The Human Rights Committee, a body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), unanimously decided that the government of Cameroon, in its treatment of Ebenezer Derek Mbongo Akwanga between 1997 to 2003, violated Article 7, Article 9(2)(3)(4), Article 10(2) and Article 14 of the ICCPR.
Cameroon is party to the ICCPR and a signatory to the First Optional Protocol to the covenant that gives individuals subject to the jurisdiction of States Parties, power to submit complaints of alleged violations of rights laid down in the ICCPR to the Human Rights Committee. The Committee has the power to receive individual complaints when all domestic remedies have been exhausted.
On 20 June 2008, Ebenezer, a 40-year-old Cameroonian who was allegedly arrested, tortured and held incommunicado under inhuman conditions between 1997 and 2003, submitted a complaint to the Human Rights Committee in Geneva. The complaint was submitted by REDRESS, a London-based human rights organization that helps torture survivors, on behalf of Mr. Ebenezer Derek Mbongo Akwanga.
The complaint alleged a violation of Article 7, 9, 10 and 14 of the ICCPR by the government of Cameroon.
According to the complainant, he
was a political activist and President of the Southern Cameroon Youth League (SCYL), an organization that has been linked to the outlawed Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC).
He was arrested in March 1997 in Jakiri, hit with a rifle butt and detained in a cell at the Jakiri Gendarmarie Brigade. He was chained and beaten until he lost consciousness.
Ebenezer was moved to the Kumbo Gendarmerie were he was subjected to more degrading acts of torture and cruelty.
On 25 March 1997, he was transfered to the National Headquarters of the Gendarmarie in Yaounde where he was referred to as “élément très dangereux” and subjected to more degrading treatment.
He was later moved to the Kondengui Maximum Security Prison in Yaounde on 2 June 1997 where he was forced to share a cell with about 50 inmates. The overcrowded cell had only 15 beds and was “infested with rats and insects.”
In August 1997, he was moved to Mfou Special Prison where he was briefly held in a “dark, filthy cell with no windows.” He was placed with the general population and held for 18 months without contact with family, friends or a lawyer.
He was transferred again to Kondengui Maximum Security Pri
son on 4 February 1999.
In April 1999,
he was charged with “aggravated theft, assassination, hostilities against the nation, attempted secession, non-denunciation of criminal activities, insurrection, revolution and complicity.” Court documents were served in French, a language the accused could not fully understand. He had no lawyer present.
Ebenezer, a civilian was tried in a military court. The charges brought against him were reportedly changed in the course of the trial.
On 6 October 1999, more than two years after his arbitrary arrest, Ebenezer was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
He was jailed in Kondengui Maximum Security Prison. He became ill and was admitted in the Yaounde Central Hospital from where he escaped to Nigeria on 9 July 2003.
He traveled to the United States, where he was granted political asylum in February 2006.
The government of Cameroon submitted a communication to the Human Rights Council in response to the complaint and argued that the complaint should be declared inadmissible on grounds that the complainant had not exhausted domestic remedies, and the same complaint had been submitted to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. The state evoked Article 5(2a)(2b) of the Optional Protocol. The state also argued that the complaint should be dismissed on grounds of merits since the complainant was linked to a “secessionist movement.”
The Human Rights Committee examined the complaint and decided that the arrest, torture, detention under inhuman conditions, trial in a military court and imprisonment of Ebenezer Derek Mbongo Akwanga violated Article 7; Article 9(2)(3)(4); Article 10(1)(2); and Article 14 of the ICCPR.
The Committee published its Views concerning the complaint on 12 May 2011.
The government of Cameroon has an obligation, as laid down in Article 2(3a) of the ICCPR to ensure that Ebenzer receives “effective remedy” for the violation of his civil and political rights. According to the Human Rights Committee, effective remedy should include a review of Ebenezer's conviction, adequate compensation, investigation of the alleged violations and prosecution of the perpetrators.
The state is expected to inform the Human Rights Committee by November 2011 about the steps taken to redress the situation.
Civitas welcomes this landmark decision of the Human Rights Committee and urges the government of Cameroon to investigate the disturbing allegations in the complaint, prosecute the perpetrators, compensate the victim and stamp out all forms of physical and psychological abuse of accused and convicted persons by state agents.