I am going to talk a bit about the collective of lawyers gathered around opinion leaders or all those who participate in the struggle for freedoms in our country.
The story of the collective of lawyers is a story of a group of free and independent lawyers who have come together to ask themselves questions about the existence of law and the practice of justice.
This collective which brings together about 60 people, 60 lawyers - I specify free and independent - although there are militants in the composition of this collective, is a collective which has asked itself questions about the existence of Law, the effectiveness of Law in Cameroon.
So, this collective, today baptized Sylvain SOUOP, the baptismal name we took following the death of the first coordinator, Barrister Sylvain SOUOP, Member of the Council of the Cameroon Bar Association, who died in January 2021.
We realized that the Collective, which was an informal grouping, already had to take some form. We baptized this collective by taking its name, to perpetuate its works, and to perpetuate the idea that we share in common.
The Collective, at the time of the death of Barrister Sylvain SOUOP, had already made this little appraisal that I will present to you.
At the death of Barrister SOUOP, we reached 1079 procedures, that we did for the supervision of the peaceful demonstrators gathered under the aegis of the MRC and Allies, who exercised a Constitutional right in 2019 and who had suffered arbitrary arrests, followed by arbitrary detentions and incredible trials.
So, we had reached, at the death of Barrister SOUOP, 1079 procedures. We had lost 737. We had won 77 and there were 265 procedures in progress, among which we could count the 204 communications that had been made at Geneva.
Of these 1079 cases, we had together initiated 437 Habeas Corpus cases. 7 were pending before the Supreme Court of Cameroon.
These procedures are still ongoing to this day. And to these pending procedures before the Supreme Court of Cameroon, we had meanwhile engaged 2 others.
This is the appraisal; I can say the Testament which was left by Barrister SOUOP.
Today, with new waves of arrests occurring on the occasion of the September 22 marches, scheduled for September 22, 2021, where we have witnessed the arrests of 793 people, the collective today has in its count, 126 people still arbitrarily detained.
Of the 126, there are 125 who go before the military courts, and there is still a pending procedure concerning 1 of the arbitrary detainees, which is brought before the Court of First Instance of Yaoundé-EKOUNOU, and its procedure is still pending.
Today we have 224 Habeas Corpus procedures, which we have all lost. These 224 procedures were declared unfounded for some, and for others, some judges declared themselves incompetent. The 3rd wave, it was judges who thought that the Habeas Corpus we introduced while the people were still under arbitrary detention was not necessary because these procedures were ruled out of order.
Here is the collective briefly presented with its activities, since the new marches of September 22 which are underway.
I specify that the collective continues to contest the personal jurisdiction of the Military Tribunal, before which 125 people must respond. The Collective relies on the Constitution of the Republic, and relies on the case law of international and regional courts.
And we do not understand why since we raised these exceptions before the magistrates, before the investigating judges, that these courts continue to take investigative acts without however ruling on their jurisdiction and this poses the problem that we are encountering on a daily basis in our professional practice: that of a justice which condemns the application of its own texts.
We do not understand how a justice that wants to be independent, and which is rendered on the basis of the texts in force and in the name of a people, who have accepted legal instruments, we do not understand that judges find means to deviate from them. This poses that problem and is a major difficulty that the defense faces.
We find ourselves in a situation where we can validly claim that our clients are now subjected to judicial torture. That is to say after suffering the torture of police elements, a barbaric administrative police, suffered torture in detention centers, after that, the torture was transported to penitentiaries where our clients also suffer acts and several types of acts of torture, and now justice cannot be done to them, through the rejections of Habeas Corpus, through the refusal to bring them before the judges of Habeas Corpus, through the beating - it must be said - that lawyers suffer, we can say that justice has deviated from the principles which should guide justice in a State of Law. What I would call judicial torture is happening under Cameroonian skies.
Why did you accept these cases?
I told you that the 60 lawyers who are part of the Sylvain SOUOP Collective are a group of free and independent lawyers. Many people must ask themselves why in this world of lawlessness, the profession of lawyer can exist.
At first glance, it is not easy to accept this kind of case in this kind of universe where we already know the outcome of the trials. Where the scales are so out of balance that we already know what the judge’s opinion is when we go before him.
It’s not easy to find people in a bar who are willing to be humiliated by the police. Lawyers who agree, in defense of their clients, to go and be humiliated at the Gendarmerie. We went through it all. We suffer these humiliations on a daily basis, even on the part of certain Magistrates, especially Magistrates who are in charge of this kind of cases said to be reported. Because a case - and we have observed it – just have to bear the mention in pencil MRC for the judge to realize, or the Magistrate who will treat the case, to know that this handwritten mention in pencil would mean that he must not apply the rule of law.
We denounce it and we do it every day. Why do we do that? I must say that our lawyer oath has a humanitarian dimension. That is, we exercise our function with humanism. In a society where people have to express themselves, and where people have to go to prison simply because they have exercised their freedom of expression, expressed their opinion, that is to say expressed an opinion contrary to that of the establishment, and that those must endure prison, means that it is a problem.
