A district judge in the District of Columbia, United States of America, has approved a law suit against sitting Cameroon’s President Paul Biya and 103 other Cameroonian government officials, saying the “the facts of the case are properly controverted and thus undisputed”.
The suit was brought to the court by Cameroonian activist Patrice Nouma and journalist Seme Ndzana, both leaders of the civil society organization, Cameroon’s Transition Council. Nouma and Nzana accuse the Biya’s government of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Cameroon, and especially in the two Anglophone regions.
On 4 September 2018, District Court of Columbia, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan entered civil action number 18-1990-EGS and issued a standing order on the matter of the accusations. The court’s decision to issue a standing order on the case is an unexpected victory to the litigants.
There is a lot of skepticism, however, on whether Biya or his government officials will actually stand trial. In 2012, the US Department of Justice asked a district court to toss out a case against Biya and top Cameroonian government officials brought by former director of CAMAIR, Yves Michel Fotso.
In the suit brought by Fotso, the State Department told Justice Department officials that ‘the above-referenced suit names President Paul Biya as a defendant. President Biya is the current the president and head of state of Cameroon and, in light of his current status, Cameroon has formally asked the Department of State to take the steps necessary to have this action against President Biya dismissed on the basis of his immunity from United States jurisdiction as a sitting foreign head of state’.
‘The Department of State recognizes and allows the immunity of President Biya as a sitting head of state from the jurisdiction of the United States District Court in this suit. President Biya, as the sitting head of state of a foreign state, is immune from the jurisdiction of the United States District Court in this suit while in office. Accordingly, the Department of State requests that the Department of Justice submit a determination of immunity to the district court at the earliest opportunity.’
But members of Cameroon Transition Council are adamant that Michel’s Fotso’s suit differs from theirs. Fotso was involved in a business deal in which he was accused of corruption and abuse of office, and the suit was to ask the Cameroonian government to demise the charges against him. In Nouma’s and Ndzana’s case, they are suing the government for crimes against humanity.