Judicial Independence and Transitional Justice in Cameroon: A Pathway to Sustainable Peace in the ongoing Anglophone Crisis

Bobuin-Jr-Valery-Gemandze-ObenAuthor: Bobuin Jr Valery Gemandze Oben
Advocacy Specialist, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

Introduction

Since 2017 Cameroon has been faced with a separatist insurrection widely referred to as—the Anglophone crisis. It has had devastating effects on the country, and over its bloody course, has been considered the most neglected conflict in the world, with thousands of lives lost and about a million others displaced. Transitional justice tools can provide a pathway for addressing the underlying causes of the conflict and promoting reconciliation and sustainable peace. The OHCHR defines it as, ‘‘the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past conflict, repression, violations and abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation’’. While in the African context, the African Union’s Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) defines it as ‘‘the various (formal and traditional or non-formal) policy measures and institutional mechanisms that societies, through an inclusive consultative process, adopt in order to overcome past violations, divisions and inequalities and to create conditions for both security and democratic and socio-economic transformation’’. However, as would be subsequently seen, the success of these measures is largely dependent on the independence of the judiciary.

I have written elsewhere that the existence of judicial independence in Cameroon is a myth. This article further argues that, the absence of an independent judiciary could hamper the implementation of transitional justice, eventually prolonging the entrenchment of sustainable peace in the conflict-stricken Anglophone regions. This is because transitional justice is a transformative process, and in this age of constitutionalism, the courts are the cornerstone for the process of transformative constitutionalism. Klare defines transformative constitutionalism as— ‘‘a long-term project of constitutional enactment, interpretation, and enforcement committed (not in isolation, of course, but in a historical context of conducive political developments) to transforming a country’s political and social institutions and power relationships in a democratic, participatory, and egalitarian direction’’. Therefore, it is not farfetched to conceive that transitional justice falls within the scope of transformative constitutionalism.

The Importance of Judicial Independence within Transitional Justice in Addressing the Anglophone Crisis.

For purposes of this article, I rely on Tiede’s definition of judicial independence, considered  ‘‘as the judiciary’s independence from the executive, as measured by the amount of discretion that individual judges exercise in particular policy areas’’. In transitional justice processes, this independence is particularly important as it ensures that the legal system is fair, impartial, and accountable. However, in Cameroon, judicial institutions have faced numerous challenges, including political interference, corruption, and inadequate resources. These challenges have eroded public trust in the judiciary and make it challenging to hold perpetrators of abuses accountable.

anglophone-crisis

The Anglophone Crisis presents an illustration of judicial lassitude in Cameroon. The crisis stems from a long history of political, economic, and social marginalisation of a disenfranchised Anglophone minority since the reunification of the French and English parts in 1961. It has devolved into an armed conflict, with separatist groups declaring an independent state—Ambazonia. The use of armed force by both sides has led to widespread human rights abuses and violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by these belligerents. There are numerous reports that document extrajudicial killings, burning of villages, rape, torture and forced disappearances by state forces, which have mostly gone unpunished.

In light of the socio-political instability Cameroon, utilising transitional justice tools, especially criminal prosecutions can be used to address the underlying causes of this conflict and promote reconciliation and allow for reparations. However, initiating a transitional justice process in Cameroon could prove challenging. This is because a lack of judicial independence and corruption in the judicial system have made it difficult to hold perpetrators of these abuses accountable, taking away the victims right to seek redress. This can have severe impacts on transitional justice prospects.

Fundamentally, it would prove arduous to ensure that justice is done and that those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable and made to pay reparations. This is what has largely led to a sense of impunity, which in turn is fostering resentment within affected communities, encouraging radicalisation and ultimately prolonging the conflict. Therefore, the courts through adjudication (in a manner which addresses the root causes of the conflict, promotes reforms and is conscious of the trauma of the victims) ought to engineer a transitional justice process which can occasion an eventual transformation of the warring Anglophone regions towards peace, reconciliation and democratic consolidation in the country. Herein is found the essence of transformative constitutionalism.

Conclusion

Judicial independence is an essential component of transitional justice because it promotes the rule of law and ensures accountability for human rights abuses. In the context of Cameroon’s Anglophone crisis, the success of any potential transitional justice process is dependent on the independence and effectiveness of the judicial institutions charged with implementing and engineering the much-needed social transformation. Furthermore, given that the state bears primary responsibility for engaging in the transitional justice process, it is critical that it take steps to strengthen the judiciary and address the challenges that undermine its independence. The judiciary too ought to fiercely assert its independence. This will not only help to promote accountability and reconciliation, but will also contribute to Cameroon’s efforts to build lasting peace.

About the Author:

Bobuin Jr Valery Gemandze Oben is an Advocacy Specialist at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. He is currently LLD Candidate in Constitutional Law and the Philosophy of Law at the University of the Free State, South Africa. He also holds two Masters degrees—LLM Public Law from the University of Buea and Maitrise in English Law from the University of Yaounde II, all in Cameroon.



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