Adding to the growing voices urging telecommunications companies in collusion with regulators in Cameroon to restore Internet access in Cameroon's English-speaking regions, David Kaye. a United Nations special rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, has called on the Government of Cameroon to restore internet services to predominantly English-speaking parts of the country which have been cut off in “an appalling violation of their right to freedom of expression".
“I am particularly concerned at the tightening of the space for free speech at a time where its promotion and protection should be of the utmost importance,”David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression at the United Nations
Kaye's condemnation of the Internet shutdown in Cameroon follows reports that Cameroonians in the northwest and southwest regions, which are predominantly English speaking, have been unable to connect to the internet for almost a month now, since 17 January.
Cameroon has two official languages: French and English. English speakers, however, have long reported that they face discrimination and marginalization, and are excluded from top civil service positions and public services. They also complain their access to justice is limited because the majority of legislation and judicial proceedings are in French.
“A network shutdown of this scale violates international law – it not only suppresses public debate, but also deprives Cameroonians of access to essential services and basic resources,” said Mr. Kaye, urging the government to restore internet facilities immediately.
In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution which unequivocally condemned measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law, and called on all States to refrain from and cease such measures.
This followed the 2015 Joint Declaration by UN and regional experts in the field of freedom of expression, which stated that network shutdowns or internet ‘kill switches’ are measures which can ‘never be justified under human rights law’.
The UN Special Rapporteur will continue to monitor developments in Cameroon closely, and is at the disposal of the authorities to provide assistance or advice as required.