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Detention conditions in Cameroon raise concerns of Covid-19 spread

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Contra Nocendi wants to highlight how the situation affects prisoners in an already strained prison system in Cameroon. People in detention are completely reliant on the protection and care of the state and have limited possibilities to protect their health through social distancing and other measures. The detention centres in Cameroon are overcrowded, making the living conditions for the detainees impossible to bear under ordinary circumstances, but the spread of Covid-19 highlights the severe health risks. A presidential decree was issued on the 15th of April, granting some convicted prisoners a reduced sentence and commuting death sentences in order to facilitate a release of prisoners.i Several prisoners have reportedly been released since, which is welcomed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and civil society organisations alike.ii Contra Nocendi is pleased to learn about the presidential decree and the release of prisoners but remains concerned.

 

We have recently observed the current situation in the detention centres of Buea, which show that the situation requires further and increased efforts in order to improve the living conditions in the centres as well as effectively preventing a spread of Covid-19. During our visits in the detention centres in Buea, there were little evidence of any measures to curb the spread of the virus except for a bucket of water and soap placed at the entrance of police and gendarmes stations to wash their hands before entering. We further observed severe overcrowding in the Buea central prison, making the living conditions unbearable. The detainees expressed fear that the whole prison, inmates and warders alike, would quickly get infected in case someone got infected with Covid-19, since there are no preventive measures in place. Most of them said they cannot afford a face mask, and even if they could, it would be difficult to use due the heat and poor ventilation in the cells. We are deeply concerned by the information of 4 alleged deaths in the Kondengui prison in Yaounde that could be associated with Covid-19. Although these alleged cases are yet to be confirmed, we are deeply concerned by an imminent contamination in detention centres.

 

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon strongly urge the authorities to:

· Substantially reduce overcrowding by increasing the efforts to release prisoners when possible. All persons eligible for early release in accordance with the presidential decree should be compiled on a list and promptly released. We urge the government to also include the release of detainees with minor offences.

· Take significant steps towards ending lengthy pre-trial detention, which is even more urgent considering the potential spread of Covid-19 and the severe overcrowding. The authorities should strictly apply the existing rules for bail for persons in pre-trial detention.

· Protect the health of all persons that remain in detention by introducing effective measures to prevent a potential spread of Covid-19, including enabling social distancing.

· Make sure all persons in detention have access to updated information about Covid-19 in the detention centre. Detainees have a right to be kept informed about Covid-19 and when they might have been exposed to the virus.

 

Contra Nocendi will continue to deploy and monitor the situation in the detention centres closely.

i https://www.prc.cm/en/multimedia/documents/8262-decree-n-2020-193-of-15-04-2020-sentences

ii https://www.achpr.org/pressrelease/detail?id=492

iii https://www.fiacat.org/presse/communiques-de-presse/2871-communique-desengorgement-des-prisons-au-cameroun-un-decret-presidentiel-trop-restrictif

 

Contra Nocendi’s SAR-Cov2/Covid-19 response

Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International has been working with partners and colleagues to monitor the impact of the global pandemic on our operations and that of our partners and colleagues as well as the communities we serve. Our staff is largely working remotely and are receiving regular check-ins from senior staff to make sure they are safe and healthy. We believe that the do no harm principle extends beyond just our work in the field and we have put that belief into action.

In Cameroon, we continue to monitor human rights concerns including our on-going cases. We have done so while trying to keep our staff safe and by working with authorities to make sure our conduct encourages social distancing and encourages only essential travel. We continue to look for opportunities to help were we can.

We are happy to report that as of the time of this release, none of our staff have contracted the virus. Our staff has been working from home and practicing social distancing and only making essential trips. We will continue this practice in order to support the health of our staff and all that come into contact with our staff.

We wish to wish all our followers, supporters, friends, neighbours, families and colleagues across the globe good health. We will continue to monitor the situation and look forward to returning to full operation as soon as it safe to do so for all those involved.

SODEI and Contra Nocendi submit joint submission on the rights of the Child in Cameroon

In response to the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights call for civil society views on children’s rights and the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, SODEI and Contra Nocendi International have collaborated on a joint submission on the rights of the child in Cameroon.  Our joint submission focused on Cameroon’s implementation of a child rights approach to sustainable development with a focus on SDGs 4 and 16. While SODEI and CNI have been collaborating, this is a first joint submission together and it was a very important issue that we tackled.

