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International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims

On 24 March, we mark the International Day for the Right to Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims. At Contra Nocendi International, the goal of this day of commemoration holds special meaning for us. Our work in advocating greater adherence to international human rights standards, means that we often, sadly, wade into situations where there are serious human rights concerns. Whether these concerns are related to acts by government actors or non-state actors, and whether or not the violations are inflicted upon individual victims or as part of collective victimization, the truth of the circumstances surrounding these acts and the dignity of victims must be of fundamental importance. 

Last year, Contra Nocendi International made submissions to the Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa on the right to redress for victims of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. In our submissions, we were steadfast in our support of non-monetary reparations such as the right to truth. Victims, their loved ones and their communities have a right to know the whole truth about the human rights violations they were subjected to and the circumstances surrounding their victimization. These truths, can be very important for the recovery process of victims, their families and their communities. Additionally, full disclosure of the truth and acceptance of roles in the events that caused the victimization can be the first step in the path towards preventing future violations. Knowing the facts surrounding human rights violations also provides for more informed efforts at other non-monetary reparations activities, such as revising domestic laws and updating training standards of government entities to prevent future violations. 

Recovery from victimization can be a long and difficult process, and knowing the whole truth of the victimization is an indispensable part of this process. Respecting the dignity of victims throughout the process must be foremost. This is the only way victims, their loved ones and their communities can receive the full redress and reparations that they are entitled to. Contra Nocendi stands firm in support of victims' right to redress and in support of the dignity of victims. And we reiterate our commitment to this cause, on this important day of commemoration .

The Cameroon anti-terrorism law and the suppression of basic freedoms

The Cameroon Law No. 2014/028 of 23rd December 2014 on the suppression of acts of terrorism in Camerooni, was a welcome initiative in the fight against Boko Haram in the Northern parts of the country. However, its potential infringement on important human rights and freedoms protected under the Cameroon Constitution and international human rights law was immediately signalled per the barrage of criticisms that followed its promulgation.ii Many commentators echoed the fact that the vague definition of terrorism under the law could threaten freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and association and the freedom to take part in public protest. The law punishes with the death penalty ‘whoever, acting alone as an accomplice or accessory, commits or threatens to commit an act likely to cause death, endanger physical integrity, cause bodily injury or material damage, destroy natural resources, the environment or cultural heritage, with intent to: intimidate the public, provoke a situation of terror… disrupt the national functioning of public services…create widespread insurrection in the country…’iii The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism re-affirmed the model definition of terrorism implies an action intended to cause death or serious bodily injury and should not include property crimes.iv He also reiterated that the offence of incitement of terrorism must be limited to incitement to conduct that is truly terrorist in nature as per the model definition, and must only restrict freedom of expression no more than is necessary in a democratic society. 

The important observation from the reading of the above Article 2 is that the terms are vaguely worded and include actions that don’t meet international standards for acts of terrorism such as property crimes. One also ponders whether every single element of the acts listed can independently amount to an act of terrorism, or such should be read together with the other elements. The same question applies to the intent, whether it is sufficient for one element of intent to be taken into consideration, for example, the intention to disturb the smooth functioning of public services or the intent to intimidate the public. The latter elements portray a scenario which is typical of protests in Cameroon. Protest movements in Cameroon often get violent either as result of provocation from security forces or the actions of some rogue elements amongst protesters who take advantage to cause disorder and loot properties. An example is the recent anti-marginalization movements in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon where in Bamenda protests turned violent after it was alleged police threw tear gas into a crowd of protesting lawyers. 

The anti-terrorism law seemingly fails to draw a fine line between those acts and intent constituting criminal offences punishable under the penal code and those that amount to terrorism punishable under the 2014 law. The bringing of terrorism charges against persons exercising their inalienable human rights poses a serious threat to the enjoyment of those same rights. The circumstances of the arrest, detention and the charges of terrorism brought against the protest leaders lay credence to the fears raised from the inception of the law. A clear distinction should be made between persons whose actions or declarations are directly intended to terrorise the public or create widespread insurrections, and persons who exercise their rights and freedoms in a peaceful and lawful manner. At this stage, it is difficult to construe how the actions and declarations of Anglophone protest leaders charged for terrorism amount to the elements of the offence stated above, other than the fact that they led a civil disobedience against a perceived marginalization and erosion of the Anglophone systems of education and legal practice. 

