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The People of Burundi Deserve Answers

The recent release of the report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi included suggestions that the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor open a formal investigation into the events that took place in Burundi beginning April 2015. Going by the allegations, there seems to have been far too many disappearances, claims of torture and other inhumane and cruel treatment, and even worse, the discovery of so many corpses to not raise serious concerns about the human rights situation in Burundi. More than 400,000 people do not flee their homeland without just reason. To date, the Government of Burundi has not taken credible steps to conduct an independent and competent investigation as it is obliged to do under international human rights law, the Rome Statute and Burundian domestic law. This failure to respect its obligations has only added to tensions and has put Burundians of all affiliations at risk. In the light of all these, we make an emphatic plea that the people of Burundi deserve answers and should get them.

 

While we appreciate the mandate of the CoI, we must stress the need to give the Prosecutor and her staff the proper space to make the determination as to whether and how to proceed. The CoI recommendations have no binding effect on the Prosecutor however. The decision is clearly within her mandate. Her staff has already began conducting a preliminary examination into the matter and previous statements from the office suggest that they take the matter seriously. We must also stress the need for all parties, including non-state actors, to cooperate fully with the Prosecutor and her office. While we are very concerned about the conduct of organs of the State, we are fairly confident that non-State actors has conducted themselves in a manner that will raise questions for the Prosecutor should she seek to open a formal investigation.

 

The government of Burundi has, to date, failed to conduct an effective investigation. While the government has submitted a notice of withdrawal from the Rome Statute, in part citing threats to its sovereignty, the government has and will continue to have original jurisdiction over the constituent crimes of the Rome Statute. The Court may only exercise jurisdiction when the State in question is unwilling or unable to. A competent and independent investigation followed by judicial action in response to the evidence obtained during the investigation would likely render the situation outside the scope of the jurisdiction of the Court. Contra Nocendi International, and its affiliates and partners in Cameroon and Burundi remain committed to adding our voices to the call for justice to be served for the people of Burundi. We sincerely hope the Office of the Prosecutor initiates a formal investigation, and provides the findings to the people of Burundi, as they very well deserve answers!

General overview of the African region’s human rights system on the protection of detainees

 

Regional human rights systems, consisting of regional instruments and mechanisms, play an important role in the promotion and protection of human rights. They provide more accessible remedies and assist with the implementation of universal human rights. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), which was adopted in 1981 and entered into force in 1986, was established for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa.

 

Binding Regional instruments for the protection of persons in detention

In the African region, it is the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), also known as the Banjul Charter, which provides for the protection of persons in detention. It is supplemented in this function by its protocols, soft law instruments and specific mechanisms.

  • African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Banjul Charter

While the right to freedom from torture is one of the few non-derogable rights, it is also one of the rights commonly violated in Africa. In its article 5, the Charter allows for the right of ‘every individual to the respect of the dignity inherent in every human being’ and provides that ‘all forms of exploitation and degradation of man, particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited’. The ACHPR also provides for the right to an appeal, equality before the law, the right to defense, the right to be tried within a reasonable period (article 7), nondiscrimination, presumption of innocence, and freedom from coercion of any kind for persons who are detained.

  • Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa

Also known as the Maputo protocol, this instrument was drafted in 1995 and became effective in 2005. It guarantees a comprehensive set of rights to women and was adopted as a protocol to the ACHPR. Article 24 provides for the special protection of women in distress. States have the obligation under this article to “... ensure the rights of pregnant or nursing women or women in detention by providing them with an environment which is suitable to their condition and the right to be treated with dignity”.

  • African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) was adopted by the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1990 and entered into force in 1999. Its provisions are inspired from the ACHPR and other International human rights laws. Article 2 of the charter provides in its first paragraph that States should: ”ensure that no child who is detained or imprisoned or otherwise deprived of his/her liberty is subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” This article goes further to protect child detainees by ensuring that they are separated from adults in their place of detention or imprisonment.

 

Soft Law provisions

  • Kampala Declaration on Prison Conditions in Africa

In September 1997, a pan-African conference was held in Kampala, Uganda, which led to the Kampala Declaration on Prison Conditions in Africa. The Declaration stipulates that ‘any person who is denied freedom has a right to human dignity’ and declares, inter alia, that ‘the human rights of prisoners should be safeguarded at all times’. Similar instruments have been adopted by or on the initiative of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, some of which refer to the Standard Minimum Rules.

