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SODEI and Contra Nocendi submit joint submission on the rights of the Child in Cameroon

In response to the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights call for civil society views on children’s rights and the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, SODEI and Contra Nocendi International have collaborated on a joint submission on the rights of the child in Cameroon.  Our joint submission focused on Cameroon’s implementation of a child rights approach to sustainable development with a focus on SDGs 4 and 16. While SODEI and CNI have been collaborating, this is a first joint submission together and it was a very important issue that we tackled.

Under sustainable development goal 4 (SDG 4) we highlighted some of the challenges to the realization of an inclusive and equitable quality education including the continuous inequality in school enrolment rates between boys and girls. We also highlighted the challenges in achieving sustainable development goal 16 (SDG 16) as a result of the violence against children in the conflict affected North-west and Southwest regions; children victims of crimes including violence at home and public spaces; and children in conflict with the law;

In relation to the impact of the conflicts in Cameroon on the rights of children, our joint submission pointed out that “[c]hildren in Cameroon continue to live in situations of violence affecting their access to quality education. Insecurity in the Extreme North region resulting from the activities of boko haram and the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions has had a tremendous impact on access to education. Children in the Northwest and Southwest regions have been forcefully deprived access to schools; Heightened infringement of children’s rights to education, safety and security in the context of the conflict have been reported. International bodies such as United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have estimated that up to 80% of schools in the southwest and northwest regions have been closed affecting more than 600,000 children”, Indeed, we are seeing children being deprived of their right to education either indirectly through the conflict or directly through combats making schools the object of an attack, which is clearly in breach of international humanitarian law.

SODEI and Contra Nocendi International continue to monitor the situation and will be collaborating further on SDG 4 and SDG 16. It is clear that more must be done to ensure access to education and the protection of children in conflict situations in Cameroon.

UN Committee on the rights of the child expresses concern about the child justice system in Cameroon

In its latest review the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child voiced serious concern over several issues for children in Cameroon. One central issue was the child justice system, and children’s right to be heard in a specialized justice system that continuously consider the best interest of the child.i Children have a right to special protection and care, which is why the Convention outlines several safeguards for children victims of crime or children in conflict with the law.ii

The Committee has previously held that because children differ from adults in their physical and psychological development and considering that the criminal justice system has proven harmful to children, exposure should be limited. The system should therefore work especially hard to expedite proceedings when children are involved.iii The Committee stated during the review that it “is seriously concerned that the legal and judicial protection of children in conflict with the law remains very weak.”iv

Some of the main concerns are continued arbitrary detention of children and frequent unlawful demands for informal fees for release and access to legal aid lawyers. Legal aid should be provided to children free of charge. Equal concern was expressed over the continued widespread use of lengthy pretrial detention and detention as a form of punishment instead of diversion to other measures. Detention should always be a measure of last resort when it comes to children.v Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon are acutely aware of these issues in Cameroon. As of July 2019, Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have been supporting a minor in detention, who has been detained without trial or formal charges being brought against him for over two years. Clinton Awungafac is now 16 years old and his continued detention is a serious violation of his rights.vi

Another issue raised was reports about police violence toward children during interrogations and while in pretrial detention. Violence perpetrated by police during investigations and pretrial detention is unacceptable under all circumstances and should always be investigated and prosecuted, as it may amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.vii

The Committee raised serious concerns about children in Cameroon being exposed to violence not only when inside the justice system, but also in the home and in public spaces.viii Cameroon has an obligation to ensure the development of the child to the maximum extent possible,ix which is especially important when considering child justice and protection from violence. The Committee specifically expressed their concern over continued impunity for perpetrators of sexual offences against children.

This issue was also highlighted by Contra Nocendi last fall in connection with the recent case of TFA (a minor) v Cameroon in front of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.x The case involved a young girl that reported a rape and the case was dropped and later made impossible to appeal when the court wouldn’t release her court documents.xi In addition to the fact that the justice system failed her as a path to justice, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child voiced concern over the fact TFA had not received any victim support, something that the UN Committee described as a systemic problem in Cameroon during the review.xii Any child who has been exposed to violence should have access to the justice system and have a right to protection, support and redress. Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon remains deeply concerned about the issues raised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and believe that child justice and protection remain a central issue for children’s rights in Cameroon heading into 2020.

