Cameroon

Growing Trend of Reprisals against Human Rights Defenders in Cameroon

Report from, Agbor Nkongho Activist, Human rights lawyer and Freedom fighter, November 15, 2022:

While the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon rages on, there has also been a growing trend to make use of acts of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders for their cooperation with the United Nations (UN). The UN Secretary-General denounces such acts in an annual report to the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC), and recently, also to the UN General Assembly. These acts inflict fear. When ahead of the UN HRC’s regular session in June 2021, 62 NGOs urged the UN HRC Member States to address the “Cameroon’s human rights crisis”, the names of 17 of the 62 NGOs were kept confidential “in light of the security environment they face.”[1]

The Government of Cameroon got included in these annual UN Secretary General reprisals reports in the past 3 years. While the Government initiated a step forward to resolve some of such acts in 2022, now more recently, non-state armed groups fighting for the independence of two regions in Cameroon (NSAGs) increasingly start to target people who cooperate with and/or work with the UN. This article explains how public scrutiny resulted in some positive change.

On 15 March 2021, during the UN HRC, the NGO DefendDefenders raised concerns about the armed crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon[2] and urged actions from UN member and observer States if Cameroon should “fail to take concrete steps to improve its human rights situation.” Following this statement, the Permanent Representative of Cameroon accused DefendDefenders of “financing” and “advocating” terrorism and being responsible for “several assassinations, kidnappings, attacks and destruction of property in Cameroon”, that DefendDefenders did not “deserve to address [the] Council” and stated that the latter “must stop giving status to this kind of NGO without audience.” Direct communication from DefendDefenders to the UN HRC[3] and subsequent actions from the President[4] resulted is a change in approach by the Government of Cameroon. DefendDefenders reported on 27 September 2022 that it reached an agreement with the Permanent Representative or Cameroon “to hold a regular dialogue […] on the human rights situation in his country.”[5]

Following her testimony in May 2019 in New York before a Security Council side meeting on the humanitarian situation in Cameroon, human rights defender Njomo Esther Omam, her relatives and her co-workers faced threats and attacks.[6] It is believed that fighters of NSAGs were responsibility for such acts. It resulted in a forced relocation to a safer place. More recently, leaders of NSAGs increasingly make public calls to kill UN workers.[7] They further accuse the UN of “genocide”, and “traitors”.[8]

The case of OFFGO/Jan Cappelle and Elvis Brown Luma Mukunda has been reported in the last 3 UN Secretary-General’s annual reports on reprisals for cooperation with the UN (2022 (A/HRC/51/47)[9], 2021 (A/HRC/48/28)[10] and 2020 (A/HRC/45/36)[11]). It includes allegations of a travel ban and the use of acts of violence (e.g. kidnapping, torture, shooting incident during a kidnapping attempt, surveillance, destruction of properties, and threats). In 2017 and 2018, the Cameroon’s State Human Rights Commission NCHRF already condemned human rights violations committed against these defenders embroiled in land conflicts with the influential Cameroon businessman Mr Baba Danpullo.[12] On 20 April 2022, four UN Rapporteurs expressed its concerns about ongoing acts of reprisals against these defenders in a letter to the Government of Cameroon.[13] The case has also been raised by the countries Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands at the UN HRC’s regular session of March 2022.[14] The positive effect of this public scrutiny is that the Government of Cameroon replied the UN letter on 10 October 2022 with the message that criminal investigations have been opened into the allegations contained in the UN what should “permit the gathering of evidence to arrive at an objective conclusion.”[15] Despite this step, the consul of Cameroon in Belgium then refused Jan Cappelle a visa to enter Cameroon, hereby denying him the possibility to honor the summons from court.

When civil society faces reprisals, all efforts towards peace & security suffer. CHRDA remains committed to support human rights defenders who have faced serious threats and reprisal for their important human rights work. The Government of Cameroon must to do more to end acts of intimidation and reprisals on Cameroon soil.

References

[1]    https://defenderscoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/HRC47-Civil-society-letter-regarding-CAMEROON.pdf

[2]    https://www.ohchr.org/en/reprisals/annual-reports-reprisals-cooperation-un, year 2021.

[3]    https://defenddefenders.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Letter-on-Cameroon-reprisals-HRC46-redacted-signature-hidden.pdf

[4]    https://twitter.com/OFFGocm/status/1491744682333945858

[5]    https://twitter.com/DefendDefenders/status/1574700340640972802/photo/1

[6]    https://www.ohchr.org/en/reprisals/annual-reports-reprisals-cooperation-un, year 2020.

[7]    https://www.facebook.com/watch/?ref=search&v=538961448013093&external_log_id=48eaea93-b454-40b6-b1be-3d9a6a74484e&q=sama%20thomas%20kill%20UN

[8]    https://www.facebook.com/100044263280437/videos/1176845333263001/

[9]    https://www.ohchr.org/en/documents/thematic-reports/ahrc5147-cooperation-united-nations-its-representatives-and-mechanisms, year 2022.

[10]  https://www.ohchr.org/en/reprisals/annual-reports-reprisals-cooperation-un, year 2021.

[11]  https://www.ohchr.org/en/reprisals/annual-reports-reprisals-cooperation-un, year 2020.

[12]  https://www.farmlandgrab.org/post/view/28683-belgian-human-rights-defender-illegally-expulsed-from-cameroon

[13]  https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=27212

[14] https://hrcmeetings.ohchr.org/HRCSessions/HRCDocuments/56/SP/42084_54_c4438cea_01c2_4984_add1_ec341989cdbf.docx

[15]  https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=37222