Cameroon in breach of Covenant for failing to investigate assault by government official

02.03.2015

Monika v. Cameroon (1965/2010)

Summary

In October 2014, the Human Rights Committee was asked to consider whether Cameroon’s response to an allegation of assault by a government official constituted a violation of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The communication was submitted by a Cameroonian national under the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

Background

Monika v. Cameroon (1965/2010)

Summary

In October 2014, the Human Rights Committee was asked to consider whether Cameroon’s response to an allegation of assault by a government official constituted a violation of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The communication was submitted by a Cameroonian national under the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

Background

The author, Mr John Monika, was the manager of the Mile Six Tourist Beach Resort in Limbe.

On 29 August 2002, the author met with a delegate of Limbe Urban Council, Mr Samuel Lifanda, who demanded payment of overdue bills totalling 7,946,956 CFA francs. During the meeting, Mr Lifanda also complained that the author had “disgraced” him by taking the Mile Six Beach Resort away from him. Mr Lifanda then called into his office three council officers who began to beat the author. The author eventually managed to escape the Limbe Urban Council building and was helped by passers-by to the public security office before being taken to hospital. During the assault, the author lost his phone, wallet and jacket and suffered severe injuries.

During the author’s stay at the hospital, he received threats from Mr Lifanda that he would be killed if he left the premises. The doctor who treated the author also retracted his medical certificate due to pressure from Mr Lifanda.

On 25 October 2002, the author was assaulted again by the head of the Limbe Urban Council municipal police and five other individuals. The author was then arrested by an officer of the Limbe gendarmerie post, holding an arrest warrant dated 30 August 2002 that ordered his arrest and detention for a renewable period of 15 days.

On 17 September 2002, the author filed a complaint before the State Prosecutor‑General, to which he annexed a picture of his left eye that had been damaged during the initial assault. On 3 October 2002, the author filed a further complaint with the State Prosecutor-General regarding the threats he had received from Mr Lifanda while in hospital.

In November 2002, the State Prosecutor-General forwarded the author’s complaints to the Commissioner of Police, the Department for Public Security in Limbe and the Provincial Chief of Judicial Police “for thorough investigation”. On 3 October 2002, the author filed a further complaint with the State Prosecutor in Limbe.

On 17 February 2004, the charges against the author for disturbance of a public office were withdrawn.

Having waited in vain for an investigation of his complaint, the author filed a further complaint against Mr Lifanda with the President’s Office. On 1 March 2005, the Deputy Secretary-General of the President’s Office informed the author that his petition had been redirected to the Vice Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice. On 20 April 2005, the author also addressed a complaint to the Vice Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice.

On 10 August 2006, the author filed a further complaint with the President, demanding compensation for permanent loss of vision in his left eye as he was still to receive a response to his first complaint. The author never received any acknowledgement of his complaints from the Presidency.

On 11 January 2010, the author filed this communication with the Committee under the Optional Protocol to the Covenant. The author claimed that he was the victim of violations by Cameroon of his rights to: (i) freedom from discrimination, (ii) effective remedy, (iii) life, (iv) freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment, (v) liberty and security of the person, and (vi) equality before the law (under articles 2(1), 2(3), 6, 7, 9 and 26 of the Covenant respectively).

The Committee’s decision

Regarding the admissibility of the author’s claims, the Committee found that the communication was admissible to the extent that it raised issues under articles 2(3), 7 and 9 of the Covenant. The Committee found, however, that the author’s claims under articles 2(1) and 26 were inadmissible under article 2 of the Optional Protocol for lack of substantiation, as the author had not shown a difference of treatment based on social origin, property, birth or other status.

On the merits, the Committee noted that Cameroon had not contested the author’s claim that he had been severely assaulted by an agent of the Cameroon Government leading to him suffering the permanent loss of sight in one eye, and that such acts remained unpunished. The Committee recalled its jurisprudence under which criminal investigation and prosecution are necessary remedies for violations of human rights such as those protected by article 7 of the Covenant. It further recalled its General Comment No. 31, in which the Committee had stated that where investigations reveal violations of Covenant rights, State parties must ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. The Committee considered that Cameroon had failed to investigate effectively the responsibility of those Government officials suspected of the attacks on the author. While Cameroon had referred to pending judicial investigations opened in February 2011, it has not submitted any information as to the results of such investigation, nor had it prosecuted anyone or explained the reasons for the lack of significant progress.

In the light of the above, the Committee concluded that Cameroon had violated the rights of the author under article 7 of the Covenant. With regard to the alleged violation of article 9, the Committee considered that this part of the author’s claim was included in his claim under article 7 of the Covenant.

In accordance with article 2(3)(a) of the Covenant, the Committee observed that Cameroon was under an obligation to provide the author with an effective remedy, including by ensuring a thorough investigation of the author’s allegations and the swift conclusion of the judicial proceedings, the prosecution of perpetrators, and adequate compensation to the author. The Committee found that Cameroon was also under an obligation to prevent similar violations in the future.

Cameroon must now submit its written response within six months of the Committee’s decision, including information on the action taken in light of the Committee’s recommendations, and ensure that the Committee’s decision is published widely.

Sam Hunter Jones is an international lawyer, based in London.