Judicial harassment against human rights defender Musa Usman Ndamba
On 18 December 2017, the trial of human rights defender Musa Usman Ndamba was adjourned for the fifty-fifth time since his first hearing on 11 May 2013.
Musa Usman Ndamba is the vice-president of Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), a social organisation which has championed the rights, including land rights, of Mbororo pastoralists in north-western Cameroon since the 1990s.
On 18 December 2017, the trial of human rights defender Musa Usman Ndamba was adjourned for the fifty-fifth time since his first hearing on 11 May 2013.
Musa Usman Ndamba is the 1st National Vice President of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), an organisation which advocates for the rights of the indigenous Mbororo peoples in Cameroon. He works to expose corruption in land acquisition deals between the Government and landowners while monitoring the infringement of the land rights of indigenous people.
Since May 2013, Musa Usman Ndamba has appeared 55 times before the Court of First Instance of Bamenda over unsubstantiated allegations of misinformation. The case was triggered by a complaint filed by a local wealthy landowner, Baba Ahmadou Dampullo, suspected agents of whom have threatened the human rights defender and his colleagues on a number of occasions. In May 2013, the human rights defender was subjected to anonymous phone calls threatening him with arrest.
In early May 2013, MBOSCUDA submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review on Cameroon which detailed threats that members of their community, and particularly those active within MBOSCUDA, faced. Following the submission of the report, harassment of MBOSCUDA leaders worsened.
The court proceedings against Musa Usman Ndamba have been repeatedly cut short and adjourned due to the absence in court of the landowner and his witnesses. In May 2014, the charges against the defender were dismissed for lack of a diligent prosecution. However, on 29 July 2016, the charge of “propagation of false information, false oath, false report and defamation of character” was brought against them, relying on the same affidavit and evidence as the case in 2013.
Musa Usman Ndamba’s lawyers have cited irregularities in the trial proceedings against him. The human rights defender was never officially served with a summons. The proceedings are based on an affidavit containing the alleged defamatory statements. The affidavit, however, is not signed by Musa Usman Ndamba but by another individual by the name of Musa Adamu. The police investigator in the case has maintained that Musa Usman Ndamba is the author of these statements and that he intentionally changed his name in order to escape prosecution. However, no evidence has been produced to demonstrate any change of name. Furthermore the human rights defender has provided evidence that he has not changed his name, in the form of an expired identity card dated 20 July 2000, which contains the same name and the same information as his current identity card.
Front Line Defenders believes that the judicial harassment against Musa Usman Ndamba is directly related to his work in the defence of the rights of the Mbororo peoples in Cameroon and sees this as part of a larger pattern of judicial harassment against him.
Update 5 September 2016: The second hearing was scheduled to take place on 26 August 2016, but his trial was adjourned to 7 October 2016.
Human rights defender Mr Musa Usman Ndamba is the subject of court proceedings for several charges, including defamation. The second hearing will take place on 26 August 2016. The human rights defender has been the target of regular campaigns of judicial harassment.
On 26 August 2016, Musa Usman Ndamba will attend the second hearing in the current criminal trial brought against him on the basis of a complaint by a landowner, Mr Alhadji Baba Ahmadou Danpullo. He is charged with “propagation of false information, false oath, false report and defamation of character”. The first hearing was held on 29 July 2016 at the Court of First Instance of Bamenda, and was adjourned until 26 August 2016. The current trial relies upon the same affidavit and evidence as used in a 2014 trial against him. In 2014, the case was dismissed for want of diligent prosecution.
Musa Usman Ndamba’s lawyers have cited irregularities in the trial proceedings against him. First of all, Musa Usman Ndamba has not been officially served with a summons. Secondly, and more importantly, the proceedings are based on an affidavit containing the alleged defamatory statements. The affidavit, however, is not signed by Musa Usman Ndamba but by another individual by the name of Musa Adamu. The police investigator in the case has maintained that Musa Usman Ndamba is the author of those statements and that he intentionally changed his name in order to escape prosecution. However, no evidence has been produced to demonstrate the name change. On the other hand, the human rights defender has provided evidence that he has not changed his name, in the form of an expired identity card dated 20 July 2000, which is in the same name and with the same information as his current identity card.
Front Line Defenders believes that the judicial harassment against Musa Usman Ndamba is directly related to his work in the defence of the rights of the Mbororo peoples in Cameroon and sees this as part of an ongoing pattern of judicial harassment against him.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Cameroon to:
1. Dismiss the case against Musa Usman Ndamba, which not only appears to be unfounded but is based on the same evidence as used in proceedings brought in 2014 and already dismissed by the court;
2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Cameroon are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.
