Human rights situation observed during the Cameroon Common Lawyers and teachers strike in the Anglophone regions.

  1.  Introduction

From October 2016 till now the North West and South West Regions of Cameroon have experienced an unprecedented strike of Anglophone lawyers and teachers. This strike first started with lawyers and since they were not listened to by the authorities that be, teachers later on joined and so the strike was intensified. To make meaning to this statement it will be good to briefly look at why the two professional groups are protesting in what has become known as the Anglophone problem.

  1. Causes of the Problem

The root of this problem may be traced back to 1961 when the political elites of two territories with different colonial legacies, one French and the other British agreed on the formation of a federal state. Contrary to expectations, this did not provide for the equal partnership of both parties, let alone for the preservation of the cultural heritage and identity of each, but turned out to be merely a transitory phase to the total integration of the Anglophone region into a strongly centralised, unitary state. Gradually, this created an Anglophone consciousness: the feeling of being ‘marginalised’, ‘exploited’, and ‘assimilated’ by the francophone-dominated state, and even by the francophone population as a whole.

It was not until the political liberalisation process in the early 1990s that some members of the English-speaking elite started openly to protest against the supposed subordinate position of the Anglophones and to lay claims for self-determination and autonomy. Whereas the most important organisations initially called for a return to the federal state, the persistent refusal of the Government headed by President Paul Biya to discuss any related constitutional reforms forced some to adopt a secessionist stand. They attempted to gain international recognition for their demands through a diplomatic offensive that presented the Anglophones as an oppressed minority whose territory had been ‘annexed’ by the francophone-dominated state.

The Government has not surprisingly devised various strategies to safeguard the unitary state, including attempts to minimize or even deny the existence of an ‘Anglophone problem’, to create divisions among the English-speaking elite, to remunerate some allies with prestigious positions in the state apparatus previously reserved for Francophobes only, and to repress all actions designed to change the status of the Southern Cameroons.

The birth of the Federal Republic of Cameroon on 1 October 1961marked the reunification of two territories which had undergone different colonial experiences after World War I. It needs to be recalled that part of the British mandate trust territory, which came to be called Southern Cameroons, was initially attached to the Eastern Provinces of Nigeria until 1954, when it achieved a quasi-regional status and a limited degree of self-government within the Federation of Nigeria, where it attained full regional status in 1958. There can be no doubt that the administration of Southern Cameroons as an appendage of Nigeria resulted in the blatant neglect of its development, as well as the dominant position of Ibo and Efik-Ibibio migrants in its economy.

It was Southern Cameroons which voted in the 1961 United Nations plebiscite for reunification with French Cameroun rather than for integration into Nigeria.

What was expected to mark the start of a unique federal experiment in Africa soon turned out to be ‘more shadow than reality’. During negotiations on the constitution, particularly at the Foumban conference in July 1961, the bargaining strength of the francophone delegation reflected the fact that the size and population of the anglophone region was small, comprising only nine per cent of the total area and about a quarter of the total population. And even more important, by the time of these negotiations, the Southern Cameroons had still to achieve its independence by joining the sovereign Republic of Cameroon, whose President, Ahmadou Ahidjo, as leader of the francophone delegation, was able to dictate the terms for federation by capitalising on his territory’s ‘senior’ status.( John Ngu Foncha, the Prime Minister of Southern Cameroons and leader of the Anglophone delegation, had proposed a loose form of federalism but was eventually forced to accept a highly centralised system of government and administration.


Chongsi Ayeah Joseph, Executive Director, CHRAPA

 Ahidjo looked upon federalism as an unavoidable stage in the establishment of a strong unitary state, and employed various tactics to achieve this objective. After becoming President of the Federal Republic of Cameroon in October 1961, he played Anglophone political factions off against each other, eventually persuading them to join the Union nationale camerounaise (UNC), the single party formed in September 1966, and was able to penalise any anglophone leader who remained committed to federalism. Hence his replacement of Augustine Ngom Jua by Solomon Tandeng Muna, a ‘unitarist’, as Prime Minister of the federated state of West Cameroon in 1968, and his creation of ‘clients’ by according top posts in either the government and or the party to representatives of significant ethnic and regional groups in the anglophone region.

On 20 May 1972, Ahidjo announced in the National Assembly that he intended to transform the Federal Republic into a unitary state, provided the electorate supported the idea in a referendum to be held on 20 May, thereby abrogating clause 1 of article 47 of the Foumban document which read: ‘any proposal for the revision of the present constitution, which impairs the unity and integrity of the Federation shall be inadmissible’. Even if the constitution were to be amended it should not be done by referendum, because clause 3 of article 47 stipulated ‘that proposals for revision shall be adopted by simple majority vote of the members of the Federal Assembly, provided that such majority includes a majority of the representatives…of each of the Federated States’. The autocratic nature of Ahidjo’s regime helps to explain why the inhabitants of Cameroon voted massively for the draft constitution, and hence the immediate establishment of the United Republic of Cameroon.

