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Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The president retains power over the legislative and judicial branches of government. The ruling political party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, has remained in power since its creation in 1985. The country held legislative elections in February 2020 that were marked by irregularities. The ruling party won 152 of 180 National Assembly seats. Paul Biya has served as president since 1982. He was last reelected in 2018 in an election marked by irregularities.

The national police and the national gendarmerie are responsible for internal security. The former reports to the General Delegation of National Security and the latter to the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the Gendarmerie. The army shares some domestic security responsibilities; it reports to the minister delegate at the presidency in charge of defense. The Rapid Intervention Battalion reports directly to the president. Civilian and military authorities did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.

Casualties rose in the Anglophone crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Anglophone separatists used improvised explosive devices with greater success. ISIS-West Africa increased attacks in the Far North Region. The government continued to crack down on the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement, and in December several of its members were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from one to seven years following protests in 2020.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government and nonstate armed groups; forced disappearances by the government; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government and nonstate armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious abuses in a conflict, including abductions and unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by nonstate armed groups; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigations and accountability for gender-based violence; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults.

Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses or corruption, it did not do so systematically and rarely held public proceedings. Impunity remained a serious problem.

Armed separatists, Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, and criminal gangs also committed human rights abuses, some of which were investigated by the government.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of their official duties. As in the previous year, most of the killings were associated with the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions (see also section 1.g., Abuses in Internal Conflict).

The Ministry of Defense, through the Secretariat of State in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED), is responsible for investigating whether killings attributed to the security forces, including police perpetrated killings, are justifiable. Prosecutions related to these matters are conducted through the Military Tribunal. In some high-profile cases, preliminary investigations are entrusted to a mixed commission of inquiry, including civilian members with relevant professional backgrounds.

On January 10, according to multiple credible sources, including Reuters, the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, Buea-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Reach Out Cameroon, and Cameroon News Agency, soldiers carried out an offensive raid in Mautu, a village in the Muyuka subdivision of the Southwest Region, killing at least nine civilians, including a child and an elderly woman, neither of whom was an affiliate of any separatist organization. Three witnesses reportedly told Reuters that soldiers raided homes and shot civilians as they ran for cover. The Southwest Region-based NGO Reach Out Cameroon identified the deceased as Takang Anyi Roger, age 20; Tambe Daniel; Shey Keisa, age six; Obenegwa David, age 30; Egoshi Lucas, age 25; Takang Bruno, age 22; Ndakam Pascal, age 22; Tambe Ann, age 50; and Ngoto Valentine Akama, age 32. Defense Ministry spokesperson Cyrille Serge Atonfack Guemo acknowledged in a January 11 press release soldiers from the 21st Motorized Infantry Battalion conducted a preventive operation against terrorist positions in the Mautu but did not admit that troops killed civilians. Atonfack Guemo said troops came under heavy gunfire and “adequately responded,” which resulted in the neutralization of some terrorists.

Multiple media outlets reported that on January 23, security officers killed four unarmed teenagers in the Meta Quarter neighborhood in Bamenda, Northwest Region. The victims included Sale Saddam and Aloysius Ngalim each age 16, and Blaise Fon and Nelly Mbah, both age 17. In a January 27 press release, Defense Ministry spokesperson Atonfack Guemo said soldiers of the Fifth Gendarmerie Region raided Meta Quarter to apprehend separatists who were planning an assault on a nearby police post from an abandoned building. He said the separatists opened fire on the soldiers approaching their vehicles and during the ensuing confrontation, security officers killed four separatists, wounded several others who escaped, and recovered large quantities of weapons. On January 25, the Guardian Post newspaper reported that local residents identified two of the boys as students at Government Bilingual High School downtown and categorically stated that the teenagers were not armed and had “nothing to do with the ongoing conflict in the Anglophone regions.”

In an August 2 report, HRW denounced abuses committed by the army and separatists in Northwest and Southwest Regions. HRW wrote that on June 8 and 9, members of the security forces killed two civilians and raped a 53-year-old woman in the Northwest Region. Survivors and witnesses reportedly told HRW that in the early hours of June 9, approximately 150 security force members from both the regular army and Rapid Intervention Battalion (French acronym: BIR) conducted an operation in and around Mbuluf village. Survivors reportedly told HRW that security forces stopped their group of six including a husband and wife, their two children, another man, and another woman in the vicinity of the village for questioning. In Mbah they released everyone except the husband of the woman who was reportedly raped. His body was reportedly found with multiple gunshot wounds on June 11 in Tatum village, approximately 18 miles from Mbah.

