Cameroon: Judicial harassment and acts of intimidation against several members of the Organic Farming for Gorillas (OFFGO)

31/03/2017
Urgent Appeal

CMR 001 / 0317 / OBS 033
Judicial harassment /
Threats / Intimidation
Cameroon
March 31, 2017

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cameroon.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the judicial harassment and acts of intimidation targeting several members of the Organic Farming for Gorillas (OFFGO), a group of farmers founded in September 2015 to promote organic farming, environmental protection, opposing land grabbing and working for the protection of the cross-river gorilla in Mbengwi, in the North West Region of Cameroon.

According to the information received, on February 22, 2017, the hearing in the case against OFFGO board members Matthias Awazi and Humfred Manjo, scheduled before the Mbengwi Court of First Instance, was postponed due to the ongoing lawyers’ strike in the Anglophone region of Cameroon. As of publication of this Appeal, no further hearing date had been scheduled.

Messrs. Matthias Awazi and Humfred Manjo are being prosecuted under trumped-up charges of violation of “Sub Prefectural Decision No 053/SPD/BALPA/2015 placing an injunction order on a grazer area under dispute in Tudig Village” and “illegal retention” of two goats under Section 322(3) of the Penal Code after a grazier from Nyen who owns a few goats in Tudig and works closely with the Divisional Officer of Mbengwi Sub-division filed a complaint against them. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison.

In addition, the village of Tudig, in Mbengwi, where OFFGO has its headquarters, as well as its members, has been the target of several security incidents since mid-2016. Specifically, destructions and damages to the farmers’ huts, destruction of property, theft of crops as well as theft and killings of farm animals by armed civilians were reported respectively in September 2016, November 2016 and February 2017. Following these incidents, villagers went to the police station, respectively on November 22, 2016 and February 9, 2017, to file (and update) a complaint in relation to the damages resulting from the intrusion of armed civilians within the village of Tudig. The complaint has been filed on grounds of death threats, destruction of property, intimidation and illegal possession of arms. As of publishing this Appeal, police investigation within the complaint was ongoing, but no investigation into the destructions has yet been undertaken. On March 13, 2017, the village Regent of Tudig, Mr. Prince Vincent Awazi, a board member of OFFGO, received a message on his phone from one of the attackers, warning the villagers to be vigilant and that they “will suffer”.

Furthermore, on February 18, 2017, armed elements of the army entered the village of Tudig and tried to arrest villagers [1]. Besides, on February 2, 2017, the Mbengwi Prosecutor (State Counsel [2]) briefly detained the village Regent Mr. Vincent Awazi for unknown reasons to later free him on a 500,000 FCFA (approx. 762 Euros) bail. Although he was notified his summons to court for February 8, 2017, when he presented himself to court no charges were brought against him - nor have been to date - as the State Counsel failed to transfer Mr. Awazi’s file to court. Yet, Mr. Awazi got informed that the State Counsel is still investigating potential charges against him.

According to the information received, the harassment of OFFGO members started in May 2016 when the founder of the organisation, Mr. Jan Cappelle, a Belgian citizen legally residing in Cameroon at the time, was expelled to Belgium (see background information).

The Observatory expresses its concerns over the harassment of the above-mentioned OFFGO members, which seems at aiming to sanction their human rights activities in favour of environmental protection, opposing land grabbing and working for the protection of the cross-river gorilla in Mbengwi. The Observatory urges the Cameroonian authorities to put an end to any kind of harassment, including at the judicial level, against OFFGO members and to conduct an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned security incidents.

Background information:

The village of Tudig, in Mbengwi, where OFFGO has its headquarters, as well as its members, have been since 2016 the target of intimidation and harassment from the Divisional Officer of Mbengwi Sub-division and from Mr. Baba Danpullo, a billionaire businessman, cattle rancher, tea plantation owner and a member of the Central Committee of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party, who has been involved in several cases of land grabbing in the country [3].

In September 2015, OFFGO submitted a report to the Governor of the North-West region on the conflict opposing farmers and cattle ranchers [4]. In October 2015, the Senior Divisional Officer of the Momo Division opened an investigation into the irregularities revealed in the report with respect to land attribution. In November 2015, a letter was sent to the Senior Divisional Officer of Momo and to the Governor of the North-West region to add up to the report submitted in September 2015.

