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Cameroon Lawyers’ Strike: Another Thorn in Government’s Flesh

A national lawyers’ strike could further deteriorate the political climate in Cameroon.

By Paul Njie

Lawyers in Cameroon remain adamant to observe a five-day nationwide sit-in, despite pleas from the government to rescind the decision. On August 31, the Cameroon Bar Council announced that lawyers in the country would boycott court sessions and other legal activities, owing to what they called poor treatment of lawyers by state authorities.

“In spite of previous complaints made, lawyers are continuously being threatened, arrested and detained in the course of exercising their functions,”

Cameroon Bar Council

Why this lawyers’ strike?

Cameroon layers protest 2016
Cameroonian lawyers protesting in 2016.

Lawyers in Cameroon frowned at the fact that government’s abuse on their professional rights is constant. There have been reports of massive brutality on lawyers by security forces.

Moreover, officials incessantly deny lawyers access to their clients in Cameroon’s prolific detention centers. Rights groups have also reported excessive violations of the rights of accused persons in Cameroon. Lawyers complain that litigants face trial in a language they do not understand, a situation which sparked the current Anglophone crisis in 2016.

Barrister Ketung Kenneth, a lawyer in Bamenda, told Ebonigram “our sit-in strike is well articulated. Human rights abuses are too many. Lawyers are not respected by uniformed officers who do what they want and go scot-free. We are now in a police and gendarme state. What an unfortunate situation.”

“The Bar Council in protest, calls on all lawyers to observe a five-day sit-in strike beginning as from the 16th to the 20th day of September 2019.”

A clause in the Bar Council’s resolution

Following this announcement, the government of Cameroon held talks with leaders of the Bar Council on September 4, to convince them to suspend the declared sit-in.

The Minister Delegate at the Ministry of Justice, Jean De Dieu Momo, set up an ad hoc committee, to look into the plight of legal practitioners in the country. He promised that government will address the worries of the aggrieved lawyers. However, lawyers have maintained their need for permanent and concrete measures instead of temporary or cosmetic administrative placations.

Barrister Eta Besong Junior, one of the lawyers who attended the crisis meeting in Yaounde, spoke to Canal 2 English journalist, Dominic Meme Nwakimo. He said that lawyers will pull through with the strike scheduled for September 16.

How Bad Is Another Lawyers’ Strike?

Barrister Felix Agbor Nkongho who led the 2016 lawyers strike was incacerated for almost one year in cameroon.
Credits: CHRDA

If the nationwide sit-in goes on as planned, it would be a big blow for the Cameroonian government. Cameroon’s authorities are already facing hard times in handling the Anglophone crisis in the two fractious Anglophone minority regions of the country —a crisis initiated by Anglophone lawyers.

Cameroon is a bilingual country with English and French as official languages. It has ten regions — two out of the ten are Anglophone regions — with a bi-jural legal system.

In 2016, Common Law lawyers in the Anglophone North West and South West regions organised a strike action. They complained against a perceived Francophone dominated government’s effort to erode the English system of law. Lawyers protested the over deployment of Francophone magistrates to Anglophone courts to adjudicate cases in a language which they barely understood. They also pressed for the translation of the OHADA law into English — Anglophone lawyers had to use the French version of the law for over 50 years.

In 2016, the country’s Minister of Justice, Laurent Esso, said that hunger would quickly push striking lawyers back to the courtrooms. On the contrary, the strike lasted for two years after government addressed part of the lawyers’ worries.

An unchanged situation

Three years after the start of the Anglophone crisis, the situation in the English speaking regions is deteriorating. As of the early months of 2018, the crisis has since degenerated into a full armed conflict.

Meanwhile, the enormity of the lawyers’ sit-in in 2016 makes it hard to predict the outcomes of this one. The extent to which lawyers will go to bend the hand of government on a national scale is unknown. The angry legal practitioners have also promised to take further measures after their strike action, if necessary. It is unclear what those measures would be. However, considering their expressed disatisfaction, it might be more serious than their current stance.

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