  • Resolution on Guidelines and Measures for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Africa (Robben Island Guidelines), 2008

The Guidelines, adopted in 2002, promote the ratification by States of international and regional anti-torture instruments as well as the States’ co-operation with existing international mechanisms for the prevention of torture and ill treatment of detainees. They also prescribe the criminalization of torture in domestic law, as well as the establishment of complaints and investigation procedures. Furthermore, the Guidelines recommend the adoption of rules designed to contribute to the prevention of torture. It includes such basic safeguards as the right of detainees to notify relatives of their detention immediately after admission, the right to an independent medical examination and the right to legal representation. Guideline 33 stipulates that States should “take steps to ensure that the treatment of all persons deprived of their liberty is in conformity with international standards guided by the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners”. Finally, the instrument stresses the importance of establishing independent and impartial complaints and monitoring bodies. The Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa is mandated to visit and examine places where people are being detained. He or she may “make recommendations to improve conditions of detention and may if necessary, propose that urgent action be taken”.

  • The Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa (the Luanda Guidelines);

The Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa (the Luanda Guidelines) were adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) during its 55th Ordinary Session in Luanda, Angola, from 28 April to 12 May 2014. Articles 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 26 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) set out States’ obligations to provide all people with the rights to life, dignity, equality, security, a fair trial, and an independent judiciary. The Luanda Guidelines will assist States in implementing these obligations in the specific context of arrest, police custody and pre-trial detention.

Other regional soft law instruments include:

  • The Ouagadougou Declaration and Plan of Action on Accelerating Prisons and Penal Reforms in Africa
  • The Kadoma Declaration of Community Service, Zimbabwe 1997
  • The Arusha Declaration on Good Prison Practice adopted in Arusha, Tanzania
  • Kampala Declaration on Prison Health in Africa
  • Lilongwe Declaration on Accessing Legal Aid in the Criminal Justice System in Africa
  • Principles and Guidelines on the Right to Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa

 

Regional Human Rights Mechanisms

  • The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

The Commission is a quasi-judicial body with three principal functions. It promotes, protect human rights and interprets the provisions of the Charter. It also receives complaints and makes recommendations accordingly. Numerous cases have been brought to the commission alleging violations of rights with respect to those held in detention. Through its decisions the commission interprets provisions for the protection of detainees and by so doing sets precedent.

  • In 1997, the Commission appointed a Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa, whose task is to visit and examine places of detention. In the past, the Special Rapporteur has undertaken visits to prisons in South Africa, Cameroon and Ethiopia and has published reports on these visits. In more recent years, however, the Special Rapporteur has been unable to undertake any visits due to resource constraints.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa is to examine the situation of persons deprived of their liberty within the territories of States Parties to the ACHPR. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur extends to other detention centers such as reform centers and police cells, and covers detainees awaiting trial.

In one of his Reports (which also provide guidance on the treatment of prisoners) on prison conditions in South Africa, it was stipulated that the African Commission subscribes to the principles enunciated in the Standard Minimum Rules. In examining the South African Correctional Services Act of 1998, the Special Rapporteur considered it significant that ‘the Act incorporates principles espoused by the all-important Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and Kampala Declaration on Prison Conditions in Africa’.” the reports of the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa.

  • Conference of the Central, Eastern and Southern African Heads of Correctional Service (CESCA)

The Heads of Correctional Services in the region, who had been holding regular consultative meetings, decided to regularize those meetings into a standing forum. They established the Conference of the Central, Eastern and Southern African Heads of Correctional Service (CESCA) in 1993. At its fifth meeting held in Windhoek in September 2001, they passed, among other things, a resolution on a Charter of prisoners' rights. The conference made a recommendation for the Charter to be adopted by all Africa countries.

Open letter to the Cameroonian Government, Anglophone Activists and the general public to safeguard the right to education for children in the Anglophone region

 

“To the young students, I implore you to be emboldened by the courage of young Malala Yousafzai, to stand up, raise your voices and fight for your right to education.” - Gilbert Ajebe Akame

 

The shutting down of schools in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon for a period of almost a year has not only been counterproductive, but was also particularly devastating for children of school-going age in the region. The recently released GCE Advanced and Ordinary level results, which showed a drastic drop in the percentage marks obtained by students in the two regions of Northwest and Southwest, bears testimony to the negative impact of the unfortunate closure of schools. Many have blamed the deterioration of events to the initial response by the security forces to the protests staged by teachers and lawyers. The brutal crack-down on peaceful protesters, the ill-treatment of protesting lawyers, the use of live ammunition resulting in the death of some protesters, the arrest and jailing of trade union leaders and others, all helped to bolster the efforts of the activists towards the closure and emboldened their stance which led to the eventual shutdown of the schools. The social media campaign initiated by these activists was characterised by manipulation, misinformation, threats, attacks on students, and burning down of schools, amongst others. The result has been the creation of an atmosphere of fear, distrust and lack of confidence amongst residents of the English-speaking regions. However, the security establishment has since failed to re-instil confidence in the school proprietors to re-open their doors and for students to feel safe going back to school.

