News

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

Human Rights Day: Never too Young to Change the World!

Every December 10th, the world marks Human rights Day. On this day in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this Human Rights Day, we celebrate young people standing up for human rights under the theme Youth Standing up for Human Rights.

Contra Nocendi has firmly believes that youth participation is essential to achieve sustainable development for all and that the youth can play a crucial role in positive change. We see this everyday from young people seeking to engage in supporting our work to young people taking a stand to promote the rights of others.

The theme for this year takes on great significance for Contra Nocendi. One of the focuses this year is empowering youth to better know and claim their rights. Contra Nocendi has been planning for some time to expand its programming on the rights of the child to promote rights awareness. We firmly believe that human rights, especially in terms of the practical exercise of human rights, are best protected when the rights holders are aware and exercising their rights. We also see a great deal of importance in engaging young people in rights awareness programming as fundamental to expanding human rights protections and their practical exercise. We believe that young people who grow up fully aware of their rights are better prepared to be active exercisers of their rights and more empowered advocates for human rights for all people. In 2020, Contra Nocendi will be working with partners on the ground to provide human rights education programming in Cameroon in order to empower the next generation of human rights advocates.

The rights of the child and the positive promotion of human rights education for the next generation are extremely important to Contra Nocendi and we look forward to providing these programmes and learning from the next generation of human rights advocates.

Concerns about the access to justice for children in Cameroon

A recent case in front of the Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (The Committee) raise serious questions about access to justice for children in Cameroon. In The Institute for Human Right and Development in Africa and Finder Group Initiative on behalf of TFA (a minor) v Camerooni the complainant, a child, was raped on several occasions. After reporting the crime and even identifying the perpetrator, which according to the complainant was a prominent member of the community, the case was dismissed in first instance. Her attempt to appeal was then made impossible due to a failure to provide her with the court records, effectively denying her access to justice. The complainant had since continuously tried to obtain the court records without success for two years before turning to the Committee.

The Committee underlined that while the rule of exhaustion of local remedies exists to allow states to address violations first, action may not be unduly prolonged.ii The Committee argued that this exception to the rule of exhaustion is especially important when it comes to human rights violations involving children, ‘more than any other group of human beings’.iii The Committee repeatedly held that the human rights obligation of states is that of result, not merely diligence, and that justice for children cannot wait as ‘time matters most when it comes to protection of children’s rights’.iv The fact that the complainants case was now under appeal in Cameroon was dismissed as to little too late and deemed unduly prolonged as well.v

Another recent case against Cameroon raised similar concerns. In the case of Open Society Justice Initiative v Cameroon examined by the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights (the Commission), the complainant was left without remedy due to administrative silence in first instance.vi By failing to act on the complainants application for a broadcasting license, he was effectively stopped both from broadcasting and from appealing to an administrative court. There is no legal right under this area of Cameroonian law to remedy administrative silence, which is why the complainant attempted to use the civil courts instead. This also proved unsuccessful when the case was dropped after first having the proceedings delayed nineteen times due to a failure to appear by Government representatives. The civil court dropped the case with the motivation that it had no jurisdiction and the case should instead be tried by an administrative court.vii Since this had already proved impossible, the complainant was left without any viable legal remedy.

The formal right to appeal is recognized in Cameroonian lawviii but the legal system has repeatedly failed as practical path for justice. The Commission as well as the Committee underlines that regardless of formal ways to appeal, a remedy must be de facto available. When it is not, the complainant cannot reasonably be asked to exhaust all domestic remedies before the case can be examined by the Commission or the Committee.ix

The circumstances of these cases raise serious concerns about systematic issues with access to justice in Cameroon. Inaction from the state effectively left both complainants without legal remedy and by extension violated the right to be heard under Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon expresses concern about the independence of the judiciary and urge the authorities of Cameroon to ensure that the justice system is resistant to political influence.

The right to be heard is an essential right of the child, particularly so when in the justice system, both when accused of a crime and as a victim of crime.x Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon calls on the authorities of Cameroon to take all necessary steps to ensure access to justice for all children, not only in theory but in practice. We urge the authorities of Cameroon to ensure not only the right of the child to be heard but also the right to be heard within reasonable time. As highlighted by the Committee, children more than any other group of human beings, cannot wait.

i 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 21 November 2019] ii TFA v. Cameroon, para 52 iii Ibid. para 29 iv Ibid. para 56 v Ibid. vi African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Communication 290/2004 – Open Society Justice Initiative (on behalf of Pius Njawe Noumeni v. the Republic of Cameroon. March 2019, available at https://www.achpr.org/sessions/descions?id=209 [accessed 21 November 2019] vii Open Society v. Cameroon, para 65, 67 viii TFA v. Cameroon, para 32 ix Open Society v. Cameroon, para 85-86, and TFA v. Cameroon para 30-31 x United Nations Convention on the Rights if the Child, 1989, article 12

Contra Nocendi marks World Children’s Day

As Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon mark World Children’s Day and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we are deeply concerned about the right to access to justice for children. Our work in Cameroon has brought to light examples of how children are denied their right to counsel, right to a fair trial and their right to not be arbitrarily detained.

 

The issue of access to justice for children in Cameroon has been recently highlighted before the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. In the recent case of TFA v Cameroon, the Committee underlined that while the rule of exhaustion of local remedies, which is required to seek redress before a regional human rights body in Africa, exists in order to allow for states to address violations first, action may not be unduly prolonged. The Committee argued that this exception to the rule of exhaustion is especially important when it comes to human rights violations involving children, “more than any other group of human beings”.  We agree with the Committee and will be shortly be releasing more information regarding access to justice for children in Cameroon.

 

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have been providing legal aid to a 16 year old in the Southwest region of Cameroon who was arrested two years ago without charge. Our client suffered through a similar issue of prolonged administrative silence that has forced our client to spend his 15th and 16th birthdays behind bars without being formally charged and despite a petition for writ of habeas corpus being filed months ago. In the coming days, Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International will be releasing more information about our client as part of our efforts to secure his release from arbitrary and unlawful pre-trial detention.

 

As we mark this World Children’s Day, we urge everyone to make the issue of access to justice for children in Cameroon a dire issue. Help us make sure more children are not denied their liberty and due process.

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