The ‘Trumping Effect’ of Anti-Terrorism Legislations: The Case of Cameroon

The September 11 terrorist attacks in America ‘changed the world’ and many years after, acts of terrorism in various forms have endangered and killed innocent people in Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Belgium, France, Spain, Britain etc., jeopardized fundamental freedoms and seriously undermined the dignity of the human population. States have therefore been under an obligation to take appropriate measures to protect the fundamental rights and freedom of everyone within their jurisdictions against terrorist acts. In this vein, governments across the globe have adopted new laws, ameliorated and expanded the use of old laws to monitor communications and counter terrorism. Thus, in 2014 the government of Cameroon passed Law No. 2014/028 of 23 December on the suppression of acts of terrorism. The main thrust of the law is the redefinition of national security to incorporate the risk of terrorist actions undertaken by anyone or a group. Although the government has argued that the new law is necessary to contain the Boko-Haram terrorist group which has carried out kidnappings and attacks in Cameroon, this paper argues that there is a dangerous tendency to legitimize human rights violations under the guise of combating terrorism. In practice, this leads to a ‘trumping effect’, where the suppression of acts of terrorism legislations effectively override or take precedence over fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, press freedom, the right to peaceful protest and assembly, as well as accountability and transparency. Drawing from literature review, documentary research, interviews and case law, this paper contends that while the threat of terrorism and the rise of anti-terrorism legislations to counter terrorism are justified, the existence of arbitrary legislations and the vague, broad and sweeping nature of such legislations remain potentially problematic to the protection of journalistic sources and other fundamental rights. This complexity is evident in Cameroon where the law on the suppression of acts of terrorism has been invoked to arrest, trial and detain journalists, peaceful protesters and Cameroon anglophone activists. The above concerns point to the need for reforms of the existing laws on the suppression of acts of terrorism and the need for states to reconcile a suitable balance in this new context between protecting the human rights of its citizens as potential victims of terrorism and protecting the human rights of alleged terrorists.

Keywords//: Cameroon/Terrorism/Counter Terrorism/Human Rights/Freedom of Expression/ Press Freedom/Peaceful Protest and Assembly.


Nombre Adscripcion Procedencia
Ngangum Peter Tiako Université Libre de Bruxelles, Department of Information & Communications Sciences Campus du Solbosch Bruxelles-Belgique.