Nov 20, 2007

Southern Cameroons: Judge Missing From Own Court

The hearings of the detainees arrested at a SCNC press conference in January 2007 have been adjourned yet again, the latest in a never-ending series of delays.

The Hague, 20 November 2007 – The hearings of the detainees arrested at a Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) press conference in January 2007 have been adjourned yet again. The hearings, scheduled for 15 November 2007, have now been moved to 06 December 2007. UNPO is appalled at this latest development and is concerned about the ability for the defendants to receive a fair trial.

This delay, the latest in a long series of delays, was caused by the failure of the prosecution witnesses and the judge to appear in his own courtroom. The absence of prosecution witnesses, especially, has been a characteristic feature of this trial and the reason of many previous adjournments.

On top of these delays, police arbitrarily arrested a further nine SCNC members on 24 October 2007 whilst they were holding a gathering in a private residence. To date, they are still detained and no charges have been broought against them.

Previous adjournments

On 17 April 2007, key prosecution witness Mr Sombe Simon did not appear in court, causing the hearings to be delayed until 19 June 2007. Then, in June, none of the prosecution witnesses, along with the presiding Judge, Justice Julius Nchu Cheo, managed to present themselves in court. The proceedings were then adjourned until 28 August 2007, at which point Mr. Sombe Simon was again found to be missing.    

On 28 August 2007 the proceedings in the case against the UNPO Member Representative and Vice-Chairman of the SCNC, Dr. Nfor Ngala Nfor, and a number of other SCNC members were adjourned until 23 October 2007. The hearings in the case against the Chairman of the SCNC, Chief Ayamba, along with several other representatives were adjourned till 10 December 2007.

On 23 October 2007 again a number of key figures in the trial were absent from court, resulting in yet another delay, with a new hearing scheduled for 15 November 2007, which, as it turned out, also proved to be a fruitless endeavour.

Prior to the delays in the actual trial, bail hearings had been adjourned on no less than six occasions, resulting in the imprisonment of the defendants for more than 50 days. This prompted condemnation from Members of European Parliament Mr. Marco Pannella and Mr. Marco Cappato, who called for the Cameroonian courts to conduct a fair and open trial, free of unnecessary delays. As their statement from 15 June 2007 reads, they urge Justice Nchu Julius Cheo to “ensure that the trial is conducted in a free and fair manner”, and that “any individual responsible for delaying hearings will be held accountable”.  

There are allegations that the continuous delays are a tactic to keep SCNC members imprisoned and to avoid having to provide evidence against the defendants, thus disrupting any chance of a fair trial.

UNPO condemns the blatant disregard of human rights in Southern Cameroons, and has therefore appealed to Mr. Leandro Despouy, UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and Ms. Evelyn Petrus-Barry, Central Africa – UN Sub-Regional Center for Human Rights and Democracy to;

- Urge authorities in the Republic of Cameroon to provide free and fair judicial proceedings in accordance with internationally recognized legal standards; and

- Urge Yaoundé to immediately halt its ongoing persecution of the Anglophone Southern Cameroons community.

Related news stories

2007-09-03 Will Justice Ever Come to Southern Cameroons?

2007-06-18 Southern Cameroons: MEPs Call for Fair Trial as Hearings are Delayed

2007-04-19 Southern Cameroons: Hearing Delays Until June

2007-03-07 Southern Cameroons: Hearings Delayed Yet Again