Colloquium on Protecting Human Rights Defenders

Colloquium on Protecting Human Rights Defenders, organized by REDHAC

As prepared for delivery

May 15, 2018

Opening Remarks by Ambassador Barlerin

Minister of Territorial Administration and Permanent Secretary of the National Security Council, H.E. Paul Atanga NDJI,

Senior Divisional Officer for Mfoundi, Mr. Jean Claude Tsila,

Divisional Officer of Yaounde 1, Mr. Nama thoma Thierry,

Executive Director of the Human Rights Defenders Network of Central Africa,

Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.

Thank you for inviting me to open this important workshop.

Protecting and supporting human rights defenders – in particular women human rights defenders – is a key priority of U.S. foreign policy.

In 2017, the U.S. Embassy partnered with Cameroonian civil society organizations to help strengthen respect for human rights, and we hope to continue to do so in 2018.

Cameroonian civil society is supporting female human rights defenders; combatting human trafficking; countering gender-based violence; and advocating for the rights of pretrial detainees.

Because human rights defenders seek to hold their governments accountable to protect universally recognized human rights, they are often harassed, detained, interrogated, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for doing their work.

Despite the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 20 years ago, critics of human rights activists often portray them as terrorists or foreign puppets.

Around the world, a tectonic shift towards autocratic and semi-authoritarian rule by law, and the pernicious influence of non-state actors has put human rights activists on the defensive.

In Cameroon like in many other countries of the world, as reflected in our 2017 Human rights report, human rights defenders, including female defenders who are particularly vulnerable, continue to be victims of threats, intimidation, and smear campaigns for denouncing abuses.

This has been the case with the executive director of REDHAC, who has been subject to death threats and home invasions in connection with her work.

The government is not indifferent to these challenges.

In addition to the constitutional provisions protecting the rights of all individuals, the government established a National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, which denounces abuses and recommends steps to improve the human rights climate in Cameroon.

As a member of the United Nations and the African Union, Cameroon has ratified many UN Human Rights Conventions, and thus has made binding international commitments to adhere to the standards laid down in these documents.

While these efforts are notable it is not enough to ratify conventions.  There are many good people in government, in the National Assembly, in the judiciary who know the country can do better, and we look forward to seeing Cameroon increase its commitment to ensure greater protection of human rights for all.

Ici au Cameroun, les défenseurs des droits humains sont confrontés à maintes défis, mais un certain nombre d’organisations œuvre depuis des années à la promotion de leurs droits.

Le Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale, le REDHAC, à travers ce symposium, souligne son engagement au service des femmes défenseurs des droits humain.

L’activité est conforme aux objectifs de politique étrangère des États Unis, raison pour laquelle nous l’avons soutenue.

En vulgarisant les normes et mécanismes régionaux et internationaux sur les droits de l’Homme, le REDHAC entend contribuer à atténuer les menaces et protéger les défenseurs.  Nous osons espérer que ces assises renforceront la résilience des acteurs engagés dans le combat pour les droits humains.

Je vous exhorte donc à participer activement aux travaux, et me réjouis à la perspective que nos efforts conjoints pourraient faire du Cameroun un modèle régional en matière de protection des défenseurs des droits humains.

Merci pour votre attention.  Vive les femmes défenseurs des droits humains.