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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.

Contra Nocendi upholds right to the truth concerning gross human rights violations, marks the international day

On 24 March, 1980, Archbishop Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered. The reason? He refused to stay silent as El Salvador government’s armed forces and other groups tortured people, executed them and abducted many during the country’s civil conflict. Several people, mostly innocent civilians died during the struggle and as the archbishop demanded justice and defended the El Salvadorians his life was sadly extinguished as he stood up for what was right.

 

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have always upheld the ideals of truth and our mission is to protect the rights of the violated and marginalised the world over. On this International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, the world observes Monsignor Romero’s sacrifice as he openly took a stance against El Salvador’s right-wing military group and death squads that went about murdering innocents. We pay our tribute to him and his legacy.

 

This day observed in his memory is an important day for us at Contra Nocendi as we carry on his work, which was to protect the human rights of oppressed and vulnerable people. We also stand opposed to torture, assault and a threat to human dignity.

 

Contra Nocendi endorses the important right to truth, which means the right to know the absolute truth about any event, the circumstances of that event, violations and reasons behind it, along with the truth about its participants. Even as the horrors of human rights breaches continue unabated, Contra Nocendi will continue to fight for equality, dignity and justice by educating people in Cameroon and Burundi about human rights violations, drawing inspiration from Monsignor Romero’s life and work. Going a step further, we are also committed to providing people with a bridge to access the means and aid to have their rights and live with the dignity they deserve.

 

Contra Nocendi marks International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon are proud to stand up and promote efforts to combat racial discrimination globally on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day marks the notorious anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre that took place on March 21, 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa. Police forces shot into a gathering of as many as 5,000 protesters who were rallying against the horrors of the apartheid system.

 

The 2018 theme for this day is to promote tolerance, inclusion, unity and respect for diversity to fight racial discrimination.

 

At Contra Nocendi, we take time out every March 21st to halt and remember the need to be steadfast in our efforts to promote equality and fight unjust treatment meted out to people. Being steadfast to us also means being committed to efforts to eliminate racial discrimination.

 

While we have seen a lot of progress, people continue to suffer from racial and ethnic discrimination every single day. This horrible and inhuman treatment causes suffering and restricts the affected people from accessing opportunities to grow and progress so that we can build a better, more inclusive world. Contra Nocendi will continue to strongly oppose racial discrimination by working as an organisation, and also with our partner to eliminate racial discrimination, intolerance and the resulting violation of human rights.

Contra Nocendi Cameroon leads workshop on legal aid

                                         

Contra Nocendi Cameroon with the support of the National Commission of Human Rights and Freedom (NCHRF) Southwest regional office, organised a workshop entitled “Facilitating Access to Justice Through Legal Aid – Educating Local Communities on the Possibilities for Obtaining Legal Aid” at Mile 14 Dibanda a small rural locality in Buea, the capital of the South West Region of Cameroon. The workshop was also directly supported by Contra Nocendi International. The workshop was in line with Contra Nocendi’s advocacy objective, to promote and protect human rights and to ensure that knowledge on human rights is widely shared amongst populations. The purpose of the workshop was to inform and educate the people of Mile 14 Dibanda community on the possibility and availability of Legal Aid in the Cameroonian Legal system and to educate them on the process for obtaining such Legal Aid.


Participants were given a training on the right to legal aid. The curriculum included Law No 2009/004 of 14 April 2009 on the organisation of Legal Aid in Cameroon, including eligibility criteria, the processes for obtaining aid and available channels for guidance. Important emphasis was made on pro bono which is the one of the roles of Contra Nocendi Cameroon Legal Aid Clinic in Buea and how they could benefit from these services provided by most, if not all law firms. Participants were informed of the importance of pro bono work in the protection and promotion of human rights and were encouraged to always speak out and ask for help when in need so that they could benefit from the pro bono work which some if not all lawyers are inclined to do.  