The President’s justification for the ‘glorious revolution of 20 May 1972’ was that federalism fostered regionalism and impeded economic development. A growing number of articulate anglophones, however, were inclined to attribute the emergence of ‘regionalism’ and lack of progress not to federalism per se, but rather to the hegemonic tendencies of the francophone-dominated state. They started to resent their region’s loss of autonomy and the allegedly subordinate position of the anglophone minority in the unitary state. Their numerous grievances were mainly of a political, economic, and cultural nature: notably their under-representation and inferior role in national decision-making councils; the neglect of their region’s infrastructure and the rape and drain of its rich economic resources, especially oil, by successive francophone regimes.

A major challenge to the francophone-dominated unitary state occurred during the Tripartite Conference convened by President Biya from 30 October to 18 November 1991. Although representatives were not selected on a bi-cultural basis, four anglophones were able to impress on their francophone counterparts that it was time for Cameroon to return to the Foumban federal arrangements of 1961. Sam Ekontang Elad, Simon Munzu, and Benjamin Itoe, all from the South West, as well as Carlson Anyangwe from the North West, virtually torpedoed the proceedings by coming out with the EMIA constitution (named after their initials), which called for a West Cameroon state in a loose federation.) They went on to convene the All Anglophone Conference (AAC) following the regime’s announcement in March 1993 of a national debate on constitutional reform, and the next month over 5000 members of an ‘All Anglophone Congress’ met at Buea, the ex-capital of the Southern Cameroons, ‘for the purpose of adopting a common anglophone stand on constitutional reform and of examining several other matters related to the welfare of Ourselves, our Posterity, our Territory and the entire Cameroon Nation’.

The Buea Declaration listed multiple grievances about francophone domination and called for a return to the federal state. Like previous documents written by similar pressure groups, it tended to blame the francophones as a whole for the plight of the poor anglophones, and compared both in rather idealised terms: the former, in full solidarity, agree among themselves to oppress the latter who, by their very nature, are peace-loving, open to dialogue, and committed to freedom. Of course, this demagogic approach, which is commonplace in ethnic discourse, serves to emphasise the ‘insurmountable’ dichotomy that justifies the AAC call for autonomy. This approach may be efficient in mobilising anglophones but has hardly helped the struggle against their ‘real’ enemy, the francophone-dominated unitary state which has allies and opponents in all parts of the country. In addition, it denies the existence of various ethnic links, and creates serious obstacles to any francophone sympathy for the Anglophone cause.

In May 1993 the 65-member Anglophone Standing Committee established by the AAC submitted a draft constitution which would provide for major political, financial, and fiscal autonomy for the two federated states, for the provinces inside both, and for the communities inside each province. There would be the usual separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judiciary, and a senate and national assembly for each federated state, as well as a rotating presidency for the Federal Republic, whereby after at most two consecutive mandates of five years an anglophone would succeed a francophone (or vice versa). This proposal was even reiterated for each of the federated states to ensure alternation between the provinces (obviously with the South West/North West divide in mind).Confronted with the Government’s persistent refusal to discuss the AAC constitutional proposals, one of the most important associations affiliated to the AAC declared itself in favour of the ‘zero option’ on 3 December 1993 – i.e. total independence for the Southern Cameroons. The CAM’s shift from federalism to secession was more or less adopted during the Second All Anglophone Conference (AAC II), which had been organised in Bamenda from 29 April to 2 May 1994 when it was decided that if the Government ‘either persisted in its refusal to engage in meaningful constitutional talks or failed to engage in such talks within a reasonable time’, the Anglophone Council should ‘proclaim the revival of the independence and sovereignty of the Anglophone territory of the Southern Cameroons, and take all measures necessary to secure, defend and preserve the independence, sovereignty and integrity of the said territory’.

The Bamenda Proclamation added that following the declaration of independence, the Anglophone Council should ‘without having to convene another session of the All Anglophone Conference, transform itself into the Southern Cameroons Constituent Assembly for the purpose of drafting, debating and adopting a constitution for the independent and sovereign state of the Southern Cameroons’. Delegates voted to replace the AAC with the Southern Cameroons Peoples Conference (SCPC), and subsequently the Anglophone Council was in August 1993 rebaptised as the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC).

The Anglophone Standing Committee and the SCNC have made strenuous efforts not only to secure the wholehearted backing of the anglophone community for their strategies to create a federal or an independent Southern Cameroons state, but also to gain international support for their cause.

