News

Contra Nocendi marks international day in support of victims of torture

As we mark the international day in support of victims of torture, We at Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon wish to re-iterate our support for victims of torture. Both organisations have vigorously supported victims of torture while advocating for more steps to be taken to prevent torture and more steps to be taken to hold perpetrators of torture accountable. This is a fight we will continue and do so with pride.

 

Earlier this year, Contra Nocendi Cameroon staff were involved in an intervention to help a minor held in pre-trial detention in Buea. The young man showed signs of physical trauma that truly troubled our experienced lawyers, but unfortunately CN Cameroon’s staff have seen issues like this before. His suffering was such that he was transferred from detention to a hospital. While we are unbelievably proud that the intervention led to the release of this young man, he should have never be exposed to such torture in the first place.

 

As part of the Universal Periodic Review for Cameroon, Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International called on the government of Cameroon to establish an independent mechanism for the prevention of torture. We will continue to push the government of Cameroon to take active steps to provide practical and durable protections against torture.

 

On this day, we tell all victims of torture that we hear you and we will continue to fight for you.

Innocent Cameroonian man walks free from prison with Contra Nocendi's legal aid

After two years of living in inhuman and deprived conditions in a Cameroonian prison, 24-year-old Beng Pascal Ngong became free after repeated interventions by lawyers from Contra Nocendi Cameroon.

On September 28 2015, Beng was arrested for allegedly not possessing a national identity card, an allegation that a lot of youth in Cameroon are being baselessly arrested for. At the time of the arrest, he was working as an unskilled laborer in a saw mill to support his family. Given their underprivileged background, his family could not afford to send him to school. This prompted Beng to move to Buea to stay with his aunt in early 2011 here he later started to work at the saw mill. Beng grew up in the north west region of Cameroon with his family as one of nine children.

On that day in September 2015, the police was tipped off by Beng's boss who was not willing to pay his monthly dues. When Beng confronted his boss about this and asked for the stipend that was due to him the latter called the police who immediately threw Beng behind bars.

He had since been in detention at the Buea Central Prison for a total duration of over two years. Beng has never seen the insides of a courthouse nor had the chance to get legal aid from a lawyer who can represent him in court, until Contra Nocendi happened to find out about him. Contra Nocendi's lawyers were interacting with some other detainees when they found out that Beng had been languishing in the very same detention center, completely helpless without access to help. He had also not had a single family member visit him since the start of his detention.

After several attempts by Contra Nocendi to get in touch with his family, which was in vain, we finally met his uncle who lives in Buea. Meanwhile, the court held Beng under arrest for not possessing a national identity card under which a person can be imprisoned for three months to a year and/or with a fine between 50,000 and 100,000 francs. The sad reality is that Beng was actually held under arrest for almost double the normal duration of a sentence for such an offense. Had he been convicted, he would have already been released too.

Contra Nocendi decided to fight for Beng and the two lawyers filed a habeas corpus at the Fako High Court highlighting that his detention was arbitrary, illegal and in gross violation of his fundamental human rights. With repeated visits by the lawyers and mounting pressure to look into Beng's unfair detention, the court finally decided to set him free.

Cases of lengthy pretrial detentions such as Beng's are becoming increasingly common among the youth in Cameroon and in most instances the charges are untrue and have no basis. Contra Nocendi has raised this issue several times with the United Nations Human Rights Committee's Universal Periodic Review workgroup. The review states that Cameroon needs to look into ending the practice of arbitrarily arresting, torturing and illegally detaining citizens. Contra Nocendi also highlighted in its joint submission to this report that many Cameroonians are being arbitrarily

arrested and held in horrifying conditions in detention centres, and that Cameroon needs to work closely with the judicial system to make sure that detention periods are not excessive.

Conditions in the detention centres are also highly deplorable, and Contra Nocendi has repeatedly raised concerns about it before, along with a recent investigation that revealed the poor conditions in which detainees are kept in these places.

We will continue to fight for Cameroonian youth like Beng who cannot afford legal counsel and have absolutely no access to any external help, are forgotten by their own state and are forced to suffer in detention centres for prolonged periods of time.