On 10 September 2014, human rights defender Mr Musa Usman Ndamba was scheduled to appear before a judge at the Court of First Instance of Bamenda on charges of defamation. However, no summons had been served to him. His lawyer, who fortuitously found out that Musa Usman Ndamba was among the defendants expected in court that day, requested a new date and the hearing was postponed until 8 October 2014.
Musa Usman Ndamba is the Vice-president of Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), a social organisation that has championed the rights (particularly the land rights) of Mbororo pastoralists in north-western Cameroon since the 1990s.
On 10 September 2014, Musa Usman Ndamba's lawyer was at the Court of First Instance of Bamenda to attend to other matters when he noticed the human rights defender's name on the list for that day's hearings. He quickly intervened to stop the case from proceeding as he knew that Musa Usman Ndamba had not been served with any summons to appear before the judge on that day.
Reportedly, the charges of defamation currently against Musa Usman Ndamba are the same as those previously brought in a lawsuit against him, but were dismissed in May 2014 for lack of a diligent prosecution. The defamation lawsuit had been brought against the human rights defender by a land owner and were dismissed after more than twenty court appearances, none of which was attended by the complainant.
It remains unclear how the same case that was already dismissed came to be reinstated in the same court barely four months later. It is also unclear why the court had scheduled Musa Usman Ndamba's hearing before he had been served with a summons.
On 28 March 2014, human rights defender Mr Musa Usman Ndamba, a defender of the rights of the Mbororo community, appeared before the Bamenda Court of First Instance, and the trial was once again adjourned to the 23rd of May 2014.
Meanwhile, two other defenders of the rights of the Mbororo, Messrs Abdulkarim Shehu and Mallam Yunusa are in detention whilst an arrest warrant has been issued for human rights defender Mr Fon Christopher Achobang.
Musa Usman Ndamba is the Vice-President of Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA). Abdulkarim Shehu is a male nurse and social development worker, as well as founder and co-ordinator of the Angel of Hope Foundation, a health centre that caters for people with disabilities. Mallam Yunusa is an organiser of the Mbororo community of Banjah. Fon Christopher Achobang is a land rights campaigner and journalist sympathetic to the plight of the Mbororo. Members of the community and their defenders have long been facing severe judicial and other harassment owing to disputes over their land.
The trial of 28 March 2014 was the eighth such hearing in an ongoing trial against Musa Usman Ndamba led by a local wealthy landowner, Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, who has never attended any of the hearings.
On 21 March 2014, Abdulkarim Shehu was refused bail after appearing before the State Counsel following his arrest on 20 March 2014 by the Judicial Police in Bamenda, Mezam Division. Two warrants for his arrest and for the arrest of Fon Christopher Achobang had been signed by the State Counsel of Bamenda, Mezam Division. Two separate blank arrest warrants were issued at the same time as the warrants for the arrests of Abdulkarim Shehu and Fon Christopher Achobang, which sources fear may be used to arrest members of the Mbororo community arbitrarily. Mallam Yunusa was arrested on 19 March 2014. Authorities have stated that neither Abdulkarim Shehu nor Mallam Yunusa will be released until Fon Christopher Achobang has been arrested.
On 19 March 2014, authorities of the Catholic Church, led by a representative of the Archbishop of the Bamenda Archdiocese, directed a group of hired militias with a bulldozer to demolish the homes of the Mbororo in the Ndzah village (also known as Banjah or Mamada Hills). The community mobilised and stopped the demolition from taking place. However, during the stand-off the representative of the Archbishop and Fon Christopher Achobang were injured. After the incident, at which he was not present, Abdulkarim Shehu reportedly took members of the police to the site to show them what had happened. Fon Christopher Achobang was forced to go into hiding after threats on his life following the incident.
According to lawyers for the Mbororo Banjah community, the invasion took place in spite of a court case pending in the Bamenda Administrative Court with a Stay of Execution of the Order on the now disputed land, as a contested eviction notice had been issued the week before. Additionally, despite having been alerted to the impending invasion, government officials did nothing to stop it from going ahead, in complete violation of the law and the legal rights of the Mbororo community.
Front Line Defenders issued a previous urgent appeal regarding the ongoing judicial harassment against MBOSCUDA and Musa Usman Ndamba on 14 May 2013. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders also sent a communication to the Cameroonian government regarding the same.
Front Line Defenders condemns the ongoing and severe judicial harassment against the above-named human rights defenders as it is directly related to their support of the embattled Mbororo communities of Cameroon.
On 27 August 2013, human rights defender Mr Musa Usman Ndamba formally requested Bamenda Judicial Police to start an investigation into telephone calls he had received a day before, one of which reportedly threatened him with arrest.
Musa Usman Ndamba is the vice-president of Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Organisation (MBOSCUDA), a social organisation which has championed the rights, including land rights, of Mbororo pastoralists in north-western Cameroon since the 1990s.