  1. The Strike Action

It is over two months now since Common Law Lawyers launched an indefinite strike action calling among others for the translation of the OHADA Uniform Act.

The strike action started in Bamenda where the lawyers organized a peace march from the courts through some major streets. Even though peaceful as it was, the forces of law and order reacted to this with tear gas, brutalized, tortured many of them. The forces also went ahead to conduct massive arrest and extrajudicial killings of many unarmed civilians which according to the Governor of the North West Region only one person were killed. The peaceful march which was transformed to chaotic protest wouldn’t have been witnessed if authorities had taken the plight of Common Law Lawyers serious; yes the ugly incident seen in Bamenda where people of the Third estate are treated like dogs wouldn’t have happened if the New Deal Government of Mr Biya had acted promptly since the warning bells.  A similar thing happened in the South West Region. They were not only brutalized by tearing their coats, robe and wigs but this was extended to students.

The strike action has already divided the Bar Association with Common Law Lawyers creating their own Bar Association known as the Common Law Lawyers Bar Association.

Teachers in Cameroon’s anglophone regions have been striking in protest against the use of French in schools and the presence of “Francophone teachers” in English-speaking areas.

The Cameroon Teachers’ Trade Union (CATTU) declared a sit-in strike on 22 November for teachers and students in the Northwest and Southwest, the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon, inhabited by some 5.5 million people.

French and English are the official languages of the North West and South West Regions, which has separate schooling systems in Anglophone and Francophone areas.

The 1998 law on the orientation of education clearly says that the two sub-systems of education are independent and autonomous.

The French system of education is the majority and has been trying to wipe out Anglo-Saxon system of education, and that means wiping out the cultural heritage.

They have been trying to resist that, but they have got to the point where they, the (government) are infiltrating Francophone teachers who cannot speak English and don’t even master the anglophone system of education and sometimes they teach in a language that’s neither English nor French.

Anglophone teachers want to teach in English and they want Anglophone children to be taught by teachers who know the English sub-education system of Cameroon.

  1. Government action

Cameroon government from the beginning handled the issue just with a pinch of salt. Many government press outing point to the fact that Anglophones in Cameroon do not have a problem as some of them are appoint to ministerial positions. The case in point is that the prime minister is an Anglophone.

 It is claimed that what is today an Anglophone problem is a problem that is generally experienced in many regions and tribal people of Cameroon. To this, the Anglophones argue that this cannot be true because the Southern Cameroons joined La Republique Du Cameroon as an independent State not a region of tribe. And that they joined to be two equal states.

Given that the situation is getting out of hand, government first dispatched the Prime Minister to Bamenda to meet with the striking lawyers and teachers. They discussion simply met with a sharp disagreement and so the negotiations failed to the chagrin of many.

Even as it failed government still has not given up. Two commissions were still formed. One was to meet the teachers in Bamenda and the other to meet the lawyers in Yaounde. Both negotiations failed because they were some preconditions put by both the teachers and the lawyers. Both of them requested that all the people who were arbitrarily arrested and detained be unconditionally released.  And that those who were reported dead, be handed over to their various families. They also both complained that there was bad faith on the part of government because teachers and lawyers of the South West Region were carefully left out with the intention of making the issue look as if it was a North West affair.

Chongsi pose for pic with administration, EU staff &magistrates
  1.                    General Observations

It has been noticed that both the North West and South West Regions particularly the major towns have been militarized. Consequently gross human rights violation has been committed. These arm forces came with water cannons, guns and other weapons using who used them on the population on the pretext that they were using tear gas to disperse the angry crowds.  The most disheartening thing about it is that, tear gas was not only used on the protesting population, but were also used in the North West Regional Hospital where many people who had come for various health problems and many others were hospitalized.  The imagery center, the tuberculosis unit, and the nursery where there are many new born babies were particularly affected.

  1. Arbitrary Arrest and Detention

Many were arbitrary arrested and detained.  Since the 21st of November 2016, about 200 youths were arrested with ages ranging from 17 to 25 years at most were detained at the Gendarmerie legion up station in Bamenda. Family members complained that they were demanded 210,000 each for a bail. Those who could afford this amount, their children were released, while those whose parents could not, were retained. Many of those who were not released were taken to Youande where they are detained in unknown places under life threatening conditions. They are detained in chronic overcrowding, inadequate food, limited medical care, and deplorable hygiene and sanitation condition as it is generally the case.

 We are reliably informed that about 103 have been taken to Yauande in a place where there are no family members to give them food and other basic necessities and no family member or friend know where these people are detained. It is also alleged that many have already died and some are losing parts of their bodies due to constant beating and hunger.

