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Open Letter: Barr. Jean Atabong Fomeni Rebukes Human Rights Commission for Disrepecting Bilingualism Policy
Category :- Politics Author :- Awung Mbecha 
Posted on May 30, 2019, 12:00 am

The President,

National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, Cameroon

By Barrister Jean ATABONG FOMENI

 

Dear Sir,

Is “Access to Information” Not a Human Right?

In the domain of human rights, your institution, the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, is one of the principal organs charged with the duty to observe, protect, and promote human rights in Cameroon. If you are candid, you will agree with me that language marginalization is one of the reasons for the 'war' in Cameroon, and its ensuing bloodbath in both the South-West and North-West regions.

As a human rights observer, you ought to get the situation arrested, rather than exacerbating an already exploded situation. My mouth fell open, with disbelief, when, upon trying to check something on your official website, I noticed that every information there is published in French. This, I must remind you, is in total disregard of Cameroon’s other official language, English; the language is spoken mainly in the South-West and North-West regions. Cameroon, according to Article 1(3) of its Constitution, is officially a bilingual country. This piece of legislation, which in the hierarchy of laws supersedes all other laws in Cameroon, emphasises that both English and French have the same magnitude. Therefore, if your website is an official medium of communication, I expect that it should be constructed in both English and French; so that all Cameroonians, including Anglophones, are conveniently served. Apart from one or two documents (press releases) in English uploaded to your website, the site betrays the fact that it was not designed with English in mind. All your menu entries are in French. As a human rights watchdog you know better, especially in a country currently in the throes of identity politics. To have a website in French, with all publications still in the French language, amounts to discrimination. It also violates the right to access to information, a right enshrined in, and recognised by both Cameroon statutes and international human rights instruments to which Cameroon is a signatory.

 

In addition, Cameroon is a State-party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. I am sure you are aware of the efforts being made to guarantee “access to information” by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, set up by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. But, the exclusion of English from your website, in favour of French greatly undermines the positive move of the above Special Rapporteur.

Sir, the Constitution of Cameroon seeks to protect Cameroon’s cultural diversity. President Biya’s “Bilingualism and Multiculturalism Commission” was created to protect our national languages and cultural diversity. This notwithstanding, you are aware that language is a culture, and the English language is one of the cultures that the Constitution of Cameroon seeks to protect. Therefore, any attempt to marginalise the same amounts to a violation of the Constitution.

I urge you to commit your web builders and translators to design an English version of your website. If I do not see any meaningful language changes on your website I shall be obliged to organize a team of lawyers who shall institute an action against this discriminatory act.

Your Link – strictly in French: http://www.cndhl.cm/

 

Regards,

Jean Atabong Fomeni

 

Jean ATABONG FOMENI is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Cameroon. Presently, he’s awaiting graduation for a Master’s in Human Rights. He is also a researcher in the fields of Human Rights, International Criminal Law, International Humanitarian Law, Immigration Law, and the rule of law.

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