Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cameroonian nominated for 2011 Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk

Every year, Front Line, an organization that protects human rights defenders around the world, grants an award to one human rights defender who fights for human rights - usually at great personal risk in his/her country. This year, a Cameroonian has been nominated for the award, alongside five other human rights defenders from other countries with poor human rights records. The nomination of Jean Marc Bikoko, a Cameroonian trade unionist and human rights activist, for the 2011 Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk once again shines the spotlight on Cameroon's human rights record and speaks volumes about the dangers faced by human rights defenders in the central African country.

According to Front Line, Jean Marc Bikoko, President of Centrale Syndicale du Secteur Public (CSP), works to safeguard the rights of employees in the public sector in Cameroon. He was arrested in November 2010 together with 6 other trade unionists for participating a peaceful sit-in in front of the Prime Minister's office in Yaounde, Cameroon's main city. The peaceful demonstration was organized by CSP and the organization sought authorization to peacefully assemble and express their grievances, but authorization was denied.

On the day of the sit-in, the trade unionists were rounded up by security forces, interrogated and prosecuted on charges of participating in a banned peaceful demonstration.

The right to peaceful assembly and free expression is enshrined in key human rights instruments that have been duly ratified by the government of Cameroon, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Cameroon's membership to the International Labour Organization (ILO) is even more relevant in this case since it concerns the rights of trade unionists and workers.

Cameroon is party to the ILO's Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (ratified on 7 June 1960), the Workers' Representatives Convention (ratified on 5 April 1976) and other significant international labour standards that promote the rights of workers and trade union members.

Article 1 of the Workers' Representatives Convention states that "workers' representatives shall enjoy effective protection against any acts prejudicial to them..."

Mindful of the government's legal obligation under international law - it goes without saying that the arrest of Jean Marc Bikoko, a workers' representative as defined by Article 3 of the 1971 Workers' Representatives Convention, for organizing and participating in a peaceful demonstration to demand the rights of public sector employees contravenes international human rights and international labour rights standards.

More so, the banning of a peaceful sit-in by the authorities amounts to an interference to restrict the right to peaceful assembly and expression.

It has been said that Cameroon has an "unenviable" human rights record, hence the nomination of a Cameroonian for the 2011 Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk adds weight to the assertion and goes to show the dangers faced by human rights defenders and those who dare to speak out against basic rights violations in the African country.

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