Rights Violation In Southern Cameroons: US Mounts Pressure, Yaounde Develops High-blood
The Biya Government represented by her Communication Minister and some Francophone mushroom newspapers have been on the defensive for the past one week, since the US opened the skeletons in the cupboard of Cameroon’s right record. The damaging report shows that the new deal government has used cruel and inhuman methods to contain protesters seeking for the independence of Southern Cameroons, including those who sat peacefully in their homes.
The US State Department in a detailed report narrates how security forces beat, torture, harass, imprison and abuse citizens including separatist fighters. It also gives a general overview of rights situation in Cameroon.
For the past one week, Tibor Peter Nagy Jr. the United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, has hit hard on rights violation in Anglophone Cameroon, forcing Communication Minister, Rene Sadi, to make an outing debunking such claims.
The American Diplomat who is awaited in Cameroon in the days ahead said, “”My heart breaks for Cameroon. Every day people are dying, and every day people are suffering,”
He added that, “Every time I speak on this issue I end up in more trouble with the Cameroonian government… before we’re starting on this trip, I had an opportunity to be in Paris and meet with my G7 colleagues; that is, we should say the directors for Africa of the G7, and I was absolutely delighted that we really do have commonality on Cameroon, and as I think you saw last week, the entire EU issued a statement on Cameroon.”
He also raised concerns over the imprisonment of Professor Maurice Kamto and close aides, saying it was politically motivated.
The Biya regime has spent sleepless nights trying to debunk such claims and even paying mushroom newspapers to accuse the US Diplomat of conspiring with opposition to cause chaos.
Tidbits of US State Department’s Statement
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security
force members beat, harassed, or otherwise abused citizens, including
separatist fighters. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented
several cases in which security forces severely mistreated suspected
separatists and detainees.
Amnesty International reported in July 2017 on the cases of 101 individuals whom security forces allegedly tortured between March 2013 and March 2017 in detention facilities run by the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) and the General Directorate of Counter Intelligence (DGRE). While most of the cases documented involved persons arrested in 2014 and 2015 and allegedly tortured between 2014 and 2016, Amnesty International asserted that the practice continued into 2017. It stated that torture took place at 20 sites, including four military bases, two intelligence centers, a private residence, and a school. Specific sites named in the report included the BIR bases in Salak, Kousseri, and Kolofata in the Far North Region, and DGRE facilities in Yaounde. As of October the government had not shared results of its internal investigations but claimed it had investigated some, if not all, of the allegations.
Human Rights Watch documented the case of 22-year-old Fredoline Afoni, a third- year student at the Technical University of Bambili whom security forces beat to death on January 29. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline was home near Kumbo in the Northwest Region when he received a telephone call requesting that he pick up luggage at a nearby junction. Once at the location, persons dressed in civilian clothes forcefully took him away by truck. A truck belonging to the gendarmerie subsequently drove through the same junction with Fredoline sitting in the back, naked and handcuffed, with signs of having been badly beaten. Individuals reportedly appeared at a relative’s home and collected Fredoline’s laptop and cell phone. Fredoline’s uncle subsequently discovered that he was in gendarmerie custody. The uncle reportedly told Human Rights Watch that he discovered the victim’s naked and decaying corpse outside the local mortuary three days later. After a postmortem examination, the medical professional who examined the body told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline died as a result of his beatings.
Social media diffused a video in June showing security force members at the Cameroon Protestant College of Bali in the Northwest Region forcing two girls to
crawl through the mud while referring to them as Ambazonian spies. Media reports indicated that the gendarmes were arrested and placed in detention and were awaiting trial by the military tribunal, but there was no further information on the case.
Press reporting indicated there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government and separatists in Anglophone regions. For example, there were credible reports that on July 3, during security operations in Bamenda, Northwest Region, first-class soldier Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim he called aside for a routine national identity check. The soldier was arrested, although there was no further information on the case.
During the year the United Nations reported that it received five allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Cameroon deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Three cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship, transactional sex), and three cases sexual abuse (rape), one of which involved minors. Several allegations each referred to more than one alleged perpetrator, more than one victim, or both. Investigations both by the United Nations and the government were pending. Interim action by the United Nations was taken in one case. Nine allegations reported previously were pending.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers. Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as five times the intended capacity. Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children. Authorities often held detainees in pretrial detention and convicted prisoners together. In many prisons’ toilets were nothing more than common pits. In some cases, women benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters. Authorities claimed to hold sick persons separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.