On June 8, at approximately 7 p.m. in Gom village in the Northwest Region, two plainclothes soldiers, whom a witness recognized as regular army members from the Gom military base, broke into the local traditional ruler’s home, known as the fon’s home, and beat a 72-year-old man. At approximately 7:30 p.m., they questioned and shot Lydia Nwang, a 60-year-old woman, in the right leg after she failed to provide information regarding a separatist fighter. The soldiers then forced the man age 72 and his wife to carry Nwang towards the Gom military base for questioning. Nwang was carried as far as a bridge approximately one mile from her house, when the soldiers shot and killed her. Nwang’s relatives recovered her body from the bridge the following morning. HRW claimed that on July 15, it emailed its findings to Defense Ministry spokesperson Atonfack Guemo requesting responses to specific questions but received no response by the time it released its findings. In an August 5 statement, Atonfack Guemo qualified the information contained in HRW’s report as false and baseless.

According to NGO Un Monde Avenir, Juste Magloire Tang Ndjock died sometime overnight between July 20 to 21, in the premises of the Gendarmerie Brigade in Pouma after authorities severely beat him. He had been summoned to the Pouma gendarmerie brigade following a complaint. After failing to appear, gendarme Marshal Okala ordered the arrest of Tang Ndjock. As of the end of the December, his remains and findings of the autopsy report had not been released to the family of the deceased.

On the night of February 13, according to multiple credible sources, a group of armed separatists carried out an attack on the Essoh Atah village in Lebialem division of the Southwest Region, killing four civilians, including the following three traditional rulers: Chief Benedict Fomin, Chief Simon Forzizong, and Chief Fualeasuoh. According to the minister delegate in charge of planning at the Ministry of the Economy, Planning, and Regional Development, Paul Tasong, the group led by Oliver Lekeaka, also known as “Field Marshal,” stormed Essoh Atah village, pulled the chiefs from their houses, and shot and killed them at the market square before dumping their bodies near a river. Minister Tasong added that the separatists accused the chiefs of refusing to hand over proceeds from the sale of cocoa for the 2020-21 season and organizing schools in the community. Other reports suggested the separatists also accused their victims of participating in the December 2020 regional election. On July 8, the fon of Baforkum in the Northwest Region was abducted from his palace for the second time in less than 60 days sometime between July 6 and July 7 by suspected separatist fighters; on July 8, residents discovered his body dumped nearby a stream.

On June 15, separatists abducted six divisional delegates in Ekondo-Titi subdivision of the Southwest Region. On June 18, local residents discovered the body of Johnson Mabia Modika, the divisional delegate for the Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Regional Development. HRW indicated on July 1, at approximately 7:30 p.m., two suspected separatist fighters killed Fuh Max Dang, a physics teacher at the Government Bilingual High School in Kumba, Southwest Region, after they broke into his home. A relative of the deceased reportedly told HRW that separatist fighters had previously threatened the teacher, warning him that he would face consequences if he continued teaching. As of the end of December, the status of the remaining five delegates remained unknown.

On July 14, separatists dressed in army uniforms and riding motorbikes killed two security officers at a security post in Babadjou, West Region. On July 18, according to multiple reports, separatists killed five police officers in Bali, Mezam division of the Northwest Region. The attack took place at a security checkpoint where separatists detonated an improvised explosive device near a police vehicle, after which the separatists opened fire on the occupants. In a video a group of armed men claimed responsibility for the attack and identified themselves as the “Bali Buffaloes.” On July 19, less than 24 hours after the Bali attack, a video found on social media showed separatists dismembering a security officer, Patrick Mabenga.

Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued killing civilians, including members of vigilance committees, which are organized groups of local residents cooperating with government forces in the Far North Region. On April 5, HRW reported that Boko Haram had increased attacks on civilians in towns and villages in the Far North Region since December 2020, killing at least 80 civilians. HRW documented that Boko Haram suicide bombers blew up fleeing civilians, adding that dozens of local fishermen were killed with machetes and knives, and an elderly village chief was killed in front of his family. HRW indicated that the actual number of casualties was much higher, in view of the difficulty of confirming details remotely, underscoring that some attacks often went unreported. In late July ISIS-WA carried out two attacks against the army in the Logone-et-Chari division. The first attack took place on July 24 in the locality of Sagme, in Fotokol subdivision. According to multiple accounts, eight soldiers died during the attack and 13 others were wounded. According to the NGO Stand Up for Cameroon, suspected Boko Haram affiliates killed at least 27 persons in the months of November and December.