A highhanded application of the anti-terrorism law will lead to disproportionate punishment for the exercise of civil rights and liberties. This could be a bigger cause for concern as it could be used as a political tool to quell dissent and silent political opponents. Persons could incur the death penalty for the sole reason of exercising their freedoms of speech, opinion and association. The government has repeatedly swept off criticism against the potential threats to human rights posed by the 2014 law, arguing that the death penalty was meant to target groups such as boko haram. The law equally punishes with up to twenty-five years or fine of up to 50,000,000 CFA for acclamation of acts of terrorism. However, the term ‘acclamation of act of terrorism’ is also worded in such a way that it might limit the freedom of opinion and expression. In November 2016 three young students were sentenced by the military court to 10 years in prison for ‘non-denunciation of terrorist acts’ when a sarcastic message of them joking about boko haram was shown to authorities. Their sentence has been widely condemned as being disproportion and infringing into their right to freedom of expression. 

The choice of the military tribunal as the only competent court as per this law is equally a call for concern. The designation of military tribunals to try civilians contravenes the non-derogable right to fair trial under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Military tribunals do not qualify as independent and impartial courts, as being part of the armed forces they fall under the executive branch of the government. Military tribunals under the Cameroon judicial organisation law and the law organizing military justice in Cameroon are designated as special courts charged with the trial of military offences provided by the code of military justice, offences committed by service men, certain offences committed by civilians in military establishments, armed robbery offences and other related gun offences. Here again the anti-terrorism law which carries disproportionate penalties for vaguely defined offences falls short of providing an opportunity for fair trial per international human rights standards. 

Contra Nocendi urges the government to live up to its international obligations by ensuring that due process is respected and that persons charged under the law be guaranteed fair trial. 

 

 

i Law No. 2014/028 of 23 December 2014 on the Suppression of Acts of Terrorism in Cameroon http://www.assnat.cm/gestionLoisLegislatures/libraries/files_upload/uploads/Lois/2014-028fr.pdf

ii Human rights under fire: Attacks and violations in Cameroon’s struggle with boko haram, Amnesty International Report 2015, p. 17

iii Article 2 Law No. 2014/028 supra.

iv UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ten areas of best practices in countering terrorism, Report A/HRC/16/51, 22 December 2010, Human Rights Council, Sixteenth session

v http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/cameroon-military-court-imposes-10-year-sentence-on-young-men-who-joked-about-boko-haram

Contra Nocendi supports workforce parity on International Women's Day

On March 8th, we take the time to celebrate every women around the world. As an organisation, we take gender fairness and the prohibition of discrimination very seriously. Still today, some positions are concerned as being "men" positions while discriminating based on gender and leading people to believe the false narrative that men and women are not equal. There is no doubt that men and women are equal. 

Our founding document and internal policies require respect for gender fairness and encourage our staff to continuously advances the equal place in society that is far too often denied to women. Contra Nocendi International proudly support efforts to ensure the world works for all women. 

UN Women states that "only 50 percent of working age women are presented in the labour force globally, compared to 76 per cent of men". These numbers should be a stark reminder to us all about the need for the doubling of efforts to ensure that the world works for all women. Gender fairness not only advances the rights for women, it also provides a firmer foundation for all human rights for all persons. Any discrimination against women, especially in access to economic opportunities, only limits the economic capacities of our societies stunting economic and social growth. 

On International Women's Day we hope you stand with us and support UN Women's efforts to promote Planet 50-50 by 2030.

Continued harassment of NGOs is not helping Burundi peace process

The government of Burundi's new laws aimed at NGO present a real risk of frustrating the effort to create the necessary lines of communication to promote dialogue to build a resolute peace process. The laws risk undermining binding human rights protections in Burundi. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances have collectively raised serious concerns about the targeting of NGOs by the government. 

Indeed, we have seen organizations, like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa's APRODH, being struck from the registry of NGOs and effectively banned from operation for raising human rights concerns. In a time when UNCHR has claimed over 350,000 Burundians displaced from their homeland since the announcement of Pierre Nkurunziza intent to seek a third term, more government action that undermines the independence and integrity of civil society could prove more divisive and continue the current trend. 

Another key concern is how such divisive conduct on the part of the government could continue to prevent much needed positive steps in peace talks. Efforts that can be seen as putting into question the government's willingness to adhere to its human rights obligations when several of the concerns raised by opposition groups have their origins in human rights. Additionally, there was constructive dialogue between civil society and the government on gender-based violence, child trafficking and juvenile justice reform prior to the current crisis. These opportunities to bring civil society and the government together as allies in advancing necessary human rights reforms are difficult to sustain given the current hostile environment to human rights advocacy in Burundi. 

Civil society is an indispensable element of a democratic and free society. When the domestic legal framework protects the independence of civil society, it has a positive reflection on government and its desire to respect the rights and wishes of its people. 

We call on the government of Burundi to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of the Burundian people.

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