By transferring these people from Bamenda to Yaounde constitute violation of section 2 (1) of Chapter two of the Cameroon Criminal Procedure Code dealing with arrests.This in itself constitutes forced disappearances which is an aspect of grave torture not only for the victims of forced disappearances but also for their family members and friends.

  1. b) Extrajudicial killings

Reports show that the police initially tried to disperse Thursday’s protest using tear gas and then began to shoot live ammunition into the crowd, killing at least four people on sport. Many were wounded and some of the wounded later died in various health institutions. These unlawful killings constitute grave violation of the right to life and security of person.

It should be noted that extrajudicial execution is practised in Cameroon in a systematic manner. In 2008 and 2011 protests hundreds were summarily executed and this recent one only goes a long to show how the government of Cameroon is failing in its duty to respect its international human rights commitment.

  1. Right to freedom of expression

There has been a foul cry over the potential human rights violations in the involvement of security forces to clamp down on protesting lawyers. Cameroon is a signatory of several human rights conventions including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).The ICCPR protects the rights of people to freedom of opinion (Art. 19(1), of expression (Art. 19(2), assembly (Art. 21), association (Art 22), and the freedom from arbitrary arrest (Art. 9). These provisions protect the rights of lawyers to form and belong to associations, own political opinions, assemble, engage in peaceful protests over their rights and entitlements and to not be illegally arrested for the sole purpose of exercising their constitutional rights.

The protests in Bamenda, Buea and Limbe were met with a swift and forceful crack-down by government authorities. The first day of protests in Bamenda on November 8 saw a strong presence of police, gendarme and forces from the Special Intervention Unit BIR. There was evidence of the use of tear gas to chase out lawyers from protests venues. There were reports of arrests of lawyers while about 10 others sustained tear gas and other bodily injuries. The same was the situation in Buea and Limbe in the Southwest region on the 10th November where there was a report of the presence of about a thousand armed police and army officers per sources on the ground. Security forces were placed at important intersections and venues of the cities. Testimonies from sources on the ground point to the fact that lawyers were hunted down from hotels and cars, intimidated and vandalized and in some cases were arrested and detained. There was equally evidence of some lawyers suffering from slight injuries. Some lawyers reported their robes and wigs were being seized by security forces. To worsen things, government representatives of the Northwest and Southwest regions took a decision to ban the Northwest Lawyers’ Association (NOWELA), Meme Lawyers Association (MELA) and a suspension of the activities of Fako Lawyers’. All these in violation of international human rights obligations signed up to by the government.

Respect and protection of human rights enshrined in the Cameroon Constitution in its Section 45 gives priority of international conventions over national laws. The Cameroon constitution stands out as an important tool to guarantee the protection of human rights in the country. The preamble of the constitution makes mention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and refers to specific fundamental human rights including the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, the freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedom from assembly, freedom of association, etc. Article 65 of the constitution confers a legal effect to the above-mentioned rights enshrined in its preamble. By translating international agreements into domestic law, government agents have an obligation to respect and ensure the protection of the enunciated human rights.

The decision by government to ban protests and suspend the constituent lawyers’ associations of the CCLL in the Northwest and Southwest regions interfered with the freedom to hold political opinion, their freedoms of association and assembly. The illegal arrest and detention of peaceful protesting lawyers without due process was in violation of national laws and tantamount to a violation of their freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as their freedoms of opinion and assembly.


Given the importance of formal education to the Cameroonian children, and the contribution that lawyers make to a society that is just, open and democratic CHRAPA urges both the government of Cameroon on the one hand and the leaders of the striking teachers and Cameroon common law lawyers on the other hand to immediately engage in a frank, open and genuine dialogue so and so as to find a long lasting solution to the problems expressed by these professional groups for the sake of justice, peace and development in Cameroon.

-Cameroon government should without delay set up an independent and impartial investigation commission which commission will ensure thorough, prompt, effective and impartial investigations of all suspected cases of death, especially those in custody. The methodology and findings of the investigations should be public, and authorities should ensure that persons identified by the investigation as having participated in an unlawful killing of unarmed civilians are held accountable.

-CHRAPA Condemn the crimes under international law and human rights violations or abuses by both civilians and security forces and publically call on the Government of Cameroon to urgently initiate thorough, independent, impartial investigations into allegations
of human rights violations and crimes under international law

-The Cameroon Government to end the Anglophone problem and related issues in Cameroon once and for all  should set up an independent commission that should thoroughly look into not only the complaints of the Anglophones but also those of the other grouping of the Cameroonian people which findings should impress on the eminent revision of the Cameroon constitution.

ChongsI Ayeah Joseph,

Executive Director,

Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy,


NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the United Nations

Cameroon Permanent Representative to the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva

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