Appeal in support of Maurice Kamto

The following Appeal was published in French on the website of the newspaper Le Monde on 1st March 2019. The French Society for International Law also initiated, on 24th February, a petition of jurists which has been signed for the moment by more than 850 people. It invites those who have not yet done so to sign this petition and to disseminate it as widely as possible. At its meeting on 2nd February 2019 it has adopted a statement of support to Maurice Kamto.

On 28 January 2019, two days after the “White March” organised to contest peacefully the official result of the presidential election in Cameroon, Professor Maurice Kamto was arrested in Douala with several dozen people. He was then transferred to Yaoundé and placed in “administrative police custody” within the “Special Operations Group”, a department of the General Delegation for National Security specifically responsible for operations against commandos, terrorist or other organized criminal groups. Detained for fifteen days incommunicado, in appalling and degrading humanitarian conditions, initially deprived of access to his lawyers, Maurice Kamto was finally presented on 12 February 2019, with 160 other people, to the Military Court of Yaoundé.

The Colonel Magistrate of this extraordinary court issued multiple incarceration orders, on charges such as “insurrection, hostilities against the Fatherland, rebellion, damage to public or classified property, contempt of the President of the Republic, assembly and demonstration, crowding, political nature, destruction and complicity in the same acts”. In localities where marches have managed to deploy, videos show acts of brutality carried out by the police to prevent them, even though they took place in a strictly peaceful manner. Similarly, the MRC (the Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon), the political party of which Maurice Kamto was the founder and candidate in the presidential election, denied any responsibility for the ransacking of certain Cameroonian diplomatic services abroad, which it condemned unambiguously. Like many of his supporters, Maurice Kamto was not spared by the military judge who placed him in pre-trial detention “for an initial period of 6 months”, i.e. until 11 August 2019. Maurice Kamto is currently being held in Kondengui Central Prison, which is known for its horrendous conditions of detention.

How did it come to this? We can precisely recall powerful images of moments when Cameroon demonstrated, in front of the entire international community, its esteem for the man it holds in its jails today. For example when, on 10 October 2002 before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Maurice Kamto was present at the reading of the Judgment in favour of Cameroon which he had so well represented in the border dispute with Nigeria. Maurice Kamto, “Agrégé” of Law, Dean of the Yaoundé Faculty of Law, former member and President of the United Nations International Law Commission, was the natural lawyer of his country. A member of the Institute of International Law and of the Curatorium of The Hague Academy of International Law, he was already – and still is – a prominent international lawyer, highly regarded by his peers. This is undoubtedly the reason why Cameroon decided in 2001 to present his candidature to the United Nations International Law Commission, where he was elected by the General Assembly on three occasions, and, a few years later, officially to support his candidature for election as a judge at the ICJ.

This deserved support reflected the esteem in which the Cameroonian authorities held one of their country’s most prominent and respected nationals abroad. For seven years, Maurice Kamto served as Minister Delegate for Justice within the government appointed by Paul Biya.

Maurice Kamto’s resignation from his government functions in 2011, followed by the creation of the MRC in 2012, may be the beginning of an explanation for the treatment he is currently receiving. More likely still, the fact that Maurice Kamto claimed victory in the aftermath of the October 2018 presidential election, before being briefly placed under house arrest on the day Paul Biya was sworn in for a seventh term, certainly helped to seal his current fate and, with him, that of his supporters.

We have no control over these events and have no intention of interfering in Cameroon’s political life. It is up to the Cameroonian people, and to them alone, to freely decide on their political institutions in accordance with the universal values of democracy and the rule of law. On 27 September of last year, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cameroon stated before the UN that “the consolidation of democratic culture in Cameroon is an unavoidable process”. We want to believe that; but this process cannot succeed without respect for the fundamental principles by which Cameroon is bound. It has made a sovereign commitment to respect such emblematic international instruments as the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. What do these texts say? That everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference, that every citizen shall have the right to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections, that human dignity must be preserved in all circumstances, that no one may be subjected to treatment contrary to it, that no one may be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention, that everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law, that he or she has the right to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly…

To date, the public expression of the concerns of the international community, and in particular that of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who was the first to sound the alarm, has had no tangible effect. The European Union, for its part, does not seem to have taken the measure of the situation.