On January 21, 2016, during a meeting regarding the above-mentioned reports, the Divisional Officer of Mbengwi Sub-Division declared that he had requested an investigation on Mr. Jan Cappelle and on allegations of “support to the communities in Tudig”. Allegedly the support provided would encourage communities to take their land back. Following this meeting, the Regent of Tudig’s representative sent a letter to the Governor of the North-West region, to share his concerns regarding this investigation, perceived as an act of intimidation against Mr. Cappelle and the local community.

Summoned to the Mbengwi gendarmerie on February 19, 2016, Mr. Cappelle went to the station on February 27, 2016 for interrogation with his lawyer. As there was no evidence against him, he was not arrested.

In March 2016, the Divisional Officer of Mbengwi Sub-Division, again, asked for an investigation to be carried out into Mr. Cappelle’s activities, but this time to the Mbengwi police. This investigation led to a report, stating that no threat to security could be reported with respect to Mr. Cappelle’s activities.

On April 25, 2016, Mr. Jan Cappelle was summoned to the Momo gendarmerie, without any explanation. On May 5, he was interrogated by the gendarmerie and another interrogation was scheduled on May 11.

On May 10, 2016, a day before the second interrogation, Mr. Cappelle was arrested in Bamenda by the police and transferred to Yaoundé where he was placed in detention and given no access to his lawyer until May 12, 2016. On May 13, 2016, Mr. Cappelle was expelled from Cameroon to Belgium without any legal justification [5]. An investigation into the expulsion was launched in July 2016 by the National Gendarmerie of the North West Region, concluding that the accusations were not justified. As of the publication of this Appeal, no further actions were taken following the issuance of the Gendarmerie report, which was sent to the Presidency in August 2016.

Furthermore, in May 2016, the Divisional Officer of Mbengwi Sub-Division informed verbally the villagers that he issued an injunction for the destruction of the organic community farm developed by OFFGO in Tudig. The Divisional Officer’s communication resulted in a peaceful protest by hundreds of OFFGO members and villagers, opposing the destruction order, which led to the arrest of two OFFGO board members, Messrs. Matthias Awazi and Humfred Manjo on July 16, 2016 on charges of violating “Sub Prefectural Decision No 053/SPD/BALPA/2015 placing an injunction order on a grazer area under dispute in Tudig Village” and “illegal retention” of two goats under Section 322(3) of the Penal Code. They were transferred to the Mbengwi Tribunal of First Instance and provisionally released on the same day.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cameroon and ask them to:

i. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at judicial level - against OFFGO members and all human rights defenders in Cameroon;

ii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of OFFGO members and all human rights defenders in Cameroon;

iii. Ensure in all circumstances that OFFGO and its members as well as all human rights defenders in Cameroon are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Conform in any circumstances with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the UN General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1 and 12.2;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Cameroon.

Addresses:

• Mr. Paul Biya, President of the Republic of Cameroon, Fax +237 222 22 08 70
• H.E. Mr. Philémon Yang, Prime Minister and Head of Government of Cameroon, Fax: +237 222 23 57 35 / + 237 222 23 57 65. Email: spm@spm.gov.cm
• Mr. Laurent Esso, Minister of Justice of Cameroon, Fax: + 237 222 23 00 05 / + 237 222 23 55 59
• Mr. René Emmanuel SADI, Minister of Territorial Administration of Cameroon, Fax: + 237 22 22 37 35
• Dr. Chemuta Divine Banda, President of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, Fax: +237 222 22 60 82, E-mail: cndhl@iccnet.cm / cdbanda26@yahoo.fr
• H.E. Mr. Anatole Fabien Nkou, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cameroon to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland. Fax: + 41 22 736 21 65, Email: mission.cameroun@bluewin.ch
• H.E. Mr. Daniel Evina Abe’e, Cameroon Ambassador to the European Union, Embassy of the Republic of Cameroon, Brussels, Belgium. Fax: + 32 2 344 57 35; E-mail: ambassade.cameroun@skynet.be

Please also write to diplomatic representations of Cameroon in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, March 31, 2017

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
• Email: Appeals[at]fidh-omct.org
• Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80
• Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29

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