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Contra Nocendi submits views on Freedom of Information and Elections

Contra Nocendi Cameroon and Contra Nocendi International recently submitted a joint letter to the African Commission's Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Information in Africa. The letter expressed the views of the organization on the Draft Guidelines on Freedom of Information and Elections in Africa. We wish to thank the Special Rapporteur and the Secretariat of the African Commission for facilitating the public consultation on this Draft Guidelines. 

The Guidelines, once adopted by the Commission, will be a much needed step forward the protection of the right to information and the independence of electoral processes in Africa. The Guidelines will bring clarity to the scope of the right to freedom of information during electoral processes in Africa. Its adoption will represent a positive development for the advancement of human rights in Africa, and would be timely with important elections coming up in various African countries in 2017 and 2018. 

The access to information about candidates, the electoral process, and how the public can engage in it, is all vital to a free and fair election. It is also important that information is provided in a manner that appreciates the use of the internet, and in particular the widespread use of mobile phones to access the internet. Allowing the free flow of information regarding the electoral process is a positive reflection on any government, and illustrates its commitments to the people, to promote their right to participate in the political process. Further to these, Contra Nocendi International is also providing support and training for civil society organizations wishing to observe their domestic electoral processes. 

We, at Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon, felt compelled to express our views and to do so in a constructive manner that appreciates the need for the freedom  of information during an election cycle, while also having due consideration for  the complexities of undertaking the organization of elections. We hope that the Special Rapporteur will find our views helpful, and will also avail herself of our ready assistance, as we have further communicated our readiness to offer any additional assistance if required.  

We look forward to seeing the final draft that is submitted to the African Commission. 

Contra Nocendi collaborates on joint submission for Burundi's Universal Periodic Review

Contra Nocendi International worked in partnership with Burundi's ASODECOM and ACPDH on a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Committee as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Burundi. We are honored and privileged to have worked with ASODECOM and ACPDH on this important task. 

 

As part of the UN reforms of 2005, the Universal Periodic Review was established to complement other human rights mechanisms, and to create a forum to address all human rights concerns for all countries. As part of the process, NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions are invited to submit their views of the human rights situation in the country in question. The government of the country must also submit its own report, as part of the process.  

 

We wish to congratulate the staffs of ASODECOM and ACPDH for their hard work and their passion to raise human rights concerns in a manner that preserves the human rights of all Burundians. We also wish to extend our thanks to the staff of Contra Nocendi Cameroon, who provided additional technical expertise and support for the submission. Lastly, we wish to thank our own staff for their hard work and dedication to the UPR process. We all look forward to continuing to follow the process as it proceeds, and encourage all Burundians in particular, to also follow the upcoming UPR process for Burundi. 

 

Traumatic Detention Conditions in the Cameroon Kondengui Prison

Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture defines torture as: 

"…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."i 

Going by the above definition, and taking into consideration the reality of arbitrary pretrial detention in Cameroon which does not amount to ‘lawful sanctions’, we are inclined to hold that the conditions in some prisons and detention cells in Cameroon, characterised by overcrowding, sleep deprivation, poor  sanitation and nutrition, etc, which inflict physical and mental suffering on detainees, tantamount to torture. Such treatment may cause detainees to suffer mental breakdown and even permanent psychological trauma. According to an Amnesty International Report on Cameroon 2016/17, the Kondengui prison currently houses 4000 inmates despite having a maximum capacity of 2000.ii 

A protester (name withheld), released in February from the Yaounde Kondengui prisons after being arrested in Bamenda and detained for over a month, narrated his ordeal to one of Contra Nocendi Cameroon’s Advocacy Associates. He counted himself lucky and lamented the fate of those who were still being detained. He stated that though he didn’t experience any severe physical mistreatment, the conditions under which he was detained alone are worse than any form of physical punishment like chaining and beating. He stated that the detention was meant to instill fear in him so that he will abstain from exercising his right to peaceful protest. In response to Contra Nocendi's enquiries as to  if he would protest again, he said no, that it is now impossible for him to do so, especially as  his family members have warned him never to find himself near any public protests ever again. 

A second released detainee complained of horrible conditions characterised by massive overcrowding, poor feeding, bad hygiene with a permanent pungent smell, as a result of which he became sick. He complained of a water shortage crisis that caused inmates to go for days without bathing. And that as a result there was a scare of the possible spread of diseases. He described the area where less privileged prisoners were kept as ‘Hell on Earth’.  

Another issue decried by the released detainees was the presence of some sort of 'government structure' in the Kondengui prisons, run by a number of prisoners who can decide the conditions under which the others stay there,  depending on their financial situation. "If you can’t afford to pay them, you might not be able to get sleeping space and your movement within the prison premises could be restricted, a sort of prison within the prison," he said. 

Contra Nocendi sees such deplorable, inhumane detention conditions and the fear and trauma it inflicts on detainees as a form of torture. Persons detained for the sake of exercising their rights to freedoms of speech, assembly and association, and living under such inhumane conditions are indirectly coerced to give up their rights. We are strongly of the view that detention especially pending trial shouldn’t be used as a tool to weaken accused persons and render them helpless in the face of charges brought against them. We also believe it is costlier for the state and community if a person returns from custody physically and psychologically traumatized, and unable to contribute positively to society. 

We re-iterate our call to all relevant authorities to respect international and regional standards and fight to eradicate torture in all its forms. On the occasion of this International Day for the Support for Victims of Torture, we  at Contra Nocendi raise our voices strongly in #Support of #Victims. They must #Recover and #Thrive again! 

 

 

 

 

i Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, 10 December 1984. United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1465, p. 85 

ii Amnesty International Report on Cameroon 2016/17 https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/cameroon/report-cameroon/  

Official Statement on World Refugee Day 2017

On World Refugee Day, we salute the efforts of  states that receive refugees, such as Cameroon. The fight against Boko Haram in the north of the country, and the conflict in Central Africa Republic (CAR) have led hundreds of thousands of displaced persons to flee to neighbouring Cameroon. According to statistics from UNHCR, about 100,000 refugees from Nigeria and more than 250,000 from CAR were registered in Cameroon as of 2016. About 30% of these numbers were housed in designated sites while 70% were accommodated by host communities. We commend the efforts of the government and host communities for the humanitarian gesture. We however call on the government to ensure better treatment of refugees.

 

In early 2017, reports emerged of forced return of more than 2,000 Nigerian refugees in inhumane conditions (packed behind trucks) by Cameroonian troops. Reports have equally emerged of the detention of refugees in inhumane conditions in the north, on the suspicion of being Boko Haram insurgents even without proper screening. We call on the government to continue upholding its international and domestic law obligations on refugee protection. We also commend the efforts of the UNHCR, other humanitarian organisations and donors for supporting the government of Cameroon in ensuring the protection and the assistance provided to refugees. We urge them to do more to provide adequate living conditions including food, water, health, proper hygiene and sanitation for refugees. Contra Nocendi remains committed to raising awareness of these issues, which are critical to the protection of human rights for all persons.

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