Friday, March 31, 2017

Amid Cameroon's 73-Day Internet Cut-Off, How Can UN Deposit Biya's UNCITRAL Ratification?

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 30 – While Cameroon has cut off the Internet to the Anglophone regions for more than 70 days, the country says it is poised to ratify the UN's Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts, adopted on November 23, 2005 in New York. How could the UN accept and deposit such a ratification? Cameroonian Minister of Trade, Lucile Magloire Mbarga Atangana cited the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law or UNCITRAL, one of the entities routinely meeting in UN conference rooms with little notice by the UN-facilitated media. This must change. When Cameroon forced refugees back into Nigeria, the UN rightly complained. Why not, then, of Cameroon's now more than 70-day Internet cut-off in its Anglophone areas, leading to the creation of an "Internet refugee camp" in Bonako? Meanwhile French firms continue pursuing money under Paul Biya, including Sofema selling a patrol boat to Biya's navy, and Tessi ironically moving in the "digitization" market in Francophone Cameroon. The UN on March 28 answered others of Inner City Press' questions, but not the one about former UN legal adviser Felix Agbor Balla. The UN is being asked today again about Agbor Balla, and about the arrested lawyer Robert Fon, former President of Northwest Common Law Lawyers’ Association, arrested and transferred to Yaounde. On March 29 Inner City Press asked the UN: "Because UNanswered, asking again: In Cameroon, former UN legal adviser (in UNAMA and elsewhere) Felix Agbor Balla now, according to a UK-based barristers' organization, faces a military trial with the death penalty on the table for speaking out about conditions in the country's Anglophone areas, where the Internet has been cut for 71 days and counting. Particularly given Agbor-Balla's former position as a UN legal expert, what is not only the UN's comment, but what is the UN doing to attempt to ensure he receives due process? Also, what about the arrest of human rights lawyer Robert Fon and his transfer to Yaounde?" But while the UN responded to other questions from Inner City Press, nothing on this one. Nothing.
With former UN legal adviser Felix Agbor-Balla in Cameroon facing a military trial with the death penalty on the table, a UK-based legal group has written to Cameroonian president Paul Biya (here) while his former employer the UN has done... nothing.  Inner City Press will be asking the UN yet again, while also seeking action and responses from others. With the UN's response to weeks of questions about repression and Internet cut off in Cameroon from Inner City Press being two ambiguous statements about the work of its Francois Lonseny Fall, on the morning of March 27 Inner City Press asked the UN's three top spokespeople: "In Cameroon, on which you've said the UN's Lonseny Fall is working, now the government has acted against TV station CRTV reporting on unrest in Western Cameroon. What is your comment, and what is Lonseny Fall or anyone else in the UN system doing about it? As asked before, what is the status of naming the next Resident Coordinator, and confirm if Najat Rochdi has begun at Deputy SRSG post in CAR." At the day's UN noon briefing, sans UN-restricted Inner City Press, spokesperson Farhan Haq faced only two questions. Afterward his Office sent Inner City Press this, which we publish in full: "Regarding the question you asked about Cameroon, the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), and the UN Country Team in Cameroon continue to follow events in the country. Concerning reports of the closure by the Government of a TV station in Western region of Cameroon, our colleagues are looking into the allegations.  We remain concerned about reports of pressure being placed on press organs in Cameroon that are working on the situation in the Anglophone Regions, including reports of arrests and even alleged disappearance of journalists."
Cameroon Anglophone human rights defenders set for show trials on March 23 ran into a new trick: the government trying to join the cases of 25 more defendants with theirs. From collective punishment to collective trials. The ruling on that will now be on April 7. Tellingly, Voice of America's story didn't even mention the Internet cut-off for more than 60 days in Anglophone Cameroon, not that defendant Felix Agbor Balla was a UN legal adviser, for whom today's UN does nothing. VOA and the UN: birds of a feather.
   While the UN first stonewalled then issued misleading statements about Cameroon, where the Internet has been cut off by the government in the Northwest and Southwest (Anglophone) regions for more than 60 days and counting, Inner City Press March 21, Inner City Press asked the UN's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq about the summons against Akere Muna, the lawyer for a former UN legal adviser, Nkongho Felix Agbor-Balla. UN's March 21 Transcript here and below. On March 22, Inner City Press asked the UN about the underlying detention of Agbor-Balla. Video hereUN transcript here
Inner City Press:  I wanted to ask you a Cameroon question.  I'd asked you yesterday about this lawyer that's been summoned in, and there's growing outrage about that.  But, actually, he's the lawyer for a person that used to be a UN legal adviser in UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] named Felix Agbor Balla.  He's a lawyer that worked for the UN and now has been detained for months.  Several US Congresspeople have, in fact, raised the issue.  And I'm just wondering, one, particularly in the case of a former UN staff locked up seemingly without any type of due process, locked up only for advocacy, is there any UN role in these cases in actually looking into this individual case of a… of a former UN legal adviser now under detention in Yaoundé?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, we would certainly expect that due process is followed.  We want to make sure that… especially that human rights defenders are not being prosecuted unfairly and those would be key concerns.
   Agbor-Balla's continued detention has triggered protest from, as it happens, the US state of Indiana, where Congress members of both parties have spoken out: Democrat André Carson and Republican Jackie Walorski. But the UN, after two weeks of Press questions, offered only a statement by its Francois Lonseny Fall, largely covering up for the government of Paul Biya, in power for 32 years. What good is the UN? The question is becoming louder: watch this site.
From the March 21 transcript:
Inner City Press: in Cameroon, a guy called Akéré Muna, who was at one time the vice-chair of Transparency International, has been summoned by the police since the statement that was read here on Friday about how this dialogue is going.  So, given that Mr. Muna, in particular, is representing some of those who've already been detained by the Government, given that you've made a statement saying that there's a dialogue that Mr. [Francois] Loncény Fall was involved, if there have been many arrests since then and, in fact, the main lawyer for that community is now being arrested, what's your comment?
Deputy Spokesman: in Cameroon, we would be concerned about any efforts to hinder the work of human rights defenders.  Human rights defenders, wherever they are, need to be able to go about their work without hindrance and without fear of arrest.
But what is the UN doing? Back on March 17, lead UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric had returned with an answer: "in response to the situation in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), Mr. François Louncény Fall, carried out a number of visits to the country to discuss with the concerned parties the situation on the ground.  His office has also carried out a number of working-level visits.  Mr. Fall will continue efforts to engage with all relevant parties and to monitor the situation in close cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).We firmly believe that the grievances expressed by the Anglophone regions can only be addressed through an inclusive dialogue.  In that regard, we note that, on 15 March, the President of Cameroon appointed the president and 13 representatives to the National Commission for the promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, the body tasked to engage in dialogue with the Anglophone community of Cameroon."
  But "all relevant parties" does not appear to include France, whose UN Ambassador Francois Delattre told Inner City Press earlier on March 17 he was unaware of the issue. Inner City Press asked Dujarric, straight up, if the UN thinks the Internet should be brought back. Video here. UN transcript here
Inner City Press: thanks for the statement.  Inevitably, there's at least one follow-up.  You said that Mr. Loncény Fall had spoken to all relevant parties.  And I wanted to know if this included France.  And I say it… I ask it just because the Permanent Representative just now on camera said that he'd never heard of the issue of the internet being cut off for 60 days.

