News

Contra Nocendi Cameroon leads workshop on legal aid

                                         

Contra Nocendi Cameroon with the support of the National Commission of Human Rights and Freedom (NCHRF) Southwest regional office, organised a workshop entitled “Facilitating Access to Justice Through Legal Aid – Educating Local Communities on the Possibilities for Obtaining Legal Aid” at Mile 14 Dibanda a small rural locality in Buea, the capital of the South West Region of Cameroon. The workshop was also directly supported by Contra Nocendi International. The workshop was in line with Contra Nocendi’s advocacy objective, to promote and protect human rights and to ensure that knowledge on human rights is widely shared amongst populations. The purpose of the workshop was to inform and educate the people of Mile 14 Dibanda community on the possibility and availability of Legal Aid in the Cameroonian Legal system and to educate them on the process for obtaining such Legal Aid.


Participants were given a training on the right to legal aid. The curriculum included Law No 2009/004 of 14 April 2009 on the organisation of Legal Aid in Cameroon, including eligibility criteria, the processes for obtaining aid and available channels for guidance. Important emphasis was made on pro bono which is the one of the roles of Contra Nocendi Cameroon Legal Aid Clinic in Buea and how they could benefit from these services provided by most, if not all law firms. Participants were informed of the importance of pro bono work in the protection and promotion of human rights and were encouraged to always speak out and ask for help when in need so that they could benefit from the pro bono work which some if not all lawyers are inclined to do.  

                                           

The workshop was participative, with many questions and interventions from participants which truly illustrated the level of understanding they gained from the workshop as well as the importance of the topic of legal aid for their communities. By the end of the workshop  the participants were in the position to use this information to help themselves. The Chairman of the village council expressed satisfaction and was very impressed by the commitment of Contra Nocendi Cameroon. He urged the team to come back with such good information any time. Overall the participants were satisfied with the knowledge gained and considered the workshop as time well spent. One of the participants said he was in turn going to organise an informative session at his church community and small neighbourhood in the village to tell the people about legal aid and how to benefit from it.

The workshop was run by an experienced team of human rights defenders and advocates including the Executive Director of Contra Nocendi Cameroon (Barrister Gilbert Ajebe), the Rapporteur at the National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms (Mr Ekeke Ndome), Contra Nocendi Cameroon Project Coordinator (Blaise Chamango) and Advocacy Associate (Rosaline Anoma). Brochures were provided to participants which included basic information about the law on legal aid and contact information for Contra Nocendi Cameroon whose doors were declared open to persons in need of assistance.

We wish to thank the local community and its leadership for their hospitality and support in setting up the workshop. We also wish to thank the staff of the NCHRF for their support with running the workshop and their willingness to share their expertise and experience for the benefit of the workshop participants. We look forward to further impactful collaborations in the future.

Following the workshop, Contra Nocendi Cameroon staff continues to be contacted by participants of the workshop seeking assistance. The reaction and feedback from participants serves as a clear reminder of the impact such educative activities can have on improving knowledge on human rights. Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International are in the process of planning future training sessions throughout the Southwest region. In the future Contra Nocendi plans to undertake more initiatives such as this to ensure that persons who suffer prejudices can obtain redress.

Recent detention centre visits in Cameroon raise concerns

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.

Cameroon must respect its state reporting obligations

The Republic of Cameroon is currently three reports behind in its state reporting obligations to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission is an important venue for regular dialogue on the human rights situations in countries party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Cameroon’s disregard for its obligations is a missed opportunity for all interested parties to engage in an inclusive dialogue to facilitate positive developments in human rights protections in Cameroon.

 

The last time Cameroon submitted a report to the Commission only covered from 2008 to 2011. Before this report, there had only been one other report that covered from 2001 to 2003. So for the entirety of the state reporting procedure before the Commission, Cameroon has only provided reporting on 7 years. This is unacceptable. It limits civil society’s ability to use the Commission as a tool to peacefully air concerns about the human rights situation in Cameroon. It also limits the opportunity for the government to publicly highlight their efforts to promote human rights, which we have seen such as efforts to promote women’s rights.

 

The government of Cameroon must change course and adhere to its obligations to provide state reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at regular intervals. Contra Nocendi calls upon the Government of Cameroon to embrace the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights as a vital tool to promote human rights in Cameroon.

Contra Nocendi Disappointed in Burundi’s Stance on Same-sex Relations

 

Contra Nocendi International reiterates its disappointment in the situation in Burundi regarding the rights of same-sex citizens. Indeed, following the 29th and latest session of the Universal Period Review (UPR) of the United Nations, Burundi still refused to decriminalize same-sex sexual relations.