According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915 but which held close to 30,000 inmates as of June. For example, the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa
Region, was initially designed to accommodate 150 inmates. Successive expansions raised the capacity to 500 inmates. As of June 19, the prison held 1,600 inmates, more than two-thirds of whom had not been convicted of any crime. A third of the inmates were awaiting trial, hearings had begun for another third, and one-third had been convicted.
The quality of food, access to potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate. As a result, illness was widespread. Malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and diarrhea, were rampant. The number of deaths associated with detention conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities was unknown.
Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems. Corruption among prison personnel was reportedly widespread. Visitors were at times forced to bribe wardens to be granted access to inmates. Prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, cell phones, beds, and transfers to less crowded areas of the prisons. Due to their inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences or after they had received court orders of release.
Administration: Independent authorities often investigated credible allegations
of mistreatment. Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel;
without authorization, they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with
inmates. In addition, visits to Boko Haram suspects were highly restricted.
Some detainees were held far from their families, reducing the possibility of
visits. Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religions
As in 2017,
authorities allowed NGOs to conduct formal education and other literacy
programs in prisons. At the principal prison in Edea, Littoral Region, the NGO
Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture sponsored a Literacy and Social
Reintegration Center that provided primary and lower secondary education to inmates.
Because of the sociopolitical unrest in the Southwest Region, Human IS Right, a
Buea-based civil society organization, and the NGO Operation Total Impact
discontinued their formal education and reformation education program in the
principal prisons in Buea and Kumba. The central prison in Garoua, North
Region, continued to run a full-cycle primary school.
Independent Monitoring: Unlike in the previous year, the government
restricted international humanitarian organizations’ access to prisoners in
For example, as of June authorities had not allowed the ICRC access to its target prisons and detention centers. On July 3, however, the ICRC was able to visit the 47 Anglophone separatists repatriated from Nigeria, and some of the detainees delivered messages through the organization to their families. The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) and the Commissions for Justice and Peace of the Catholic archdioceses also conducted prison visits but were denied access to some detention centers. In January NCHRF members visited prisons in Monatele in the Center Region; Bertoua, Doume, and Abong- Mbang in the East Region; and Maroua in the Far North Region. The NCHRF reported that it did not have access to some prisons in Yaounde, including those hosting the 47 suspected separatists repatriated from Nigeria. The NCHRF also alleged authorities did not grant access to a victim who was shot and admitted at the Yaounde Emergency Center.
Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the right to challenge the lawfulness in court of an arrest or detention. The law states that, except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest shall disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason. The law also provides that persons arrested on a warrant shall be brought immediately before the examining magistrate or the president of the trial court who issued the warrant, and that the accused persons shall be given reasonable access to contact their family, obtain legal advice, and arrange for their defense. The law provides that any person who has been illegally detained by the police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation. On several occasions the government did not respect these provisions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The national police,
DGRE, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Territorial Administration, and, to a
lesser extent, presidential guard are responsible for internal security. The
Ministry of Defense–which includes the gendarmerie, army, and the army’s
military security unit–reports to the Office of the Presidency, resulting in
strong presidential control of security forces. The army is responsible for
external security, while the national police and gendarmerie have primary
responsibility for law enforcement. Historically the gendarmerie has
responsibility in rural areas. Increasingly in the Anglophone regions,
responsibility for security in the rural areas is left to another security
force, the BIR. The BIR falls outside
the purview of conventional forces. The national police–which includes public security, judicial, territorial security, and frontier police–reports to the General Delegation of National Security (DGSN), which is under the direct authority of the presidency. The government took some steps to hold police accountable for abuses of power. Police remained ineffective, poorly trained, and corrupt. Impunity continued to be a problem.
maintained some control over the police and gendarmerie, and the government had
some mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The
DGSN and gendarmerie investigated reports of abuse and forwarded cases to the
courts. Lesser sanctions were handled internally. The DGSN, Ministry of
Defense, and Ministry of Justice stated that members of security forces were
sanctioned during the year for committing abuses, but few details were known
about investigations or any subsequent accountability.
The national gendarmerie and the army have special offices to investigate abuse. The secretary of state for defense and the minister delegate at the presidency oversees prosecuting abusers. The minister delegate of defense refers cases involving aggravated theft, criminal complicity, murder, and other major offenses to the military courts for trial.