Under sustainable development goal 4 (SDG 4) we highlighted some of the challenges to the realization of an inclusive and equitable quality education including the continuous inequality in school enrolment rates between boys and girls. We also highlighted the challenges in achieving sustainable development goal 16 (SDG 16) as a result of the violence against children in the conflict affected North-west and Southwest regions; children victims of crimes including violence at home and public spaces; and children in conflict with the law;

In relation to the impact of the conflicts in Cameroon on the rights of children, our joint submission pointed out that “[c]hildren in Cameroon continue to live in situations of violence affecting their access to quality education. Insecurity in the Extreme North region resulting from the activities of boko haram and the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions has had a tremendous impact on access to education. Children in the Northwest and Southwest regions have been forcefully deprived access to schools; Heightened infringement of children’s rights to education, safety and security in the context of the conflict have been reported. International bodies such as United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have estimated that up to 80% of schools in the southwest and northwest regions have been closed affecting more than 600,000 children”, Indeed, we are seeing children being deprived of their right to education either indirectly through the conflict or directly through combats making schools the object of an attack, which is clearly in breach of international humanitarian law.

SODEI and Contra Nocendi International continue to monitor the situation and will be collaborating further on SDG 4 and SDG 16. It is clear that more must be done to ensure access to education and the protection of children in conflict situations in Cameroon.

UN Committee on the rights of the child expresses concern about the child justice system in Cameroon

In its latest review the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child voiced serious concern over several issues for children in Cameroon. One central issue was the child justice system, and children’s right to be heard in a specialized justice system that continuously consider the best interest of the child.i Children have a right to special protection and care, which is why the Convention outlines several safeguards for children victims of crime or children in conflict with the law.ii

The Committee has previously held that because children differ from adults in their physical and psychological development and considering that the criminal justice system has proven harmful to children, exposure should be limited. The system should therefore work especially hard to expedite proceedings when children are involved.iii The Committee stated during the review that it “is seriously concerned that the legal and judicial protection of children in conflict with the law remains very weak.”iv

Some of the main concerns are continued arbitrary detention of children and frequent unlawful demands for informal fees for release and access to legal aid lawyers. Legal aid should be provided to children free of charge. Equal concern was expressed over the continued widespread use of lengthy pretrial detention and detention as a form of punishment instead of diversion to other measures. Detention should always be a measure of last resort when it comes to children.v Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon are acutely aware of these issues in Cameroon. As of July 2019, Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have been supporting a minor in detention, who has been detained without trial or formal charges being brought against him for over two years. Clinton Awungafac is now 16 years old and his continued detention is a serious violation of his rights.vi

Another issue raised was reports about police violence toward children during interrogations and while in pretrial detention. Violence perpetrated by police during investigations and pretrial detention is unacceptable under all circumstances and should always be investigated and prosecuted, as it may amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.vii

The Committee raised serious concerns about children in Cameroon being exposed to violence not only when inside the justice system, but also in the home and in public spaces.viii Cameroon has an obligation to ensure the development of the child to the maximum extent possible,ix which is especially important when considering child justice and protection from violence. The Committee specifically expressed their concern over continued impunity for perpetrators of sexual offences against children.

This issue was also highlighted by Contra Nocendi last fall in connection with the recent case of TFA (a minor) v Cameroon in front of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.x The case involved a young girl that reported a rape and the case was dropped and later made impossible to appeal when the court wouldn’t release her court documents.xi In addition to the fact that the justice system failed her as a path to justice, the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child voiced concern over the fact TFA had not received any victim support, something that the UN Committee described as a systemic problem in Cameroon during the review.xii Any child who has been exposed to violence should have access to the justice system and have a right to protection, support and redress. Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon remains deeply concerned about the issues raised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and believe that child justice and protection remain a central issue for children’s rights in Cameroon heading into 2020.

i United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5

ii UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, art 37 and art 40

iii United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. General Comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system

iv United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5 United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Replies of Cameroon to the list of issues, 30 March 2017. CRC/C/CMR/Q/3-5/Add. 1

v UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, art 37 (a) and (b), United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. General Comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system

vi Contra Nocendi calls for release of minor held in prolong pre-trial detention in Cameroon

vii UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, art 37 (a)

viii United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5

ix UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 9189, Art 6 (2)

x Contra Nocendi International. Concerns about access to justice in Cameroon, 2019. Available at https://www.contranocendi.org/index.php/en/news-press/222-concerns-about-the-access-to-justice-for-children-in-cameroon [accessed 17 of January 2020]

xi 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 17 of January 2020]

xii United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Concluding observations on the combined third to fifth periodic reports of Cameroon, 6 July 2017. CRC/C/CMR/CO/3-5

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