Guest post by Lennox S. Hinds, Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University
In teaching and practicing international law over the past four decades, I have sometimes offered to represent or speak out for those who are truly being maligned, wrongfully prosecuted or bypassed by the justice system.
The prosecution of Claude Chi, Lah Nestor Langmi and Francis Chenyi, three Southern Cameroons-born U.S. citizens in Kansas City is one such unfortunate case.
The way these men, also known as the “Kansas City 3,” were arrested and incarcerated without bail for twelve months now without trial by the U.S. government, on very questionable charges, is wrong and incompatible with American values.
Any objective and critical investigation of the underlying background of this case would reveal that the issues underlying these charges relate to a political struggle for self-determination within the context of a West African state, not organized terrorism. I am not a legal representative of the accused persons; however, I want to ensure that justice is done and seen to be done.
The three defendants were arrested in November 2022 in the U.S. on charges of “aiding international terror” while raising money for their homeland, Southern Cameroons (known also as Ambazonia), which was annexed by French Cameroon and designated as “the Anglophone regions” of Cameroon.
Since 2016, Paul Biya, president of Cameroon declared a senseless war on the people and civil society of Southern Cameroons.
Genocide is not a term that I use lightly to describe the current situation in Southern Cameroons. However, since 1982, deliberate acts targeting the people of Southern Cameroons with murder have been carried out by the armed forces of the Biya government against a population of over 6 million.
Reports by Chrada, a human rights organization based in Buea, in Southern Cameroons, reveals that more than 650 villages have been burnt by Cameroon’s military since 2016. The central government’s war against the English speaking communities is now in its 7th year. More than 55,000 people have been killed. Another 1.5 million people are internally displaced and more than 200,000 are stranded as refugees in neighboring Nigeria and Ghana, reads www.AmbazoniaGenocideLibrary.com.
The three accused have their parents, families and broader community facing a genocide against them in Cameroon. The three were trying to raise funds to support their helpless families that are being killed, raped and maimed daily by the Cameroon government’s soldiers with impunity. The Kansas City 3, Chi, Chenyi and Langmi, are indicted for participating in raising more than $350,000 to support community self-defense initiatives in Southern Cameroons against the brutal Cameroon military forces. It is also alleged that they participated in a conspiracy to kidnap civilians in Cameroon for ransom and organize extortion, as reported by The Kansas City Star. These allegations are false. It is my understanding that the accused acted as community leaders to facilitate humanitarian donations, educate their community volunteers and help people who are under severe distress. It clear that representatives of the Ukrainian and Jewish communities worldwide are conducting the same activities for their peoples.
The Biden administration acknowledged the severity of the war in Cameroon. During his confirmation hearing in January 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the incoming administration would uphold U.S. values in defending human rights in Africa and expressed concern with the war against the people of Southern Cameroons. Secretary Blinken said, “The United States must actively participate in the resolution of the situation in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon where the populations are victims of multifaceted violence.”
To understand why the people of Southern Cameroons are being persecuted, it is very important to understand the conflict’s history.
Unknown to most in the international community, Southern Cameroons was recognized by the United Nations over sixty years ago as a Sovereign nation. Southern Cameroons was granted independence by the U.N. in 1961, but was required to either join Nigeria or Cameroon. Southern Cameroons voted to join Cameroon as an equal partner. However, Cameroon unilaterally decided to annex it instead of forming a union of equals. French Cameroon used its superior military power to subdue the people of English-speaking Southern Cameroons, dissolved its institutions of State and disregarded the U.N. Trusteeship agreement and resolutions constituting the union.
Various countries have called for a negotiated peace. The U.S. government in 2018 called for a genuine dialogue to examine the root causes of the conflict. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution in 2020 calling on the Cameroon central government to commit to a peaceful resolution. The Swiss government agreed a year before that to serve as an international mediator, but the Cameroon government withdrew from the peace process. In 2022, the Canadian government brought both sides together for dialogue as well. The Cameroon government publicly disassociated itself from that process. Various international groups have called for peace, but Cameroon’s central government has constantly snubbed the international community, opting only for a military option that has cost thousands of lives and untold suffering.
The Southern Cameroons government in exile, known as an Interim Government, has been prepared for some time now to come to the table to negotiate with Cameroon’s central government without preconditions to find a road to peace. The Southern Cameroons diaspora community raises money for humanitarian purposes, education and the general welfare of their families, friends and others back home who are being targeted and abused by the Biya government.
The Kansas City 3’s defense team recently filed a motion to dismiss the case. The matter before the court is a case of politically orchestrated attacks on a marginalized people who, as previously stated, once had autonomy but lost it when two countries entered an agreement to co-exist under a federation of two equal States of equal status, but later the terms of the contract were violated by one party (Cameroon) without consulting the other party (Southern Cameroons). In an effort to assert its rights to self- determination, the people of Southern Cameroons are currently at war with Cameroon.
The struggle of peoples under colonial rule to implement their right of independence is legitimate and in full accordance with the principles of international law. Armed conflict involving such struggles have the legal status of international armed conflicts.
It is only the restoration of statehood and independence of Southern Cameroons that can reverse the negative outcome of the failed experimental union.
The charges against Claude Chi, Lah Nestor Langmi and Francis Chenyi (executives of the Ngoketunjia county in Southern Cameroons) should be dismissed immediately for the following reasons: The U.S. should not be seen as adjudicating internal political affairs of other countries; freedom and self-determination are core American values, and we should promote these values not only in the U.S. but everywhere in the world.
Lennox S. Hinds is a Professor Emeritus of Law and former Chair of the Administration of Justice Program, Rutgers University. He is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, the International Criminal Court for Rwanda, the International Criminal Court for Yugoslavia, the Permanent International Criminal Court in The Hague and the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He was Nelson Mandela’s U.S. attorney and counsel in the U.S. to the Government of South Africa, the African National Congress of South Africa and of Namibia. He is the permanent Representative to the United Nations for the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.