THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION IN CAMEROON
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The principal sources of legal standards relating to freedom of assembly and association are human rights instruments both of a general and specialised nature, as well as instruments of regional scope. Among the former are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 (ICCPR). Article 20(1) of the UDHR provides that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association” while sub-article (2) of the same Article provides that “No one may be compelled to belong to an association”. Under the ICCPR, the right of peaceful assembly is recognised and protected under Article 21, while freedom of association is enshrined in Article 22 which provides: (1) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests. Thus, almost all instruments providing for freedom of assembly include in the very provision in which the right is provided the requirement for the assembly to be “peaceful”. The only instrument that does not use this term is the African Charter, which instead makes the exercise of the right to assemble subject to necessary restrictions provided for by law, in particular those enacted in the interest of national security and the safety, health, ethics and the rights and freedoms of others. Identical language is used to limit both freedom of assembly and freedom of association under the ICCPR the European Convention on Human Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights
Freedom of association also includes other aspects like the right to bargain, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of communication and information and many others. It is also a human right which is aimed at protecting the human person. The interpretation of freedom of association not only support the idea that there is a right to collective bargaining in law but also suggest that this right should be recognized by the law
The oldest independent association where typically religious in origin. In medieval Western Europe, the most significant was the Roman Catholic Church. It maintained its own structure and self governance, including in the many states where it represented the official religion. The Catholic church also inspired spawned a variety of affiliated religious societies to which clergymen or laypeople could belong.
It is a decade since the second ‘wind of change’ began to blow across the African continent in both the political and economic spheres. The changes in the former included ‘construction of democratic institutions’, the ‘reform of authoritarianism’, and the ‘extension of basic freedoms’. From the one-party dictatorships and military rule which characterised the African political landscape, most states in the region have moved forward to embrace some form of political pluralism and constitutional order whereby political power and authority are divided among various bodies and their exercise is subject to legal and democratic control. Going hand in hand with constitutional change has been the loosening of state restrictions on civic associational life, including allowing greater room for the formation of voluntary organizations and trade unions. The sum of these developments has been a decisive move by African states towards becoming democratic societies.
One of the most important conditions for the existence of a democratic society is respect for fundamental rights and freedoms. Among these freedoms, freedom of expression and association is considered the most precious and, indeed, the very foundation of a democratic society. As pointed out by Marcus and Spitz, “the exercise of democratic self-government, both in direct and representative forms, requires of the citizenry the capacity to make informed judgments about the manner in which they are to be governed. Extensive and participatory debate in turn requires free and open access to all available and relevant ideas and policies.” It is through their ability to express themselves that the governed people can voice judgement on government action, and thus ensure that they are properly and democratically governed.
Freedom of expression consists of two elements: the first is the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers and the second is the right to choose the means to do so. Thus, the right to freedom of expression protects not only the substance of ideas and information, but also their form, their carriers and the means of transmission and reception. This view was supported by the European Court of Human Rights when it expressed the opinion that freedom of expression in Article 10(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights “applies not only to the content of information but also to the means of transmission or reception since any restriction imposed on the means necessarily
interferes with the right to receive and impart information.”
Under Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ideas and information may be received or transmitted “either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media” [emphasis added] chosen by the communicant or recipient.Thus this list of means is not exhaustive.
The choice of means for communication of ideas depends on several factors, including the nature of the ideas to be communicated and the level of technological advancement in a given society. In developed countries, the principal media of communication are television, radio and print media and electronic mail. In parts of the developing world like Africa, these means are still unavailable to the majority of the population. The principal method of transmitting information and ideas is still via oral communication, in most cases unaided by any technological devices. For people to communicate in this way they must be able to come together and it is for this reason that the enjoyment of freedom of expression in Africa is dependent on the extent to which freedoms of assembly and association are guaranteed. Therefore freedom of assembly and association have been described as being not only cognate to freedom of expression, but as another essential element of any democratic system.
The relationship between freedom of expression and freedoms of association and assembly is one of interdependence, in that the exercise of the latterset of freedoms may be seriously affected by the extent to which the former freedom is guaranteed. As Drah rightly points out: “demands openly known, much less publicize their activities as well as their views and comments onthe government’s policies and measures.
The source of freedom of association and assembly in Cameroon is its Constitution of 1972, as amended by Law No. 96 of 18 January 1996, whose preamble provides, inter alia, that “the freedom of communication, of expression, of the press, of association, and of trade unionism …shall be guaranteed under the conditions fixed by law.” By virtue of Article 65 of the Constitution, introduced by the 1996 Constitutional amendments, the preamble is part and parcel of the Constitution. Additional protection of freedom of association in the political sphere is provided for by Article 3(1), which provides that “Political parties and groups may take part in
elections. They shall be formed and shall exercise their activities in accordance with the law.” Under Article 3(2), such parties are bound to respect the principles of democracy and of national sovereignty and unity.
It is true that freedom of association has created an impact in the nation of Cameroon because of its positivity and developments. Nevertheless, freedom of association is not without problem. There are many ways in which government has restricted freedom of association for example the violation of the right to information and press freedom by the government of Cameroon by preventing the release of some certain information and even to the extent of detaining people for producing news is very absurd.
The rights to freedom of assembly and association have been formally enshrined in the Constitution of Cameroon. But however, ARTICLE 19 shows how despite such entrenchment, these freedoms have not been enjoyed in the region because of the inadequacy of the laws that are supposed to give effect to these constitutional rights; oppressive practices by ruling parties against opposition groups; and legal regimes relating to public order. In Cameroon therefore the law provides for peaceful assembly and association but however, the government restricted this rights. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrators of procession to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval of public assemblies and does not authorize the approval in advance. However, officials routinely have asserted that the law implicitly authorize the government to grant or deny permission for public assembly. Consequently, the government often has not granted permits for assemblies organized by persons or groups and this same government on several occasion have repeatedly used force to suppress public assemblies for which it has not issued permit.
The problem here will obviously include issues that hamper the smooth functioning of freedom of association in Cameroon. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that no restrictions may be placed on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association other than those which are prescribed by the law and which are necessary in a Democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety.
1.3.1General Research Question
In view with the research, the research general research question will be, To what extent does the Cameroonian law protect the freedom of association?
Specific Research Questions
What are the mechanism for the protection of freedom of association in Cameroon?
What are the challenges faced in protecting the right to freedom of association in Cameroon?
What policy recommendations can be made to solve the problem raised?
1.4.1 General research objective
The general objective of the researcher will be to critical examine how the law protect freedom of association in Cameroon.
1.4.1 Specific Research Objective
- To examine the various mechanism put in place in the protection of the right to freedom of association in Cameroon
- To analyze the challenges faced in implementing the right to freedom of association in Cameroon
- To make policy recommendations in order to address the problem raised
FURTHER READING: LAW PROJECT TOPICS WITH MATERIALS