*By Zakah Mbako Josepher
Lawyers and advocates-in-training (pupil lawyers) based in the Southwest Region of Cameroon, as well as law students of the University of Buea have deepened their understanding of Human Rights issues at a one day seminar, which took place, Friday July 29,at Chariot Hotel Buea.
The Recorder understands that by mastering Human Rights and its related problems, lawyers are better positioned to educate their clients and defend them in the courts of law, especially in the current context in Cameroon where the situation of human rights promotion is begging for great improvement.
The seminar, which held under the theme “Lawyers and Human Rights”, was organized by the Cameroon Bar Association (CBA) in partnership with European Union (EU).
The training brought over 300 participants and was opened by Barrister Mboke Divine, sitting in for the President (Batonnier) of the CBA.
Resource persons included Dr. Patience Sone of the University of Buea and Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla, Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, who is also President of Fako Lawyers’ Association (FAKLA).
Barrister Agbor Balla, who presented a paper on “The Application of Human Rights Law in Lawyering”, noted:
“Lawyers have long functioned as architects as well as artisans of social reform, redesigning, reshaping, and creating not only legal institutions, but social, economic and political institutions as well.
He cited the early 1960s when “lawyers of all backgrounds, young and old, joined the civil rights movement en masse and made it possible for Dr.Martin Luther King Jr,to fashion the most successful civil rights movement in history, one based upon a willingness to go to jail for passive resistance to immoral laws”
Barrister Agbor Balla further noted, “The lawyer owes entire devotion to the interest of his client, warm zeal in the maintenance and defense of clients’ rights and exertion of his utmost learning and ability, to the end that nothing be taken or withheld from him, save the rule of law legally applied”
Harping on the respect for Human rights, the Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa
“Without the reciprocal expectation that states will respect their treaty obligations, the community of nations would become nothing more than a Hobbesian jungle governed by a Darwinian paradigm where only the strongest and fittest states survive”
Homosexuality was one of the controversial topics of discussion at the seminar.
Although sexual orientation is considered Human Rights, in Cameroon homosexuality/lesbianism is a criminal act.
According to Cameroon Penal Code (Section 347), “Whoever has sexual relations with a person of the same sex shall be punished with imprisonment for from six months to five years and a fine of from 20,000frs to 200,000frs.”
A Participant, pupil lawyer Fred Luma, sought to know," Since Human Right is said to be divine in nature, will I be right to say that homosexuality is not a human right since it has no divinity in it?”
But his doubt was cleared by resource person Dr.Patience Sone who said homosexuality is a case that is judged based on the principle of equality ,citing Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ,which states, “ All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights".
She further argued that inasmuch as God himself had to destroy the City of Sodom and Gomorrah because of this sin, the revolution of human rights over the years has come to the conclusion that, everyone should be treated equally and without discrimination and this includes the minority who advocate and or engage in homosexuality. With regards to the divine nature of human rights, she argued that, this doesn't mean that all human rights are given by God; that some are man-made and unanimously accepted by the UN to be implemented.
Buttressing Dr. Sone, Barrister Agbor Balla said like other minority cases, homosexuality should be judged based on the existing law and not on personal doctrines.
For his part, former Batonnier Etta Bessong said as long as the advocate defends both the saint and the devil, “What is punishable by the law of a country, should be prosecuted in the light of that prohibition.”
Talking to the Recorder, Pupil lawyer Bessem Ashu Agbor of Mamangie Chambers in Limbe, appreciated the seminar, noting it has broadened the intellectual knowledge of lawyers on Human Rights and its implementation
He opined that the Human Right situation of the country is “deplorable”, citing the frequent arrest and detention of Southern Cameroon national Council (SCNC) activists for advocating the restoration of the independence of Southern Cameroons. “This is a violation of the right of self determination”, she said, adding that “the prohibition of homosexuality in the country is an abuse against minority rights
Barrister Agbor Balla, in his closing remarks, urged lawyers to educate themselves well and do their best in the defense of Human Rights of people.
* Zakah Mbako Josepher is a University of Buea Journalism Student on Internship