Can justice be obtained for Burundi?

Can justice be obtained for Burundians? 

 

 

Is the situation known?

 

The human rights situation in Burundi continues to worsen year after year since 2015. There are more and more violations and most of them are being reported on by international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Human Rights Watch[i], or more recently Amnesty International[ii]. The latest report drafted by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi set up by the UN Human Rights Council[iii] highlights many cases and types of violations of human rights. Notably, we have seen raising concerns regarding gross human rights violations such as gross violations, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and incarcerations, forced disappearance, various types of torture and ill treatments, and incidences of sexual assault. More than violations, we are talking about crimes against humanity as expressed by the inquiry commission in its report[iv].  The assessment is, of course, the same from human rights defenders, such as Forum National des Femmes, which notices an intensification in the incidences of sexual assault[v] or Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH) (Burundian Association for the Promotion of Human Rights and Persons Detained), which states that nothing is changing in the humanitarian situation and fears this will last as long as President Pierre Nkurunziza remains in office[vi]

 

In addition, more and more countries are communicating on the situation in Burundi. Recently, the spokesperson of the French minister of foreign affairs intervened to condemn the 32-year prison conviction of Germain Rukuki, a Burundian human rights defender, and showed his disarray towards the fundamental rights violations that occur in Burundi[vii]. Contra Nocendi International has also come out strongly to condemn Germain’s case. The United States of America also expressed their concerns regarding the Burundian non-democratic process the government is trying to implement to change the Constitution so that the president can remain in office longer. Along with this statement, the United States specified that the government was not respecting the freedom of expression and association[viii].  

 

A variety of reports and denunciations of human rights violations happening in the country are being made by diverse actors, states, NGOs and international organizations. However, despite all these reports, there are very few cases where these violations are followed up with legal proceedings –at the national, regional, or international levels. How can this be explained? 

 

Why is more not being done? 

 

Although there is very little existing data on this subject in Burundi, the near non-existence of legal proceedings at the national level can explained very easily. Indeed, in relations to the current situation in the country, lawyers are being threatened and put under a lot of pressure when they take on cases involving human rights violations committed by the government[ix]. In January 2017, four human rights lawyers were disbarred from the Burundian bar for having submitted an alternative report to the UN Committee Against Torture[x]. Many organsations, including Contra Nocendi International, have submitted reports to UN Human Rights bodies. This avenue of engagement is a vital part of the UN human rights system. Moreover, and as explained in the report by the commission of inquiry, even if some cases are brought to court, no follow up is given to them. As a lawyer stated, “it is a justice held hostage[xi].” This sheds a light on the lack of legal proceedings against human rights violations at the national level: the system is such that no resort is allowed on this base. Indeed, as mentioned in a previous Contra Nocendi International article[xii], both the legal and law enforcement systems in Burundi are susceptible to corruption and its negative consequences. Consequently, this explains the lack of legal proceedings in the country. This is of course in line with what is currently occurring in the country: perpetrators continue to commit human rights violations, and in order to protect and continue perpetuating these acts, justice is being manipulated.  

 

At the regional and international levels, individual communication processes are put in place to facilitate the denunciation of abuses and violations of rights protected by a specific Convention to which the state is party. The main scope of these processes is to allow for accountability of countries to their citizens, and give a voice to victims of human rights violations. This process is particularly important for countries such as Burundi, because the abused people do not have to go through their government. Complaints made by States only exist in rare cases because countries prefer to “sort their conflicts outside of international bodies”[xiii]. The fear of developing tensed bilateral relationships is also a reason why inter-state complaints are scarce. 

 

At the regional level, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) is the main mechanism when it comes to the promotion and protection of human rights. The individual communications represent an important part of the commission’s work. However, the conditions of admissibility of these communications are numerous, which can make it challenging to seek help from the Commission. The most difficult condition to subvert is the fact that the Commission is a last resort, and can only be seized once all national remedies have been exhausted[xiv]. Hence, numerous individual communications are not followed after. 

