'Commonwealth must address human rights abuses in Cameroon': CHRI

New Delhi [India], Apr. 1 (ANI): Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland has been urged to address the spiralling human rights violations in Cameroon, press President Biya to restore fundamental freedoms and refer the matter to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).

In an appeal to Scotland, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an accredited body of the Commonwealth community has expressed its deep concern over the ongoing political crisis, violation of human rights and the rule of law in the Cameroon.

"It is now clear that the deteriorating situation in Cameroon merits greater attention from the Commonwealth," CHRI said, adding that despite assurances by the Cameroon's Minister of External Relations to the office of the Commonwealth Secretary General during a recent visit to London, "there is no discernible progress on addressing the human rights abuses being committed against the Anglophonic community in Cameroon."

The current crisis developed in early October of 2016, with a lawyers' strike in Bamenda, the capital of the Northwest region, and unrest in the Southwest region capital, Buea.

The unrest was sparked by the violent dispersal of citizens peacefully protesting the banning of two Anglophone civil society organisations, the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC) and the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC).

"Instead of engaging in dialogue, the government authorised the use of force to disperse protesters," CHRI said.

The right to life, freedom of speech and expression, and freedom of assembly and association are guaranteed under the preamble of the Constitution of Cameroon; Article 6 (1) & 9 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) recognizes the right to life and prohibits arbitrary deprivation of life; and the Commonwealth Charter provides for rule of law, respect for protection and promotion of civil and political rights, and open dialogue and free flow of information. These rights were being violated by authorities in Cameroon.

"The use of tear gas and live ammunition against protesters has so far resulted in four deaths and dozens of injuries. The police have also been responsible for arbitrary arrests and unwarranted detention. Since the protests began, hundreds have been arrested. Those who have not been able to afford bail continue to be detained at undisclosed locations. Furthermore, in an act of enforced disappearance, eight protesters remain missing."

The statement points out that "the targeting of the Anglophone judiciary, and arrest of a sitting judge run directly contrary to Latimer House Principles," which assert the relationship between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary.

In addition, CHRI said the Cameroon government was preventing access to information. "In January, authorities also blocked internet services in the English-speaking provinces."

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, headquartered in New Delhi, with offices in London and Accra, is an independent, international organisation committed to protecting and promoting human rights in Commonwealth nations.

CHRI works towards strengthening access to justice (through prison and police reforms) and building a culture of transparent governance (through the Right to Information).

It also monitors human rights-related trends and developments across the Commonwealth and makes formal submissions to treaty bodies and inter-governmental agencies, including the United Nations Human Rights Council. (ANI)