On 22 April 2009, Burundi adopted legislation n°1/05 article 567 of the penal code, stating that “anyone who has sexual relations with a person of the same sex is punishable by 3 months to 2 years in prison or a fine of BIF 50 000 to 100 000 or one of these sentences only”.

After the interactive dialogue where six countries (Iceland, Timor-Leste, Ecuador, Australia, Uruguay and Argentina) recommended decriminalizing homosexuality, Burundi’s final remark was to bluntly reject the case for decriminalization of same-sex sexual relations on the basis that “the mind-set in Burundi has not developed yet to allow for this”.

Contra Nocendi is sceptical of the reasoning behind this argument, as Burundi only criminalized sexual relations between same sex persons in 2009. Hence, even if the general mind-set in Burundi was to not tolerate homosexuality, the fact that it only became a criminal offence 8 years ago demonstrates how unnecessary its criminalization is. Moreover, as Contra Nocendi has previously demonstrated in a recent article, this law exacerbated the already-existing homophobic culture.

Consequently, Contra Nocendi joins the international community to urge the government of Burundi to decriminalize same-sex relations in order to not only influence changed mind-sets with regards to homosexuality, but also and more importantly, in order to respect and protect the freedoms and rights of all Burundians, regardless of sexual orientation.

 

 

 

Burundi’s refusal to cooperate with CoI ruling alarming

Contra Nocendi International is deeply concerned by Burundi’s refusal to recognize the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi’s mandate during oral comments on the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR), as the situation remains alarming in the country. An estimated 400,000 Burundians have fled their homeland while army, police and Imbonerkure continue to commit major violations of human rights.

 

Ever since the Human Rights Council established the CoI on Burundi through resolution 33/24 of September 2016, Burundi has been reluctant to cooperate with the Commission and authorize it to conduct visits to the country. In a letter dated 14th September 2017, from the Permanent Representative of Burundi addressed to the President of the Security Council at the United Nations, Burundi accused the Commission of being part of a plan to destabilize and destroy its sovereignty. It expressed its disapproval of the decision to set up the commission and claimed that no conclusions reached by the CoI can be invoked against it.

 

The Commission’s mandate has been renewed for one additional year by resolution 36/19 adopted on 4th October 2017. It involves the conduct of investigations into human rights violations and abuses in Burundi since April 2015, including their extent and whether they may constitute international crimes. It was further tasked to identify alleged perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in Burundi with a view to ensuring full accountability.

 

The cooperation with Council mechanisms is a condition of membership, and Contra Nocendi International urges Burundi to comply with resolutions 33/24 and 36/19, and to cooperate with the CoI and facilitate its work. It calls on the United Nations to take necessary actions to put an end to the persistent non-compliance attitude of the country. Finally, Contra Nocendi would like to express its support for the CoI and believes that the situation in Burundi cannot improve if national authorities continue to stand in the way of international mechanisms to uphold human rights.

Rape as a Tool of Torture in Burundi

 

Following the publication of the report submitted by the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi by the Human Rights Council on the 4th of September 2017, a great amount of human rights violations has been brought to light. Even so, though most of the violations mentioned in the report are regularly brought up, the use of rape and other sexual assaults on men as an instrument of torture came across as an atrocity that is too rarely addressed.

 

The Facts:

 

Since April 2015, the period in which President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he was submitting his candidacy for a third mandate, Burundi is witnessing a political crisis that does not seem to be abating. The Burundian population is enduring a grave wave of repression, mainly committed by “the Burundian security forces and the Imbonerakure”[1] (members of the youth movement of the party in power). According to the president of the CoI on Burundi, these assaults are mainly directed against young men being perceived as in opposition to the Burundian government.[2]

 

The Commission has evidenced in its report many cases of sexual violence and torture against men in detention. Testimonies given have revealed very harsh and brutal violence with notably rapes, genital mutilations, cases of forced nudity, and injection of unknown substances into genitals, often causing serious harm.

 

It has been explained by the victims that these torturous acts were committed with the aim of obtaining forced confessions regarding their participation in the anti-Nkurunziza protests, their affiliation to opposition groups, the localization of arms cache, information dealing with the functioning of these armed groups, or also, the denouncing of members of opposition groups[3]. The perpetrators of these assaults also justified their actions by the desire to punish the persons affiliated to opposition groups, aiming to achieve this through humiliation of the men and violation of their masculinity.

 

Although these two reasons directly expressed by the perpetrators of the sexual crimes are emphasized in the victims’ testimonies, the CoI concludes that more generally, these assaults were perpetrated with the aim to “decree a form of domination[4].

