in favour of acts that amount to corruption in its broadest sense.
One solution could usefully be to review the conditions for the return of the body of the offence, including the subsequent condition of the person implicated.
In this respect, it could be beneficial for the process to remain judicial only from beginning to end, since the intervention of the Minister of Justice is very often perceived as an inferior hand of the executive in the judiciary.
The influence of political power on the action of justice is all the more questionable in that it conceals an absence of certain guarantees for the accused, the interruption of proceedings depending only on the sole will of the Minister of Justice, who "may" order that proceedings be stopped.
In our opinion, this absence of an automatic stay of proceedings is above all the major obstacle to the voluntary return of the body of the offence.
In order to restore this exceptional measure to its full effectiveness, it seems essential to rewrite the Decree in line with the development of the framework and focus of intervention of the Minister of Justice.
FINALLY, what lasting solution to the so-called Anglophone crisis ?
In the opinion of the CDHB and in my opinion, this is no longer the time to take stock that we all know of this so-called Anglophone crisis which, in the course of 2017, underwent a particularly appalling turn where it is the sometimes most vulnerable strata that paid the heaviest price…
I note, for information only, that with approximately 17 schools burned and others vandalized during the year 2017, some students, particularly in rural areas, were unable to register for official examinations for the academic year 2016/2017.
Others, sometimes registered, deliberately refused to take their end-of-year exams for fear of terror.
More than a social or political crisis, the resulting economic and humanitarian consequences are already producing a deafening echo, which, if nothing is done, will still resound in half a century.
Therefore, the Bar proposes the following answers :
● TO PUBLIC AUTHORITIES
- To intensify the search for the causes of radicalisation and the best interlocutor or interlocutors in order to envisage a "dialogue" with undeniably inclusive contours ;
- To open a frank and sincere consultation with a view to identifying credible interlocutors for a truly exclusive dialogue ;
- To convene, on this basis, and under the direct authority of the Head of State, States General for a lasting peace in Cameroon in the light of the first lessons learned from this crisis, the objective being to forgive, reconcile, and definitively heal the wounds ;
- To continue to ensure, in accordance with international standards of territorial integrity, the safety of citizens and property in all affected areas
BUT GIVEN THE EMERGENCY
- Ensure the immediate disarmament of armed groups ;
- To open independent and impartial investigations to identify the perpetrators of violence and abuse perpetrated against civilian populations and bring them to justice
- More broadly, to initiate and intensify investigations into cases of violations of international law by the Defence and Security Forces and secessionist groups (including extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, conscription of children in armed conflict, killing of civilians and military personnel, etc.) ;
- To open judicial proceedings against the people presented as secessionist leaders, arrested in the context of this crisis and hand them over to the judicial authorities so that they can be tried in accordance with the law, their isolation becoming incompatible with the fundamental judicial guarantees recognized to them ;
- In the context of such procedures, establish a Victims Fund to supplement the shortcomings of the traditional judicial reparation system in the event of conviction ;
● TO THE POPULATIONS
- To intensify collaboration with the authorities to put an end to this asymmetrical war which is perpetuated ;
● TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
- To hold the hand of the Government of the Republic of Cameroon by presenting to the justice of each State where calls for crimes under international law are committed as well as the apology of the said crimes, their perpetrators.
By reiterating at the end of my remarks my gratitude,
- To the European Union which has allowed us to publish three reports over three consecutive years,
- to the Human Rights Commission of the Bar, whose President's dynamism and know-how I still commend,
- To all the fellow Lawyers who have been involved in the preparation of this Report,
- As well as to all CSOs that have provided valuable assistance in data collection,
I make three wishes :
- That this report become a reference tool for national and international actors to help measure the state of Human Rights in Cameroon…
- That the relevance of its recommendations facilitates their implementation…
- And the one that the tradition of this report continues with the support of all !
Thank you for your kind attention.
Yaoundé on 31 July 2018
The President of the Bar Association
Me J. NGNIE KAMGA