Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Italy welcomes repressive Cameroon president for State Visit

At a time when the government of Cameroon cut off internet connection to English-speaking parts of the country and engaged in mass arbitrary arrest of civil society leaders and political activists on trumped up charges, the president of the Republic was warmly received in Rome by Italian president Sergio Mattarella to the dismay of many Cameroonians who feel trapped under the iron fist of the Biya regime.

On the invitation of Sergio Mattarella, president Paul Biya of Cameroon paid a two-day State Visit to Italy on 20 March 2017. During the visit the 83-year-old who has been in power for 34 years was warmly welcomed - with military honors and a state dinner at the Quirinal Palace in Rome.

According to Paul Biya in a toast at the State dinner his visit to Rome is one of the first State Visits of an African president to Italy on the invitation of president Mattarella.

My Take

It is unfortunate that President Mattarella handed the honour of a State Visit - one of the first by an African president - to Paul Biya, a ruler who has been in power for 34 years and cracks down on political dissent. While the visit represents an honor to the octogenarian African ruler it is a dishonor to the Italian Republic - a country that, according to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, supports the promotion of democracy and the rule of law, the promotion of freedom of opinion and expression among other civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Since November 2016 Cameroonians in English-speaking parts Cameroon have been protesting against marginalization and "francophonization". The Paul Biya regime responded in typical ruthless fashion - violating, once again, its international human rights obligations under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): civil society organizations were banned, civil society leaders and political activists were arrested and charged with serious crimes including terrorism, civilians were killed as a result of a brutal response to protests by state security forces and internet connection to English-speaking regions of the country was cut off on the orders of the government - all in a bid to stifle peaceful political dissent. It is therefore alarming that a country like Italy that purportedly supports the protection and promotion of civil and political rights honored a president whose government has a long track record of human rights violations with a historic State visit. Even more disturbing is the fact that the visit was simultaneous with the continuous crackdown on human rights in English-speaking Cameroon. In fact, at the same time the State dinner was going on at the Quirinal Palace or at the same time Paul Biya walked through a special military guard of honor Cameroonians in English-speaking parts of Cameroon could not access the internet as a result of internet blackout on the orders of the Biya regime.

Paul Biya, in his statement at the end of audience with the Italian President said he briefed Mattarella on the "progress made in the consolidation of our democracy"; on the contrary, the situation in Cameroon indicates that there is an assault on democracy by the Biya regime. There is no "progress" in a democracy when people are killed, arbitrarily arrested and cut off the internet for protesting against the government of a president who has ruled since 1982.

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