The right to counsel




The right to fair trial is recognized by the international community as a fundamental human right necessary in any democratic society governed by the rule of law. Various international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as, regional instruments such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights have enshrined this right.


According to article 7 of the African Charter, in order to ensure the respect of the right to fair trial, several other rights have to be guaranteed. They are intrinsic elements of the right to a fair trial. The focus will be put on one of these rights, the right to counsel.


The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights had likewise, the opportunity to respond to complaints apropos of the right to counsel. Both bodies have strived to ensure the respect of this essential right. From their jurisprudence, it is therefore possible to identify general standards, which can be used to complete the international and regional legislation applicable on the matter.


This jurisprudence analysis will focus on the three major violations of the right to counsel: the lack of access to counsel, the delayed access to counsel, and the restricted access to counsel.


Contra Nocendi welcomes activation of jurisdiction of crime of aggression at ICC


Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon are happy to welcome the news of the adoption of the resolution on the crime of aggression that will grant the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction over the matter starting July 17, 2018. This date will also mark the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute. Contra Nocendi is very pleased to see this opportunity provided for greater accountability for acts of aggression.

While the Court will only hold jurisdiction over States that have ratified or accepted the amendment to the Rome Statute for the crime of aggression, it is a positive step forward for international criminal justice and will bring a new level of accountability for acts of aggression. The international community must now come together to push towards the universal acceptance of the Rome Statute. Contra Nocendi International and its partners will continue to monitor developments in relation to this.


Female inmates in Cameroon and how imprisonment impacts their rights

The fact that prisoners are still human and therefore should have their basic rights respected should be fundamental to every society, however the reality is very much different in many places. The case of women inmates is peculiar because they are doubly vulnerable by virtue of being women and being in prison. This leaves them sometimes defenceless and at risk of serious violations. Women who are incarcerated usually come from marginalized and disadvantaged backgrounds and are often victims of violence, and physical and sexual abuse.[i] According to a 2015 survey[ii], about 2.7% of Cameroon’s prison population is made up of women. While this may not seem like a large proportion comparatively, female prisoners do have special needs and are more likely to be discriminated against.

Cameroonian prisons in general are considered to be in poor conditions due to overcrowding (mainly due to lack of financing), which are exacerbated by harsh treatment of inmates by prison personnel, and poor administration in general. The plight of the female prisoner in Cameroon is one of serious concern because prison management and administration are not usually gender sensitive. This is not to say that the plight of other prisoners is unimportant, but it is crucial to maintain decent administrative structures and prison systems otherwise they create additional problems for female prisoners.

The problems faced by the female population in prisons mostly boil down to financial issues on the side of the state. In some prisons in Cameroon for example, both male and female prisoners are expected to live within the same compound though in separate quarters. Sometimes this situation does not provide even the basic standards of decency as it is hard to maintain an acceptable physical hygiene, leaving the female prisoners exposed to abuse from their male counterparts and even prison personnel, and as a result are at a higher risk of contracting STDs and other diseases.

Most of the prison personnel, even those in charge of female inmates, are male and cannot be expected to fully empathise with and understand women’s conditions. The general level of poverty is also very high and as a result perpetuates corruption and other malpractices within the prison system. Women who are not supported by their families can hardly afford feminine care products or other basic needs. Often, this leads to forced prostitution in exchange for favours and special treatment.

Prison systems in Cameroon not only fail to meet the gender and biological health needs of imprisoned women, but also the standards of humane care established by internationally accepted standards of human rights. That said, the government and other institutions including NGOS make considerable efforts to make regular donations to alleviate the suffering of these female inmates, providing them with feminine care, and even beauty products as being locked up for a crime is not the end of one’s life as many inmates are led to believe.

In the midst of this, there is the case of an even more vulnerable sub-group consisting of particularly young women, and pregnant women or nursing mothers, who need to be specially considered. The 2015 human rights report produced by the Cameroonian Ministry of Justice observed that some female inmates with children refuse to hand them over to their families or benevolent persons as suggested by prison authorities, while other women get into prison already pregnant, leading to a very dire situation, as pre-natal or post-natal care is either inadequate or at worst non-existent.  

Women in Cameroonian prisons and prisons all over the world especially in Africa deserve better treatment and protection from the States and persons directly involved in their administration. Special attention ought to be paid to their interests and personal development so that they can be productive members of society once freed.

The first important measure will be a considerable review of prison systems and policies. The population of female guards should be augmented, as they can much better relate to the situation faced by these women. More efforts should also be made to have separate prisons for female prisoners.

Secondly, opportunities for counselling and other more concrete forms of rehabilitation should be made available to these women to prepare them for reintegration into society, and to decrease any chances of them falling back into a life of crime. Educational or training facilities should also be provided to these women, so they can learn a trade in order to support their independency in and out of prison. As rule 46 of the Bangkok Rules[iii] prescribe, prison authorities, in cooperation with probation and/or social welfare services, local community groups and non-governmental organizations, shall design and implement comprehensive pre- and post-release reintegration programmes which take into account the gender-specific needs of women.

