the following statement on the use of military courts in Cameroon:
BHRC today welcomes the release from detention in Yaounde of 54 Cameroonians from the South West and North West Anglophone regions. The individuals were on trial for alleged crimes associated with terrorist actions against the State, to which BHRC and other organisations have raised concerns. All charges have been dropped against them following a 30 August order of President Paul Biya.
On 30 August the President of the Republic of Cameroon issued a statement discontinuing the proceedings against those who have been detained in connection with peaceful protests at the imposition of French-speaking judges and the civil law system on Cameroon’s English-speaking minority, in areas governed by Anglophone common law, as well as the French educational system. The President’s decision was said to be in line with numerous measures taken to address concerns raised by the Anglophone region and to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis, which began in October last year.
BHRC treasurer Jodie Blackstock observed the trial of 28 accused in April, due in particular to the proceedings against leaders of the Anglophone reform movement Felix Agbor-Balla (a human rights barrister), Fontem Neba (an academic) and Mancho Bibixy (a journalist). She identified a number of serious breaches of the defendants’ fundamental rights to due process and a fair trial, including the use of military tribunals and accusations of abuse by the police.
The prosecution has entered formal notice of abandonment of prosecutions in respect of these individuals. However, the Military Tribunal retains jurisdiction in respect of Mancho Bibixy and other individuals arrested in connection with the protests. Moreover, it has asserted the power to recommence proceedings if any new evidence is found.
While BHRC is encouraged by the release of the detainees, we urge the President to ensure that all those connected with peaceful protest are released as soon as possible, and in the interests of finality and certainty, refrain from the threat of further proceedings for all who have been held in detention in the capital since January, many hours travel away from their families.
Trial Observer Jodie Blackstock said,
“These individuals have for many months been detained in poor conditions and on trial in a process unfair by international standards. We welcome their release and a return to peaceful dialogue with the Cameroonian Government towards equality of treatment in the Anglophone regions.”Human rights jurisprudence strongly disfavors the trial of civilians by military courts.