By Ajong Mbapndah L and Amos Fofung
In a new book titled Southern Cameroons and the United Nations Organization from Trusteeship to Independence. A Success Story?, Barrister Ajong Stanislaus makes a scathing indictment of the world body for its role in the ongoing crisis in Cameroon.
“It is our considered opinion from the conclusion of the work that the United Nations Organization through its organ, The Trusteeship Council, failed to lead the people of Southern Cameroons to self-government or independence as ordained by the Charter,” the erudite Lawyer says in the book.
It is the responsibility of the World body to foresee, preempt, and prevent situations that will potentially lead to the disruption of global peace, but Barrister Ajong, who heads the Tiko based Security Law Firm, says the Organization has woefully failed to do so with regards to the situation in the present day Southern Cameroons. The signs and red flag for this impulsion have been there since 1961 when the Southern Cameroons are said to have joined the Cameroon Republic, says Barrister Ajong as he calls for reforms and restructuring that will make UN policy making more proactive than reactionary.
“There is an absolute need for the UN to stamp its feet and play the role for which it was created before the situation gets worse. They need to send an independent team to inquire about the allegations of genocide and war crimes being committed in the territory, and as an interim measure send a reduced peacekeeping force to protect the armless civilians,” Barrister Ajong says.
“The world body should know that it is people who make the State. Once the people feel abandoned and unprotected, they take to self-defence which is what is happening in the territory at this material time,” says the legal luminary who has held brief for the Southern Cameroons case on the international scene and defended the leaders and activists in cases across the Southern Cameroons.
What the Lawyers succeeded in doing is making the problem known to all and sundry and That is an immeasurable achievement on their part says Barrister Ajong .
Opining on other controversial developments like the bilingualism bill and the special status for English speaking regions of Cameroon, Barrister Ajong says there are largely inadequate measures to address the current Southern Cameroons problem.
Barrister Ajong Stanislaus: As the title depicts, the book, which is a research work of 2015, seeks to find an answer to the question – whether the UN managed decolonization process of the Southern Cameroons was a success. The research which was sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the British Government Chevening Scholarship, gave me the opportunity to have unbridled access to world-class libraries. These included records from the colonial office in London, UN achieves on the decolonization process, and an enlarged pool of electronic sites provided by my University- The University of Aberdeen, Scotland. The in-depth research came out with the findings that the decolonization of the Former Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons was highly flawed. This finding is based on the tenure of Article 76 b of the United Nations Charter which states
“to promote the political, economic, social, and educational advancement of the inhabitants of the trust territories, and their progressive development towards self-government or independence as may be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples and the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned, and as may be provided by the terms of each trusteeship agreement”
It should be noted that the British held the territory in trust for the United Nations Organization. It was, therefore, incumbent on the world body to oversee a smooth transition from the British trust to independence for the people of the territory.
Rhona K. M. Smith – a renowned international human rights author – summarizes the situation of the transition of the Southern Cameroons to self-government or independence under the auspices of the United Nations in these words;
“It has been argued that the United Nations has compromised the doctrine of self-determination…the former Trust Territories of the North and South Cameroons were given only two choices: independence as part of Nigeria; or independence as part of the former French Cameroons. Becoming an independent State was not one of the proffered options. Consequently, the people of the North and South Cameroons once again found themselves under “foreign” rule. Recolonization rather than Decolonisation was the result”. International Human Rights, 6th Edition, p 295.
It is our considered opinion from the conclusion of the work that the United Nations Organization through its organ, The Trusteeship Council, failed to lead the people of Southern Cameroons to self-government or independence as ordained by the Charter.
If you get a copy of the book, you will find the reasons advanced for these findings.
The book comes at a time of great chaos in what used to be the Southern Cameroons, what responsibility does the UN bear on the current conflict?
Barrister Ajong Stanislaus: In order to give an appropriate and comprehensive answer to this question, it will be incumbent on us to know the purpose and or principle for which the United Nations Organization was created.