In March authorities opened an investigation into the case of taxi driver Jean Nga Mvondo, who died a few hours after the Ngousso gendarmerie brigade in Yaoundé released him from detention. Pending the outcome of the investigation, on March 23, the secretary of state in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED) relieved the brigade commander of his duties.
As reported above,
on July 24, the minister delegate for defense announced that the gendarmerie in
Bamenda, Northwest Region, arrested first class soldier Mbita Arthur and
referred him to the office of the Bamenda military court prosecutor. The
minister also promised to take disciplinary action against the soldier in
accordance with the law. Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim on July
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires police to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement. The law provides that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate, although this often did not occur. Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once.
This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought. Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods. The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command. The law provides for access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both. Contrary to the wide-reaching antiterror law, civilian law prohibits incommunicado detention, but it occurred, especially in connection with the sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone regions. The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected. On August 8, Supreme Court Chief Judge Daniel Mekobe Sone commissioned the first members of the Compensation Commission for Illegal Detention, a body created to provide citizens with recourse if they believe they were wrongfully detained.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmes, BIR soldiers, and government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado. “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued. There were several reports by media and NGOs that police or gendarmes arrested persons without warrants on circumstantial evidence alone, often following instructions from influential persons to settle personal scores. There were also credible reports that police or gendarmes arbitrarily arrested persons during neighborhood sweeps for criminals and stolen goods or arrested persons lacking national identification cards, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis and the fight against Boko Haram.
There were credible
reports that authorities held some suspects in the Anglophone crisis for long
periods without notifying them of the charges. For example, authorities
detained Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, the president of the Anglophone separatist movement,
and 46 others incommunicado and without official charge for close to six
months. The suspects were arrested in Nigeria on January 5 and extradited to
Cameroon on January 25. Defense lawyers considered the arrest and extradition
illegal and filed an application for immediate release with the Mfoundi High
Court in Yaoundé. On August 30, the judge dismissed the application on
procedural grounds. The court eventually heard the case on November 1 and
delivered a verdict denying the release of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and the nine other
leaders of the Anglophone separatist movement on November 15.
Pretrial Detention: The law provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court. No comprehensive statistics were available on pretrial detainees. According to prison authorities, as of June the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, housed approximately 1,600 inmates, two-thirds of whom were pretrial detainees and appellants. Some pretrial detainees had been awaiting trial for more than two years. The increase in pretrial prison populations was due in large part to mass arrests of Anglophone activists and persons accused of supporting Boko Haram, staff shortages, lengthy legal procedures, lost files, administrative and judicial bottlenecks, including procedural trial delays, corruption, negligence, and court fees.
The NGO Human IS Right documented the case of 24-year-old Beng Pascal Ngong, who was detained without judgement at the Buea Central Prison for more than 26 months. Police arrested Beng in 2015 for allegedly not possessing a national identity card, an offense punishable with imprisonment from three to 12 months, a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($85 to $170), or both. Following a habeas corpus request filed by the NGO Human IS Right, judicial authorities ultimately released Beng on March 21, after more than double the duration of the sentence he would have served had he been prosecuted and convicted. Until his release Beng Pascal had never appeared before a judge.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and
law ostensibly provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary is under
and often controlled by the president and, by proxy, the ruling party.
Individuals reportedly accused innocent persons of crimes, often due to
political motivations, or caused trial delays to settle personal scores.
Authorities generally enforced court orders.
Musa Usman Ndamba,
the national vice president of the Mbororo Social and Cultural Development
Association (MBOSCUDA), was prosecuted for “propagation of false information”
and “false oath,” although he submitted strong evidence that he was not
associated with the offense. He continued to suffer judicial harassment by Baba
Ahmadou Danpullo, a businessman and member of the central committee of the
ruling CPDM, who pressured the court to continue to hear the case after various
instances in which it had been dismissed. On May 11, the Court of First
Instance in Bamenda sentenced Usman Ndamba to six months’ imprisonment and a
fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($850) after more than 60 hearings that began in
2013. Human rights defenders believed Danpullo used the judicial system to
discourage Usman Ndamba from defending the rights of the minority
Mbororo community of nomadic cattle herders.
Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will. The court system is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, which in turn is under the president. The constitution designates the president as “first magistrate,” thus “chief” of the judiciary, making him the legal arbiter of any sanctions against the judiciary. The constitution specifies the president is the guarantor of the legal system’s independence. He appoints all judges, with the advice of the Higher Judicial Council. While judges hearing a case are technically to be governed only by the law and their conscience as provided for by the constitution, in some matters they are subordinate to the minister of justice or to the minister in charge of military justice. With approval from the minister of justice, the Special Criminal Court may drop charges against a defendant who offers to pay back the money he is accused of having embezzled, which essentially renders the act of corruption free of sanctions.
