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.