As incidents of street justice grow in Cameroon, judicial authorities are urging the population to cooperate with the justice process instead of taking the law into their own hands.

Hardly a day goes by in Cameroon without reports of what is known locally as “jungle justice.”

Local media report landlords who remove doors of tenants’ homes because they have not paid rent or workers who block traffic because they are angry with their bosses. Cases of people attacking police stations to free suspects have also been reported in several regions.

Barrister Jackson Ngnie Kamga, the president of the Cameroon Bar Council, sees an erosion of law and order.

He says private justice is gaining ground because the population lacks confidence in the justice system and does not think the system is working.

In a speech last week opening the judicial year, Supreme Court Chief Justice Daniel Mekobe Sone singled out two problems: perceived corruption in the legal system and lengthy delays to the judicial process.

Sone said private justice is taking Cameroon back to a primitive state in which those who are powerful dictate their own laws. This unprecedented upsurge of various forms of private justice threatens the very foundation of Cameroon as a state of law, he said, calling for more cooperation from the population.

Barrister Mujem Fombad sees two issues that need to be addressed to restore trust: greater protection for witnesses who report crimes and greater accountability for alleged abuses by security forces, like torture and arbitrary arrest. 

“Maybe somebody wants to shoot you, and you remove your own gun first and shoot that person,” Fombad said. “Maybe you want to slap me and I remove the gun and I shoot you. No civilized society will tolerate people taking the laws into their own hands. Everybody must know that when you have a problem, you must seek redress through the courts.”

The president of Cameroon’s national commission on human rights and freedom, Che Mutta Banda, has sought to dispel what the commission found in recent polls to be a common myth. Jungle justice does not reduce crime, he says, it multiplies abuses.

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