For a Better Future

Press release

In May 1998, President Jacques Chirac of Francehosted his Cameroonian counterpart, Paul Biya. Mr.Biya was interviewed by a group of journalists on thesteps of the Elysée as he came out of the reception,on the case of their colleague Puis Njawé, who at thattime had been in custody at the central prison ofDouala, Cameroon, for five months, in breach of article19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Mr.Chirac’s guest was visibly embarrassed by the issue,so that Mr. Chirac immediately intervened, claimingthat ’this is a Cameroonian matter that will be settledin Cameroon, not here".

This was a clear-cut decision,defying the universalcharacter of thefreedom of speech. Itappears that Mr.Chirac, who thenusually leaves hisguests while they areinterviewed by thepress, in this casedeliberately sided byMr. Biya whose"trouble" with thepress after thereception wasforeseeable.

Such an incidentmight seem trivial. Yet,it is a perfect andunique illustration ofthe protection ofdictators and otherperpetrators of humanrights violations by theworld’s leadingpowers.True, major progresshas been made overthe last fifty years intranslating the spiritand words of theUniversal Declarationinto reality. Yet, much remains to be done to fulfil thegood intentions which constitute the framework of thisinstrument which ever since December 10th, 1948 hasbeen the foundation for the fight against totalitarianismand arbitrary rule by countless nations.

We welcome the recent adoption of the statute of theInternational Criminal Court, despite someinadequacies which might make it less effective. Weare very pleased that the two international criminaltribunals responsible for prosecuting the perpetratorsof crime in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda arefully effective. We must heartily commend the adoptionof the Declaration of the Protection of Human RightsDefenders by the UN General Assembly; yet we mustnot lose sight of certain truths exposing the weaknessof what can be perceived as achievments and which,more than ever, demands the vigilance of all thosewho have made a commitment to work for theprotection and defence of these instruments.Human rights, democratic freedoms, both collectiveand individual, will heavily depend on the interests ofour governments. We can clearly see the way in whichChina continues to use its political prisoners to raisethe stake in commercial transactions with the West,the way in which Milosevic continues to scoff at theworld in the war-tornformer Yugoslavia orthe way in which theFrench governemntrolls out the red carpetto welcomeunrepentant dictatorswho launch theirforces remorselesslyagainst their ownpeople, only a fewdays before thecelebrations tocommemorate the50th anniversary ofthe UniversalDeclaration of HumanRights. What a blemishfor France, the countrywhere this famousDeclaration wasproclaimed onDecember 10th 1948.

To join the coalition, please click here

Nonetheless, there isstill hope! The recentadoption of theDeclaration on theProtection of HumanRights Defenders isone important reasonfor hope.
More than ever, we must welcome the initiatives ofNGOs who filled this 50th anniversary with meaningand significance and have allowed us to harbour aspirit of freedom...for a better future.

Pius Njawé

"Messager"’s Director (Cameroon)

Read more