The United Nations through one of its agencies the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has made a major ruling. Marafa Hamidou Yaya is widely considered as a political prisoner. The agency has ruled that the Republic of Cameroon’s imprisonment of political prisoner, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, constitutes arbitrary detention in violation of international law and it is unlawful. The announcement was made at the group’s 75th session in the United Nations Headquarters in New York from April 18-27.
The group’s findings were disclosed first to the Government of Cameroon (GOC) two weeks before communicating them to Marafa’s lawyer on Monday, June 27, 2016. The decision comes on the heels of the recent judgment handed down by Cameroon’s highest court reducing Marafa’s prison sentence from 25 to 20 years for his role in the abortive purchase of a presidential aircraft for President Biya’s travels.
It should be recalled that Marafa Hamidou Yaya’s attorney, Professor Ndiva Kofele Kale, had on June 2015 in front of the UN agency defended Marafa’s claims. However, because of the large amount of documents, it took the WGAD between November 2015 and April 2016 to deliberate on the Marafa petition before finally issuing its opinion in June 2016
The United Nations body has therefore demanded that Mr. Marafa be released immediately and be awarded compensation by the Government of Cameroon for the harm caused by being deprived of his liberty. The Working Group established that Marafa Hamidou yaya detention violates Articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also urged President Biya’s government to take diligent steps to address Marafa’s failing health which is worsening to the point of becoming irreversible. It then referred the decision to Monica Pinto, the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, for appropriate action.
Asked to comment on the decision, Professor Kale had this to say:
“The decision of the Working Group vindicates my client and confirms what he has always said that he is innocent of all the charges leveled against him. But before professional talking heads spin this momentous decision out of control, let me make note of the following three points. First, unlike the Thierry Atangana and Lydienne Eyoum cases where the Cameroon Government did not bother to file any pleadings, in this case, the Government not only filed but even requested a 60-day extension to prepare its reply to my preliminary submission. Both the Government’s and the complainant’s submissions were backed by supporting documents. As a matter of fact, these documents were so voluminous that they contributed in prolonging the deliberations of the Working Group. The point here is that this is not a default judgment but the reasoned outcome of a contested dispute where both parties were allowed to lay out their case. And the six distinguished jurists who comprise the Working Group had before them the same set of documents as the prosecutors who indicted Marafa; the judges of the Mfoundi High Court who declared him guilty and the venerable justices of our Supreme Court who confirmed the judgment of the lower court. Yet after reviewing the same evidence, the panel of jurists on the Working Group came to the opposite conclusion!
How did our jurists get it wrong? Perhaps it is the search for an answer to this question that the Working Group decided to refer their decision to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges for further probing. In any event, it does not speak well of Cameroon’s judiciary as this referral now puts in doubt its vaunted claims of independence and impartiality.
My second observation is that in as much as Cameroon is a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, she is legally bound by this decision and cannot refuse to execute it. Finally, it remains my hope that President Biya will do the right thing and instruct his Government to abide by the UN ruling against it and take the steps that are necessary to bring Mr. Marafa Hamidou Yaya’s arbitrary and unjust detention to an end. At issue here is Cameroon’s willingness to respect the Rule of Law not only in theory but in actual practice as well. It must demonstrate evidence of that willingness by resisting the temptation of aligning itself with those rogue states that flout the decisions of international tribunals and by so doing become complicit in weakening the global/international community’s efforts to protect some of the most vulnerable victims of human rights violations!” His lawyer concluded.
BaretaNews thinks that this is a very big move for Marafa Hamidou Yaya. Will the government of Paul Biya bulge? 2018 might be an interesting year. Can the government of Paul Biya reject this major announcement from the UN body? Would the government be obliged to bow to its international duty by respecting all international conventions and treaties? If it does so happen, then we should be seeing Marafa out sooner than later.
God is still saying something