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General strike of lawyers in Cameroon from 16 to 20 of September 2019

Wednesday september 18, 2019

The IOLD wishes to express its full solidarity with the Cameroon Bar Association, which began a strike from 16 to 20 of september 2019 throughout the country.

On August 31, in Yaoundé, M. Charles Tchakoute Patie, President of the Cameroon Bar Association, and his members adopted a resolution announcing a 5-day strike. The Bar Association has deployed teams in the courts to ensure that the strike is respected. The wearing of the dress is therefore suspended and the courts and tribunals deserted.

Cameroonian lawyers denounce, among other things, the difficult access to their clients in places of detention. For example, the authorities have refused lawyers access to prisons and the courts during hearings of persons detained incommunicado. As a result, around 100 people detained incommunicado and tortured were not represented at the time of their indictment in August 2019. Lawyers testify in a Human Rights Watch report, “Cameroun: des détenus torturés” (Human Rights Watch,  article of August 20, 2019):

“I spoke with my clients outside the courtroom on August 6. I’ve seen horrors. They all had scars on their bodies from torture at the SED, and head injuries. They told me that they had been severely beaten at the SED at least twice, in their cells, by gendarmes and other guards with clubs. They also told me that they were interrogated at gunpoint.

Lawyer representing 8 political opponents.

“What I saw was unbearable. The good news is that they were not dead, but some were horribly ill physically and psychologically. One of them, who had a laceration to his head, had seven stitches without anaesthesia. Another also had several lacerations to his head and received 12 stitches, again without anaesthesia. I’ve seen injured inmates. We met 80 of them, after trying to see them for 12 days. Our clients told us that they were forced at gunpoint to wear a T-shirt and clothing provided by SED guards just to meet us, because when they were brought here and during their stay, they had to remain naked or half-naked.

Lawyer representing English-speaking prisoners.

 

Cameroonian lawyers also denounce the non-respect of the fundamental principles of the right to a fair trial. Indeed, the conduct of trials in a language the accused does not understand, the obtaining of confessional statements from the accused by torture or the illegal transformation of judicial police custody into administrative detention are all practices that go against international standards in terms of the right to a fair trial.

The right to a fair trial is guaranteed in particular by article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by Cameroon on June 1984. It is also guaranteed by Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ratified by Cameroon on June 1989. This article provides, in particular, for “the right to a defence, including the right to be assisted by counsel of one’s choice” (Article 7.1.c).

The signatories of this Resolution also denounce serious and recurrent violations of the exercise of the legal profession, in particular physical violence by law enforcement officials and arbitrary arrests.

The example of lawyer Michèle Ndoki is striking. Sentenced to six months in prison for participating in a banned demonstration, lawyer and activist Michèle Ndoki of the Mouvement pour la Renaissance du Cameroun (MRC), an opposition movement, now faces the death penalty.

During the demonstrations, the lawyer was shot three times in the thigh and therefore considered leaving the country for her safety. On 26 February 2019, when she was driven to the Nigerian border, she was arrested at the border post. The arresting officer did not have an arrest warrant to present and gave her a “list of political activists prohibited from leaving the territory” on which her name appeared.

On the same day, she was transferred to Yaoundé and then incarcerated some time later in the main prison of Kondengui. Accused of “collective rebellion”, “hostility against the homeland”, “illegal immigration” and “incitement to insurrection”, she now faces the death penalty. Her trial began on September 6 in front of a military court, just like the opponent Maurice Kamto, and was finally postponed to October 8, 2019.

On August 28, the Yaoundé Court of Appeal rejected the request of the lawyers of the opponent Maurice Kamto, charged with “hostility towards the country”. The lawyers wanted this court to declare the Military Court incompetent in this case because it concerns a civilian. They were dismissed on the grounds that the military judges had already been seized. According to M. Emmanuel Simh, one of Maurice Kamto’s lawyers: “The judge had to know the matter on the merits and not simply impose inadmissibility on us, on the pretext that the court is seized to judge civilians. And we are told that, since this court is seised, our request is inadmissible. It is a real legal nonsense, it is a legal scandal.”

This trend of bringing civilians before a military court without reasonable cause is in addition to the many violations of the right to a fair trial faced by Cameroonian lawyers.

 

The example of the lawyer M. Amungwa also supports the existence of serious violations against lawyers. Representative of the leader of the self-proclaimed Republic of Amazonia (Ayuk Tabe) was violently attacked on the night of July 27 by individuals allegedly officers of the gendarmerie.

According to the Cameroon Bar Association, this situation influenced the hearing, scheduled two days later, of Ayuk Tabe Julius and his nine co-accused at the Yaoundé Military Court. The defense had requested a dismissal as a sign of solidarity with their colleague transferred to the hospital.

The lawyer was able to benefit from the support of the Cameroon Bar Association and its President Tchakoute Patie Charles, who stated, “Not only is the assault of a lawyer unacceptable, but the repetition of such attacks cannot leave the bar indifferent”.

The (International Observatory for Lawyers in Danger) IOLD reiterates its support for the Cameroon Bar Association and intends to closely monitor the aftermath of this strike.

The IOLD expresses its deepest concern regarding the prosecution of lawyer Michèle Ndoki and expresses its full support for this colleague.

The IOLD urges the Cameroonian authorities to comply with the 1990 Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular:

∙ “Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference (…)” (Principle 16).

∙ “Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.” (Principle 18).

 

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