The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, BHRC, has released a new report in which it revealed numerous violations of international law and fair trial protections in Cameroon’s ongoing prosecution of 28 people.
According to the report, Jodie Blackstock, BHRC’s observer who attended the hearings of Felix Agbor-Balla, Fontem Neba and Mancho Bibixy in April 2017 witnessed a number of serious breaches of the defendants’ fundamental rights to due process and a fair trial.
Going by the observers’ report, Cameroon’s use of the military tribunal despite the fact that charges listed did not fall under military law, violated the right to an independent and impartial trial.
The report also condemns the broadly-defined and imprecise charges, which do not specify which actions by the accused are considered to constitute criminal offences. Equally, the report stated that the lack of information to the accused, denied access to legal assistance and ongoing pre-trial detention since January 2017, with no decision made by the court on its lawfulness or the possibility of bail are all clear breach of fair trial rights.
Speaking on the observation made, Kirsty Brimelow, BHRC Chairperson said charging peaceful protesters breaches basic tenets of Cameroon’s international law obligations as well as its Constitution.
Going by the rights committee, if it transpires that laws designed for terrorist atrocities have been used to detain peaceful protesters, it is an abuse of those laws, and of the right to peaceful protest. To the group, denying detainees meaningful access to lawyers, or to the purported evidence supporting allegations against them, also breaches their legal rights and protections.
In the end, the BHRC urged Cameroon’s state prosecutor to urgently review the charges in these cases. “Due process and fair trial rights must be applied. Whilst charges are reviewed, all detainees should be released from custody or reasons for their detention examined and argued in full bail hearings.”