 

Internationally speaking, it is the system of the United Nations for the promotion and the protection of human rights that is the main organ in charge of human rights. Very little data exists on the subject, as all individual communications as well as the concerned parties can choose to keep the latter confidential, which is often what is done[xv]. Hence, it is complicated to assert if there have been a lot of reported cases at the international level. Nonetheless, it is still important to note that since 2015, the UN has been very closely following and monitoring the human right situation in Burundi, with ultimately the creation of the inquiry commission to this effect in 2016. Following this report of inquiry, the International Criminal Court has been seized to carry out its own investigation and prosecute the persons responsible for these crimes.  

 

On all levels, most violations of human rights are not reported by Burundians due to fear of reprisals or lack of trust in the system. Indeed, Burundians are afraid to expose their own situation, either from shame of what happened to them or from fear of counterattacks or danger to their families, or their own lives. 

 

The situation in Burundi is alarming, and the ever-increasing global acknowledgment from the international community on all levels is reassuring. The role of the civil society on the field is non-negligible in the specific case of Burundi, especially when the country makes it extremely difficult for international civil entities to enter its territory. Consequently, it is important to support these domestic or border-zone entities, in order to facilitate the processes of access to the justice system and show to the Burundian population that they are not left behind and that their voices matter. The international community also has the means to bring about this support and to show that it is on board with what it communicates. [xvi]

 

 

[i] https://www.hrw.org/fr/world-report/2017/country-chapters/298103

[ii] https://www.amnesty.org/fr/countries/africa/burundi/report-burundi/

[iii] Rapport final détaillé de la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi, Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, trente-sixième session, 11-19 septembre 2017

[iv] id.

[v] . http://www.arib.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=17888

[vi] http://www.arib.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18096

[vii] http://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/2018/04/30/97001-20180430FILWWW00207-la-france-denonce-les-violations-des-droits-de-l-homme-au-burundi.php

[viii] https://twitter.com/statedeptspox/status/991325011075063809

[ix] http://www.arib.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12784

[x] https://www.afriqueeducation.com/politique/burundi_les_repr_sailles_de_nkurunziza_contre_4_avocats_des_droits_humains

[xi] http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/59c12b694.pdf

[xii] http://contranocendi.org/index.php/en/news/187-can-justice-be-obtained-for-burundi

[xiii] https://journals.openedition.org/revdh/803

[xiv] https://journals.openedition.org/revdh/803#ftn9

[xv] http://www.conferencedesjuristes.gouv.qc.ca/files/documents/9l/e9/lemecanismedeplaintesindividuellesaucomitedesdroitsdelhommedelonu.pdf

Cameroon lags behind in submitting state report to CEDAW committee

Cameroon is late in submitting its state report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) after it missed the deadline for the report, thus marking seven years since it submitted its last report. Cameroon must show its commitment to the rights of women and its commitment to eliminating discrimination against women in Cameroon by submitting its report and constructively participating in the review process.

The report was due 1 February 2018, and Contra Nocendi confirmed with the Committee secretariat that the government has still not turned it in. While the government of Cameroon has taken some steps to advance women’s rights, the impact of these efforts as well as any areas for improvement must be reflected upon in an objective and constructive environment. The CEDAW reporting and review process is such an environment.

As per article 18 of the CEDAW, state parties that have acceded to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women are expected to submit a report on the legislative, judicial, administrative or other measures taken to ensure gender equality and to indicate the progress made on each of those aspects.

As a State Party that ratified the convention on 23 August 1994, Cameroon is obligated to submit a progress report at least every four years or whenever the CEDAW committee so requests.

The CEDAW committee’s goal is to oversee the advancement that the state parties make with respect to the progress of their women. It also carefully monitors how each of these states are implementing national measures to fulfill their legal obligations toward preventing discrimination against women. Finally, the committee makes recommendations on issues affecting women that require more attention from the state parties.

The last report the government of Cameroon submitted to the committee was on 1 December, 2011, and the state party was over three months late in submitting it that reporting cycle. Contra Nocendi calls on the government to submit its state report as expeditiously as possible so that the situation of women can be assessed and necessary measures can be taken to improve their condition.

