33 Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Cameroon under the banner of the Cameroonian Civil Society on Freedom of Association have stood up to the country’s Territorial Administration Minister, Atanga Nji Paul.
They made the decision in response to an August 26 press release by the minister regarding the operation of international NGOs.
In a recent statement, the associations have said the Minister’s decision to have international NGOs operating in the country submit certain documents again is a move to suppress their neutrality, and compel them to cease operations.
“The press release, however, objective it may seem with regard to legal matters in the interest of national security or public safety (duly supported by Section 21 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966), is a major institutional threat to freedom of association in Cameroon,” they noted.
Minister Atanga Nji who is known to have fallen out several times with NGOs that fail to side with government, they said, has always had ambiguous postures with regards to their work on human rights.
Freedom of association, they said, is guaranteed by not only the Constitution of Cameroon, but also other international treaties and conventions: “At the regional level, it is guaranteed by Section 10 of the African Charter, Section 8 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and Sections 12 (3), 27 (2) and 28 of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.”
The Minister of Territorial Administration by his latest demand, the associations stated categorically, “violates these guidelines and in fact creates insecurity for the associations, their leaders and their employees …[and] is akin to a real maneuver of intimidation and harassment of associations, and therefore constitutes a violation…”
They also mentioned the armed conflict in the Anglophone regions that has left thousands dead in the past five years. “Since the start of the war, civil society in general and specifically that working for human rights and IHL, has been the victim of acts of harassment and multiple threats from the Cameroonian authorities and particularly from MINAT. This situation seriously undermines the exercise of freedom of association and assembly,” they reiterated.
Government, they urged, should stick to its international commitments “in matters of public freedoms and in particular the respect of the ‘African Union guidelines on freedom of association and assembly’”.
The Cameroonian Civil Society Leaders and Organizations collective ended its statement condemning “the acts of intimidation by MINAT which hamper the peaceful and efficient functioning of a civil society which, in a republican posture and in defense of human rights, works for the return to peace in the NOSO.”
It further denounce what it termed “the harassment of foreign organizations which, however, play a significant role in filling the absence and insignificant presence of the Governor in assisting populations in several Cameroonian localities.”
Government, it stressed, should ensure it respects its international commitments in matters of public freedoms and in particular, the respect of the “African Union guidelines on freedom of association and assembly”.
Groups signatory to the statement include among others, Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC ), Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), Nouveau Droits de l’Homme (NDH), 1 Monde Avenir, Association des Amis du Droit (ADD) and more.