Although the government repeatedly promised to investigate abuses committed by security forces, it did not do so transparently or systematically. Following the April 2020 release of a summary of the findings of an investigation into the February 2020 killing by security forces of an estimated 23 civilians in the village of Ngarbuh, legal proceedings against three security force members, 17 members of a vigilance committee, and one former separatist fighter, indicted on murder charges, opened at the Yaounde Military Tribunal in June, after multiple adjournments. As of the end of December, only three of the accused had appeared before the court.

b. Disappearance

As in the previous year, government security forces were believed to be responsible for enforced disappearances of suspected separatists or their supporters. Human rights lawyers documented the cases of Onyori Mukube Onyori and Ernest Mofa Ngo, whose abductions they believed were orchestrated at the behest of authorities. Following an attack on the Mother Theresa International Bilingual Academy in Kumba, Southwest Region, in November 2020 two men who were playing cards in the hallway of their house, were abducted and taken to an undisclosed location. After months of investigations, lawyers discovered in late April that they were being detained at the General Directorate for External Research (DGRE), an intelligence agency, in Yaounde. The lawyers reported Mofa Ngo was subsequently released under unclear circumstances, but Mukube remained in detention as of December.

As of December there were no developments reported on the high-profile investigation into the death of broadcast journalist Samuel Abue Adjiekha, popularly known as Samuel “Wazizi.” Wazizi was detained in August 2019 after authorities accused him of having connections with armed separatists. He was transferred to a military-run facility in Buea in August 2019 and never appeared in court, despite several scheduled hearings. According to the Ministry of Defense, Wazizi died in police custody 10 days after his arrest in 2019 from severe sepsis. Although Wazizi was officially pronounced dead in June 2020, his family had yet to see or recover his remains more than one year after the official death announcement.

There were no reported developments concerning the alleged disappearance of human rights activist Franklin Mowha, the president of NGO Frontline Fighters for Citizen Interests, who disappeared after leaving his hotel room in 2018, while on a mission to monitor human rights abuses in Kumba, Southwest Region. Despite multiple calls by human rights organizations for an investigation into the disappearance, the government had not taken action more than three years later. Mowha highlighted and denounced the abuses perpetrated by persons associated with the government, and authorities had previously detained him on several occasions.

On October 13, barrister Amungwa Nde Ntso Nico, one of the lawyers for separatist leader Sisuku Julius Ayuk Tabe and 47 others arrested in connection to the Anglophone crisis in 2017, told the international community that members of government security forces had removed three of his clients, Tebid Tita, Hamlet Acheshit, and John Fongue, from Yaounde Kondengui Central Prison without official authorization and were holding them incommunicado in the Central Service for Judicial Enquiries (SCRJ) bunker. On October 15, barrister Amungwa and members of the defense team announced to the public that he had a meeting with the state prosecutor at the Yaounde Military Tribunal, who told him the detainees had been transferred to the SCRJ at the SED. Following the meeting, he said he went to the SCRJ, but the clients were not on the prisoner manifest. Amungwa later reported he had been able to visit the three, who were very ill and said they had been mistreated and forced to sign a document in the absence of their lawyer. Tita, Acheshit, and Fongue, in detention since 2017, had yet to be officially sentenced, despite multiple appearances before the Military Tribunal.

On June 15, separatists abducted six divisional delegates in Ekondo-Titi subdivision of the Southwest Region. One of the delegates was eventually killed (see also section 1.a.), and the five others remained unaccounted for as of the end of December.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members tortured or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters, their alleged supporters, and political opponents. Human rights organizations documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated separatist fighters and others in which armed separatists mistreated civilians and members of defense forces. Public officials, or persons acting at their behest, reportedly carried out acts that resulted in severe physical, mental, and emotional trauma.