Spokesman:  Well, I can’t answer that…
Inner City Press:  Because I don't get answers from DPA or Mr. Loncény Fall's office can you ask whether they spoke to [inaudible]…? [that was FRANCE]

Spokesman:  Yeah, I don’t… the way I read it is that he spoke to people in Cameroon.  So, if I can find out more, I…

Inner City Press:  Did he call for the internet to be, in fact, turned back on?

Spokesman:  I think it's obviously important that people have access to the internet.  
  In front of the UN Security Council on March 17 Inner City Press asked France's Ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre about his counterpart in Yaounde, Gilles Thibault, earlier this month congratulating 32-year President Paul Biya for how he's dealing with the areas. Delattre replied that he was unaware but would look into it. Video here.
  Back on March 14 Inner City Press asked the US State Department: "Back on November 28, 2016, the Department issued a statement of 'concern[] over recent Cameroonian government actions to restrict free expression.' Since then, the government has cut off the Internet in the two regions, also known as the Anglophone areas, has arrested journalists and most schools remain closed. Is the US State Department concerned about these developments and if so, what if anything has it done about them?"
  On March 15, a US State Department official answered Inner City Press: "We have discussed this issue with the Government of Cameroon both before and after our statement of concern.  We don’t go into the details of our diplomatic conversations, but we engage regularly with the government on this and other issues as part of our normal bilateral relations." We hope to have more on this.
  On March 9, Inner City Press asked both the International Monetary Fund and the UN Security Council's president about the crisis in Cameroon's Anglophone areas and heard that while the IMF acknowledges the financial risk, the Security Council does not see it as a threat to international peace and security. But the UN's Resident Coordinator Najat Rochdi has said nothing about the crisis, and blocks on Twitter the Press which asks about it. Is the UN system failing, in its new Secretary General's promise of increased preventative diplomacy?
 When the IMF's spokesperson Gerry Rice took questions on March 9, Inner City Press asked about Cameroon, specifically the crackdown in the northwest and southwest of the country. Inner City Press asked, "On Cameroon, after the mission led by Corinne Delechat, what is the status of talks for a program, and since the IMF cited “civil unrest in the neighboring Central African Republic,” please state the IMF's awareness of civil unrest and arrests in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon, also known as the Anglophone areas, and their impact." Rice read out the question and then said, among other things, that the risk factors for 2017 include a continuation of the "social and political events" in the "so-called Anglophone" areas of Cameroon. Interim video here.  On IMF site, here, from 34:56. IMF transcript below.
  But a few hours later when Inner City Press asked the month's UN Security Council president Matthew Rycroft of the UK, who had just been in Cameroon, about the crisis, he said it is not a threat to international peace and security. From the UK transcript:
Inner City Press: In Cameroon there’s an issue that has been existing since November in Anglophone areas which have no internet for 52 days, there’s been teachers arrested, no schools. So I’m wondering as one Council member said, it did somehow come up in meetings, but was the issue raised at all, and what response was given by the government to this ongoing cut off of internet and abuse in this area?

