Human Rights Advocacy Training Programme Yaoundé, Cameroon

Human Rights Advocacy Training Programme
Yaoundé, Cameroon, March 14th to 18th 2005

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, in partnership with the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC) and the British Council organized a one week Human Rights Advocacy Training Programme for jurists, human rights advocates and justice system officials which was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, May 14th to 18th, 2005.

The goal of the advocacy training programme was to provide a bilingual program for judges, lawyers, prison officials, NGOs and academics from both the civil and common law systems and to establish the foundation for a long term exchange of human rights support between British, Canadian and African jurists, NGOs and government officials. The development of working relationships between Canadian, British and African human rights advocates will, we hope, enhance the development and implementation of human rights in Africa through an ongoing exchange of legal knowledge and jurisprudence.
LRWC hopes to contribute to a Law Library enhancement programme in Cameroon similar to the Sierra Leone Law Libraries Project.
Human rights implementation and enforcement in Cameroon is complicated by the fact that Cameroon provinces are divided linguistically between French and English and legally between common and civil law systems and there is no unified criminal code.
Ottawa lawyer Maureen Webb was the LRWC Cameroon Human Rights Advocacy Training Programme Manager. Instructors representing LRWC in Cameroon were the Honourable Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, formerly of the Supreme Court of Canada, Bernard Duhaime, professor of law at the Université of Québec at Montréal, Sylvain Roy, Québec barrister and former counsel before the Sierra Leone Special Court. Ottawa lawyer Jean-Louis Okomono attended as LRWC’s coordinator and presented a session on minority language rights. Translation of all course materials from English to French was done by LRWC volunteers Marievon Delanöe and Nathalie Zeolie, and LRWC members Isabel Stramwasser and Julie Skinner.
British instructors were Keir Starmer, Q.C., Jonathan Cooper and Quincy Whitaker. Jennifer Green was the BHRC Project Coordinator. The British Council was responsible for organizing the logistics on the ground including venue, on-site translation, invitations and distribution of the course material.

Sixty participants representing the Ministry of Justice, the Police School, National Security, National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms, Penitentiary Administration, the Bar Association and NGOs took part in the training which proved to be a successful forum whereby NGO activists and lawyers had the opportunity to discuss serious issues of human rights abuses in Cameroon with authorities and decision makers within the Ministry of Justice. Participants were provided with course materials including papers and power points. Feedback was extremely positive and included requests for further training sessions on specific issues (fair trial procedures, rights to life, torture, corruption, detention) and workshops tailored for police and prison administration officials
The training in human rights in Cameroon was a great success. Participants were enthusiastic and eager to work with the Canadian and British Team. For most of the practical exercises on terrorism, torture, corruption and the humanitarian rights, participants were divided into small groups who reported their discussions to the plenary session. Exercises were very useful and helpful and some were true cases previously brought before the United Nations of the Human Rights Committee. This approach was very interesting, practical and beneficial.
Though most of the participants appreciated a comparative approach between the Canadian and the Cameroon backgrounds on languages rights, they also recognized that linguistic problems are almost a taboo in Cameroon. They learned that they could use linguistic rights to further the Human Rights in Cameroon in the administration of Justice and in the Communications with the government institutions and its officials.
The exercise on female genital mutilation was well received and discussions were dynamic, interesting and bilateral. Participants criticized the translation of the word “circumcision” as meaning a “mutilation” in our training material. In Cameroon, the law permits a circumcision but a “mutilation” is a crime. They indicated that, in Cameroon, both terms couldn’t be viewed as having the same meaning.
The Honourable Claire L’Heureux-Dubé’s event was the peak in the entire week of the programme. Her participation was fantastic and to use a Cameroonian coloured language in the assessment, it was just truly a «fetish». Claire’s presentation attracted a great number of high members of the administration of justice in Cameroon. Claire fully used her energy, her professional expertise, her long-standing experience with the Supreme Court of Canada and her talent as a brilliant orator to charm her audience who was completely delighted by her. Claire’s presentation was focused on the functioning of the Supreme Court of Canada. This topic was very timely in light of the reorganization of the Supreme Court of Cameroon and the judicial profession underway. Before her presentation, Claire met the associate Minister of Justice Mr. Kamto at his office for an exchange of views.

After the seminary, LRWC representative Jean-Louis Okomono met with a number of participants such as judges, non-governmental organizations members, lawyers as well as Cameroon governmental officials.
Participants and people interviewed indicated that the training on human rights in Cameroon was a great idea, an excellent initiative and a great success. They were all proud that this event had been held in Cameroon and the programme received high visibility thanks to the support of Cameroon government High officials, the Canadian and British governments through their High Commissions respectively. In addition, the participation level was high and the Cameroon participants were very enthusiastic and delighted to work and share their views with Canadian and British instructors.
Some participants mentioned that human rights issues are, and will remain for a while a western matter, as the developing countries cannot afford to enforce international human rights principles. There is a lack of resources, government commitment and education of citizens on human rights. Additionally, there have been no concrete outcomes from the recourses lodged with the Cameroon National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms in proceedings that are long, costly and not affordable for every citizen.

