“We recognize and applaud the critical role of the National Bar Association in ensuring the respect of the rights of accused persons to a fair trial and in guaranteeing the application of the rule of law for the benefit of all Cameroonians,” the brains behind the grouping said at a press conference in Douala today Wednesday, September 4, 2019.
The lawyers strike
The Cameroon Bar Association had on August 31, 2019 said it will embark on a five-day strike action during which they will suspend all their professional activities throughout the national territory, due to, among other things, disregard for the right of defense, cases of torture or police brutality, arrogance of judges, basically the denial of justice in the country.
"The Bar Council in protest calls on all lawyers to observe a 5-day nationwide sit-in strike beginning as from the 16th to the 20th of Day of September 2019," said a resolution signed by Barrister Tchakouté Patié Charles and 12 other council members.
They say the Bar Council shall evaluate the situation and take any further steps as it shall hereinafter deem necessary.
"The Bar Council hereby calls on all the representatives of the President of the Cameroon Bar Association to ensure the strict compliance of lawyers with these resolution in their respective jurisdictions," the document ends.
The lawyers had met Saturday, August 31, 2019 to examine issues relating to the difficulties endured by lawyers in the exercise of their profession.
During the meeting, they noted that lawyers have consistently been denied access to their clients and persons in the various centers of detention - Secretariat of State for Defense, prisons, police stations, and gendarmerie brigades.
Lawyers in the country are of the opinion that the rights of accused persons protected by national and international instruments ratified by Cameroon are constantly and consistently being violated by judicial authorities as follows:
"Trial in a language not understood by litigants; accused persons in violation of their dignity are brought naked before trial courts; the extraction of confessional statements from accused persons through the use of torture and inducements; illegally prolonged detention of accused persons;
"Transformation of judicial detention into administrative detention; frequent refusal by state prosecutors to release persons when they are either granted bail or have been discharged by a court of law; recurrent refusal to acknowledge service of applications made by lawyers to judicial authorities and refusal to respond to some applications from lawyers; the exorbitant costs of locus fees and other court charges; the retention and refusal to assign case rules by certain heads of courts."
The lawyers note with dismay that in spite of previous complaints made, lawyers are continuously being threatened, arrested and detained in the course of the exercise of their functions.
They went on to note regrettably that "the recurrent barbaric violence meted out on lawyers by members of the forces of law and order", condemning in the strongest terms all these violations.
The resolution bears the accents of Barristers Tchakoute Patie Charles, Atangana Bikouna Claire, Tam Bateky Suzanne Evelyne, Mbuyah Gladys Fri epse Luku, Nzoh Divine Mbokeh, Enow Agbor Benjamin, Fojou Pierre Robert, Deugoue Raphael, Mohamadou Souleymanou, Mbah Eric Mbah, Souop Sylvain, Ngos Daniel Blaise and Akum Michael Nche.
Civil society, political parties support lawyers
Civil society actors and political parties say these violations and practices cited by lawyers are contrary to Cameroonian law and reflect the culture of intimidation, harassment, and coercion which has completely jeopardized the judicial system in Cameroon.
“It is ironic, that those who are supposed to protect the rights of every Cameroonian and ensure the rule of law are the ones flagrantly violating the law and judicial processes,” they said, adding that, “We applaud the National Bar Association for standing strong to protect their professional practice and defend the rights of all persons within the Cameroonian judicial system.”
“In this moment, however, we are particularly concerned for prisoners and detainees of four categories.
“The dozens of innocent persons arrested as part of the fight against Boko Haram. Many people unjustly arrested 3 to 5 years ago are still in prison. Many have suffered various violations of the law and various forms of violence. It is important to acknowledge this injustice and to release them immediately.
“The prisoners and detainees arrested in connection with the Anglophone Crisis. The majority were arrested in early 2017, months before some Anglophone activists took up arms. It is inconceivable to accuse, arrest and imprison people who exercised their Constitutional right to non-violent protest. Maintaining them under arrest is an injustice which continues to radicalize part of the Anglophone population and perpetuate the crisis in these regions. In addition:
“Some Anglophone activists who are detainees or prisoners have been further accused and sentenced with regard to the prison riots that occurred on July 22nd and 24th, 2019 after having undergone torture and in many cases without the benefit of legal counsel.
“Anglophone separatist leaders who were sentenced to life imprisonment on August 20, 2019 have seen numerous violations of the law during their proceedings including the very act of their arrest.
“The prisoners arrested in connection with the presidential post-electoral crisis. The Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM) has carried out non-violent protests since the presidential election of October 2018 to contest the results. Over 200 CRM members have been arrested and detained since 27 January 2019 many undergoing torture and all subject to multiple violations of the law.
“The thousands of persons illegally imprisoned without due process, fair trial or adequate representation. They do not know when their trials will be held and live without any idea of the when the judicial process will end. This is not acceptable.
“We fully support the efforts of the Cameroon National Bar Association to change these illegal and unjust conditions.
“The demand for the respect of their professional practices, the correction of illegalities and violations in the judicial process, and the respect of the rights of accused persons are reasonable, just and in compliance with the laws and Constitution of the Republic.
“We call on the government to heed these demands, and to refrain from repression against peaceful collective action and assembly.
“We also call on all Cameroonians to support the strike of the National Bar Association because the proper functioning of the judicial system is essential to guaranteeing OUR fundamental and constitutional rights, and the proper function of OUR nation.
“As the trial of the CRM members opens on September 6, 2019 it is essential that we as Cameroonians: Mobilize to attend the trial in vast numbers in order to ensure transparency and justice in the judicial process; Continue to mobilize in black every Friday to stand up for the rights of all detainees and prisoners; and Provide moral and financial support to all prisoners and detainees.
“We are going through a challenging moment in the history of our country. The oppression in our country has reached proportions that we could not ever imagine.
“We must realize as Cameroonians that the people who have led our country to this juncture of poverty, insecurity, corruption and violence will not find solutions to these problems. It is up to us as Cameroonians to take a stand and take action to lead our country out of this dire situation.
“To take Cameroon out of the multiple crises in which we find ourselves, each of us must do her/his part. We must take a stand for fundamental rights and freedoms and we must support all organizations that stand for these fundamental rights.
“We stand with the Cameroon Bar Association as it stands for our rights as Cameroonians.”
- Me Alice Nkom, Avocate
- Me Charlotte Tchakounte, Avocate, Association des Juristes pour l’Intégrité Sociale
- Dr Etah Ewane, Coordinator Cameroon Patriotic Diaspora
- Philippe Nanga, Coordinator Un Monde Avenir
- Agbor Nkongho, Executive Director, Center of Human Rights and Democracy In Africa (CHRDA)
- Henri Oscar MENGUÉDÉ, Vice President l'Offre Orange
- Michael Takie, Chairperson West Cameroon Movement for Change - UK
- Dr. Wilson L. Eseme Jr., General Coordinator, Cameroon Federalist Movement (CFM)
- Elizabeth Nkwah, Mothers of the Nation
- Youssouf Mefire, Stand Up For Cameroon
- Thierry Njifen, Droit au Droit
- Maximilienne C. NGO MBE, Executive Director, REDHAC
- Jean-Claude Fogno, Permanent Executive Secretary, Mandela Center International
- Bruce Tabeth, Political affairs and communication Secretary Mouvement Patriotique pour la Prospérité du Peuple
- Chumchoua Penda, Secretary General de l’UPC-MANIDEM
- Alice Sadio, President Alliance des Forces Progressistes
- Denis Njang, President People's Action Party
- Edith Kah Walla, National President Cameroon People’s Party