On February 13, a video emerged on social media and television news programs showing a mixed unit of government defense forces abusing a civilian. They interrogated the man in French and pidgin English, poured water on him, beat him with a machete until he fell unconscious. According to the video, authorities demanded that the man reveal the location of his brother whom they believed to be a separatist fighter. In a February 15 press release, MOD spokesperson Atonfack Guemo acknowledged that the incident took place in the afternoon of February 11 in the locality of Ndu, Donga and Mantung division of the Northwest Region. Atonfack Guemo said the victim was identified upon preliminary investigations as Jean Fai Fungong, a suspected criminal and separatist. He indicated that the minister delegate for defense, Joseph Beti Assomo, ordered the immediate arrest of two soldiers, two gendarme officers, and four police officers believed to be responsible for the abuse and placed them in detention at the Ndu Territorial Gendarmerie Brigade pending the outcome of a full investigation. As of the end of December, authorities had not released information concerning the outcome of the investigation, and there was no indication that the case had been fully investigated (see also section 1.a.).

On September 21, multiple videos depicting a civilian being beaten by gendarme officers with machetes circulated on social media. The MOD issued a press release and stated there would be a full investigation into the matter. The communique added that the perpetrators of the abuse, which took place on the overnight on September 16 at a gendarme facility in Yaounde, had been identified and would be subject to disciplinary and judicial sanctions. As of late November, the MOD had not provided an update on this case.

According to NGO Un Monde Avenir, shopkeeper Sieur Nzimou Bertin died in gendarme custody on the morning of November 18, a few hours after he was released from police custody, following a summons after a dispute with his neighbor. His death was said to be the consequence of the severe assault and degrading treatment he suffered while in detention on the evening of November 17 at the 9th quarter police station in the Littoral Region.

According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, three allegations were submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). This followed six allegations against the country’s peacekeepers deployed to MINUSCA in 2020. As of the end of December, investigations by the United Nation’s Office of Internal Oversight Services into all allegations from during the year remaining pending. There were also 26 other open allegations dating from previous years of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions dating back to 2017. Of the open cases, eight allegedly involved rape of a child. One case allegedly involved multiple allegations: four instances of rape of a child and two instances of exploitative relationships with an adult. Another open case allegedly involved rape by two peacekeepers of two children and an exploitative relationship with an adult.

Reports from credible organizations and anecdotal evidence suggested there were cases of rape and sexual assaults perpetrated by persons associated with the government in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, as well as in other parts of the country. NGOs also indicated armed separatists sexually assaulted survivors in the two regions (see also section 1.g., Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture). On February 13, the NGO Mandela Center International issued a press release denouncing the December 2020 gang rape of a 16-year-old girl by police inspector Remy Gaetan Eba’a Ngomo and his colleagues. Police inspector Eba’a Ngomo, who was on duty at the Ntui public security police station, forced the girl and a male colleague to follow him, according to the survivors and the civil society organizations reporting on the issue. Once at the police station, the police inspector forced the two to have sex outdoors. Afterwards, Eba’a Ngomo invited his colleagues, including a person he referred to as his boss, to rape the female survivor, after chasing away the male survivor. Eba’a Ngomo gave the female survivor 1,000 CFA francs ($2) and threatened to kill her if she revealed what had happened. The father of the female survivor unsuccessfully initiated a series of complaints starting with the head of public security police in Ntui, followed by the public prosecutor in Ntui. The father of the female survivor filed another complaint with the regional division of judicial police in Yaounde. As of early October, the case was pending before the prosecutor, while police inspector Eba’a Ngomo was reportedly in detention; however, his presence in detention was not independently confirmed as of December.

In May Reach Out Cameroon released its human rights situation and incident report for the period extending from January to March 31. In the report, Reach Out indicated that on January 21, separatist fighters attacked, robbed, and gang-raped a young woman at Nkewen, in the Bamenda III municipality in the Northwest Region. The survivor reportedly told Reach Out that she was on her way back from a party with her aunt when armed men attacked her at the entrance to her neighborhood, pulled her into a nearby bush, and raped her.

While some investigations and prosecutions were conducted and a few sanctions meted out, impunity remained a problem. Few of the reports of trials involved those in command. The General Delegation of National Security and the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the National Gendarmerie investigated some abuses. The government levied punitive action against convicted low-level offenders, and other investigations continued as of year’s end. The trial for the four soldiers and 17 members of vigilance committees accused of assisting regular defense forces in perpetrating the February 2020 massacre in Ngarbuh continued at the Yaounde Military Tribunal, but as of December, only three of the accused, all of them members of defense and security forces, had been seen in court.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, poor-quality food, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, as well as inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers.

Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons. Authorities often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in the same cells. In some cases female detainees had better conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less-crowded living quarters. Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children. Authorities reported that the sick were held separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.

The conditions in detention cells located at gendarmerie and police units were worse. The cells were generally very narrow, and most of them lacked toilets and windows. Virtually all lacked beds. Unlike prisons that had separate wards for men, women, and children, separation of detainees by age and sex was not systematic in gendarmerie and police unit cells. Conservative estimates by the Human Rights Commission of the Cameroon Bar Association indicated the country’s prisons had the capacity to accommodate 17,915 inmates. As of September, the total prison population was 31,815, representing an occupancy rate of 177 percent above the maximum inmate capacity. Prisons in the Littoral Region that had a maximum intake capacity of 1,550 had a total population of 4,639 inmates, representing an occupancy rate of 299 percent above the maximum inmate capacity as of October.

Access to food, water, sanitation, heating and ventilation, lighting, and medical care was inadequate. Consequently, malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other treatable conditions, including infections, were rampant. Failure to observe minimum detention rules resulted in at least two deaths during the year. According to credible reports, including by the Mandela Center, Andre Youmbi died on April 25 at the Bafoussam Central Prison in the West Region, after 43 months of detention. Youmbi was ill and had requested treatment in an adequate health facility. The magistrates handling his case considered the nature of the offenses of which he was the alleged perpetrator advocated against his provisional release. The West Region Court of Appeal president reportedly denied the request for provisional release on April 23. Youmbi returned to prison the same day and died two days later.

Multiple organizations reported that on May 3, Jean Louis Tiotso, who was in poor health and had been awaiting trial for illicit sale of medicines, died at the Foumbot prison in the West Region. Ombouda, the prosecutor in his case, allegedly refused to release him to seek appropriate treatment as was his right under the law. Anecdotal reports suggested that Tiotso unsuccessfully attempted multiple times to appeal to the courts for treatment but failed each time. The prison administration also reportedly supported his request to no avail. Tiotso’s death triggered a riot that led to the burning of the Foumbot Court House and at least one additional death on May 3, according to reports.

Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence occurred during the year. Violence among inmates was reported in virtually all prisons. In an August 30 Facebook posting, the content of which was confirmed by Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) lawyers, a whistleblower shared the complaint of an unidentified MRC detainee. The detainee claimed that MRC detainees were assaulted in their Yaounde central prison cell by inmates at the behest of prison authorities on August 27 after the lights went off. According to the account, Henry Etchome Misse, head of the prison’s disciplinary office, led a group of unidentified inmates and assaulted the MRC detainees. Misse and his men allegedly participated in the assault of MRC detainees, some of whom had their money stolen along with other valuables.

Administration: Authorities allegedly did not address all credible allegations of mistreatment. MRC detainees, for instance, claimed they had been assaulted on multiple occasions in their prison cells by other prisoners, but they reported that prison officials were indifferent, giving them no opportunity to express their complaints. Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel to communicate with inmates; without authorization, visitors had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates. While overall prison visits continued to be limited in compliance with COVID-19-pandemic-related restrictions, political detainees reportedly suffered tougher restrictions.

Independent Monitoring: Independent monitoring of prisons was constrained by COVID-19-pandemic-related restrictions. Diplomatic missions were granted access to visit their nationals; the government denied human rights groups the ability to review prison conditions. Buea-based Human Is Right reported a few prison visits in the Southwest Region. The International Federation of Actions by Christians Littoral also conducted prison visits mostly in Edea and Mbanga, in the Littoral Region. Other NGOs, including Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme, the Network for Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC), and the Justice and Peace Commissions of Catholic Archdiocese also conducted prison visits, but with reduced access.

Improvements: The new Douala-Ngoma Central Prison, reported completed in 2020, was still not functional as of December. The facility was expected to help address prison overcrowding and improve the living conditions of inmates at the Douala-New Bell Central Prison. As of the end of December, the new facility was reportedly still missing equipment and required additional construction before it could begin receiving inmates.

