(March 27, 2017 | Washington D.C.) Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Anti-Torture Initiative at the Washington College of Law’s Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law, call for the immediate release of human rights defender Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, who has been held in military detention since January 17, 2017. He was arrested alongside Dr. Fontem Aforteka’a Neba, a university lecturer, in Buea, the capital of the Southwest Region of Cameroon, for organizing peaceful protests calling for the rights of the Anglophone minority to be respected. Mr. Nkongho is charged with 8 counts, including treason, terrorism, incitement of civil unrest and breach of the constitution and set to be tried by a military tribunal. If convicted of these charges, he could face death penalty. On March 23, Mr. Nkongho’s trial was adjourned in a closed hearing to April 27, 2017, at which point his application for bail will be heard.
Mr. Nkongho is a barrister in Cameroon, where he leads the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), the FAKO Lawyer's Association, and the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRD). He previously worked for the United Nations as a Human Rights Officer. His arrest is linked to his high profile work on behalf of the English-Speaking Minority and took place shortly the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, declared CACSC an illegal organization.
“The arbitrary detention of Mr. Nkongho and Dr. Fontem on account of their peaceful protests and advocacy for the human rights of English-speaking Cameroonians is in blatant violation of international human rights law,” Professor Juan E. Méndez, the academic director of the Anti-Torture Initiative, and the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, has stated, further expressing “grave concern over allegations of excessive use of force and the use of torture against protesters and detainees, as well as over reported cases of arbitrary executions. I call on the Government to immediately release Mr. Nkongho and Dr. Fontem, to conduct an inquiry into the allegations of grave human rights abuses committed since October 2016, and to provide victims with adequate redress and rehabilitation,” the former Special Rapporteur concluded.
Cameroon has been facing a wave of protests and strikes since October 2016, as the English-speaking minority part of the country feels marginalized and discriminated against, especially in the judicial system and in education. As Mr. Nkongho himself puts it, “West Cameroonians’ education, culture, language and economic aspirations have been severely undermined. The people are thus very determined to secure their Anglo-Saxon heritage and aspirations as we enshrined in the constitution of 1961.”
Members of the civil society are being arbitrarily arrested, detained and harassed for speaking out against the current government’s policies. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, denounced the excessive use of force by security forces during demonstrations in Buea and Bamenda, in November and December 2016 where at least four people were killed. The government then proceeded to issuing an internet ban on the English-speaking that of the country.
”The Cameroonian government is cracking down on civil society in total impunity and the international community needs to stop ignoring this” said Angelita Baeyens, Programs Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights. “Felix’s arbitrary arrest and trial before a military tribunal, in complete disregard with Cameroon’s international human rights obligations is illustrative of the repression that the English-speaking minority is experiencing.”
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Anti-Torture Initiative call for the immediate release of Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla and other political prisoners, for the charges against them to be dropped, and for the Cameroonian government to respect its international human rights obligations.