Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The country has a multiparty system of government, but the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has remained in power since its creation in 1985. In practice, the president retains the power to control legislation. In 2011 citizens re-elected CPDM leader Paul Biya president, a position he has held since 1982, in a flawed election marked by irregularities, but observers did not believe these had a significant impact on the outcome. In April 2013 the country conducted the first Senate elections in its history that were peaceful and considered generally free and fair. In September 2013 simultaneous legislative and municipal elections were held, and most observers considered them free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained a degree of control over security forces, including police and gendarmerie.
The most significant human rights issues included: arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force by security forces; disappearances by security forces and Boko Haram; torture and abuse by security forces including in military and unofficial detention facilities; prolonged arbitrary detentions including of suspected Boko Haram supporters and individuals in the Anglophone regions; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; violations of freedoms of expression and assembly; periodic government restrictions on access to the internet; trafficking in persons; criminalization and arrest of individuals engaged in consensual same-sex sexual conduct; and violations of workers’ rights.
Although the government took some steps to punish and prosecute officials who committed abuses in the security forces and in the public service, it did not often make public actual sanctions, and offenders often continued acting with impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court. 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. 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 Decentralization, 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 an office of the Presidency, resulting in strong presidential control of security forces. The army is responsible for external security; the national police and gendarmerie have primary responsibility for law enforcement. The gendarmerie alone has responsibility in rural areas. The national police–which includes the public security force, judicial police, territorial security forces, and frontier police–report 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.
Civilian authorities 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 claimed 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 are in charge of 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.
As of November, the Military Court had not issued a decision in the prosecution of gendarme officer Lazare Leroy Dang Mbah, who was placed on pretrial detention following his involvement in the death of Moupen Moussa in March 2016 at an SED detention facility. Mbah detained and beat Moussa for failing to produce his national identity card. In the criminal procedure, the accused pleaded guilty of the charges listed against him. In addition the trial for Colonel Charles Ze Onguene, former commander of the Far North Gendarmerie Legion, continued before the Military Court in Yaounde. Colonel Ze was charged in connection with a cordon-and-search operation carried out in the villages of Magdeme and Double, Far North region, in 2014, during which more than 200 men and boys were arbitrarily arrested and taken to the gendarmerie in Maroua. At least 25 of them died in custody the same night, according to official sources.
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. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but it occurred, especially in connection with the fight against Boko Haram. 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.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmes, BIR officials, 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 albeit to a limited extent. There were several reports police or gendarmes arrested persons without warrants on circumstantial evidence alone, often following instructions from influential persons to settle personal scores. There were also reports 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 several reports the government arbitrarily arrested and detained innocent citizens. Between November 2016 and July 2017, authorities arrested dozens of Anglophone activists and bystanders for no apparent reason. Police arrested some persons without informing them of the charges. In some instances the government did not inform family members where relatives were taken. On August 31 and September 1, the government released 55 Anglophone detainees. Others, up to 69 by some estimates, remained in detention as of September 30. In some cases, journalists covering events in the Anglophone regions were arrested and held for long periods of time without being notified of the charges against them.
On January 21, unidentified individuals in civilian clothing arrested Ayah Paul Abine, advocate general at the Supreme Court. The men took Ayah from his private home to the SED, where they held him without charge. In March, Ayah’s lawyers filed an application for immediate release with the Mfoundi High Court in Yaounde. On March 16, Ayah learned the charges against him. Lawyers believed Ayah’s detention was arbitrary because it happened over a weekend, he did not learn about the charges until several weeks later, and the arrest was in violation of the provisions of the criminal procedure code applicable to magistrates. On August 30, President Biya ordered the discontinuance of proceedings pending before the Military Court against Ayah, Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla, Fontem Aforteka’a Neba, and 52 others arrested in relation to the Anglophone crisis.
Amnesty International’s July report indicated that arbitrary arrests and detentions continued on a large scale in the Far North region, and even the basic legal safeguards concerning arrest and detention were rarely respected. According to the report, individuals were arrested arbitrarily and held in secret detention for several weeks or even months.
Pretrial Detention: The law provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited for years to appear in court. No comprehensive statistics were available on pretrial detainees. As of July, the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa region, hosted 1,286 inmates, 735 of whom were pretrial detainees and appellants. Some pretrial detainees had been awaiting trial for more than two years. An international humanitarian organization claimed some alleged terrorists in detention had been in prison for so long that they no longer knew the addresses of their relatives. 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; and corruption.
As of November, Oben Maxwell, an activist, remained in pretrial detention in the central prison in Buea, Southwest region. He was arrested in 2014 for holding an illegal meeting. The Military Court initially handled the case, but it was then assigned to the Court of First Instance in Buea with no progress. On October 30, the Military Court in Yaounde sentenced Abdoulaye Harissou, a public notary, to three years’ imprisonment for nondenunciation. Having already served his sentence, he was released on November 12. The court sentenced another defendant in the case, Aboubakar Sidiki, president of opposition party Patriotic Movement of the Cameroonian Salvation, to 25 years. He appealed the court decision. Harissou and Sidiki were accused of hostility against the homeland and illegal possession of weapons of war and had been in pretrial detention since their arrests in August 2014.