Human IS Right's legal team at a working session with the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa. On the agenda consultations and way forward for the cases of pretrial detainees in prolonged detention.
Another victory for justice harvested by Human IS Right's team legal defense team this week.
3 pretrial detainees released after a long struggle with the judicial system championed by Human IS Right's vibrant legal defense team. It takes a fierce fighting spirit to a achieve results in a judicial system engrained by corruption, administrative bottlenecks, unprofessionalism among others. Through our Prisoner's Rights Project we have been working tirelessly within the past few weeks on cases of detainees who have been in prolonged detention (over 2 years in some cases) to facilitate access to justice.
Somewhere in Cameroon, a young man we will fictitiously call Thomas stole a few electronic devices from a lady's house. Caught by one of the lady's relative, Thomas was severely beaten before being arrested by the police. Here starts the long story of a 16-year-old boy victim of the unadapted and slow Cameroonian judicial system.
Although a minor should never be thrown in prison according to Cameroonian law, Thomas has just celebrated his seventeenth anniversary this week, among his minors inmates, hardly separated from the overcrowded adult cells. Imagine how joyful can a birthday be in a place where even teenagers have to struggle for their daily food. And try to explain why a presumed innocent young man can spend eight months in prison, being called every since and then to attend to the repeated adjournment of his trial.
Thomas' family, back in the village, is lost in the complexity of justice. Not long ago, the complainant proposed to Thomas' father, living modestly from his work as a bricklayer, an amicable settlement: the withdrawal of the complaint for the equivalent of 20$. Hoping to see his son out of the prison as soon as possible, the father gathered his resources to pay what the complainant demanded. It did not bear fruits, given that the woman disappeared with the money, maintaining the judicial proceedings. Since that event, the father was not able to visit his son, lacking money to take the 45-minute ride from his neighborhood to the prison. When an NGO eventually brought him to sign the bail for his son to be released until the beginning of the trial, the file was nowhere to be found in the court registry - "come again tomorrow".
These days, eight months after Thomas' arrest, the officials in charge of the investigations declared the preliminary steps as finished and assigned Thomas' case to a court, cancelling the option of a release on bail. Nevertheless, due to a mistake on their side, Thomas has been committed to trial at the wrong tribunal, the one for adults. The simple transfer of his file to the appropriate court is likely to last for one more month - and then at last, the slow process of a proper trial is going to begin.
How come that a minor can be left on his own in a prison? How can one explain why he and his family have not been informed that there are ways to enforce an amicable settlement which was not respected? Why is legal aid not provided to a family which cannot even afford to pay a visit to its son? By how many weeks can a stupid mistake by an absent-minded civil servant extend somebody's remand? How would a year in prison influence the rest of a teenager's life? As long as these questions are to be asked, the Cameroonian judicial and penitentiary system have a long way to go.
At last, we have reached the midway point in one of our projects! Our aim, until October 2014, is to help men, women, and children in Ekona town receive official documentation, such as marriage, birth, and death certificates, to help make their lives easier in the future. Because of the rural location of Ekona, and lack of a civil status center in the local area, many people lack these documents which are so important to their future wellbeing. Birth Certificates ensure that parents can apply for benefits for their child, and also help the child in question claim inheritance once his or her parents have passed away. Death Certificates are obviously needed to prove that the person in question is actually deceased, so that their closest relatives can inherit from the deceased. Marriage certificates ensure that should a husband die, his widow and children will not lose even more than they already have; by losing their rights to own and work the late husbands land, their home, because they cannot prove their relationship was legalised, something which is sadly a common grievance here in Cameroon.
In the most recent meeting, we met with the couples who wish to take part in a mass marriage we plan to hold here in Ekona (currently involving 22 couples) so that they can get officially married and legally registered on the same day. We talked with a representative of Muyuka Council, who is looking to assist us in possibly waivering a part of the registration fees set by the government, and talked with the nearest Registrar available who informed us what paperwork would be required to allow the mass marriage to take place. With the blessings and well wishes of the local chief, the helpful assistance from the representatives of the state council and the registrar office, and the hard work of the Ekona Womens Group Malingo Women), we hope to have many joyful pictures coming your way soon.
Written by Shona Flaherty, Prisoners' Rights Project International Intern.
Period covered: Mid April to end of June 2014.
Names of participants:
Chamango Blaise Aime: Project Coordinator, Human Is Right
Zenoni Mattia: International Intern from Italy
Gaffuri Riva Michela: International Intern from Italy
Heweyer Megan: International Intern from Canada
Human Is Right acknowledges with gratitude the unconditional support of the Buea central Prison superintendent as well all his staff especially the records office towards the success of the activities. Most importantly, Human Is Right congratulates and thanks all the prisoners who participated in the interviewing process.
Human Is Right seeks to address and improve Cameroon's most pressing Human Rights Issues. Chiefly: corruption, abuse of prisoner's rights, gender inequality, civil liberty deficiencies and lack of access to efficient and effective justice.
Human Is Rights lives to ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of prisoners in Cameroon through advocacy, public education and awareness creation, membership capacity building and partnership-building with Government, Civil Society organizations, development partners and with prisoners themselves. It takes its broad mandate from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, other international instruments on Human Rights and the Constitution of Cameroon.
METHODOLOGY AND PROCESS
The activity was carried out through the administration of questionnaire to inmates under the supervision of prison warders. Some family members were called to provide additional information to complements information gathered from the prisoners.
Human IS Right through the unconditional collaboration and support of the prison superintendent was granted authorisation to interview prisoners in the records office of the prison. The chief of the records office, Mr Ngafeeson was assigned to provide HISR's team all necessary support to carry out the activities which he did very well.
Our interest focused on cases of six prisoners on pre-trial detention for longer than six months and who have not being to court.
From our findings, we were able to identify two suitable cases for Habeas Corpus; the cases of K. E. and M. F. With the support of our pro bono partner Barrister Njilla Stephen, we will file in court habeas corpus on behalf of them on grounds of illegality of their detention. We aim to do same for the other detainees we interviewed after we must have carry out more findings to ensure that they make good cases for habeas corpus. Our work will involve more cases of long awaiting trial and to encourage the judiciary to take quick action regarding cases of detainees.