If there are no lawyers to be next to them, the whole of society as an actor, and as the word is the main instrument of the lawyer, that means that when the citizen will be severely punished or even severely repressed or infringed upon in its fundamental right, the profession of lawyer must cease to exist. And if the legal profession ceases to exist, justice must cease to exist. The two go hand in hand.
There is no justice designed without defense. And that is why, in the opinion of the Collective, we are building, experimenting the exercise of the Right to Silence. Because you see, what's the use of going to court where you know the dice are loaded? If the dice are loaded from the Judicial Police Officer, who happens to be the extension of the state oppression instrument, and the Judge himself becomes the main instrument that prolongs oppression State, then immediately we see that the Defense must not exist, and it is up to the citizens to exercise, when facing this kind of practices, to exercise a concurrent right that is called the Right to Silence.
We have observed during the procedures that the Cameroonian police systematically, followed by the Magistrates in charge of the cases, practice self-incrimination. You are arrested without fact. Mr. BIBOU NISSACK for example. He is arrested at home. There is no fact. Under pretexts, he is taken to prison. And today we hear people proclaiming the presumption of innocence. Is someone who is at home and about to go out guilty or innocent? The Cameroonian Police say he is guilty, justice says he is guilty, and considering the facts, there is no fact against him. Under what is he declared guilty?
This is why at the level of the Collective, there is a whole opinion which recommends that not only our clients must - our clients of opinion, that is to say our clients who intend to exercise their constitutional right, exercise of the freedom of opinion, the exercise of the freedom to demonstrate and others - when they are arbitrarily arrested under these conditions and arbitrarily detained under these conditions, we recommend that they exercise the right of silence.
And it is the same for everyone. When you are going to face this rigged justice, your only defense must be the exercise of your Right of silence, which is a constitutional right.
So we accepted these cases - I would like to conclude - to perpetuate the humanitarian dimension of our oath, and also to participate in the fight, that is to say in the fight for freedom of expression in our country and for democracy.
What are the difficulties you encounter in defending these people?
The main difficulty in treating this sick society is that the language of communication between lawyers, citizens and law enforcement agencies is the law, the Code of Criminal Procedures. At the defense level, it seems like the judicial authorities do not want to apply the Code of Criminal Procedures. And that poses a problem
If the Judicial Police Officers and Magistrates no longer want to obey this common instrument of communication between the citizen, his defense and the Justice, then the prisoners or those who are arbitrarily detained because of their opinions or because of exercise of their constitutional rights, are victims of other laws that are not made public. Which are they? This is the first difficulty. The first difficulty with the defense is to determine the law that is being applied to its client.
Because on the other hand, we believe that the code of criminal procedures is being applied, while the law enforcement authorities are applying something other than the code of criminal procedures.
The second difficulty is the exercise of violence. Violence that amounts to torture on our clients, and violence on lawyers.
Until recently at the Central Judicial Research Service of Cameroon, the lawyer had to take off his shoes, the lawyer had to be searched, in order to have access to his client. And to search means that the gendarmes palpate the private parts of the lawyer, barefoot in front of a cohort of other gendarmes, and ultimately his client is lead in front of him with armed people all around. The confidential interview which is compulsory and accepted by all nations between the lawyer and his client was not, and is not until now, a practice accepted by Judicial Police officers in Cameroon.
Consultation of files: it takes a whole battle for the judicial police officers to agree that prior to the hearing, the lawyer consults the file against which his client must respond.
If you are heard without consulting a file, that is to say without knowing on which fact you must answer, without knowing what evidences are gathered against you, at that moment, what comes in? And the ritual question is: What do you know about the case that brings you here to the Gendarmerie or the Police? And that is what we disapprove, this practice of self-incrimination.
It means that from your record, the Judicial Police Officer must withdraw the evidences against you, because he does not have any. And since he doesn't, why are you under arrest? And that's what we decry. This is what constitutes exercise difficulties. So you are there, you are called to the Gendarmerie to assist your client, and in the mind of the Judicial Police Officers, the Police or the Gendarmerie, to assist means to watch, that is to say to let them do! When you make observations, they all get angry. That’s what I said, that it is the language of communication, which is the code of criminal procedures, and it is not what the Code of Criminal Procedures recommended.
Now, when it happens to be a theoretical discussion that takes place between the lawyer and the Judicial Police officers, it goes without saying that there will be imbalances! And whenever there is an imbalance, the judicial police officer remembers that he is armed, that he belongs to the police force, hence repeated assaults, and aggressive assaults on lawyers.
And when you molest a lawyer in front of his client, that is to tell this citizen already bruised by incarceration that "even your lawyer is worth nothing", and that justice is violence.
So against this practice, we want, and the collective is well aware of it and is doing wonders on this issue, we want it to be a corporate action in favor of the citizen. Because if the citizen should not be sufficiently informed about his rights because his defense is muzzled, his defense is in danger, justice would be in danger.
If there is no defense, there is no Justice! And if there is no Justice, there is no Democracy, and there is no State of Law!
This is what I can say about the difficulties of the Defense.