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Cameroon questioned over minority torture case acquittal

29 March 2005

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) has raised serious concerns with the government of Cameroon regarding its respect for the due process of law following the acquittal of a Military Police Captain on charges of arbitrary arrest and torture of a member of the Mbororo pastoralist community. The rights group has complained directly to the government about the actions of a Military Tribunal and called for an independent appeal hearing, highlighting a list of judicial irregularities, which cast doubts over the validity of the acquittal.

The acquittal of Captain Fotsing Benjamin by the Bafoussam Military Tribunal in January 2005 was delivered despite strong evidence including the 2002 findings of the Rapport d’enquête effectué à Bamenda (Province du Nord Ouest) by the Inspector General of the Gendarmerie Nationale, as well as eyewitness testimony to the offences. MRG notes with concern that in reaching its decision, the Military Tribunal effectively disregarded this evidence, suggesting a determination to acquit despite the facts of the case.

According to MRG, while the case against Captain Fotsing Benjamin raises clear issues of arbitrary arrest, fair trial and torture, it also relates directly to broader issues of discrimination and intimidation by the Military Police of individuals and communities, including the Mbororo, wishing to continue living as pastoralists in the area in question. MRG first became involved in the matter of MP c/o Fotsing Benjamin brought by minority rights campaigner Ousman Haman in late 2003 following concern over the minority rights and discriminatory aspects of the case.

MRG has made a number of recommendations to the government consistent with international standards of trial and due process of law, including:

  • The relevant government bodies should ensure that an independent prosecutor be assigned to this case in order to ensure a fair appeal process;
  • MRG further recommends that Mr. Ousman, a civilian, be granted an appeal bench free of any military officials;
  • In relation to the duty to investigate, the Government of Cameroon is strongly urged to fully recognize and implement the findings of the investigation undertaken by Colonel Sonna Etienne (Inspector General of the Gendarmerie Nationale) in 2002;
  • In light of State obligations to ensure effective remedies, MRG finally recommends that appropriate disciplinary action be taken vis-à-vis Captain Fotsing.

An appeal against the 26/01/2005 acquittal has been filed, however MRG has cautioned the government of Cameroon that a failure to take seriously its obligations under international law at the domestic level would make international litigation and advocacy necessary. MRG reiterated Cameroon’s legal obligations by virtue of its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture (CAT), and also the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR). Article 12 of CAT states that ‘Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable grounds to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction’. This provision creates an obligation on the state to hold and to take due consideration of such investigations.

Notes for editors

  • The Military Tribunal originally found Captain Fotsing Benjamin guilty of torture and arbitrary arrest against a member of the Mbororo community following the extensive legal efforts of Mbororo NGOs in bringing the case. MRG are pursuing and supporting this case in the wider context of violence against the Mbororo, intertwined with ongoing disputes over community rights to grazing land. The Cameroon Constitution clearly states that minorities will be protected, and that under no circumstance shall any person be subjected to the rights violations highlighted in the current case.
  • The recent cases have been brought by Mbororo minority rights campaigners and the Mbororo organization MBOSCUDA.

For further information, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].