                                           

The workshop was participative, with many questions and interventions from participants which truly illustrated the level of understanding they gained from the workshop as well as the importance of the topic of legal aid for their communities. By the end of the workshop  the participants were in the position to use this information to help themselves. The Chairman of the village council expressed satisfaction and was very impressed by the commitment of Contra Nocendi Cameroon. He urged the team to come back with such good information any time. Overall the participants were satisfied with the knowledge gained and considered the workshop as time well spent. One of the participants said he was in turn going to organise an informative session at his church community and small neighbourhood in the village to tell the people about legal aid and how to benefit from it.

The workshop was run by an experienced team of human rights defenders and advocates including the Executive Director of Contra Nocendi Cameroon (Barrister Gilbert Ajebe), the Rapporteur at the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms (Mr Ekeke Ndome), Contra Nocendi Cameroon Project Coordinator (Blaise Chamango) and Advocacy Associate (Rosaline Anoma). Brochures were provided to participants which included basic information about the law on legal aid and contact information for Contra Nocendi Cameroon whose doors were declared open to persons in need of assistance.

We wish to thank the local community and its leadership for their hospitality and support in setting up the workshop. We also wish to thank the staff of the NCHRF for their support with running the workshop and their willingness to share their expertise and experience for the benefit of the workshop participants. We look forward to further impactful collaborations in the future.

Following the workshop, Contra Nocendi Cameroon staff continues to be contacted by participants of the workshop seeking assistance. The reaction and feedback from participants serves as a clear reminder of the impact such educative activities can have on improving knowledge on human rights. Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International are in the process of planning future training sessions throughout the Southwest region. In the future Contra Nocendi plans to undertake more initiatives such as this to ensure that persons who suffer prejudices can obtain redress.

Recent detention centre visits in Cameroon raise concerns

In the Southwest region of Cameroon, Contra Nocendi International partners with its section in Cameroon, Contra Nocendi Cameroon, to promote access to justice and the practical exercise of rights afforded to persons in detention. As part of this work, Contra Nocendi Cameroon conducts regular detention centre visits to observe the standards of detention centres in light of international human rights law and Cameroonian law applicable to persons held in detention.

From November 2017 to mid January 2018, Contra Nocendi Cameroon staff visited detention centres in Buea on several occasions. The visits came with a backdrop of the on-going crisis plaguing the Anglophone regions and the resulting increase in incarceration rates in the region. During the visits CN Cameroon staff made observations with regards to the prisons conditions and collected baseline data on detainees. The detention centre observers noted that prolonged pre-trial detention was a major cause for concern, and the prevalence of detention of minors arrested during the crisis with some awaiting trial before the military tribunal for terrorism related charges. It was also noted with great concern that the number of detainees held in detention centres around the Southwest region has increased dramatically since the beginning of the Anglophone crisis.

Detention centre visits raised serious concerns of prolonged pre-trial detention as well as concerns of limited access to counsel. While Contra Nocendi Cameroon did provide some assistance, where possible, in obtaining competent legal counsel, the observers were very concerned by the serious limitations on access to counsel observed at detention centres. Additionally, observers were appalled with the fact that some detainees where in detention merely for not being able to afford bail, while others had been detained for merely not having identification. Such petty offenses as not having identification should not be an offense leading to detention. Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International made a joint submission to the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions in Detention and Policing in Africa last year calling for the decriminalization of such petty offenses offences throughout Africa. We will continue to push this issue as lacking identification should never be seen as justification for infringing upon a person’s right to liberty.

Contra Nocendi Cameroon continues to monitor conditions at detention centres throughout the region. Contra Nocendi International stands in solidarity with Contra Nocendi Cameroon in calling for the government of Cameroon to take durable steps to protect and promote the right to counsel for persons held in detention in the Southwest region. We will continue to be steadfast in our efforts to push for ending the practice that allows for the continued detention of persons for petty offenses merely because they cannot afford bail. We are also deeply concerned that civilians can be brought before military tribunals in direct contradiction to the international legal obligations of Cameroon.

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