The protests are an offshoot of grievance nursed by Lawyers from the Anglophone Cameroon Common Law culture for more than two years now. They protest the perceived marginalization and interference with the Anglo-Saxon system of law amongst other things.
During this two-year period, they are said to have repeatedly sent appeal letters to the government for dialogue which fell on deaf ears, leading to the current scenario. They formally created the Cameroon Common Law Bar Association (CCLA) on the 4th of November 2016.
It all began with a call for ‘sit down strike from all court actions’ after a meeting of Presidents of the lawyers’ associations from the Northwest and Southwest regions held on the 6th of October 2016. The lawyers blame the failure of government authorities to respond to their demands and appeals, culminating to the decision to launch protest marches in Bamenda in the Northwest on the 8/11/2016 and Buea/Limbe in the Southwest.
The Lawyers are calling for protection of the Anglophone system of law and education. Per their memorandum, they are calling for the respect of the common-law system in Anglophone Cameroon and for the government to stop what they termed ‘infiltrating and assimilating the common-law system’. They ask for civil law oriented magistrates (Mostly French speaking), which they say don't master the Common-Law system and the English language to be transferred out of courts in the Anglophone region, to be replaced with common-law oriented magistrates (mostly English speaking) in other to ensure proper administration of justice; that laws such as the OHADA Uniform Acts, CEMAC Code, CIMA which are exclusively in French be translated into English; that the Common-Law system of education in the Anglo-Saxon universities of Buea and Bamenda be respected and strengthened by the possible creation of a law school.
Government response to protests
The protests in Bamenda, Buea and Limbe were met with a swift and forceful crack-down by government authorities. The first day of protests in Bamenda on November 8 saw a strong presence of police, gendarme and forces from the Special Intervention Unit BIR. There was evidence of the use of tear gas to chase out lawyers from protests venues. There were reports of arrests of lawyers while about 10 others sustained tear gas and other bodily injuries. The same was the situation in Buea and Limbe in the Southwest region on the 10th November where there was a report of the presence of about a thousand armed police and army officers per sources on the ground. Security forces were placed at important intersections and venues of the cities. Testimonies from sources on the ground point to the fact that lawyers were hunted down from hotels and cars, intimidated and vandalized and in some cases were arrested and detained. There was equally evidence of some lawyers suffering from slight injuries. Some lawyers reported their robes and wigs were being seized by security forces. To worsen things, government representatives of the Northwest and Southwest regions took a decision to ban the Northwest Lawyers’ Association (NOWELA), Meme Lawyers Association (MELA) and a suspension of the activities of Fako Lawyers’. All these in violation of international human rights obligations signed up to by the government.
Human Rights Issues
There has been a foul cry over the potential human rights violations in the involvement of security forces to clamp down on protesting lawyers. Cameroon is a signatory of several human rights conventions including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).The ICCPR protects the rights of people to freedom of opinion (Art. 19(1), of expression (Art. 19(2), assembly (Art. 21), association (Art 22), and the freedom from arbitrary arrest (Art. 9). These provisions protect the rights of lawyers to form and belong to associations, own political opinions, assemble, engage in peaceful protests over their rights and entitlements and to not be illegally arrested for the sole purpose of exercising their constitutional rights.
Respect and protection of human rights enshrined in the national constitution gives priority of international conventions over national laws. The Cameroon constitution stands out as an important tool to guarantee the protection of human rights in the country. The preamble of the constitution makes mention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and refers to specific fundamental human rights including the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, the freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedom from assembly, freedom of association, etc. Article 65 of the constitution confers a legal effect to the above-mentioned rights enshrined in its preamble. By translating international agreements into domestic law, government agents have an obligation to respect and ensure the protection of the enunciated human rights.
The decision by government to ban protests and suspend the constituent lawyers’ associations of the CCLL in the Northwest and Southwest regions interfered with the freedom to hold political opinion, their freedoms of association and assembly. The illegal arrest and detention of peaceful protesting lawyers without due process was in violation of national laws and tantamount a violation of their freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as their freedoms of opinion and assembly.
Contra Nocendi urges the government to respect their obligations regarding human rights and engage in a peaceful dialogue with all the parties involved.