The picture I paint here is only a simple narration of what is actually a very complex set of situations engineered by a web of actors and events that have culminated in the disruption to the smooth running of the 2016/2017 academic year. The government, politicians, school proprietors, parents, social media activists, the clergy and more, having found themselves trapped in a complex political conundrum, knowingly or otherwise, because of ignorance and manipulation, which led to them resolving to sacrifice an entire academic year to the detriment of helpless children. The various actions and inactions – in particular the inability by the government to ensure a safe learning environment – amount to an interference with the inalienable right to education especially for vulnerable groups such as children and girls.

The importance of education to the individual child and society at large cannot be over-emphasized. Education is the foundation for the growth and development of the full potentials of every child, and is a tool for the empowerment of less privileged groups and the elevation from a life of poverty. Very few in our 21st century civilization will remain indifferent to the plight of young children (in particular girls) who have been kept out of school against their will for an entire academic year and counting. No entity or party in any conflict is likely to gain credibility in the eyes of the international community for depriving such young ones their rights to education. It is a noble duty to protect children and girls when adults fight. It is dishonourable to mortgage the education of children to score political points. Advocates of the right to education don’t hesitate even in situations of armed conflicts or other instabilities to call for the absolute protection of children’s right to education. Malala Yousafzai, a staunch advocate of the right to education for young girls in the Swat Valley of north-western Pakistan, braved threats from the local Taliban terrorist group, to push for the right for these girls to attend school, even sustaining life-threatening gunshot wounds in the process.

Access to education is a universal human right – meaning it is guaranteed legally for all without discrimination – and states have an obligation to protect, respect and fulfil this right in totality. It is stated in the Universal declaration of human rights, and upheld by many international human rights instruments today. In fact, the right to education for children is enshrined in the Convention on the Right of the Child, boasting 196 state parties to the Convention.

Each of these states have the primary obligation to protect the enjoyment of this inalienable right by among other things, putting in place the appropriate measures to prevent the interference with it. The presence of violence and unrest should not be a limitation on the part of the state to fulfil its obligation The inalienability of the right to education demands that even in the current dispensation, the state of Cameroon must put in place measures including both diplomatic and operational, to guarantee a safe and serene education environment.

Parents also play a vital role in the education of their children. Key amongst their responsibilities is to ensure their children attend school and not deny them access to education. Parents in Cameroon are called upon to exercise this responsibility by giving priority to the education of their children. They should consider the best interest of the child in matters of their education and development of their full potentials.

The best interest of the child in matters of education, an important gateway to guarantee a bright future, should be considered, duly assessed and taken into consideration. In so doing, it is important for the voice of children to be heard and given due consideration; for their development and aspirations to be given priority; and for their right to education to be protected. It is my conviction that children of school-going age in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions will wish for nothing better than to be in school – just like their counterparts in the other regions of Cameroon – to play, learn and continue their journey of developing their full potentials.

To the young students, I implore you to be emboldened by the courage of young Malala Yousafzai, to stand up, raise your voices and fight for your right to education. Fight to guarantee your future and not depend on anyone else. To quote Malala’s famous words, “Let us pick up our books and our pens… they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”

 

Gilbert Ajebe Akame

Executive Director - Contra Nocendi Cameroon

 

Contra Nocendi congratulates Kenya, but notes there is still cause for concern

Contra Nocendi International acknowledges the successful conclusion of the 2017 elections in Kenya with the official declaration of the winner – incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta – and wishes to congratulate the people of Kenya accordingly. However, as we continue to moniter the aftermath of the elections, we are still concerned about the use of excessive force against protesters and the on-going tension in general. We remain firmly against the deployment of firearms when engaging in the policing of peaceful protests. We further reiterate our support for the freedom to express concerns peacefully and constructively, and denounce the resort to violence to express anger in the event of what may seem to be unfavourable results to some groups.

We therefore urge all parties to refrain from the use of force or threatening to use force, and all candidates and political parties to urge their supporters to express themselves in a peaceful and constructive manner.

We have been extremely disappointed by reports of the loss of lives as well as serious injuries sustained at the hands of security forces, which show an utter disregard for the human rights of the people of Kenya. We call on the Kenyan authorities to conduct an independent and competent investigation in the matter and to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. We reiterate our stance that there is no legitimate role for firearms in the policing of peaceful protests. The policies of the deployment of firearms when policing protests must be put under thorough review and revised to make certain that the right to life and the right to peaceful protest are respected.

