"Anyone who is arrested shall be informed at the time of his arrest of the reason for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him". This is what Principle 10 of the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment says. Also national legislation states that where a judicial police officer intends to remand a suspect in police custody, he shall inform him of the grounds for suspicion and invite him to give any explanation he deems necessary (Section 119 of Criminal Procedure Code).
But according to the latest former detainees interviewed by the Human IS Right team - students arrested last May during the riots at the University of Buea (http://goo.gl/JYaGgY), these basic rules were too often infringed. Most of the students declared that they didn't know the grounds of suspicion and weren't invited to give any explanation at the time of their arrest and during the police custody.
Some of the students weren't brought before a court and informed about their right to legal assistance: this amounts to a flagrant violation of Principle 11 of the above mentioned Body of Principles, which enshrines the right of everybody not to be kept in detention without being given an effective opportunity to be heard promptly by a judicial or other authority and to be assisted by legal counsel. Furthermore, many former detainees alleged that they weren't given adequate time and facilities to communicate in confidence with their legal counsel while in police custody.
According to Principle 16, a detained or imprisoned person shall be entitled to notify or to require the competent authority to notify members of his family or other appropriate persons of his arrest, detention or imprisonment or of a transfer and of the place where he is kept in custody. This wasn't the case of the families and friends of the latest interviewed, who didn't receive adequate information by the authorities.
An additional concerning issue is that detainees weren't informed about the opportunity to apply for free Legal Aid. This is a valuable option for those who can't afford legal assistance, and as a matter of fact many of the detainees' families experience financial difficulties as a result of the detention and have to bear all the costs for legal representation, food, clothes, transport for visits, medical care.
Given these troubling premises, it's easy to understand why the Human IS Right team considers the Prisoners' Rights Project an absolute priority: to enhance pre-trial detainees' access to efficient and effective justice and provide pro bono legal representation for those in need is essential in order to assure the respect for their human rights while in detention.
Written by Michela Gaffuri Riva, Prisoners' Rights Project International Intern