i United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5

ii UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, art 37 and art 40

iii United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. General Comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system

iv United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5 United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Replies of Cameroon to the list of issues, 30 March 2017. CRC/C/CMR/Q/3-5/Add. 1

v UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, art 37 (a) and (b), United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. General Comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system

vi Contra Nocendi calls for release of minor held in prolong pre-trial detention in Cameroon

vii UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, art 37 (a)

viii United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5

ix UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 9189, Art 6 (2)

x Contra Nocendi International. Concerns about access to justice in Cameroon, 2019. Available at https://www.contranocendi.org/index.php/en/news-press/222-concerns-about-the-access-to-justice-for-children-in-cameroon [accessed 17 of January 2020]

xi African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), Decision on the Communication submitted by the Institute for Human Right and Development in Africa and Finders Group Initiative on behalf of TFA (a minor) against the Government of the Republic of Cameroon, Communication no 006/Com/002/2015, Decision no 001/2018, May 2018, available at https://acerwc.africa/wp-content/uploads/2018/13/Cameron%20Rape%20Case.pdf [accessed 17 of January 2020]

xii United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5

CNI partners with French university law clinic to monitor treatment in detention

In an effort to promote human rights awareness and educational opportunities, Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon has launched a partnership with French university, Université Grenoble Alpes’ (UGA) law clinic in September 2019, La Clinique juridique en droit des libertés (Clinidroit). The Law clinic is a social and educational project, which aims to provide law students with a practical experience, by facilitating their engagement with legal experts and practitioners. 

 

With a focus on treatment in detention in Cameroon, the partnership with Contra Nocendi provides opportunity that expose law students to the reality of pre-trial detention in Cameroon, help them develop a firmer understanding of international human rights law applicable to treatment in detention, expose them to the practical application of human rights law and provide them with an expanded understanding of career opportunities and pathways for students interested in international human rights law.

 

This project is the first of its kind for Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon, and both organisations are excited about the prospect of working with such an esteemed university. We believe that the project will be a win-win for all. We are confident that this will be the start of a very beneficial relationship for CNI, CN Cameroon and the University.

 

The project is part of Contra Nocendi’s larger effort to promote the respect of human rights in places of detention and ensure that torture in all its forms is eradicated.

Contra Nocendi calls for release of minor held in prolong pre-trial detention in Cameroon

Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International jointly call for the release of 16 year old Clinton Awungafac. Clinton has been held in the Southwest Region of Cameroon for more than 2 years without trial and without formal charges being brought against him. His only crime is that he looks roughly of a similar age as some of those taking up arms with non-state actors in the region. We have long viewed his detetion as arbitrary and unlawful. It is well past time for Clinton to go home to his family and live his life free from being unlawfully detained. We call on the government of Cameroon to release Clinton.

 

Clinton was detained in Menji on the 13th of November 2017. This village is situated in the heart of the on-going crisis in the Southwest Region of Cameroon He was first taken to the Gendarmerie station. He was subsequently transferred to Buea central prison, where he was detained until 13 October 2019 before being transferred to Mamfe. While at Buea Central Prison, Clinton was under the jurisdiction of a Military Tribunal. When his lawyer, Barrister Blaise Chamango, went to ascertain why Clinton was being held in detention, Blaise verified and confirmed at the Buea central prison registry that he was detained for “acts of terrorism and others”.  This is despite the fact that no formal charging document or writ of remand has been produced to support Clinton’s detention. Speaking to Clinton, he confirmed that prior to the intervention of Contra Nocendi, he had never had access to legal counsel because he was neither informed nor can he afford one. He has never been granted any bail or any other form of release since his arrest and detention

 

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have been supporting Clinton since July 2019. We filed a writ for habeas corpus on his behalf. Dispite repeated meetings with the local magistrate and raising the issue with the Procurer General of the region, Clinton has not been afforded a hearing on his writ of habeas corpus petition.

 

We have recently been informed that through an intermediary, Clinton has been approached to provide a bribe for his release. This conduct alone is unlawful and the idea that someone would try to profit of the needless suffering of child is repugnant. We cannot understate of collective disgust.

 

As it is clear that there is very little realistic opportunity for Clinton to receive a hearing, we have raised our concerns with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa. We have urged the Special Rapporteur to inquire on Clinton’s behalf. It is shameful that Clinton cannot be afforded his day in court to challenge his detention.

 

Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International call on the government of Cameroon to do the right thing and free Clinton. His detention is, and continues to be, arbitrary and contrary to international human rights law. He should be home with his family, not paying for a non-existent crime.

