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