Contra Nocendi stands by Penn Terence Khan in his quest for justice and equality

In a moving letter to Yaoundé’s military tribunal, Penn Terence Khan an under-trial prisoner criticized the tribunal for subjecting him to an illegal trial based on false charges, and called for better justice and equality for the English-speaking minority in Cameroon.

In a two-page letter addressed to the president and government commissioner (prosecutor) of the military tribunal, Khan said that his abduction, incarceration and trial were completely political and stood contrary to the foundational basis of what Cameroon stood for as a country.

Khan claimed in the letter that he was illegally abducted in Bamenda in January, 2017 and presented before a military tribunal in Yaoundé.

The tribunal sentenced the Cameroonian to 12 years of prison time along with a fine of €7,500. In the letter he wrote while waiting for the judgment, Khan lamented that such trials of civilians by military tribunals violate their fundamental right to appear before an impartial court for a fair trial. Since he also does not belong to the army and does not own a military weapon, Khan said in the letter, he feels like the trial has infringed upon his rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1945), UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The trial also violates his right to a fair trial according to the Preamble of the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon.

Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International strongly support Khan’s stance in his grievances about getting subjected to a trial before the military tribunal, in a case that he felt was grossly unjust and illegal. We have already emphasized that the right to a fair trial is a fundamental human right essential in any democratic society that is governed by the rule of law.

The fact that military tribunals actually enjoy jurisdiction over civilians under domestic Cameroonian law is of grave concern to us. Military tribunals are not independent and impartial courts because they are a part of the armed forces and fall under the government’s executive branch. Being subjected to a trial under them contravenes the non-derogable right civilians have to a fair trial as per the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There have been several cases in the past where people have been tried by military courts and given disproportionate and unjust sentences.

We reiterate our support for Khan as he was unjustly tried before a military court, which often gives disproportional penalties for offences that are defined vaguely.

Khan also alleged in his letter that the court played the role of prosecutor as well as judge in his trial, and that it provided no proof to any of the charges it slammed on him. "I am neither a terrorist nor a secessionist but the political nature of the trial makes it possible for the court to slam the 'guilty verdict' on me," he wrote. Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon will continue to monitor Penn Terence Khan's case.

Contra Nocendi successfully gains release of physically abused minor from Buea detention centre

A minor detainee subjected to physical abuse in a Buea detention centre was transferred to a local hospital, after Contra Nocendi successfully sought medical intervention for him as part of its continued efforts to secure the rights of people in detention.

In late December 2017, Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon found out that a minor (identity withheld for safety) was possibly being held in detention in Buea, awaiting trial before a military tribunal. Shockingly, the boy showed clear signs of significant physical abuse. He was arrested a few months ago and had been subjected to torture and other forms of severe physical trauma, as indicated by signs on his body. Due to the treatment he was subjected to at the centre, he also suffered a fracture in his leg.

On finding out about the boy, Contra Nocendi took note of his condition and concluded that he was receiving very litte or no medical attention at the centre.

Contra Nocendi Cameroon along with Contra Nocendi International immediately sought a medical report from the doctor at the detention center, on behalf of the minor. The report went before the military tribunal, which then granted release to the boy on medical grounds and he was also allowed to be transferred to a hospital for medical attention.

The case of this minor comes as no surprise as incarceration rates in the region have gone up since the start of the crisis in the Anglophone region. An increasing number of minors are being arrested on grounds of terrorism charges since the crisis began and many are awaiting trial before the military tribunal, Contra Nocendi Cameroon staff found after multiple visits to detention centres in Buea. The prolonged periods of time for which they are being held as pre-trial detainees also is also very concerning.

Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International have repeatedly raised issues about persons being held in detention in the Southwest region of Cameroon. As we have repeatedly stated to government entities and mandate holders at the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the provision of sufficient medical attention is a minimum standard under international law. We have grave concerns that the government of Cameroon is not meeting this minimum standard. We also wish to reiterate our objection to the fact that military tribunals have been granted jurisdiction over civilians under domestic Cameroonian law. We firmly believe this violates international human rights law and that the government must change course.

Contact

Follow us on facebook