Protect Human Rights Defenders!

The Cameroon State human rights commission CNDHL/NCHRF confirmed in 2017, 2018 [FR/EN] and in 2019 that human rights defender Jan Cappelle (Belgium citizen) has been the target of a long-running defamation and reprisals campaign in Cameroon that began in 2015, as part of which he has been accused of riot and attempting to kill Cameroon large-scale land owner and billionaire Baba Danpullo. The NCHRF finds the complaints trumped-up to have Jan Cappelle arbitrarily removed from the country. The NCHRF also confirms acts of intimidation and harassment against barrister Elvis Brown Luma Mukuna (Cameroonian) for defending his client Jan Cappelle. This defamation campaign against Jan Cappelle started shortly after he met victims of land grabbing in the villages Tudig and Big Babanki, North-West region of Cameroon, and worked with farmers in Tudig to create the organisation ‘Organic Farming for Gorillas OFFGO’. Baba Danpullo heads the business conglomerate Baba Danpullo Group, and his alleged involvement in acts of intimidation, harassment and reprisals against human rights defenders has been reported in many UN letters and reports (period 2012 – 2023): 

The Baba Danpullo Group is present within Cameroon, South Africa (in final liquidation), Nigeria and Switzerland. It operates in varied sectors across real estate, the agro-industry (animal husbandry, tea and cotton), transport (aviation and freight airlines), telecommunications, media and physical trading. Some known public companies are: Ndawara Tea Estate, and Nexttel (30% stake), Sodecoton (11% stake). The companies in South Africa (known under the name Bestinver Company South Africa) has been placed in final liquidation.

The three UN Special Procedures’ letters (CMR 3/2019 (case Jan Cappelle/OFFGO)CMR 5/2019 (case Jan Cappelle/OFFGO)CMR 4/2022 (case Jan Cappelle/OFFGO)) and the 3 UN annual reprisals reports of the years 2022 (A/HRC/51/47)2021 (A/HRC/48/28)  and 2020 (A/HRC/45/36) covering the matter of Jan Cappelle/OFFGO in Cameroon include, among others, the use of travel ban that has been illegally imposed on Jan Cappelle (in 2016, 2020, 2022) and acts of violence against Jan Cappelle, his lawyer Elvis Brown Luma Mukuna (Cameroonian), members of the traditional authority of the village Tudig (Cameroonians) and the community of the village Tudig for their cooperation with Jan Cappelle. The documents also cover the destruction of Jan Cappelle’s properties in Tudig, the arbitrary arrest and detention of Jan Cappelle with the intent to illegally remove him from the country, kidnappings, torture, a shooting incident during a kidnapping attempt, surveillance, and threats with the intent to punish Jan Cappelle for his communication with the United Nations. The UN Special Procedures’ experts mentioned in their latest letter to the Government of Cameroon number (CMR 4/2022, dd. 29 April 2022), that they may want to publicly communicate about this case as they believe that the matter “warrants immediate attention”. 

In the years before, concretely in 2017, 2018 [FR/EN] and in 2019, the Cameroon State human rights commission CNDHL/NCHRF already condemned these human rights violations committed against Jan Cappelle, and recommended criminal proceedings against the identified perpetrators. According to the NCHRF, the list of perpetrators include businessman Baba Danpullo and high rank officials within the Defence and Security departments DGSN (police) and DGRE (external research). 

Jan Cappelle’s case was raised publicly at the 49th (2022) and the 52th (2023) regular sessions of the UN Human Rights Council by the countries Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. At the 49th regular session, the countries asked the UN HRC President Ambassador Federico Villegas (Argentina), Bureau and Secretariat to address this case with the Government of Cameroon. At the 52th regular session, the countries’ intervention states: “In Cameroun,  the cases of Jan Capelle and Elvis Brown remain outstanding” and “We welcome your [President Ambassador Václav Bálek] pledge to follow up on all allegations of reprisals against individuals who have engaged with the UN human rights system. We commend your strong call on all states to prevent such acts. We encourage you and the Bureau to make public statements on serious and unresolved cases of reprisals and to address such cases systematically.”

