GENEVA (28 April 2020) – Cameroon needs to put an end to escalating intimidation and aggression towards human rights defenders to ensure they can continue their work and NGOs operate safely, UN human rights experts* said today.
“The Government must strongly condemn all acts of intimidation, threats and defamatory statements against human rights defenders, including those made by public figures,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.
The rights defenders coalition REDHAC (Human Rights Defenders Network in Central Africa) suffered extensive damage to its headquarters in Douala following a fire in January which occurred in circumstances which have yet to be clarified. Key archives were destroyed in the blaze.
“This incident must be rapidly and thoroughly investigated, and if malicious intent is established those responsible must face the full force of the law,” the experts warned.
The NGO’s executive director, Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, was violently assaulted at gunpoint in August 2019. She has been targeted for several years with threats and assaults because of her work. Another REDHAC member, Franklin Mowha, has been missing since August 2018, after disappearing on a mission to document cases of human rights violations in one of the Anglophone regions.
“These attacks against human rights defenders have intensified in recent years, particularly since the beginning of the socio-political crisis in the Anglophone regions, which has led to serious human rights violations. Women human rights defenders face particular threats and are exposed to specific risks,” the experts said.
“The Government should not be afraid of critical voices and should rather accept that these voices are an integral part of a strong and independent civil society.”
The UN experts urged the Cameroonian Government to publicly recognise the importance of human rights defenders’ work and ensure that those who try to prevent them from carrying out their activities are brought to justice. “Their work is more essential than ever in the current context of serious violations in several regions of the country, including the Anglophone regions.”
The experts noted with concern that threatening or defamatory language and violent attacks against human rights defenders were increasing and reminded the Cameroonian authorities of the provisions of the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders . They are in contact with the Government on this matter.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.