At the end of Day Four of the seminary, Jennifer Green, Quincy Whitaker, Bernard Duhaime and Jean-Louis Okomono visited the old penitentiary located in Yaoundé Cameroon. It should be noted that Cameroon has 73 prisons, three of which are still not operational. Prisons are classified according to the way they are organized. There are 10 Central Prisons, 40 Main Prisons and 23 Secondary Prisons. These prisons are also characterized and classified according to the nature of their activities. There are Central prisons for Orientation and Selection; Production Prisons, Special Prisons and Prison Schools. All the prisons are managed by a superintendent-in-charge assisted by one or two deputies, all working in collaboration with prison personnel performing general or specialized duties.

In Cameroon, there is an endemic overcrowding of prisons. Sometimes, this over crowding reaches 400% of capacity. There is a near absence of rehabilitation, probation facilities and of a screening system. Adults, children, youth and women share the same narrow and unclean cells. There is a serious shortage in personnel and too much work for the existing personnel. There is the old and obsolete infrastructure and equipment inherited, for the most part, from the colonial era; no health plan is provided for prisoners and there is food shortage; tightness of detention cells and obsolete laws governing prison administration are problems. Incidence of violence, rape and drug use are increasing and human rights are simply ignored. There is a meagre budget for reinforcement of the functioning of prisons; funds for the purchase of uniforms packs, new buildings, security equipment and equipments for libraries is clearly insufficient. Education and entertainment in prisons such as, televisions, books in French and English, computers and information on human rights for prisoners, are urgently needed. The prison library is almost empty. No recent newspapers are available for inmates. Those on the shelves dated from at least 6 months ago. There is a need for bulletins on human rights, international instruments and criminal law. Cameroon is extremely in need of international partners to develop its prison system and education.
Currently, the construction of the National School of Penitentiary Administration (ENAP) in Buea (an English-speaking Region) Cameroon is underway. LRWC could build a useful partnership with the new school in order to provide the continuing education on Human Rights for the administration of penitentiaries.
Cameroon would be very much interested in a course on prison law that would focus on national law, international standards and jurisprudence regarding the rights of convicts and those awaiting trial. There is great interest in Cameroon for the reform on the administration of justice; this includes the administration of prisons. An official from the Government of Cameroon is presently in Canada seeking such type of partnership and assistance from the Canadian experts. LRWC can much contribute in this regard.

The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (hereinafter: the Commission) is being developing a National Course on Human Rights. This programme is intended for universities, colleges and high schools.

The Commission is comprised of 30 (thirty) commissioners who shall be appointed by decree of the President of the Republic. Among these, the Chairperson is an independent personality and is assisted the Vice-Chairman. The Commissioners are appointed as follows:

  • 2 representatives of the Supreme Court;
  • 4 of the National Assembly;
  • 2 of the Senate;
  • 2 of the Bar;
  • 2 lecturers in law designated by the Conference of Rectors;
  • 3 representatives of religious denominations;
  • 2 of women’s organizations duly established and working in area of human rights;
  • 2 of non-governmental organizations and associations;
  • 2 of workers’ unions designated by their peers;
  • 1 of Cameroon National Order of Medical Practitioners;
  • 2 journalists representing the public and private press, respectively;
  • 4 representatives of government departments in charge of social affairs, justice, penitentiary affairs and women’s affairs, respectively.

The Commission has the responsibility to:

  • assure the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms. It shall:
  • receive all denunciations relating to violations of human rights and freedoms;
  • conduct all enquiries and carry out all the necessary investigations on violations of human rights and freedoms to the competent authorities;
  • inspect penitentiary establishments, police stations and gendarmerie brigades, in the presence of the competent State Counsel or his representative; such inspections may entail the drafting of a report submitted to the competent authorities;
  • study all matters relating to the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms;
  • propose to the public authorities measures to be taken in the area of human rights and freedoms;
  • popularize by all possible means instruments relating to human rights and freedoms and forge a human rights culture in the people through education, information and the holding of conferences and seminars;
  • collect and disseminate international documentation relating to human rights and freedoms;
  • liaise, where necessary, with non-governmental organizations working for the promotions and protection of human rights and freedoms;
  • maintain, where necessary, relations with the United Nations organizations, international organizations, and foreign committees or associations pursuing similar goals, and inform the minister in charge of external relations thereon.

In order to discharge its duties, the commission may summon any party and/or witness for a hearing; request the competent authorities to carry out a search and require the production of any document or evidence in accordance with ordinary law; refer any offence noted in matters falling within the remit of its establishing law to the minister in charge of justice; use mediation and conciliation between parties in non-criminal matters falling within the remit of its law; provide legal assistance or take measures to furnish any form of assistance, in keeping with the law in force; intervene, in any case to participate in upholding the interests of victims of human rights violations.
The commission, within its remit, may entertain a simple request or denunciation from any individual or corporate body or any public authority; carry out any investigation on its on motion.
Whoever having been duly served with a summon, fails to appear before the commission, shall be liable of the penalties under the Penal Code.
The Commission appears to be an advisory commission without a real or an effective decision-making authority or power. LRWC can assist this organization in gaining more independency, executory power and authority from the government. As an international partner, LRWC can certainly heighten the Commission’s credibility in Cameroon by being more visible with the Commission in the area of the education, promotion and dissemination of information and international documentation relating to human rights and freedoms in Cameroon.
Jean-Louis Okomono
19 May 2005