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 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 must disclose their identity and inform the detainee of the reason for his or her arrest. Any person illegally detained by police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation. The government did not always respect these provisions.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judge or prosecutor 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 suspects be brought promptly before a judge or prosecutor, although this often did not occur, and citizens were detained without judicial authorization. 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 also provides that individuals arrested on suspicion of terrorism and certain other crimes may be detained for investigation for periods of 15 days, renewable without limitation with authorization of the prosecutor. The law allows access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but such cases occurred, especially in connection with the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal to recuse judges and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected. Bail was approved only on a selective basis, and applications to recuse judges with conflicts of interest rarely succeeded, especially in politically sensitive cases.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmes, the BIR, and other 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 the detainee paid a bribe, continued, although on a limited scale.

On May 31, gendarmes arrested Nicodemus Nde Ntso Amungwa, a lawyer, while he was assisting a client during his interrogation at the gendarmerie facility in Yaounde. Minlo, a warrant officer, allegedly seized Amungwa’s cell phone without a warrant, claiming Amungwa had taken photographs of the facility. While searching for the alleged photographs, the gendarme found other photographs that recorded alleged military abuses in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions and arrested Amungwa. Amungwa was taken to the SED, where he was detained for 10 days at the SCRJ. Amungwa was first presented to the government commissioner at the Yaounde Military Tribunal on June 3, but the government commissioner returned the case file to the investigating unit. Upon his release, authorities dropped the charges against Amungwa (see also section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, including case of “Shakiro” and “Patricia”).

Government authorities arrested four members of the NGO consortium Stand Up for Cameroon in September 2020 in Douala after a “Friday in Black” meeting held at the Cameroon People’s Party headquarters. After 15 months of pretrial detention, on December 31, the military tribunal in Douala sentenced them to 16 months in prison, including time served, after declaring them guilty of insurrection. The four, Moussa Bello, Etienne Ntsama, Mira Angoung, and Tehle Membou, were reportedly subjected to brutal treatment and interrogated without legal counsel. At least 124 of the more than 500 citizens arrested in September 2020 in connection with the planned MRC protest remained in detention as of December 31, according to their lawyers. A few of the 500 who were detained were released at police stations, while others were prosecuted in civilian jurisdictions and received varying sentences. On December 27 and 28, the military tribunal in Yaounde sentenced 48 of the remaining detainees to prison terms ranging from one to seven years. Accused among other things of rebellion, rioting, and insurrection, they were sentenced in the absence of their lawyers, who in September withdrew from all pending proceedings to denounce what they referred to as a “lack of independence” of the judges. In many of the cases, lawyers initiated habeas corpus proceedings or asked the judges to recuse themselves from the hearing due to conflicts of interest or perceived judicial bias.

Pretrial Detention: The code of criminal procedure provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court. The 2014 antiterrorism law provides that a suspect may be held indefinitely in investigative detention with the authorization of the prosecutor. According to estimates by the Human Rights Commission of the Cameroon Bar Association, there were 18,437 pretrial detainees in a total of 31,815 inmates as of September. Some of the detainees had been awaiting trial for more than five years. In some cases the length of pretrial detention equaled, and in other cases exceeded, the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. Factors contributing to lengthy pretrial detentions included, but were not limited to, insufficient staff, mismanagement of case files, inability to pay court fees, and the politicization of some legal proceedings that required direction from authorities in the central government. Lawyers reported a prolonged pretrial detention in what they referred to as the Calabar 37. The case involved 37 persons from the Northwest and Southwest Regions who were repatriated from Calabar, Nigeria, the same day as separatist leader Sisiku Ayuk Tabe in 2019. According to their defense lawyers, while the Military Tribunal in Yaounde prosecuted Sisiku and nine of his followers and sentenced them to life imprisonment in August 2019, the 37 other detainees who began appearing in court in October 2019 had their case adjourned without the court providing a cause.

Freelance journalist Kingsley Fumunyuy Njoka, whom plainclothes security agents arrested in Douala in May 2020, remained in pretrial detention. He was allegedly interrogated regarding his reporting in relation to the Anglophone crisis, and he was placed in a six-month pretrial detention at the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. During the March parliamentary session, a parliamentarian questioned the Minister Delegate for Defense Assomo regarding the status of this case, to which Assomo replied that the trial would soon begin, without providing any further details. In June 2020 Njoka made his first appearance in court, but the case was adjourned. Reporters Without Borders denounced his arrest and provisional detention and said the charges against him were not yet substantiated. As of October, according to one of Njoka’s lawyers, the matter was still before the government commissioner at the Military Tribunal, and Njoka’s six-month preventive custody had been extended.