In a formal complaint sent to the Bamenda Judicial Police, Musa Usman Ndamba explained that on the evening of 26 August 2013, two unidentified men called him by telephone purporting to introduce to him a solar power business deal. The first caller claimed to call from the Philippines, using a number with a prefix indicating an international network such as Skype. He claimed to have a father-in-law by the name of Papa George and urged Musa Usman Ndamba to call him to discuss the possibility of installing solar energy at his home. The caller followed up with a text message that indicated a telephone number used by the so-called Papa George. Musa Usman Ndamba became suspicious as he does not have any business related to solar energy, and thus abstained from calling the number.
Shortly after, a second caller using the number suggested by the first one telephoned the human rights defender and introduced himself as Papa George. He maintained that he wanted to discuss the solar energy business deal as presented previously by his “son in law.” When Musa Usman Ndamba pressed him with questions, this caller became angry and started accusing the human rights defender of putting up a fake website through which he fraudulently claimed to supply solar energy products. Based on these accusations, the caller went on to threaten Musa Usman Ndamba that he will ensure that he gets arrested.
It should be noted that Musa Usman Ndamba's telephone number is not publicly available; additionally, both callers repeatedly addressed the human rights defender by his full name.
Since May 2013, Musa Usman Ndamba has been appearing before the Court of First Instance of Bamenda over unsubstantiated allegations of misinformation, a situation on which Front Line Defenders issued an urgent appeal on 14 May 2013. The case was triggered by a complaint filed by a local wealthy landowner, Mr Baba Ahmadou Dampullo, whose agents have reportedly threatened the human rights defender and his colleagues on a number of occasions.
On 19 August, the Court convened for the third time to hear the case, but the proceedings were cut short, like the two previous ones, by the absence in court of the landowner and his witnesses. As a result of this third-time absence, the Court has reportedly issued a bench warrant to compel the landowner and his witnesses to appear before the judge. The next hearing is scheduled for 4 October 2013.
Front Line Defenders takes this threat of arrest levelled against Musa Usman seriously and is concerned that the threat may be connected to his peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights, particularly the land rights of the Mbororo pastoralists, as part of the continued campaign of intimidation against MBOSCUDA leaders. Front Line Defenders urges that a thorough investigation be set up into the matter.
On 10 May 2013, human rights defender Mr Musa Usman Ndamba appeared before the Court of First Instance in Bamenda, on charges related to unsubstantiated allegations of misinformation.
As the court hearing began, the human rights defender was read four charges listed on a formal summons which was drafted in mid-April but served to him just one day before the hearing. Specifically, the prosecutor alleged that Musa Usman Ndamba had propagated false information capable of damaging the reputation of public authorities, and had made false declarations in a court of law whilst being under oath.
It was also alleged that the human rights defender had made false allegations against Baba Ahmadou Dampullo, and had as a result injured his reputation. Musa Usman Ndamba, who was accompanied by his counsel, denied all the allegations and pleaded not guilty to all four counts. His counsel eventually secured his bail before the hearing was adjourned to 27 May 2013.
MBOSCUDA also reports that at least five members of its staff have been forced to go into hiding after appearing as witnesses in an investigation into the attempted murder of Mr Jeidoh Duni, a Mbororo activist and also a MBOSCUDA paralegal. In an apparent act of retaliation against their testimony, false charges related to the “possession of fire arms” have been levelled against them and arrest warrants issued against them by the military tribunal of Bafoussam. In Cameroon, any crime that involves fire-arms comes under the jurisdiction of the military tribunal.
MBOSCUDA has maintained that those who shot and injured Jeidoh Duni were hired killers and has demanded full justice in this case. Of the five suspects who were arrested after the incident, three confessed to the crime and one even went so far as mentioning landowner Baba Ahmadou Dampullo as being behind the attack. However, all the suspects were released soon after they were handed over to the Gendarme authorities of the North-West Legion.
MBOSCUDA has recently drafted a Universal Periodic Review submission to the UN in which they detail the sorts of threats that members of their community, and particularly those active within MBOSCUDA, face. The claims articulated within this submission are believed to have contributed to the worsening harassment of MBOSCUDA leaders. Musa Usman Ndamba's case is far from being an isolated incident of judicial harassment of Mbororo leaders; other Mbororo leaders presently undergoing judicial harassment as a result of their activism include Mr Lamido Roufai Dahirou, a prominent MBOSCUDA member and community leader, as well as Messrs Sule Buba Dicko and Uselni Adamu, both of whom are leaders of the Mbororo Aku organisation ACUDA.
Front Line Defenders is concerned that the unsubstantiated allegations being brought against Musa Usman Ndamba are in retaliation for his peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights, particularly land rights of the Mbororo pastoralists. Front Line Defenders also believes that the ongoing campaign of intimidation against MBOSCUDA leaders is related to their collaboration with international organisations and to their participation in the aforementioned investigation.