Other important aspects, like the general hygiene conditions and access to health care and material needs necessary for female inmates must also be improved. Physical and mental health issues must be addressed with adequate measures (as per rules 10 and 12 of the Bangkok Rules).

The overall goal should be to guarantee the respect of already established standards of treatment like the Bangkok rules amongst others, and ensure that prison serves the purpose of reformation and provides an enabling environment for personal development, with the view to combatting discrimination against women. This will ensure that the fundamental human rights of these women are safeguarded.


[i] Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 06 July 2011., imprisonment and women’s health: concerns about gender sensitivity, human rights and public health,

[ii] Institute for Criminal Policy Research, 2015. Birkbeck University of London

[iii] United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules). 2016(Updated)



This article was written by Rosaline A. Bates Anoma, Contra Nocendi's Advocacy Associate for Cameroon


Contra Nocendi welcomes investigation into Burundi


Contra Nocendi International was happy to learn about the decision to authorize a formal investigation into the situation in Burundi by the Pre-Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 25 October 2017. Given that over 400,000 Burundians have been displaced, and over 1,000 have reportedly been killed, there is a very clear need for the people of Burundi to get answers with regards to what has happened. We truly hope that the victims of the alleged atrocities finally get their delayed justice.


While we welcome this development, we must stress that this is still only the beginning of what could be a very long and difficult process. The Court does not have a cooperation agreement with the Republic of Burundi. It is questionable as to what extent Burundian domestic law expressly grants security forces the authority to cooperate with any investigation. The international community must stand firmly behind the Office of the Prosecutor and encourage cooperation on the part of the Government of Burundi. Another element of the difficulties with this process is that victims and their loved ones may have to re-live their trauma. While this may ultimately lead to more answers and justice, we must always be mindful of the additional suffering that re-living trauma of this nature can have. We hope to see sufficient resources allocated in support of the victims.


We must also stress that the presumption of innocence must be maintained and respected at all times for any persons who face charges before the Court. The process must be fair, and additionally must fully embrace international human rights law and protections afforded to accused persons under international criminal law.


Contra Nocendi International will continue to monitor the situation in Burundi and the process before the ICC. Our hearts continue to go out to those who have needlessly suffered through the events in Burundi. We look forward to the day that the people of Burundi get the answers they deserve.




Contra Nocendi marks 10th anniversary of Katabazi judgement


Contra Nocendi on Wednesday November 1, marked the 10th anniversary of the judgement handed down by the East African Court of Justice in the case of James Katabazi & 21 others v Secretary General of the EAC and one other. This judgement was a key turning point in providing greater access to justice in the East African Community for human rights abuses.


The Court in Katabazi recognized its jurisdiction to matters indirectly related to human rights. While Article 27(1) restrains the Court from dealing with matters of human rights until the jurisdiction is vested in the Court via Article 27(2), however the Court held that:

“While the Court will not assume jurisdiction to adjudicate on human rights disputes, it will not abdicate from exercising its jurisdiction of interpretation under Article 27(1) merely because the reference includes allegation of human rights violation”. This opened the door for greater access to justice for human rights abuses in the East African Community.


While we mark this important decision and the wisdom of the Court in handing down this precedent, we must reflect upon the fact that 10 years later, the East African Community has yet to vest jurisdiction over human rights issues directly with the Court. The Partner States must take action and show that their commitments in the EAC Treaty to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and to the rule of law were not empty words. We at Contra Nocendi, urge the Partner States of the East African Community to put the necessary protocol into force to vest jurisdiction with the Court.

Notice of withdrawal of Burundi from the ICC comes into force


Contra Nocendi International is greatly saddened by the fact that the withdrawal notice of Burundi from the International Criminal Court (ICC) has come into effect, and all signs suggest that the Office of the Prosecutor will not be opening a formal investigation into this development in Burundi. We are heartbroken for the people of Burundi for many reasons. In particular, we feel that they deserve answers – they need to know what are the implications of this development on the protection of human rights within the country.  This is indeed a sad day for international justice and for the ICC itself.


Given that there has been no evidence so far that the government of Burundi has any intention of conducting an independent and transparent investigation into the current crisis, it does appear that the international community is permitting impunity for the horrific acts that have taken place. We hope that is not in fact the case. Over 400,000 Burundians have fled their homeland and many more have been internally displaced. Many human rights defenders, including our own friends and colleagues, have been forced to flee. Burundians of all political affiliations have suffered as a result of the situation. They all deserve better. We will continue to monitor developments over the next few days or weeks. We remain hopeful that the response we seek for the people of Burundi will be forthcoming, sooner rather than later.



Timeline of the withdrawal of Burundi from the ICC


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