The obstacles placed in the path of Caroline and ALL fror Cameroon are many and varied. They are sometimes obvious and unashamed. In many ways they are the more obvious and easily tackled ones. The less obvious ones are more the more potent and the more difficult to take on.
Yesterday was a step back in time for me as Caroline took me round the courts in Bamenda, introducing me to Court Presidents, Magistrates, Prosecutors and Barristers. Some, it was clear, understood the need for the work that Caroline does and were supportive. Caroline herself would list the various occasions on which they had assisted her.
Others, however, would listen politely and nod but make no further comment. Occasionally you would see a flash of hostility. One official in particular challenged Caroline on the need for ALL and its work asserting that Cameroon already has a system of criminal legal aid where courts appoint representation for those who can not afford it otherwise. It was a coherent argument – at least for a couple of minutes until he spoiled it by saying that she risked opening a floodgate of people who would want representation. If the system were working there should be no floodgate!
Last night Terence, a local supporter ALL Cameroon, observed that there are two Cameroons – the apparent one and the real one. It was a neat way of summing up why the work here is necessary.
In the apparent Cameroon the law states that bail is free. Legally, in fact there is a presumption of bail being granted. In the real Cameroon, however, bail is often anything but free. In fact the law allows for money to be lodged as caution (security). So ostensibly the law can be followed and an accused person can be required to lodge a money guarantee but no receipt is given and no one ever expects to see the money again.
That is why the work here matters. Declarations of Human Rights are all very fine but if they are to be meaningful then people must have access to advocacy and courts where judges and officials are independent and honest. In that respect the Real Cameroon still has work to do.