Akwanga v. Cameroon
In a unanimous decision published on 12 May 2011 the Human Rights Committee (HRC) in Geneva upheld the petition brought by REDRESS on behalf of Ebenezer Derek Mbongo Akwanga against Cameroon. The petition averred multiple breaches of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) over the period 1997 to 2003.
All 15 members of the HRC found that Cameroon had breached Article 7 (prohibition against torture); Articles 9(2) (failure to inform reasons for arrest), 9(3) (failure to bring detainee promptly before a judge) and 9(4) (denial of habeas corpus); Articles 10 (1) (failure to treat with humanity and respect for a person’s inherent dignity) and 10(2) (failure to separate an accused person from convicted criminals); and Article 14 (failure to have a fair trial).
Further, six members signed an additional separate opinion stressing that military tribunals should not in principle have jurisdiction to try civilians, and states should explain compelling reasons or exceptional circumstances forcing them to depart from the principle if they give military tribunals competence to try civilians. One other member in his own separate opinion went further and said the trying of civilians by military tribunals is incompatible with Article 14, and that the HRC had lost a clear opportunity to affirm this.
Ebenezer Akwanga was born in Cameroon in 1970 and became a political activist, campaigning peacefully for the rights of the people of Southern Cameroons as leader of the Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL), which worked together with the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC). In March 1997 he was arrested and for the next six years suffered a range of serious human rights violations including torture, incommunicado detention, and a variety of forms of abuse in prison including being held in grossly overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, lack of proper food and wholly inadequate medical care, both before and after being tried before a military tribunal. As a civilian the military trial itself was entirely inappropriate and did not meet the minimum requirements for a fair hearing, but despite this in 1999 he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In 2003 he escaped to Nigeria and from there, after some 30 months, he was re-settled in the USA where he lives today.
In June 2008 REDRESS lodged a petition on Mr Akwanga’s behalf as Communication No. 1813/2008 with the HRC for multiple breaches of the ICCPR, including torture. In July 2009 the Cameroon filed a response (in French) arguing that the case was inadmissible and also contesting it on the merits, to which REDRESS replied on Mr Akwanga’s behalf in September 2009. The HRC’s decision of 22 March 2011 is in French; an official English version was released thereafter.
Cameroon had six months to submit to the HRC details on the measures taken to ensure Mr Akwanga an effective remedy for the breaches, including a re-examination of his conviction under the guarantees in the ICCPR and an investigation into the facts; it must also ensure the prosecution of those responsible for the breaches, as well as appropriate reparation and specific compensation. Cameroon is also obliged to ensure similar violations do not occur in the future.
In February 2012, Cameroon made its Observations on the Views to the HRC, to which REDRESS responded on behalf of Mr Akwanga in March 2012. The Observations showed that Cameroon has yet to take measures to implement the HRC's Views. The HRC has asked Cameroon to respond substantively, and the matter is pending.