 

It is clear that the intent of sexual assaults on Burundian men depicts a political phenomena targeting the opposition and punishing even nonpartisan persons simply for being in opposition to the government. Indeed, as highlighted by Cécile Poully, there is a true “will to break a possible opposition”[5].

 

 

An Evil Kept Quiet:

 

Sexual violence and rapes as war tools are unfortunately common practice, especially towards women. However, it is also true that more and more men find themselves victims of these crimes. Sadly, these are victims that are heard or helped too rarely. Indeed, due to fear of stigmatization, reprisal, or rejection from the community, the latter hardly admit the specifics of the crime they have suffered. Consequently, it is then difficult to establish the reach of this phenomena, which can in part explain why the latter is too often neglected and not addressed.

 

As the Burundian judicial system makes the process of lodging a complaint in cases of rapes difficult, perpetrators of rape are not only protected by their status of law enforcement representative or member of the party, but also because the judicial system allows the impunity of their actions. Consequently, victims feel obliged to remain silent so as to avoid other threats or reprisals.

 

Specifically for the case of men being rape victims, the fact that homosexuality is penalized by the Burundian legislative system represents another obstacle for the latter to admit to the crime they endured.

 

The gender perspective on this topic is quite prominent. Indeed, Burundi being a patriarchal society, the idea that sexual assaults can also target men is completely refuted, and men having suffered these abuses are negatively stigmatized as having “lost” their masculinity, power and domination – all traits emanating from or associated with their gender.

 

Due to all these reasons, very few men admit to having been victims. However, the consequences of this silence are manifold for victims of these assaults. Generally, the psychological and physical health if victims are damaged. Indeed, by not speaking up, victims do not receive the care they need, which can worsen the consequences of the violence that they have suffered. Because of shame or fear of stigmatization, men do not admit to medical professionals what happened to them, and this can have immediate outcomes as well as longterm ones, such as “erectile dysfunction, urinary issues or chronic pains around the genitals”[6]. Psychologically, male victims of sexual aggressions also admitted “feeling a lack of sexual desire, a feeling of seclusion, or to be subject to post-traumatic stress”[7].

 

 

Conclusion:


Sexual torture and assaults of the nature denounced above represent grave human rights violations, such as the right to the security of the person, the right to be protected against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, without taking into account the physical and psychological destruction of the victim.

 

It is important to stress the fact that, in addition to women, sexual assaults and crimes are also perpetrated on Burundian men in detention, with the aim to punish them for being members of groups opposed to the government.

 

Given that rape is often committed to assert certain domination, it is clear that the rape of men during periods of detention, based on the fact that the detained person is opposed to the government, is a means to prove the domination of the ruling party over Burundian citizens.

 

Burundi being a country with a culture or patriarchal tendencies, very few masculine victims of sexual assaults express or denounce what they endured, due to fear of stigmatization, rejection from their community or reprisals. This complicates a lot the gathering of data on the issue, and consequently the implementation of solutions to fight this problem. Data are even hard to get since Burundi does not let many NGOs operate on its territory and refused over and over again the intervention of the UN and other international organizations in the country.

 

It becomes therefore important to open the dialogue on men as victims of sexual assaults to eventually manage to de-stigmatize their situation, and to be able to develop appropriate responses to these crimes. To start, Contra Nocendi International would like to call out to the authorities responsible for care in detention centers and encourage them to be more diligent in assessing the detainees’ physical and psychological conditions during their medical care and follow-up. This could allow detainees’ victims of sexual crimes to be treated, all the while giving them the choice to open up if they so wish. This call out is also directed at NGOs and other international organizations involved in the refugee camps in neighboring countries, where a significant number of Burundians, already victims of such crimes flee, to seek care and protection.

 

This article is by Maylis David, Advocacy Associate, Contra Nocendi

 

 

[1] Paragraph 5 of the 33/24 resolution

[2] Oral presentation by M. Fatsah Ougergouz, President of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi during the interactive dialogue on Burundi of the 36th session of the Human Rights Council

[3] Rapport final détaillé de la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi, Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, trente-sixième session, 11-19 septembre 2017 (Detailed final report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Human Rights Council, 36th session, 11-19 September 2017)

[4] Id.

[5] [5] http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20160117-burundi-le-viol-une-arme-service-repression

[6] Rapport final détaillé de la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi, Conseil des Droits de l’Homme, trente-sixième session, 11-19 septembre 2017 (Detailed final report of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Human Rights Council, 36th session, 11-19 September 2017)

[7] Id.

Contact us