Cameroon dragged to African Commission over unfair trial of 47 Anglophone activists

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Nigeria’s human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has dragged the government of Cameroon to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul, The Gambia, over what he described as the “unfair trial” of 47 Anglophone activists.

Falana asked the Commission to urgently “end the ongoing human rights violations of the Applicants who were forcibly returned to Cameroon by the Nigerian authorities.”

He urged the Chairperson and the Bureau to “urgently hold an extra-ordinary session of the African Commission to address the illegal and unfair return of 47 refugees and asylum seekers, and the continuing violations of the rights of the returnees by the government of Cameroon”.

“We also urge the Chairperson of the Commission to speak out strongly and condemn the unfair treatment of the returnees by the government of Cameroon, and request the government to immediately release them from unlawful detention.”

The petition read in part: “Cameroon has ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. At the request of the Government of Cameroon the Nigerian authorities illegally and unfairly returned 47 refugees and asylum seekers to Cameroon on Friday, January 26, 2018. The returnees are mostly leaders of the people of Southern Cameroon and who have been living in Nigeria with their families for years.”

“Some of them have been granted political asylum while others were asylum seekers in Nigeria. On Saturday, 7th January 2018, the Applicants assembled to meet in Abuja to discuss the problems being encountered by several Cameroonian asylum seekers in Nigeria but before the commencement of the meeting security personnel from Nigeria arrested the Applicants and took them to an underground detention centre in a military barracks in Abuja.”

“While the Applicants were detained in Nigeria, they were denied access to their family members, friends, lawyers and doctors. However, the representative of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees was allowed to visit the Applicants.”

“When the Applicants’ lawyers received information of the plan to deport them to Cameroon, they rushed to the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop the illegal plan. The Applicants also reached out to the Comptroller-General of Immigration, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees in Nigeria.”

“As soon as the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees in Nigeria confirmed the information it dispatched a letter to the government of Nigeria pointing out that Nigeria has a legal obligation under international law not to deport the detained Cameroonians.”

“But in a demonstration of reckless impunity, the government of Cameroon pressurized the Nigerian authorities to hand over the refugees. They were handed over to the Cameroonian security forces who forcefully took them away from Nigeria on Friday, January 26, 2018.”

“On account of the illegality of the deportation, the government of Nigeria could not announce that the refugees had been expelled from Nigeria but the Government of Cameroon decided to celebrate the deportation and threatened to prosecute the deportees for terrorism. We submitted a letter to the Office of the High Commissioner of Cameroon to Nigeria in Abuja to request for access to the Applicants who are currently held incommunicado in Cameroon. The request has to date not been granted by Cameroon.”

“Nigeria has no extradition treaty with Cameroon. Hence, the deportation was carried out outside the ambit of the extradition laws of Nigeria and Cameroon and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

“In removing the Applicants from Nigeria, the government of Cameroon breached the human right of the Applicants to enter Nigeria, reside, seek and obtain asylum guaranteed by Article 12 (3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The government of Cameroon also breached article 12 (4) of the African Charter, which provides that every individual shall have the right, when persecuted to seek and obtain asylum in other countries in accordance with the laws of those countries and international conventions.”

“Apart from the violation of the African Charter, the government of Cameroon breached its legal obligations under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention on Refugees and which have guaranteed the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Nigeria to protection.”

“The Applicants are the leaders of the movement agitating for the creation of the republic of Ambazonia from Cameroon. In 2002, the Applicants filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja to determine whether the people of Southern Cameroon were not entitled to self-determination within their clearly defined territory separate from the Republic of Cameroon. The government of Nigeria decided to settle the case out of court.”

“By a consent judgment delivered by the Court on March 5, 2002, the government of Nigeria agreed to file a suit at the International Court of Justice to have a judicial confirmation of the human right of the people of Southern Cameroon to self-determination. The government of Nigeria also undertook to take other measures as may be necessary to place the case of the people of Southern Cameroon for self-determination before the United Nations General Assembly and other international organizations.”

“The Applicants are not soldiers, but civilians. Even though they are not military men, the government of Cameroon has decided to try them before a military tribunal. The military tribunal to try the Applicants has since been constituted by the government of Cameroon.”

“Upon the arrival of the Applicants in Cameroon and without any investigation whatsoever, the government of Cameroon announced that they would be tried for terrorism. The Applicants have been detained illegally from January –November, 2018.”

“The Applicants have since been arraigned for terrorism before a military tribunal specially constituted for the purpose of persecuting them even though they have never engaged in terrorist activities in Cameroon.”

“The trial of the Applicants is scheduled to commence in Cameroon on January 10, 2019 whereas their lawyers who are based in Nigeria have been denied access to them and the opportunity to defend them.”

“It is the case of the Applicants that they had left Cameroon with their families and have been living in Nigeria where that had applied for asylum. Thus, by removing them from Nigeria the government of Cameroon has separated the Applicants from their family members who have been left behind in Nigeria.”

“The government of Cameroon is also reportedly violating the rights of the 47 returnees to personal liberty, freedom of movement (including the right to leave their country), fair trials, freedom of expression and depriving them of their liberty to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person. The situation in Cameroon is characterized by widespread and massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law with growing numbers of victims lacking access to an effective remedy.”

“The government of Cameroon’s treatment of the 47 returnees falls with the ‘worst crimes’ of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which in article 7 defines crimes against humanity to mean acts such as deportation, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law, torture and other similar acts that are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population.”

“I therefore urge the African Commission to consider the present Complaint under Articles 6, 7, 11, and 12 of the African Charter and to hold that violations of these provisions have occurred in the case of the Applicants. I further urge the African Commission to undertake an in-depth study, based on the “series of serious” and “massive” violations alleged in this Communication such as right to freedom of assembly.”

“The Applicants are filing this Application/Communication with the African Commission because no adequate or effective domestic remedies exist to address the violations alleged in this Communication.”

“Generally, local remedies must be exhausted prior to submitting a Communication to the Commission.  There are, however, exceptions to this general rule.  The African Commission has stated that local remedies must be available, effective and sufficient. A local remedy is considered available if the petitioner can pursue it without impediment, it is effective if it offers a prospect of success and it is sufficient if it is capable of redressing the complaint. Given the on-going human rights crisis in the country, it is impossible to exhaust domestic remedies in Cameroon.”

“In the light of the forgoing, the Applicants hereby urge the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights to: Urgently hold an extra-ordinary session of the African Commission to address the illegal and unfair return of 47 refugees and asylum seekers, and the continuing violations of the rights of the returnees by the government of Cameroon; Hold the government of Cameroon to account for violating the rights of the 47 naturalized Nigerians, refugees’ and asylum seekers’ rights to freedom from torture and other human rights.”

“The Commission should make an official visit to Cameroon with special rapporteurs having relevant mandates and put pressure on the authorities to immediately release the returnees from unlawful detention and end the politically motivated trial of naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers.”

“The Commission should hold that the continuing detention, mistreatment and unfair trial of the returned naturalized Nigerians, refugees and asylum seekers by the government of Cameroon amount to cruel and degrading treatment and in conflict with the country’s human rights obligations, including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

“The Commission should seek the guarantee of government of Cameroon about the safety of the returnees, and that they would afford the returnees fair trial while they remain in the country. Pursuant to Rules 84(2) and 118(3)(4) of the Rules of Procedure, the Commission should refer the matter to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

“The Commission should ask the government of Cameroon to immediately stop the mistrial of the 47 refugees and asylum seekers before a military tribunal and return them to Nigeria to rejoin their families.”

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: [email protected]


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