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Contra Nocendi statement on the kidnapping of children from PSS Nkwen

Contra Nocendi welcomes with great relief the news of the release of the 79 children abducted from PSS Nkwen Bamenda. We have expressed our disgust for this act which amounts to a serious violation of international human rights and international humanitarian law. The idea that it is ever acceptable to kidnap children is unequivocally wrong. These children were at a boarding school to be educated and put in a position to have better opportunities in life. Instead their rights have been unquestionably violated and their safety has been put at risk. We are unable to see the logic in such behaviour. Ripping children from their beds in their dorms is not heroic. It is a cowardly act.

Contra Nocendi has in the past repeatedly condemned the use of children as pawns and strongly advocated for the respect of children’s right to access to education. We stand by this declaration and have in the past defended our position. We are guided by the firm believe that children who represent one of most vulnerable groups in every society need special protection from harm. We are equally guided by the array of international laws including IHRL and IHL and the near global support for children’s right specifically their right to education. The collective international condemnation of the recent abductions speaks to this.  We have reiterated the fact that the international community frowns at actions that threaten children’s access to education. We have previously shared the view that very few in this current age will remain indifferent to the plight of children of school going age being forcefully deprived of education. That no entity or party in any conflict is likely to gain credibility in the eyes of the international community for depriving children from education.

Some NGOs have raised concerns about the age of the children that were abducted in terms of them potentially being used in the future as child soldiers. We remind anyone wishing to induce children to join an armed group and/or to induce children to directly participate in hostilities are acting in a manner inconsistent with international law. Doing so during an armed conflict, regardless of the character of said conflict, is a violation of international humanitarian law and is a war crime.

Giving peace a chance- Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege wins Nobel Peace Prize

Congolese gynecologist and surgeon Denis Mukwege won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month for more than two decades of work in healing victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mukwege was declared the winner of the coveted prize on October 5, 2018 at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo along with Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who was held as a sex slave by the ISIS and has since been a Yazidi rights activist. Murad is the 17th woman and the second youngest recipient of the award after Malala Yousafzai.

Contra Nocendi International congratulates Mukwege and Murad for their extraordinary contribution to human rights and their work in emancipating victims of human rights abuse and sexual violence, a cause for which they have put their own lives at risk on several occasions.

Mukwege has previously won the United Nations Human Rights Prize as well as the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize as well. He currently heads Panzi Hospital in Bukhavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which he founded over 20 years ago. At this hospital, he treats thousands of women every year who have suffered from grave sexual assault.

We also commend Murad’s work, and her activism, which touches a countless number of people affected by the Islamic State. Murad escaped from the ISIS, which repeatedly sold her as part of sex slavery after abducting her from her home in northern Iraq.

The peace prize for this year comes at a time when the global #metoo movement is gaining traction in several nations and there is increasing focus on the mistreatment and abuse of women. The movement is becoming popular as more and more women are coming up and speaking about their incidents of harassment, abuse and suffering at the hands of men. Not only has the movement encouraged women to come out and talk about their experiences, but it is also led to several cases of abuse to come out in the open and the perpetrators being held accountable in a lot of cases.

“#Metoo and war crimes are not quite the same. But they have in common that they see the suffering of women, the abuse of women and that it is important that women leave the concept of shame behind and speak up,” news outlet Reuters quoted Nobel Committee Chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen as saying.

At Contra Nocendi, our mission is to continue advocating for human rights and to uphold humanitarian and human rights laws that protect the rights of all groups including women, especially amidst violent situations in conflict zones. We applaud the work of Mukwege and his stupendous contributions toward upholding human rights in the African continent.

The laureate’s continuing contribution to combating an important and gruesome aspect of war crimes is an inspiration to people working in the arena of human rights globally.

Children’s right to education amidst violence in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have advocated for the peaceful access to education for all children in the past and at times we have faced opposition, including the questioning of the legal basis to this assertion. During this time, we have re-affirmed the fact that the right to access to education in all situations is protected within the framework of international law. While we very much welcome discourse and active engagement on such an important issue, we feel it is necessary to articulate some of the legal basis for our assertion. While this articulation is not meant to be exhaustive, we hope that the breath of sources of law and breath of situations in which they apply provide clarity as to the legal basis of our assertion.

 

International humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) provide protection for children’s right to access to education during peace and conflict situations. While IHL is the special body of laws that applies during recognised armed conflict, IHRL applies in peace times and in situations of emergency. IHRL can also be applicable during armed conflict when not at variance with IHL.

 

Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which apples to non-international armed conflicts, clearly creates obligations on the part of belligerents to a non-international armed conflict, or to put it plainly, on the part of all armed groups including state and non-state actors. If you directly participate in hostilities or you have effective control over those who do, Additional Protocol II applies to you and the entity in which you belong. Article 4(3)(a) of AP II requires, inter alia, the provision of education for children. It is clear that if there is an obligation to provide education then the targeting of educational facilitates and efforts to dissuade children from effectively enjoying their right to education would be a constructive breach of Article 4(3)(a). In addition, Article 13 AP II clearly prohibits the targeting of civilian populations and individual civilians. School children and their teachers constitute civilians and hence protected under this prohibition. In the case of an international armed conflict, Article 24 of Geneva Convention IV unequivocally obliges belligerents to facilitate the education of children in all circumstances. The clear use of the phrase “all circumstances” clearly limits any leeway for deviating from this obligation.