We are further alarmed by reports of the de-listing of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC). We urge the Kenyan authorities to look into the matter and to ensure the KHRC has a clear avenue of redress and judicial review for the decision by the NGO board. The freedom of association is an extremely important part of democracy and must be respected. The timing of the decision raises some very serious questions that must be answered.

Contra Nocendi International will continue to monitor the situation in Kenya, and encourage other local and regional human rights groups to do likewise.

Contra Nocendi Expresses Concern About the Use of Force Against Kenyan Protesters

 

Contra Nocendi International is extremely concerned about the reports of the use of force against protesters by Kenyan police. We urge the authorities to take this matter seriously and to conduct a prompt, effective and transparent investigation into the matter. We further urge authorities to exercise restraint, and remind them of their obligation to protect the right to peaceful protest. We emphasize strongly that there is no legitimate role for firearms when policing peaceful protests, as it is normal for passions to run high during and after an electoral process. Therefore, providing a safe and peaceful environment in which people can peacefully express themselves is a vital part of any democracy.

 

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon, had earlier made this point in a joint submission to the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa and the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa, in support of their views expressed in the Draft Guidelines on Policing and Assemblies in Africa. We believe that the Special Rapporteurs are correct and we further underline our support for this contention. Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon both share the view that the use of firearms to police a peaceful protest is conduct that is inconsistent with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

It is time for the authorities in Kenya to exercise restraint and take caution to not deploy firearms to police peaceful protests while also putting in place safeguards to facilitate an environment conducive to the free exercise of the right to peaceful protest. The region and the continent looks to Kenya to set an example – let it be one of respecting the right to peaceful protest.

African Human Rights Legal Internship

Contra Nocendi International is seeking a legal intern to work with our team on a part-time basis. As an intern, you will support the legal team providing research on jurisprudence at the African Commission, African Court and the Courts of some of Africa’s regional economic communities. The intern will be provided training and the opportunity to expand their legal research skills as well as provide them with a better understanding on regional human rights law. The role is a great fit for a person with a background in human rights law and public international law, but we welcome candidates with a non-legal background as well.

Contra Nocendi International is an international human rights NGO based in Paris, France with an independent section based in Buea, Cameroon. Our current projects include expanding a monitoring consortium for treatment in detention in Burundi and a law clinic in the city of Buea in Cameroon. Both projects are needed to protect the human rights of vulnerable groups who are at risk to violence, discrimination and not being able to access legal services.

The role will report directly to the Head of Legal and will also interface regularly with the Executive Director of our Cameroon section. The role is designed to be held remotely and requires the ability to work independently.

 

Tasks:

  1. Provide research support to the legal staff with a focus on the jurisprudence of the African Commission, African Court and the Court of the regional economic communities

 

  1. Contribute to the production of reports and other materials as and when required

 

  1. Collaborate with you direct supervisor and the Executive Director of the Cameroon section on the use and dissemination of research conducted on the above reference jurisprudence

 

  1. The intern will be expected to provide two written statements each month written on behalf of Contra Nocendi International and will be expected to contribute to a larger research project before the end of the internship.

 

  1. Be flexible to respond to evolving priorities

 

Requirements:

 

  1. Bachelor's degree in law. An advanced degree related to public international law and/or international human rights law would be a plus. A research focus on Africa would be helpful.
  2. Must be fluent in English. A good understanding of French would be an advantage.
  3. Must have good political awareness and a high degree of professional maturity
  4. Ability to interpret complex information and communicate key findings effectively
  5. Excellent writing and editing skills in English or French is required. Writing and editing skills in both is a plus.
  6. Must have dependable internet access and the ability to work in a virtually connected and multi-cultural setting.
  7. Available at least 20 hours a week for 2 months and able to be proactive in communicating any change in your availability as soon as possible.

Application instructions:

To apply for this opportunity please send a covering letter explaining how you meet all the requirements for this position (one page max), a writing sample (five pages max) and a CV (2 pages max) to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with "African Human Rights Internship" in the subject of the email. Applications can be made in French or English. Please also acknowledge either in your covering letter or your email that you are aware this is a volunteer role and that this position will be held remotely. Given the large number of applications, we regret that we may be only able to respond to short-listed candidates. Your language skills in both languages are likely to be tested during the interview process should you be invited for an interview, so please plan accordingly. Additionally, short listed candidates will be expected to complete a written test.

Please note that this role is a voluntary position and as such we are unable to provide any remuneration of any kind. Successful completion of the volunteer role does not infer in any way any chance of future employment.

This role is being advertised on an on-going basis. Contra Nocendi International shall review applications as they are received and reserves the right to fill the role at any time.

 

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