Military courts may
exercise jurisdiction over civilians for offenses including the following:
offenses committed by civilians in military establishments; offenses relating
to acts of terrorism and other threats to the security of the state, including
piracy; unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation and oil platforms;
offenses relating to the purchase, importation, sale, production, distribution,
or possession of military effects or insignia as defined by regulations in
force; cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence; and crimes
committed with firearms, including gang crimes, banditry, and highway robbery.
The constitution and
law provide for the right to a fair and public hearing, without undue delay, in
which the defendant is presumed innocent, but authorities did not always respect
the law. Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in
detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Many pretrial
suspects were treated as if they were already convicted, frequently held in the
same quarters as convicted criminals, and denied visits. Defendants have the
right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in
many cases the government did not respect this right, particularly in cases of
individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram or Anglophone separatists.
When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint
counsel at the public’s expense; however, the process was often burdensome and
lengthy, and the quality of legal assistance was poor. Authorities generally
allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence
on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities
to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt.
Defendants may appeal convictions. In at least one case, authorities did not
give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses and
evidence to support his case.
In August the High Court for Mfoundi in Yaounde allegedly released a person suspected of trafficking in persons who had been in pretrial detention since 2016. The victim, Lilian Mbeng Ebangha, returned from Kuwait in 2015 and filed a lawsuit against her alleged trafficker, a pastor of Shiloh Liberation Ministries International. After preliminary investigations the case was sent to trial in 2016 and thereafter had more than 20 adjournments. Each time a hearing was scheduled in Yaounde, Ebangha travelled from Douala to attend. The alleged offender was released in August or September, but it was unconfirmed whether there was a court decision on the matter. The victim stated that her trafficker had called her to inform her of his release.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no
reports of newly identified political prisoners or detainees, and no statistics
were available on the number of political prisoners. Previously reported
political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED
facilities. Some were allegedly held at DGRE facilities and at the principal
prisons in Yaounde. The government did not permit access to such persons on a
regular basis, or at all, depending on the case.
Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention. In May 2016 the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 20 years. In June 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision qualifying Marafa’s detention “a violation of international laws” and asked the government to immediately free and compensate him for damages suffered. The United Nations noted there were multiple irregularities in the judicial procedure.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options, however, involved lengthy delays. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies. There were no reports that the government had failed to comply with civil case court decisions pertaining to human rights. Several labor rights-related cases involving government entities were ongoing as of the end of August.
The government continued to compensate relocated families over the past few years in connection with infrastructure projects, including the Kribi Sea Port and the Yaoundé-Douala highway projects. There were no reported developments in the cases of corrupt officials who had misappropriated money the government had earmarked for compensation previously. There was no report of intentional targeting of groups for discriminatory treatment.
Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy,
Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction for the “higher interests of the state,” and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.
The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime. Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without warrant whenever they wished.
An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred.
Police and gendarmes sometimes sealed off a neighborhood, systematically searched homes, arrested persons, sometimes arbitrarily, and seized suspicious or illegal articles. For example, in the early hours of July 10, police and gendarmes conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the neighborhoods of Ndobo at Bonaberi in the Douala IV Subdivision, Littoral Region, arrested dozens of individuals, and detained those found in possession of, or consuming, narcotics. On July 26, police conducted a similar operation about Biyem Assi in Yaounde 6 Subdivision. They searched houses, requested residents to produce receipts for appliances found in their possession and in some cases confiscating those for which the occupants could not produce receipts, and arrested dozens of individuals. In both cases security forces detained citizens without national identity cards until their identities could be established. The areas in question have a high concentration of Anglophones, and most of the individuals arrested in the July 10 and 26 incidents were Anglophones. Anecdotal reports suggested that with the protracted insecurity in some regions, authorities often forcefully accessed private communications and personal data by exploiting the telephones and computer devices of targeted individuals, during both cordon-and- search and regular identity-control operations.
On September 28 police and gendarmes conducted raids in various neighborhoods in Yaoundé. Police raided neighborhoods with heavy Anglophone populations, setting up temporary checkpoints and requesting citizens to provide identification. Some individuals were required to enter a security vehicle and were brought to local police stations, where their identities were verified once more before being released.