 

On its part, International human rights law (IHRL) applies in peace times as well as in situations of declared emergencies. Further, except in cases of discrepancy with IHL, IHRL is equally relevant during recognised armed conflicts. This is important as the common objective of these two body of laws remains the protection of persons. It is important to note that even when derogations to some civil and political rights are applied in times of declared national emergencies, it is seldom the case with the right to education1. Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to education for everyone, while Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognizes the right to education for children. The CRC’s Article 38 goes a step further to bridge the gap between IHL and IHRL by invoking the obligation to respect and ensure the respect for rules of IHL relevant to children and the protection and care of children affected by armed conflict. The preamble of the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Children on Children in Armed Conflict recognises the right of children in armed conflicts to special protection, including the right to education in peace and security. Additionally, Article 17 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights protects the right to education for all persons, while Article 11 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child protects the right to education for all children. When reflecting on the above referenced law, we are confident that the legal basis for our assertion is clear and rather definitive.

 

International governmental and non-governmental bodies play an important role in ensuring the respect of children’s right to education. This includes monitoring and reporting mechanisms of violations against children in conflict including their right to education. Of specific importance is the work of the UNSC on children and armed conflict. UNSC Resolutions 1998 (2011) and 1243 (2914) inter alia, urges all parties to armed conflict to refrain from actions that impede children’s access to education and encourages Member States to consider concrete measures to deter the use of schools by armed forces and non-state armed groups in contravention of applicable international law.

 

This statement on the issue of children’s access to education should not be seen as Contra Nocendi International and/or Contra Nocendi Cameroon making a determination as to whether the situation in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon constitute an armed conflict nor should it be seen as an effort to characterise any perceived or actual conflict. The use of international humanitarian law is meant to be illustrative insofar as it shows the expectations of combatants in an armed conflict. We also wish to make it clear we stand firmly against any arbitrary extrajudicial killings and strongly encourage the peaceful expression of concerns and disagreements.

 

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon support the Safe School opened for endorsement in Oslo in 2015. The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-

governmental political commitment developed through consultations led by Norway and Argentina. It provides the opportunity to provide political support for the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict and has been endorsed by 80 countries as of July 2018.2 We urge other states including Cameroon to endorse this declaration.

 

Procedure for Endorsement: Send a letter confirming the endorsement, signed by a government official, addressed to either 1) a duty station (Embassy or Permanent Mission) of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or 2) the Norwegian Ministry’s Section for Humanitarian Affairs (To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., CC: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

 

Gilbert Ajebe Akame

CNI/CN Cameroon

 

[1]UNESCO: Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2011, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0019/001912/191225e.pdf

Contra Nocendi urges vigilance on press freedom in Africa

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have been vocal advocates in support of press freedom in our countries of operation and globally. The issue of efforts to potentially erode press freedom are not limited to just one country in Africa. The new legislation in Mozambique, which seeks to raise journalist registration fees to absurd levels should be a stark reminder of how vigilant all of us who believe in press freedom in Africa should be.

 

Before commenting further, we must give credit to Lawrence Mute, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, for raising concerns about the recent developments In Mozambique. Continued engagement on the part of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and its mandate-holders on the issue of press freedom in Africa is vital. As the Special Rapporteur stated, “Prohibitively high fees may have the effect of closing media space, thereby undermining Mozambique’s obligation to implement Article 9 of the African Charter.”i CNI and CN Cameroon completely agree. It is clear that administrative costs may require the imposition of reasonable fees, but the very high costs of registration fees are causes of concern.

 

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon call on all parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to respect their Article 9 obligations to protect press freedom. Beyond the rights of journalists, the freedom of information and press freedom of key elements are necessary for an informed electorate. All African citizens should be afforded access to information, including from journalists, so that they can keep themselves informed of what is going on in their country. A strong free press in a Member State should be seen as a badge of honour for all governments.

Enforced disappearance is a global problem and it needs to stop

As the United Nations marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International draw attention to the fact that enforced disappearances of people is a huge, widespread and global issue requiring urgent attention.  

The day has been observed on August 30 every year, starting on 2011.   

According to the UN, enforced disappearances has been used as a tactic to create and spread terror in societies and it not only affects the close relatives of those who go missing, but their community as a whole. It used to be seen only in military dictatorships but now it is becoming increasingly common in conflict zones around the world with the forced disappearance of opponents being used as a tool for political control.  

There are three main concerns with this year’s international day against enforced disappearance: the harassment of human rights defenders, relatives of the victims, witnesses and legal counsel working on such cases, the states using counter-terrorist activities as an excuse for breaching their obligations, and how perpetrators get away without being punished for causing enforced disappearances.  

Contra Nocendi supports the UN in drawing attention to these concerns and in also giving special focus to vulnerable groups like children and people with disabilities. We also urge all the countries to provide the affected families with access to look into the cases of disappearance, and investigate them thoroughly and impartially and also provide the victims’ families with remedies.  

Contra Nocendi observes the International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition

Today is the international day established by the UNESCO to “inscribe the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples.” At Contra Nocendi we wish to observe this day to take note of the history behind slave trade and analyse the way it has influenced the relations between Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas.  

The UNESCO has also marked this day as an opportunity to consider the consequences of the slave trade, which was a great tragedy with the inhumane trafficking and indiscriminate human rights abuse of people from various parts of the African continent. The UNESCO has invited the Ministers of Culture of all Member States to observe this day every year by conducting events by involving its people especially youngsters, educators, artists and intellectuals.  

The intervening night of August 22 and 23rd in 1791 was the day an uprising began in Santo Domingo located in today’s Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The slave rebels in this revolution played a crucial role in eventually abolishing the transatlantic slave trade and hence the UNESCO has chosen August 23rd to commemorate the role of this landmark in history.  

On this day, Contra Nocendi reflects on salutes the contributions of several important characters in the history of abolition who fought to win back the human rights of people who were caught and faced abuse and torture along the various slave routes between Africa’s west coast and countries and colonies in Europe and the Americas.  

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