By Hope Nda
The Foundation for Environment and Development, FEDEV, a nature-centred organisation, has drilled dozens of magistrates in the Southwest region on how to apply environment law in the judiciary to ensure a sustainable natural environment.
After a two-day workshop at Buea’s Parliamentarian Flat Hotel, the magistrates expressed firm commitment to environmental protection after knowing from experts how to settle specific environmental disputes.
“Environmental harms are irreversible and action should be taken once threats of pollution are spotted,” one of the magistrates said during deliberations.
After attending the workshop, Barrister Eware Ashu, State Counsel of Manyu Division and Magistrate of the Mamfe Court of First Instance, said it is time to wake up and start addressing environmental issues.
“We are leaving this place with a green mind going back to my jurisdiction, I’ll be more alert when it comes to environmental issues. I will be better armed to tackle such matters and I know now that in such matters there is no legal vacuum; we are armed with the laws, we now know how to apply and we now know how to handle such cases.”
At the workshop, several concerns were raised about nature protection in Cameroon, including the fact that Cameroon lacks a permanent environmental law court; environmental law is not taught in undergraduate law programmes; and the Cameroonian judiciary is ill-equipped to manage environmental issues.
The workshop, organised in partnership with the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), was necessary because the Cameroonian judiciary is “ill equipped” to manage environmental issues, said Barrister Sama Nchunu Justice, Founder of FEDEV.
“When you look at the environment, you see that plastic waste is become a major problem. There is a law regulating the importation of plastics, commercialisation and the distribution of non-biodegradable plastic waste. But go to the markets and other public places, it is a serious hazard. We have the laws, but what have we been doing?
“We live with the daily realities of increasing environmental hazards… there is a vacuum somewhere and the vacuum is with respect to compliance and enforcement of environmental law. The duties of magistrates are to interpret and enforce the law for the interest of nature as well as mankind,” Barrister Nchunu added.
Despite the existence of laws governing the use of natural resources and the environment, nature is being exploited in Cameroon but nothing is being done to replenish what is lost.
According to Maureen Chibili who represented the Ministry of Justice, the workshop was necessary to build the capacities of magistrates on environmental protection. This is because magistrates play a pivotal role in giving environmental law force and effect. “The workshop is therefore most welcomed and participants should tap from the rich experiences shared,” she said during an opening speech to commence the workshop.
Amid the two-day discussions, the magistrates touched issues regarding the extraction of mineral resources from a community, where they said communities must be well compensated, paid or resettled in case their land is being used for mineral exploitation.
Although magistrates have been drilled on environmental litigation, they however cannot initiate cases in court against environmental defaulters; only lawyers or the common man can take people to court for polluting the environment. “Our next step will be to enhance the capacities of those who initiate cases in court, who are the lawyers as well as the specialised investigators in the various Ministries,” said Founder of FEDEV, Barrister Nchunu