Contra Nocendi announces opening of new office in Buea, Cameroon

 

 

 

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon are happy to announce the recent opening of a new permanent office in Buea in the Southwest Region of Cameroon. This is an exciting announcement for both organisations. The office was opened thanks to individual donations by supporters of Contra Nocendi International.

 

The office will be run by Contra Nocendi Cameroon and will allow for the expansion of the pro bono legal services and detention centre monitoring being done in partnership by Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International. Having more space to meet with clients and other interested parties related to the pro bono clinic will only enhance the clinic’s capacity and help it continue to build on its impressive start and growth. It also provides additional safe space for those interested in our pro bono clinic to talk with staff from Contra Nocendi Cameroon with confidence that their conversations will be confidential. As part of leveraging the office space, we plan to expand the number of cases we handle in 2020 as part of our pro bono clinic.

 

 

We also aim to take advantage of the new space by expanding our programming for the rights of the child in 2020. This will include programming to support greater awareness of rights for children with the aim of helping develop a greater degree of confidence in being active human rights participants.

 

We have been humbled by the support of our supporters and are equally excited to show all our supporters the positive impact their support is bringing. We look forward to announcing new exciting developments in Cameroon in 2020.

What the 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign Means for Women in Detention in Cameroon

This year, the annual 16 Days Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign is observed under the theme “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands Against Rape!”. This campaign is carried out to pool advocacy efforts towards combatting gender-based violence (GBV) and address specific issues which frustrate the realization of a world free of violence which targets women.

Women and girls have traditionally been victims of sexual harassment and rape in times of peace as well as in times of war. This is rooted in the practice of patriarchy which has designed roles and situations which serve to keep women in a place of subordination and inequality. This practice has also contributed gravely to the vulnerability of young girls and women which are constantly being taken advantage of through sexual and other forms of GBV. Consequently, women can become victims of rape irrespective of the fact that they are free or in prison detention.

Detention does not strip persons of their fundamental human rights which always have to be upheld and protected. This however does not diminish the risks which women in detention face. The United Nations Bangkok Rules on women offenders and prisoners recognizes that women prisoners are at particularly high risk of rape, sexual assault and humiliation in prison[i]. In Cameroon like in places with similar prison systems and conditions, women in detention face sexual violence and exploitation because of the deplorable conditions existing in prisons. To survive these harsh conditions women in prison are forced to undergo these acts from prison officials and fellow prisoners which amounts to discrimination strongly condemned by the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Apart from overcrowding and underfunding of prisons in Cameroon[ii], there are no female only prisons. All prisons are mixed and according to the World Prison Brief [iii], the female prisoners in Cameroon made up only 2.7% of the prison population in 2017, making them a target for sexual violence. An article by Le Relais Enfants-Parents du Cameroun (REPCAM)[iv] an association of social workers who mediate between women prisoners and their children, provides that 80% percent of the women in detention were between the ages of 20 and 30.

Women in incarceration also undergo systematic patterns of GBV and thus should not be left out on any initiatives which aim to curb and end GBV. The 16 Days Activism campaign is for the plight of women all over the world with no exception. Being in prison specifically affects women because they suffer more from the stigma associated with being a prisoner; their particularity, needs and rights as women are not specifically taken into consideration. And they face heightened risks of violence and discrimination of any kind. From information gathered by REPCAM in 2012, women were even punished more severely for the same crimes committed by their male counterparts, making it seem like they were not allowed to make mistakes[v].

This year, the 16 Days Activism against Gender Based violence as well as the International Human Rights Day focuses on youth and how they can be part of the solution to common problems. Contra Nocendi International appreciates this initiative and advocates for inclusive participation of women and girls in detention to understand the challenges they face and seek to find better ways to protect and promote their human rights while in detention. The campaign is coming to an end, but the fight is not nearly over. Let us continue to stand against rape and sexual violence for everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

 

[i] The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (2010)

[ii] Aurora Moreno Alcojor (2017). The stigma of being a prisoner, a woman and a mother in Cameroon. The Equal Times. Available at https://www.equaltimes.org/the-stigma-of-being-a-prisoner-a?lang=en#.Xe6AIfwo_IU

[iii] World Prison Brief (2017). Available at https://www.prisonstudies.org/country/cameroon

[iv] REPCAM (2012). Les Femmes et la Prison au Cameroun, Le Regard du REPCAM. Available at http://relaisenfantsparentscameroun.over-blog.com/article-les-femmes-et-la-prison-au-cameroun-le-regard-du-repcam-101684666.html

[v] Ibid

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