The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) repeats its call to the Government of the Republic of Cameroon to conduct the trial of Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla in a civilian court, without interference, and in adherence with international norms of legal and transparent due process. The trial, postponed on 1 February 2017 and again on 13 February 2017, is presently scheduled to be held before a military tribunal on 23 March 2017.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Ambassador (ret.) Hans Corell stated: ‘The IBAHRI implores the Government of the Republic of Cameroon to observe the recommendations found in the Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in 2003, to which Cameroon is a signatory. Decisively, Principle L provides that “Military Courts should not in any circumstances whatsoever have jurisdiction over civilians.” Attempts to conflate Barrister Agbor-Balla’s actions with those of a terrorist in order to justify the use of such military tribunals are disingenuous, shocking and wrong, and pose a clear threat to the independence of the judiciary.’
Barrister Agbor-Balla was arrested on 17 January 2017 and held incommunicado as a result of his involvement in protests and strikes by anglophone lawyers and teachers in West Cameroon against what they perceive as the marginalisation of the anglophone minority. The barrister was charged with a number of offences, including incitement to secession, civil war and revolution, and ‘Hostilities against the Fatherland’– some of which carry the death penalty on conviction. On the same day, the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium over which Barrister Agbor-Balla presided was outlawed.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Baroness Helena Kennedy QC reiterated: ‘The arrest of Barrister Agbor-Balla by military authorities that now intend to prosecute, judge and sentence him is deeply troubling to the IBAHRI and the international community. That the military tribunal may be held in closed session is further cause for alarm. It is for these reasons that the IBAHRI is again compelled to intercede on Barrister Agbor-Balla’s behalf, respectfully asking the Government of the Republic of Cameroon to abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and ensure that judicial proceedings are conducted fairly.’
She added: ‘We also draw the government’s attention to the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, as well as the UN’s Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, that have so far been denied to Barrister Agbor-Balla. These include his rights as an individual and a professional to personal liberty, free expression, association, protection from arbitrary arrest and the right to a fair trial.’
The reasons given by the military prosecutors for postponing the trial of Barrister Agbor-Balla are: a coinciding funeral for senior Cameroonian military officials (1 February 2017), and to allow prosecutors to produce an updated list of witnesses (13 February 2017). The trial is now scheduled for 23 March 2017.
This press release was published on the IBAHRI's website on March 23, 2017.