Cameroon: Ongoing judicial harassment targeting members of the Organic Farming for Gorillas (OFFGO)

20/06/2017
Urgent Appeal

CMR 001 / 0317 / OBS 033.1
Judicial harassment
Cameroon
June 19, 2017

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

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing judicial harassment 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, following a complaint filed on March 23, 2017, by Mr. Prince Vincent Awazi, Regent of Tudig and board member of OFFGO denouncing the illegal arrest, detention and expulsion of Mr. Jan Cappelle, founder of OFFGO,as well as the subsequent harassment of several OFFGO members, the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (CNDHL) carried out an investigation into the abuses and judicial harassment targeting OFFGO members (see background information). To date, despite the conduct of two field visits to Tudig and Mbengwi on April 17 and 19, 2017, the conclusions of the CNDHL are yet to be made public.

The Observatory is concerned by the delays in the publication of the report and recommendations by the CNDHL. Although there are no formal delays in which the CNDHL has to publish its reports, common practice usually sees the publication of report within a month. Such delay entail further harassment of OFFGO members and impunity for those responsible. Consequently, the Observatory urges Cameroonian authorities to ensure that the investigation is carried out in a comprehensive manner, without any hindrance and delays.

Furthermore, on May 17, 2017, Mr. Vincent Awazi, an OFFGO member, was summoned before the Mbengwi Court of First Instance, although to date he has not been notified of any charges pending against him. On that day, the judge failed to appear and no further hearing date had been scheduled as of publication of this Appeal.

This is not the first time that Mr. Vincent Awazi has been summoned to appear before a court without being informed of any charges pending against him (see background information).

In addition, two other OFFGO members Messrs. Matthias Awazi and Humfred Manjo are still facing charges andif convicted, they could face up to three years in prison (see background information).

Moreover, since May 29, 2017, the Mbengwi Court of First Instance has repeatedly requested both the defendants and the plaintiff to respectively pay 150,000 FCFA (approx. 229 euros) and 100,000 FCFA (approx. 153 euros) in order to visit the community farm (locus fee). The Observatory expresses its concerned over this practice, illegal under Cameroonian law [1].

The Observatory is equally concerned by the judicial harassment targeting OFFGO members and calls upon Cameroonian authorities to put an end to any form of retaliation of their human rights activities.

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 [2].

In September 2015, OFFGO submitted a report to the Governor of the North-West region on the conflict opposing farmers and cattle ranchers [3]. 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 [4]. 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 Manjoon 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.

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, not 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. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison.

In addition, the village of Tudig, 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”.

On February 18, 2017, armed elements of the army entered the village of Tudig and tried to arrest villagers [5]. Besides, on February 2, 2017, the Mbengwi Prosecutor (State Counsel [6]) 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.

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, and security of OFFGO membersand all human rights defenders in Cameroon;

iii. Ensure in all circumstances that OFFCO 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
· James Mouangue Kobila, President of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, Fax: +237 222 22 60 82, E-mail:cndhl@iccnet.cm/ mouangue2001@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,CameroonAmbassador 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, June 19, 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. FIDHand 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@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80
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