For this objective, Article 1 of the Charter will be quite instructive. It states;
“To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace…”
What this implies is that, where there is a breach of international peace, the UN a priori and automatically bears responsibility! It is the responsibility of the World body to foresee, preempt and prevent situations that will potentially lead to the disruption of global peace.
This Organization failed to do as far as the situation in present-day Southern Cameroons is concerned. The UN must restructure and reformat its organigram and policymaking to be more proactive than reactionary. The signs and red flag for this impulsion have been there since 1961 when the Southern Cameroons are said to have joined the Cameroon Republic.
When one of the affiliate organs of the world body – The African Commission ruled in 2009 in Communication 266/2003 in Dr. Kevin Gumne & Others V La Republique du Cameroon it authoritatively made some salient points. The Commission ruled that the people of Southern Cameroons were a people under international law and ordered the Cameroon Republic to go into negotiations with them. The UN ought to have seized the opportunity to push for a negotiated settlement of the problem from that moment. By staying quiet, the weaker party in the litigation rightly or wrongly feels abandoned by the UN. Also, by not taking any initiative at that time, the UN was in dereliction of its duties imposed by Article 1 of the Charter.
What is your take on the way the United Nations has so far responded to the current crisis in Cameroon, any recommendations for them?
Barrister Ajong Stanislaus: The UN has been slow in reacting to the situation that is ongoing in the Southern Cameroons. When they have reacted, it has been lukewarm without steel. So far, the body has acted like sacrificing the lives of the people of Southern Cameroons and by extension international peace on the principle of sovereignty of State Party to the Charter.
My recommendations; that the world body should know that it is people who make the State. Once the people feel abandoned and unprotected, they take to self-defence which is what is happening in the territory at this material time.
There is an absolute need for the UN to stamp its feet and play the role for which it was created before the situation gets worse. They need to send an independent team to inquire about the allegations of genocide and war crimes being committed in the territory and as an interim measure send a reduced peacekeeping force to protect the armless civilians. After the fact-finding mission, a decision could then be taken either to withdraw the force or strengthen it with the possibility of creating a buffer zone.
At the same time, the body should go to the field and create a corridor for the supply of humanitarian assistance to the internally displaced persons (IDP) found in the bushes as well as in the cities.
Looking at the situation in Southern Cameroons today and the clamor for independence, how strong is this case from a legal standpoint, what are some of the pros and cons of the case from a legal perspective?
Barrister Ajong Stanislaus: I have had the privilege of working in the legal team for the cause in the international arena since 2005 when my services were retained by the Southern Cameroons Peoples’ Organization (SCAPO). Dr. Kevin Gumne (RIP) then based in London sent Mr. Ndangam Augustin a veteran of the struggle to meet me in my Tiko office and I readily accepted to place my expertise to the cause. I have handled a number of Communications before the African Commission and also defended the leaders and activists in cases across the Southern Cameroons.
Part of my brief includes confidentiality. It will not be fair for me to seek to do the case on the media. Any attempt by me to state the legal pros and cons of the case will not only be doing a disservice to the case, but also to my clients who have not instructed me to disclose parts of the case in my outings.
One of the problems holding back this struggle to me, seems to be over communication.
However, as a fact, I know that the Southern Cameroons has a watertight legal case.
The current phase of the struggle was engineered in part by Lawyers fighting for the respect of Common Law values, but we do not hear so much about Lawyers again, have their own grievances been addressed?
Barrister Ajong Stanislaus: What Lawyers presented were grievances of the people. Lawyers do not have any grievances to themselves as Lawyers. Lawyers are saying that Litigants will be better served in their own legal system and not by an imported notion.
Lawyers are still at the forefront of what they started. The difference is that you might not be seeing them on the streets. They are constantly holding meetings and sending out memoranda to the appropriate quarters. Some are reported by some papers, others go unnoticed.
If the legal system in operation in the territory is not purely common law and the educational system is adulterated, the grievances cannot be said to been addressed.
What the Lawyers succeeded in doing is making the problem known to all and sundry. That is an immeasurable achievement on their part.
