By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Within the framework of its efforts towards contributing to the promotion and protection of human rights in Cameroon, the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) is undertaking a series of training and workshops across the conflict-affected regions of the North West, South West and the Far North, amongst other activities.
The capacity-building workshop which will run from October 31 to November 2 in Buea is done in close collaboration with, Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) and forms part of the European Union co-funded action on “Improving human rights protection in the conflict-affected regions of Cameroon.”
“We have trained human rights defenders also in the NW/SW and also in the Far North, we have trained community leaders and journalists and now it is the time for lawyers. Torture is one of the most human rights violations that are happening when there is a conflict,” Barrister Felix Nkongho, founder of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) told the press.
“We felt like it will increase the capacity of lawyers in terms of understanding torture; they have been doing cases of torture but there is something we call continuous legal education and it does not stop anyone to improve his/her knowledge. We have had this conflict just for the last six years meaning some people went to school before the conflict; might not have been taught torture within the confines of a conflict.”
Barrister Felix Nkongho added: “We felt we could strengthen their capacity so that when they go to the field, they can do it in a better way. When you are well skilled, you will be a messenger in the temple of justice and you will execute it in a way that will be a reflection of the rule of law in the country.”
This training is geared towards enhancing the capacity of Lawyers on how they can effectively offer legal assistance to survivors of torture and violence. The challenges faced by Lawyers in defending and supporting survivors and victims of violations within the region, necessitate such training to build their capacity.
“This training is going to help us because in the crisis we face a lot of challenges when it concerns torture. Torture is one of the principal forms of violations that people face during this crisis period,” Barrister Awungnjia Tctchounkwi, human rights advocate said.
“The seminar will help us gain knowledge on how they can be protected; we will have pro bono briefs which will help people who have suffered from torture, especially women. During the crisis, the women have suffered torture more than even the men; we have seen how women are beaten, raped, stripped naked.”
“The challenges for human rights lawyers are enormous, especially within the context of the crisis in which we all find ourselves,” Barrister Agbor Robert Tanyi Esq, a Mamfe-based lawyer said. “With victims of torture, you will encounter the police, gendarmes who feel that they have the laws in their hands; they do not want to accommodate human rights lawyers around them, they intimidate you when you go close to them for your cases of torture. You even tell them that there is a law on torture but they don’t want to listen to you.”
“We will continue to fight, we will continue to prove ourselves that we are human rights lawyers, despite the intimidation, despite not giving us access but we will not relent and we will continue to fight so that we educate even the masses because some of these victims of torture don’t have the guts sometimes to even report.”
During the seminar, the lawyers were schooled on what constituted torture, the different forms of torture in the context of the crisis in the English-speaking regions and more. “The elements of torture are non-exhaustive because you find new measures, new tactics of torture coming up daily. Torture in the context of the convention against all forms of torture will constitute issues like physical harm, and even mental, which I think is the core aspect of torture,” Barrister Emmanuel Nkea, a facilitator told Pan African Visions.
At the end of the training, some lawyers will be selected to represent victims of torture against perpetrators in front of the competent courts in Cameroon.
“In the context of the crisis in the NW/SWRs, the incidents of torture have become enhanced, several incidences are preoccupying these days. I believe most of the law enforcement officers who are perpetrators of these acts of violence may not even understand that what they do violates the law. Some victims of these acts of torture have started feeling that it is a normal thing,” Emmanuel Nkea added.