Falana drags Cameroon to African Commission on trial of 47 asylum seekers in Nigeria

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Sisuku Julius Ayuk Tabe: one of the men to face trial in Cameroon.

Nigeria’s foremost human rights lawyer Femi Falana SAN has dragged the government of Cameroon to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Banjul, The Gambia over the impending trial of 47 asylum seekers and naturalised Nigerians.

The lawyer wants the commission’s urgent intervention to end “the ongoing human rights violations of the applicants who were forcibly returned to Cameroon by the Nigerian authorities.”

Falana is asking “the Chairperson and the Bureau to urgently hold an extra-ordinary session of the African Commission to address the illegal and unfair return of 47 refugees and asylum seekers, and the continuing violations of the rights of the returnees by the government of Cameroon.

“We also urge the Chairperson of the Commission to speak out strongly and condemn the unfair treatment of the returnees by the government of Cameroon, and request the government to immediately release them from unlawful detention.”

The petition read in part: “Cameroon has ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. At the request of the Government of Cameroon the Nigerian authorities illegally and unfairly returned 47 refugees and asylum seekers to Cameroon on Friday, January 26, 2018. The returnees are mostly leaders of the people of Southern Cameroon and who have been living in Nigeria with their families for years.”

“Some of them have been granted political asylum while others were asylum seekers in Nigeria. On Saturday, 7th January 2018, the Applicants assembled to meet in Abuja to discuss the problems being encountered by several Cameroonian asylum seekers in Nigeria but before the commencement of the meeting security personnel from Nigeria arrested the Applicants and took them to an underground detention centre in a military barracks in Abuja.”

“While the Applicants were detained in Nigeria, they were denied access to their family members, friends, lawyers and doctors. However, the representative of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees was allowed to visit the Applicants.”

“When the Applicants’ lawyers received information of the plan to deport them to Cameroon, they rushed to the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop the illegal plan. The Applicants also reached out to the Comptroller-General of Immigration, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees in Nigeria.”

“As soon as the Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees in Nigeria confirmed the information it dispatched a letter to the government of Nigeria pointing out that Nigeria has a legal obligation under international law not to deport the detained Cameroonians.”

“But in a demonstration of reckless impunity, the government of Cameroon pressured the Nigerian authorities to hand over the refugees. They were handed over to the Cameroonian security forces who forcefully took them away from Nigeria on Friday, January 26, 2018.”

“On account of the illegality of the deportation, the government of Nigeria could not announce that the refugees had been expelled from Nigeria but the Government of Cameroon decided to celebrate the deportation and threatened to prosecute the deportees for terrorism. We submitted a letter to the Office of the High Commissioner of Cameroon to Nigeria in Abuja to request for access to the Applicants who are currently held incommunicado in Cameroon. The request has to date not been granted by Cameroon.”

“Nigeria has no extradition treaty with Cameroon. Hence, the deportation was carried out outside the ambit of the extradition laws of Nigeria and Cameroon and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

“In removing the Applicants from Nigeria, the government of Cameroon breached the human rights of the Applicants to enter Nigeria, reside, seek and obtain asylum guaranteed by Article 12 (3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The government of Cameroon also breached article 12 (4) of the African Charter, which provides that every individual shall have the right, when persecuted to seek and obtain asylum in other countries in accordance with the laws of those countries and international conventions.”

“Apart from the violation of the African Charter, the government of Cameroon breached its legal obligations under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention on Refugees and which have guaranteed the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Nigeria to protection.”

“The Applicants are the leaders of the movement agitating for the creation of the Republic of Ambazonia from Cameroon. In 2002, the Applicants filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja to determine whether the people of Southern Cameroon were not entitled to self-determination within their clearly defined territory separate from the Republic of Cameroon. The government of Nigeria decided to settle the case out of court.”

“By a consent judgment delivered by the Court on March 5, 2002, the government of Nigeria agreed to file a suit at the International Court of Justice to have a judicial confirmation of the human right of the people of Southern Cameroon to self-determination. The government of Nigeria also undertook to take other measures as may be necessary to place the case of the people of Southern Cameroon for self-determination before the United Nations General Assembly and other international organizations.”

“The Applicants are not soldiers, but civilians. Even though they are not military men, the government of Cameroon has decided to try them before a military tribunal. The military tribunal to try the Applicants has since been constituted by the government of Cameroon.”

“Upon the arrival of the Applicants in Cameroon and without any investigation whatsoever, the government of Cameroon announced that they would be tried for terrorism. The Applicants have been detained illegally from January –November, 2018.”

“The Applicants have since been arraigned for terrorism before a military tribunal specially constituted for the purpose of persecuting them even though they have never engaged in terrorist activities in Cameroon.”

“The trial of the Applicants is scheduled to commence in Cameroon on January 10, 2019 whereas their lawyers who are based in Nigeria have been denied access to them and the opportunity to defend them.”

“It is the case of the Applicants that they had left Cameroon with their families and have been living in Nigeria where that had applied for asylum. Thus, by removing them from Nigeria the government of Cameroon has separated the Applicants from their family members who have been left behind in Nigeria.”


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