Yet, by its founding act, the Treaty on European Union, the European Union, whose parliamentarians will stand for election by its citizens in a few months, has solemnly formulated the fundamental values it intends to promote on the international stage. It has so far done so in Cameroon with massive financial support, no less than 80 million euros devoted to improving governance, better respect for human rights and standards of justice, under the 11th European Development Fund (11th Fed) for the period 2014-2020. It cannot fail to acknowledge that Cameroon’s promises are being betrayed, and should freeze all its support programmes until it is assured that the fundamental rights of Maurice Kamto and his supporters are duly respected.

To say this is in no way to interfere in Cameroon’s internal affairs. Under the present circumstances, it is simply to express our concern about the arrest and treatment of Maurice Kamto and his supporters and to call on Cameroon to respect the fundamental obligations it has freely entered into for the benefit of its people and with the 171 other States parties to the United Nations Covenant, the 164 other States parties to the Torture Convention and the 52 other States of the continent parties to the African Charter. It is only to make the wish that reason prevails, not the Reason of State, but that of law, justice and dignity, for Maurice Kamto and his supporters as well as for all Cameroonians.

Signatories (in their personal capacity)

Geneviève Bastid-Burdeau, Professor Emeritus, University of Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne), member of the Institute of International Law, former Secretary General of the Hague Academy of International Law

Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, Professor of International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Geneva, Associate of the Institute of International Law

Enrique Candioti, former Ambassador of Argentina, former Secretary of State, former President of the United Nations International Law Commission

Sarah Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights, Columbia University Law School, former member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee

Luigi Condorelli, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Law, University of Geneva

Olivier Corten, Professor, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Director of the Centre de Droit international

Jean-Paul Costa, former President of the European Court of Human Rights

Jean-Pierre Cot, former Minister for Cooperation to Development of the French Republic, former Member of the European Parliament, Professor Emeritus, University of Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Yves Daudet, President of the Curatorium of the Hague Academy of International Law, Professor Emeritus, University of Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Eric Diamantis, Barrister at Law, Partner, Clyde & Co.

John Dugard, Professor Emeritus, Universities of Leiden and Witwatersrand, former member of the United Nations International Law Commission, Judge ad hoc at the International Court of Justice, member of the Institute of International Law

Mathias Forteau, Professor of International Law, University of Paris-Nanterre, former member of the United Nations International Law Commission

Dame Rosalyn Higgins, Queen’s Counsel, former President of the International Court of Justice, former President of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law,  member of the Institute of International Law

Luis M. Hinojosa-Martinez, Professor of International and European Law, University of Granada, President of the European Society of International law

Catherine Kessedjian, President of the French Branch of the International Law Association (ILA), Associate of the Institute of International Law, Professor Emeritus, University of Paris II (Panthéon-Assas)

Pierre Klein, Professor, Université Libre de Bruxelles 

Marcelo Kohen, Secretary-General of the Institute of International Law, Professor, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva)

Franck Latty, Secretary General of the French Branch of the ILA, Professor, University of Paris-Nanterre, Director of the Centre de Droit international (CEDIN)

Philippe Leboulanger, lawyer, Leboulanger et Associés

Ahmed Mahiou, member of the Institute of International Law, former Dean of the Faculty of Law of Algiers, former President of the United Nations International Law Commission

Don MacRae, Professor Emeritus of International Law, University of Ottawa, former member of the United Nations International Law Commission, Associate of the Institute of International Law

Sean Murphy, Professor, George Washington University, President of the American Society of International Law, member of the United Nations International Law Commission

Alain Pellet, President of the French Society of International Law, former President of the United Nations International Law Commission, Professor Emeritus, University of Paris-Nanterre, member of the Institute of International Law

Michel Prieur, Professor Emeritus, University of Limoges, President of the International Centre for Comparative Environmental Law

Jean Salmon, Professor Emeritus, Université Libre de Bruxelles, honorary member of the Institute of International Law, former member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration

Philippe Sands, Professor, University College London, President of English PEN

William Schabas, Professor, Middlesex University London

Jean-Marc Thouvenin, Professor, University of Paris-Nanterre, Secretary General of the Academy of International Law

Christian Tomuschat, Professor Emeritus, Humboldt University Berlin, former President of the United Nations International Law Commission, member of the Institute of International Law

Sébastien Touzé, Professor, University of Paris II (Panthéon-Assas), member of the United Nations Committee against Torture, Director of the René Cassin Foundation

Peter D. Trooboff, Member of the Curatorium of The Hague Academy of International Law (1991-2019), former President of the American Society of International Law (1990-1992)

Eduardo Valencia-Ospina, President of the United Nations International Law Commission, former Registrar of the International Court of Justice