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May 01, 2017 Articles

Using the Courts to Harass Human Rights Defenders: Cameroon's Musa Usman Ndamba to hear judgement after 60 court appearances

On May 11, 2017, Cameroonian human rights defender, Musa Usman Ndamba, will appear in court for judgment hoping that it is finally the end of what has been a horrendous case of judicial harassment, in a case initiated by wealthy businessman and politician, Alhadji Baba Ahmadou Danpullo. After appearing in court for over 60 times due to postponements primarily because of the nonappearance of the complainant, Alhadji Danpullo, the Magistrate Court in Bamenda, Cameroon is set to give judgment in the case. Mr. Ndamba has been accused of “criminal defamation” and “giving false information or a false report” in a matter that dates back to 2011. Alhaji Danpullo accused Mr. Ndamba of deposing to an affidavit in an asylum application which implicated him (Danpullo) in several serious human rights violations. If convicted, Mr. Ndamba faces up to 5 years in prison and is liable to an estimated fine of USD 3, 500.00.

Mr Ndamba is one of the founders and the 1st National Vice President of the Mbororo Social Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), which is an umbrella association of the indigenous Mbororo-Fulani people of North-West Cameroon. Since the early 90’s Mr. Ndamba has been advocating for the rights of the Mbororo-Fulani people. For many years, the Mbororo-Fulani who are nomadic pastoralists have come into conflict with commercial landowners like Alhadji Danpullo, who they have accused of encroaching on the communal lands they have traditionally used to sustain their way of life. Alhadji Danpullo who was recently named as the richest man in francophone Africa and is a member of the ruling CPDM party in Cameroon, has been accused of using his wealth and political connections to disregard court orders with impunity and to misuse the criminal justice system to target Mbororo activists.

From the on start of the case, Mr. Ndamba vehemently asserted his innocence and denied ever authoring the affidavit which was signed under the name Musa Adamu. Despite exonerating evidence given at the investigation stage by the lawyer who notarized the affidavit in question, confirming that Mr. Ndamba was not the individual who appeared before him as Musa Adamu, Cameroon’s prosecuting authority surprisingly proceeded with the criminal prosecution. On April 27, 2018, this same lawyer, Mr. Akong Joseph, unequivocally testified at Mr. Ndamba’s trial, that Mr. Ndamba was not the person who appeared before him and signed the affidavit as Musa Adamu, thereby confirming Mr. Ndamba’s defense.

For over 6 years Mr. Ndamba diligently appeared in court hoping for the matter against him to proceed, so he could defend himself from what he alleged where trumped up charges. The matter was however repeatedly postponed denying Mr. Ndamba the opportunity to prove his innocence. Instead, for several years, Mr. Ndamba has suffered the anxiety brought on by a criminal prosecution, was burdened with legal fees and has been hindered from focusing on his human rights work. In 2016, the ABA Center for Human Rights documented in a report how this case against Mr. Ndamba strongly suggests that it has been a case of judicial harassment instigated by Alhadjo Danpullo in retaliation to Mr. Ndamba’s work on behalf of the Mbororo-Fulani people. The report detailed several other cases also instituted by Alhadji Danpullo against Mr. Ndamba in which Danpullo never showed up in court. Instead, the matters were repeatedly postponed until the presiding magistrates eventually dismissed them for lack of prosecution. Although Mr. Ndamba was not convicted in the other cases, similarly to this case, he was unduly burdened in defending himself in cases that seemingly point to a pattern of malicious prosecution.  

The use of frivolous criminal prosecutions against human rights defenders to silence them and pressure them into discontinuing their work is not uncommon. Human rights defenders however play an important role in the protection of human and peoples’ rights, democracy, rule of law, peace consolidation and sustainable development. Cameroon as a party of the several international human rights treaties including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights has a duty to protect human rights defenders from non-state actors as enshrined in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, strongly reiterates its call to Cameroon to dismiss the charges against Mr. Ndamba and ensure that all human and environmental rights defenders in Cameroon are free to carry out their legitimate human rights work. The Center also urges the government of Cameroon to ensure the independence and professionalism of its criminal justice system to ensure that it is not misused by no-state actors as a tool of repression.