By Hope Nda & Kevin Agbor
Over 60 lawyers from Cameroon’s Southwest and Littoral Regions have pledged to arrest environmental ills, after attending a two-day workshop on environmental law and litigation in Buea last week.
The workshop, organised by the Foundation for Environment and Development, FEDEV, and the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, ELAW, was aimed at equipping lawyers with the intellectual and legal tools they need to defend the environment.
According to Barrister Sama Nchunu Justice, Founder of FEDEV, the workshop was a necessary step towards attaining environmental justice, amid the plethora of environmental ills plaguing society.
“We look forward to an environmentally benign bar that will take the lead in ensuring environmental justice in Cameroon,” he remarked in a speech.
“The world is facing more environmental challenges; Buea is becoming hotter. Mount Cameroon forest is losing its fauna and flora due to human activities. Water sources are drying up and garbage heaps inundate the environment,” he decried.
After attending the workshop, Barrister Emma Nanyongo from Corporate Law Firm, Kumba, said: “The seminar has been so enriching, particularly I noticed I had been sleeping on some rights that affect my own self. Because, the environment is not a personal issue; it’s our issue. We have the right to protect this God-given environment.”
“I’m going back impacted; I’m going back to get to work. The refuge dump, the pollution of the air, pollution of water, we are surely going to arrest it.”
Stating that environmental litigation “is something that has not been well-conceived,” Barrister Nyongbadmia Evine of Shalom Consultants Buea, said: “I have gained a lot of experience, including access to environmental justice and I think it’s time for us to bring actions to the court to enforce rights to a healthy environment as enshrined in the constitution has come.”
The President of the Northwest Administrative Court, Justice Florence Awasom, drilled the lawyers on public interest litigation in Cameroon during which she said lawyers need an independent and dependable judicial system in order to protect environmental rights. She added that judicial activism must be encouraged among lawyers, and urged the state to “remove all barriers preventing access to justice for the poor.”
Olivia Mah, who represented ELAW at the seminar, said: “At the end of this training they (lawyers) should be able to take the knowledge back to the community and to be able to be the green judges that we are advocating for; that they should be able to identify environmental harm and human rights violations and to be able to take steps to prosecute these crimes…”
The Cameroon Bar President was represented at the seminar by Barrister Enow Benjamin, who said the bar envisages creating an environmental law commission to better address environmental ills.
“The Cameroon Bar Association is ready to work and partner with NGOs and civil society organisations that are there to help society and that we will continue to support. And we are happy that, at the end of this workshop, a network for Cameroon lawyers has been created that will help us exchange ideas and viewpoints and remind us of problems that are out there for us to resolve,” he said.
After training over 100 magistrates in the Northwest and Southwest Regions on environmental law last year, FEDEV says this year’s training focused on lawyers because they are the people who bring cases to court and can better hold environmental polluters accountable.