At one point, you were part of a group of Lawyers in Fako working with Agbor Balla and others to secure the release of people detained as a result of the crisis, may we know how this initiative worked out and what was achieved?
Barrister Ajong Stanislaus: At the time, Agbor Balla was the President of the Fako Lawyers Association (FAKLA). His executive created the Taskforce and he appointed me to head it. The team was made up of young enthusiastic human rights lawyers ready to give their all to make sure that state power is not used to crush the people.
There were incongruous violations during that period; pregnant women, children and vulnerable persons were arrested in thousands around the South West and transferred to Buea.
These young lawyers crisscrossed the courts of Fako; in Buea, Tiko, Limbe and Muyuka and the Taskforce had more than 800 persons released during the mandate.
I seize the moment to thank the former President and his executive for haven given us the opportunity to serve. For my colleagues of the team who did the real work on the field, I pray the Good God to continue to guide and protect them.
A controversial bilingualism bill recently sailed through parliament without any votes from MPs from the English speaking regions, and some of your colleagues in the Law profession have vowed to fight against it, what is the issue with the bill and do you support the stance of your colleagues in fighting against it?
Barrister Ajong Stanislaus: What we have in Cameroon is a strange version of what is known as Parliament the world over. It is the antithesis of a conventional Parliament. This one is by miles an anti-people institution.
It is an extension of the executive. They do not have any time to reflect and deliberate on the wishes of the people. Anything brought by the executive is passed into law!
The timing of the Bill clearly demonstrates the mindset of the people running the country. They are preparing the grounds for some chaos so that they can disappear in the confusion trading blames as to who was wrong.
Lawyers have promised to fight to the last blood. I hope the United Nations is reading.
The common law lawyers can always count on my support.
At the time we are doing this interview, you are in Canada and there has been talk about Cameroon learning from the Canadian example, what have you observed or seen in the Canadian example that Cameroon could use as a means to help in solving its own crisis?
Barrister Ajong Stanislaus: I doubt if Cameroon has the will to learn from Canada. The former Prime Minister was Ambassador to Canada for more than 2 decades. If there was any desire to learn and implement what obtains in Canada, it would have been executed then.
Canada is truly a bilingual country where the French Language is highly protected in the Province of Quebec and the English Language in the other Provinces.
In the case of Cameroon, the English language ought to be protected in the Former UN Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons aka South West and North West Regions.
Being served in your first language and or the language of understanding does not mean that you enter form 1 in Sasse and ask the teacher to teach you geography in French!
The same goes for the Courts. You will not expect a litigant to appear in a Court in Buea and request that the civil law be applied to his matter!
As we do this interview as well, there is an ongoing debate on Special status for the South West and North West Regions of Cameroon, what is your take on the bill and how do you think this could help in resolving the Southern Cameroons problem?
Barrister Ajong Stanislaus: Let me straight on say that I do not think the Bill will resolve the problem of the Southern Cameroons now plaguing the Cameroon Republic.
To solve the problem of the application of Bilingualism in Cameroon, we not only need legislative inputs but also of utmost importance a broad-based institutional overhaul. There will be no change with the same people who have never accepted that there is a problem. Remember this issue of special status is contained in the 1996 Constitution and its application is sought to come into play in 2019 as it was voted in the National Assembly yesterday.
To give you an idea of how long this law could take to be implemented, I will refer you to Section 498;
“Section 498: Before the effective transfer of services and the establishment of the local civil service, the conditions for the use of each State service by local authorities and the procedures for managing staff shall be governed by the regulations currently in force”.
Do you read me? It is not for immediate application! No definite timetable for implementation.That is law-making à là Camerounaise!
We end with your book, for those interested in getting copies, where can they get it?
Barrister Ajong Stanislaus: Presently, the book can be obtained online directly from the Publishers who are in Germany.In the meantime, some interested persons contacted me and we are in negotiation to do a launch in major cities in Canada and the USA
Thanks for granting this interview
Honestly, I am the one to thank you for thinking me worthy of the readership of your highly appraised News organ and magazine. I am at your disposal any time.
*Copies of Barrister Ajong’s books can be obtained here