Amadou Vamoulke, a former general manager of state-owned Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) who was arrested and detained in 2016 on embezzlement charges, continued to await trial at the Kondengui Central Prison. After at least 50 hearings as of September 26, the Special Criminal Court had not reached a decision on his case as of the end of December.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists. Police and courts rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since survivors often did not report them. The law does not address spousal rape, nor does it specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.

During the year there were allegations that persons associated with the government raped women and children. Authorities investigated the allegations in some cases but denied the reports in other cases. On August 2, HRW reported that on June 8-9, members of the security forces raped a 53-year-old woman in the Northwest Region. Authorities did not order any investigation into the allegations (see also sections 1.a, 1.c., and 1.g.).

On April 29, Yaya Hamza Bamanga, an examining magistrate at the Koung-Khi High Court in Bandjoun, charged senior police inspector Asso’o Simon Jean with aggravated rape of a student (see also section 1.c.).

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law protects the bodily integrity of persons and prohibits genital mutilation for all women, including women ages 18 and older and girls younger than 18. Perpetrators are subject to a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes, or if the practice causes death. According to estimates by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), FGM/C prevalence among girls ages 15 to 19 between 2004 and 2018 was zero percent. On February 6, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family Marie Therese Obama met the Muslim community at the Yaounde Briquetterie neighborhood to raise awareness concerning FGM/C. Although the practice was gradually dying out as indicated by statistical data collected during the previous 10 years, the minister said she believed it continued in some areas. As in the previous year, anecdotal reports suggested children were subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the deceased husband, including the marital home. The government included provisions in the law outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse. The practice of widow rites, by which widows were subject to certain trials such as bathing in public or movement restrictions, was also prevalent in some parts of the country, including in some rural communities of the West Region.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Offenders may be subject to imprisonment for periods of six months to one year and a fine. If the survivor is a minor, the penalty may be one to three years in prison. If the offender is the survivor’s teacher, the penalty may increase to three to five years in prison. Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread and there were no reports during the year that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment, in part due to sexual harassment survivors’ reluctance to file official complaints for fear of reprisal and or stigmatization.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The Ministry of Public Health offered counseling services to women during prenatal visits, promoting the concept of responsible parenthood and encouraging couples to use contraception to space the timing of their children. Many women, however, lacked the means to manage their reproductive health, and societal pressures continued to reinforce taboos on discussing reproductive health within certain communities. Women’s dependence on receiving their husbands’ consent continued to be a barrier in contraceptive decisions.

The government provided support to survivors of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence through the development of policies to protect survivors of gender-based violence, legal support to survivors via the judiciary network, general clinical care offered in health facilities, and collection of data through the District Health Information System and provision of situational analysis. Many of the prevention and basic support programs for survivors of gender-based violence were implemented by community-based organizations.

The Ministry of Health did not provide emergency contraception for survivors of gender-based violence. UNFPA provided a kit with emergency contraception as part of post-gender-based violence clinical care. These kits were offered in a few clinical sites that provided services to gender-based violence survivors.

UNFPA indicated that as of mid-September the contraceptive prevalence rate among all women ages 15 to 49 using any method was 27 percent, and 23 percent among married or in-union women ages 15 to 49. The information also indicated that contraceptive prevalence rate among all women ages 15 to 49 using a modern method was 22 percent and 17 percent among married or in-union women. Unmet need for family planning among all women ages 15 to 49 was 16 percent, while it was 23 percent of married or in-union women. Access to and availability of basic social services, including sexual and reproductive health care, however, were severely limited in conflict-affected regions, and many pregnant women did not have access to adequate maternal health care.

The 36 billion CFA francs ($65.5 million) Health Check project launched in 2015 in the Adamawa, North and Far North Regions to contribute to the reduction of maternal and child mortality came under review on March 4. Maternal and neonatal mortality decreased to 467 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, and 28 neonatal deaths per 100,000 infants. Health checks were sold to women at a cost of 6,000 CFA francs ($11), which granted women access to four prenatal consultations, echography, delivery including cesarian and postnatal consultations, and a 42-day stay after delivery in a health-care facility.

Discrimination: The constitution provides women and men the same legal status and rights. The government, however, often did not enforce the law. In practice, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Although local government officials claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions. The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owning or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, or housing. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in some occupations and industries. Within the private sector, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility.

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