Open letter to Paul Biya on dismissal of prominent human rights activist Felix Ngongho

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, jointly with: Canadian Association of University Teachers; Centre for Free Expression, Faculty of Communications and Design, Ryerson University (Toronto); Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa; Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (full list of signatories below)

Barrister Felix Ngongho lecturing at the Faculty of Law,, McGill University 2018

His Excellency Mr. Paul Biya, President of the Republic of Cameroon

His Excellency Mr. Joseph Dion Nguté, Prime Minister and Head of Government

Re: Dismissal of human rights defender Mr. Felix Agbor Nkongho from University of Buea

Your Excellencies,

We are a group of lawyers, academics, and non-governmental organizations from Canada writing to share our dismay and concern over the dismissal of human rights lawyer Mr. Felix Agbor Nkongho (also known as Agbor-Balla) on or about 6 May 2020 from his position as a lecturer at the University of Buea. We are writing to respectfully request the immediate reinstatement of Mr. Agbor Nkongho to his position as lecturer at the Faculty of Law and Political Science of the University of Buea, with all attendant rights and privileges.

This dismissal and its implications for Mr. Agbor Nkongho’s safety and academic freedom raise concerns for freedom of expression in Cameroon, given the history of harassment and retaliation to which Mr. Agbor Nkongho has been subjected in the context of widely reported human rights violations in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country. These concerns are rendered more serious in light of Mr. Agbor Nkongho’s role as a human rights defender and prominent civil society leader, including his advocacy for international human rights in Cameroon at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2018 and 2019.

Mr. Agbor Nkongho was arbitrarily relieved of his teaching duties following a letter sent by

Mr. Jacques Fame Ndongo, Minister of State, Minister of Higher Education, to Mr. Horace Manga, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buea on 20 April 2020, ordering the University of Buea to take measures against Mr. Agbor Nkongho for infringing on the “apolitical character of the university.” It is our understanding that these developments were the result of a written examination in which Mr. Agbor Nkongho and his two co-lecturers asked their students to engage in scholarly discussion of the Anglophone crisis. The university launched disciplinary procedures against Mr. Agbor Nkongho and summoned him before a disciplinary panel for “non-compliance of professional obligations” without adequate notice, which led to his immediate dismissal without opportunity for a full and fair hearing. The disciplinary panel reportedly proceeded in absentia, and it appeared that a decision to dismiss Mr. Agbor Nkongho had already been taken prior to the hearing date. The university launched no such procedures against his co-lecturers.  

It is our respectful view that Mr. Agbor Nkongho’s dismissal is contrary to Cameroon’s commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms as enshrined in regional and international human rights treaties to which it is a party.

We are concerned about the systematic harassment of Mr. Agbor Nkongho and the restriction of his freedom of expression and civil liberties. His dismissal appears to be a form of retaliation against him for his peaceful exercise of academic freedom. We respectfully remind your government of the provisions of the 1998 United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which requires Cameroon to ensure that everyone “has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms” and to ensure the protection of human rights defenders against any “retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action” as a consequence of their legitimate exercise of their internationally-protected rights.[1]

It is our respectful view that Mr. Agbor Nkongho’s dismissal is part of a pattern of intimidation and aggression towards him for his human rights advocacy. On January 17 2017, after participating in a peaceful protest for the protection of the rights of the Anglophone minority, Mr. Agbor Nkongho was arbitrarily arrested and detained on charges of “terrorism,” “civil unrest,” “treason,” and “jeopardising the peace and unity of the Republic of Cameroon” by the Military Tribunal of Yaoundé. While all charges were ultimately dropped and Mr. Agbor Nkongho was released through Presidential Decree, he spent eight months in prison. In the most recent incident, the disciplinary procedures launched against Mr. Agbor Nkongho were based on academic work that engaged in discussion of Anglophone rights. As such, this dismissal raises serious concerns for similar retaliation and the escalation of unlawful reprisals in the future.

We join other human rights advocates and experts in our condemnation of Mr. Agbor Nkongho’s dismissal as a form of unlawful reprisal against him. Mr. Agbor Nkongho’s dismissal has been characterized as “censorship” by Human Rights Watch[2] and has been condemned by the Human Rights Foundation,[3] the Observatory for the International Federation for Human Rights[4] and the Scholars at Risk Network.[5] We also remind you of the appeal made to the Cameroonian government on 28 April 2020 by several UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups to strongly condemn all retaliation against human rights defenders such as Mr. Agbor Nkongho.[6]

We urge you to make a public statement to the Government of the Republic of Cameroon, the University of Buea and to the international community declaring that all human rights defenders, including Mr. Agbor Nkongho, have the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression. We also urge you to call on Mr. Jacques Fame Ndongo, Minister of Higher Education, and Mr. Horace Manga, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buea, to:

  • Order the immediate reinstatement of Mr. Felix Agbor Nkongho (also known as Agbor-Balla) in his full capacities as lecturer at the University of Buea, Faculty of Law and Political Science.

