Ndangoh Tah Calvin, Barrister and Solicitor in Yaounde.
Communication Minister on Monday announced that 47 Cameroonians accused of terrorism were taken from Nigeria back to Cameroon and handed to the justice department. What does the law say about the procedure?
What I can say with regard to what has happened is that for them to be brought back to Cameroon, there must be a treaty between the host country and the requesting country. They are already in Cameroon. We master the procedure with regard to what obtains in Cameroon and not what obtains in Nigeria. We have not seen the treaty and we don't know what mechanism has been used. Nigeria had done a similar thing in the past. For example, it handed the former Liberian leader Charles Taylor back to the authorities of his country. The law is clear in Cameroon. Once back, they have been put at the disposal of justice. What has to be done is to start the prosecution process. From what the law says, they should be presented to judicial authorities because before their sending back to Cameroon was caused, there must have been enough elements against them. I want to think that having sent them to Cameroon, the Nigerian government thinks that these people are terrorists and should be tried in Cameroon. For how long should the people be kept in custody before trial starts? With the nature of the offence, the law would not give a specific period they have to be in detention before trial starts. If they are suspected terrorists, they can remain in detention as long as the preliminary investigation is carried out. I don't know whether they will be brought to court through direct summons or through preliminary investigation. For preliminary investigations, they have about six months to be in detention.
What are the detained people and government respectively supposed to do?
People in detention can now contact their lawyers. I think the authorities should give them room to talk to their lawyers for the lawyers to start defending them when the case comes up in court. Government is supposed to apply just the law and not show animosity. I know that government is very angry but should not express it by violating the rights of these people. The rights of the people in custody have to be respected. Cameroon is a signatory to many international conventions related to human rights. There is no law which says that terrorists should not have human rights. They are still suspects and they have the right to counsel and to live until judgement is passed.