Amb Rycroft: It came up informally in our contacts with members of the Government of Cameron but as far as I recall it did not come up in any formal meeting, and I think that makes sense because we were going there to look at the threat to international peace and security, and Boko Haram, and related issues, but in private, informal discussions with ministers in the Government of Cameroon it came up and they gave us the benefit of their perspective on the issue.

Inner City Press: Is there any Security Council role that can be played in trying to preventively deal with this issue?

Amb Rycroft: I don’t think it’s an issue on our agenda per se, we keep our eye on our radar across the world, but we have to make a judgement about whether something is a threat to international peace and security, and at the moment, I think our judgement would be that issue is an issue that is confined within Cameroon without international aspects.
  But the UN Resident Coordinator does nothing about it, says nothing, blocks the Press. Inner City Press asked the UN's holdover deputy spokesman Farhan Haq, UN transcript here: 
Inner City Press: the answer you sent about Mr. [Francois] Louncény Fall saying that he would raise issues to the authorities.  Can you say whether the issue of the internet being off in two provinces for 52 days has been raised?  And, secondarily, I wanted to ask you this.  You announced from this podium that Najat Rochdi is going to Central African Republic as Resident Coordinator.  What's the process to appoint a new Resident Coordinator for the UN system in Cameroon?  And is it… is it… is it… can it be public in any way?  It seems many people have complained that, while she was there, she never raised the Anglophone issue.  And, in fact, I found that she blocks Inner City Press on Twitter, so I'm unable to ask her why this issue has not been raised.  But what's the process to replace… and you can smirk, but should a UN official in their official account…?

Spokesman:  That's an unrelated thing.  I mean, obviously, all people… all individuals, not even just all UN officials, are free to block whoever they want on Twitter.  That's within their rights.

Inner City Press:  Including missions?  So you think a peacekeeping mission should pick and choose which media can follow it?

Spokesman:  Organizations will respond… are supposed to respond to press requests.  Individuals can do whatever they like with their Twitter accounts.

Inner City Press:  What's the process of replacing the Resident Coordinator in Cameroon?

Spokesman:  It's the same as in any other place.  There's a process that goes… that you go through, and the Resident Coordinator's selection process is supervised by the UN Development Programme (UNDP). 
  This is at odds with the UN's claims to be transparent in its use of public money, and to be open to the press and impacted public, and will be pursued at Rochdi's next assignment at the UN in Central African Republic. But it raises the question: how are UN Resident Coordinators selected? Inner City Press reported on Ban Ki-moon's son in law Siddharth Chatterjee getting multiple promotion under Ban, including being named UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya by Ban himself. (Inner City Press was evicted by Ban's UN, and remains restricted under Ban's successor). But shouldn't Anglophone Cameroonians have some input into the UN's next Resident Coordinator in their country? This is a project for the Free UN Coalition for Access@FUNCA_info. Watch these sites and feeds.
"There is a question of Cameroon, from Matthew Lee, "After the Mission what is the status of talks for a program; and since the IMF cited civil unrest in the neighboring Central African Republic, please state the IMF's awareness of civil unrest and arrests in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon? And also known as the Anglophone areas, and their impact?"

So, the background here is, I think important the context. So, the Fund's engagement here in the CEMAC Region, CEMAC is the six Central African Economic nations that comprise the Central African Economic and monetary community. They met in Yaoundé on December 23rd. The Managing Director was there. And in that meeting, heads of state discussed the economic situation, the severe shocks that have hit that CEMAC region in recent years, including the sharp decline in oil prices, and decided to act collectively and in a concerted manner. And the heads of state requested the assistance of the IMF to design economic reforms needed to reestablish macroeconomic stability in each country and in the region as a whole.

So, again, context: I can tell you that the funders already sent missions to Gabon, Republic of Congo. And a reminder to you, that we already have programs with Central African Republic and Chad. Okay?

Now, we also have sent a mission to Cameroon, which is the question. And we did issue a press statement, which the question referred to, just on Tuesday. That was the Corrine Delechat reference.

So, the specific question, to turn to that. We are indeed aware of the events in the so-called Anglophone regions of Cameroon. The macroeconomic impact of any event that could affect production and/or consumption, is typically felt with a certain lag. So, these events started in November last year, and thus are likely to have not had a significant impact on production in 2016.

For 2017, the risks to our growth outlook include a combination of external and domestic factors, including continuation of the sociopolitical events in the northwest and southwest regions of Cameroon. And as our press release the other day indicated, our view is that the medium-term outlook for the Cameroonian economy remains positive, subject to the implementation of appropriate policies."

We'll have more on this. Watch this site.