We further urge you to:

  • Ensure that the rights of peaceful human rights defenders are respected, protected, and fulfilled in all circumstances, without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;
  • Guarantee in all circumstances the freedom of expression of all human rights defenders and human rights organisations in Cameroon and take action to ensure that no individual or organisation faces reprisals for their legitimate human rights activities;
  • Uphold and implement in all circumstances the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular its Articles 1, 6 and 12.2;
  • Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with all international human rights treaties ratified by Cameroon.

We stand ready to provide any additional information or support that you may require. We would appreciate your early reply to this letter.

Yours sincerely,

David Robinson, Executive Director / Directeur général
Canadian Association of University Teachers
Association canadienne des professeures et professeurs d’université
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

James L. Turk, Director, Centre for Free Expression, Faculty of Communications and Design, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

John Packer, Director, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, University of Ottawa, Neuberger-Jesin Professor of International Conflict Resolution, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Catherine Morris, Executive Director, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Yonah Diamond, Legal Counsel, Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

This letter is also endorsed by the following individuals:

Dr. Nicholas David, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Ms. Eleanor Dennis, BCL/LLB Candidate, Faculty of Law, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Ms. Pearl Eliadis, human rights lawyer and Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University and Max Bell School of Public Policy, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Prof. Robert G.W. Lapper, Q.C., David & Dorothy Lam Chair in Law and Public Policy, Faculty of Law and Faculty of Human and Social Development, University of Victoria, BC, Canada

Mr. Vitus Ngaanuma, LLM Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Prof. Chris W. J. Roberts, Political Science, Faculty of Arts, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Prof. Nandini Ramanujam, McGill University Faculty of Law, Executive Director and Director of Programs, McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Dr. Meredith Terretta, Gordon F. Henderson Chair in Human Rights, Professor, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Prof. Brian S. Silverman, J. R. S. Prichard and Ann Wilson Chair in Management, Rotman School of Management, University of Torontonto, Ontario, Canada

Ms. Iffat Rahman, Representative, African Bar Association, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The Global Campaign for Peace & Justice in Cameroon / L’Action mondiale pour la paix et la justice au Cameroun, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Copied to:

Mr. Jacques Fame Ndongo, Minister of State, Minister of Higher Education Republic of Cameroon

Mr. Laurent Esso, Minister of State, Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals, Ministry of Justice, Republic of Cameroon

Mr. Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, Minister of State, Secretary General, Republic of Cameroon

Mr. Paul Atanga Nji, Minister of Territorial Administration, Republic of Cameroon

Mr. Horace Manga, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buea, Republic of Cameroon

H.E Mr. Anatole Fabien Marie Nkou, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cameroon to the United Nations Office in Geneva

Mr. Salomon Azoh-Mbi Anu’a-Gheyle, High Commissioner, High Commission for the Republic of Cameroon in Canada

Mr. Richard Bale, High Commissioner, High Commission of Canada in Cameroon

Hon. Mr. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada

LT – Forgiveness of CCIJ indebtedness under invoice #3148 (00739044).DOCX

Mr. Ignazio Cassis, Federal Councillor, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Berne, Switzerland

Ms. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Palais des Nations, United Nations Office at Geneva, Switzerland

Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Palais des Nations, United Nations Office at Geneva, Switzerland

Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Palais des Nations, United Nations Office at Genev, Switzerland

Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Palais des Nations, United Nations Office at Geneva

Dr. Fernand de Varennes RP, Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, The Gambia

 


[1] UN General Assembly, Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: resolution, 8 March 1999, A/RES/53/144, see, particularly Article 12, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b00f54c14.htmal. The Declaration, while not in itself a binding instrument, is based on human rights standards enshrined in other international instruments that are legally binding, including the ICCPR. The Declaration was adopted by consensus of the General Assembly and thus represents a unanimous commitment by States to its implementation.

[2] Lewis Mudge, No Room for Debate in Cameroon Classrooms: Education Minister Censors Discussion of Anglophone Crisis, Human Rights Watch, 1 May 2020, available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/01/no-room-debate-cameroon-classrooms.

[3] Cameroon Pressures University To Fire Anglophone-Rights Advocate and Lecturer, Human Rights Foundation, 13 May 2020, available at: https://hrf.org/press_posts/cameroon-pressures-university-to-fire-anglophone-rights-advocate-and-lecturer/

[4] Cameroon: Harassment against human rights lawyer Felix Agbor Nkongho, FIDH, 14 May 2020, https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/cameroon-harassment-against-human-rights-lawyer-felix-agbor-nkongho.

[5] Scholars at Risk Network, 20 April 2020, https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/report/2020-04-20-university-of-buea/.

[6] UN OHCHR, Cameroon must protect human rights defenders – UN experts, 28 April 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25835&LangID=E.



Categories: Cameroon, Civil Liberties, Democracy & Dissent

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