The Head of the United Nations Centre for Human Rights and Democracy for Central Africa, Ahowanou Agbessi who is also the Cameroon resident representative of the UN Human Rights Commission, held talks with some 12 Anglophones detained at the Yaounde principal prison in the Kondengui neighbourhood on April 19.
The visit by the UN Rights chief accompanied by his deputy, Abdoulaye Traore, came days after Francois Fall, the special representative of the UN Secretary General for Central Africa and Head of UNOCA had paid a similar visit to the Kondengui prison.
In a statement at the start of his visit to Kondengui, the UN Human Rights chief said, their mission to the detention facility was to evaluate the conditions under which persons arrested in the North West and South West Regions were being detained. During a working session with the detainees in the office of the Registrar of the Yaounde principal prison, the UN Human Rights expert listened with rapt attention to the 12 Anglophone detainees.
Barrister Felix Agbor ‘Balla’ Nkongho, President of the outlawed Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, who spoke on behalf of the detainees, expressed regrets that the UN Human Rights office took interest in what has now been termed the ‘’Anglophone crisis’’ a little too late. He said for an office based in Yaounde, it is surprising that they were coming to visit the detainees close to 90 days after they were arrested from across the North West and South West Regions and transported to Yaounde.
“We expected a better and prompt response from the office of the UN Rights commission” Agbor Balla said. He however welcomed the visit of the UN Human Rights chief hoping that though their visit is a little too late, it will go a long way to ensure the release of the detainees. “Better late than never; it is a good thing that you have come to visit us. Most of us being held in detention centres around Yaounde have not been charged by any court.
In fact, most of the detainees do not even know why they are here. None of us here has committed any crime” the president of the proscribed Consortium told the visiting UN delegation.
Beside the inhumane manner in which most of the detainees were arrested and transported to Yaounde, Barrister Agbor Balla cited a plethora of difficulties faced by the detainees who were all arrested and detained far away from their homes. “It is very costly to have our friends and relatives visit us. Visitors have to spend a fortune to transport themselves from the South West and North West Regions to Yaounde. Taking the floor minutes later, Dr. Fontem Neba, Secretary General of the banned consortium, recounted the inhumane manner in which he, together with Barrister Agbor Balla, were arrested. He said he has since had issues with his spine and his limbs. Dr. Fontem Neba regretted that he has been unable to get medical care, coupled with the fact that his bank accounts have been blocked by government. Several other speakers who took to the floor narrated their ordeal to the UN Human Rights chief for Central Africa.
Committee to Protect Journalists barred from entering Cameroon
It was Atia Tilarious Azohnwi, President of the Buea Chapter of the Cameroon Association of English-speaking Journalists, CAMASEJ, who is also Political Desk editor of Limbe-based weekly tabloid, The Sun, who wondered why government denied a visa to the Head of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, who was due to visit detained journalists in Cameroon.
Atia expressed the wish that all those detained as a result of the ongoing Anglophone crisis should be released. In response to the issues raised by the detainees, the UN Human Rights chief regretted that because of administrative bottlenecks and procedural red tape, they were visiting Anglophones up to 90 days after they were arrested.
“The state prosecutor (Commissaire de Gouvernement) only granted our request to visit you on Monday April 17. We had to write to the Ministry of External Relations and other related Ministries before our visit could be made possible. You know that the international community is very systematic. Just know that we have had no rest since this problem started.
We are exploring and exploiting all avenues to get solutions to the problems in the North West and South West Regions and also to ensure that you all are released “the UN official pledged. “Just like you all have had no sleep since this problem started, we of the international community have had no sleep as well. We are very much touched by what is going on” he added. Before leaving Kondengui, the UN Human Right official promised to make the necessary interventions at the appropriate quarters for a return of normalcy in the Anglophone Regions.