From 2016 to 2022, Jan Cappelle, his lawyer Elvis Brown Luma Mukuna (and his family members), and the members of Tudig’s traditional authority already faced 15 different acts of reprisals, of which more than 50% could have resulted in someone’s death. The UN Secretary General reported in his latest annual report on reprisals for cooperation with the UN, of September 2022 (A/HRC/51/47)) the high risk of ongoing reprisals in the future: this particular ongoing situation of “alleged lack of investigation by relevant authorities, coupled with the history of violence against Mr. Capelle, Mr. Luma Mukuna and Mr. Awazi, inflict fear and serious concern about the risk of further reprisals against them for their ongoing engagement with the United Nations.”

On October 10 2022, the Government of Cameroon answered the allegations the various UN communications on the case. The Government defended the view that court proceedings have been introduced, with Jan Cappelle as key witness, and that in fact, these court proceedings will permit the Government “the gathering of evidence to arrive at an objective conclusion”. The cases before court cover acts of torture of Jan Cappelle, destruction of his properties, the use of conditional threats to silence Jan Cappelle, and false arrest of Jan Cappelle. 

This particular situation is not new. A number of Governmental documents in Cameroon clearly confirm the role of businessman Baba Danpullo in: a “use of political and other influences to block the implementation of Administrative decisions” (date of publication: 2004), “use of political and Administrative influences to victimise detractors” (date of publication: 2004), and “complicating the implementation of Administrative decisions (date of publication: 2013). Based on available Governmental and civil society reports, the operations of the Baba Danpullo Group in the North-West region impact more than 10.000 civilians (see e.g. in Waindo-up (Wum) in Menchum division, and Sabga/Chabal in Mezam division and in Big Babanki, in Mezam Division) and that many victims complain about the impossibility to bring their cases to court. They lost access to their land and home, and faced acts of violence and torture as reprisal for speaking out. 

New incidents

When Jan Cappelle then submitted a visa application to the embassy of Cameroon in Belgium, on 18 August 2022, in order to be able to attend the court sessions in Mbengwi, the consul of the embassy of Cameroon in Belgium immediately rejected the visa application “because Jan Cappelle is not allowed to enter Cameroon”. The consul acted in violation of the applicable laws in Cameroon. The rejection of the visa application by the consul of the embassy of Cameroon in Belgium made it impossible to honour the summons from the courts in Mbengwi. The denial of the visa may have been the result of intervention of the police and/or national security officials who became the subject of a criminal investigation carried out by the Examining Magistrate. The prominent human rights organisation CHRDA finds that the Government of Cameroon must to do more to end acts of intimidation and reprisals on Cameroon soil.

Meanwhile the court proceedings have been placed on hold. 

From 9 December 2022 onwards, Jan Cappelle received numerous anonymous intimidating WhatsApp messages, on 23 December 2022 and on 1 February 2023, Jan Cappelle’s lawyer and a family member in Cameroon received death threat calls. At one occasion, the caller said that “both Jan Cappelle and his lawyer will be killed and that the diplomats will not be able to save them this time.” Despite a complaint got filed with the police on 1 February 2023, there is no evidence to demonstrate that an investigation got opened. Furthermore, the messages to Jan Cappelle came from a Guinea phone number (+224) and include an intimidating e-mail that was sent to the Cameroon State human rights commission NCHRF in October 2020. The author of the e-mail urged the NCHRF to review their 2017, 2018 [FR/EN] reports due to the fact that these reports damaged the reputation of Cameroon at the UN, and that NCHRF’s cooperation with Jan Cappelle could constitute an act of treason. The owner of the Guinea WhatsApp number also said that the former President of the NCHRF and the former Secretary General of the Northwest branch of the NCHRF “were killed due to their role in Jan Cappelle’s file in Cameroon.”

Many organisations, including Amnesty International (2022), Human Rights Watch (2023), the International Service for Human Rights (2022), Front Line Defenders (2019), are calling on Cameroonian authorities to guarantee the safety of Jan Cappelle and his lawyer in Cameroon and ensure they can continue carrying out their work in a safe and enabling environment.