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Cameroon

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.

f. 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 in the 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 a warrant. An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred.

The Buea-based NGO Human Is Right reported in August that it documented several cases of arbitrary arrests and detentions by defense and security forces in Mutengene, Muea, Mile 16, Mile 14, and Molyko, in the Southwest Region, from August 18 to August 30. According to Human Is Right, security forces patrolling neighborhoods arrested persons, especially young men, and searched their homes without warrants. An anonymous witness reportedly told Human Is Right how his 24-year-old son was arrested in Molyko, despite having his national identification card, and subsequently was asked to pay 50,000 CFA francs ($91) to secure his release.

Reports suggest authorities punished family members for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. In an audio recording circulated on social media platforms early on August 3, the separatist fighter alias “General No Pity,” who controlled a separatist base known as Marine Forces located in Ndop, Northwest Region, claimed that soldiers stormed his compound and arrested his “uncles, aunts, younger brothers, and sisters.” He gave authorities 48 hours to release the family members, threatening to wreak havoc if anything bad happened to them. The NGO The Center for Research and Resources Distribution to Rural and Underprivileged People (CEREDRUP) confirmed his claims in a September 4 report. According to CEREDRUP, No Pity’s brother and cousin were released on August 5, but his mother and uncle remained in government custody. In order to pressure for their release, No Pity and his fighters took up positions along the Bamenda Kumbo Highway in Ndop and Sabga Hill, completely blocking the road for weeks. As of late December, there was no official statement from the government concerning the arrests.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Elections, however, were often marked by irregularities, although no elections were conducted during the year.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In February 2020 the country held simultaneous legislative and municipal elections. An estimated 32 political parties participated in the legislative elections and 43 participated in the municipal elections. Security concerns constrained voter participation in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. The courts annulled the legislative elections in 11 constituencies of the Northwest and Southwest Regions due to voter turnout of less than 10 percent. Legislative reruns occurred in the 11 constituencies in March 2020. The ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) won 152 of the 180 National Assembly seats and 316 of 360 local councils. Opposing political parties lost significant numbers of seats when compared with previous elections. Overall, eight opposition political parties won seats in the National Assembly, and nine won control of local councils. Additionally, irregularities including lack of equal access to media and campaign space, restrictions on the ability of opposition candidates to register for the election, ballot stuffing, lack of ballot secrecy, voter intimidation, inconsistent use of identification cards, and lack of expertise among local polling officials prompted the Constitutional Council and regional administrative courts to annul some legislative elections.

Estimates of voter turnout showed an unprecedented low rate of participation of 43 percent for the legislative and municipal elections in 2020. The lower turnout could partially be attributed to the call for a boycott of the elections by the MRC and other opposition parties. In December 2020 the first-ever election of regional councilors was held, 24 years after provisions for regional elections in the 1996 constitution. Due to the gains achieved in the municipal councils that made up the electoral college in the February 2020 elections, the ruling CPDM won in nine of the 10 regions. The government cited the regional elections as a sign of progress on decentralization, although political opposition and civil society groups criticized the elections for failing to meaningfully decentralize power.

In 2018 Paul Biya was re-elected president in an election marred by irregularities and against the backdrop of protracted sociopolitical unrest in the Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: As of the end of December, the country had approximately 330 registered political parties. During the year the government accredited 11 new political parties “to enrich the political debate and encourage the expression of freedoms.” The CPDM remained dominant at every level of government due to restrictions on opposition political parties, gerrymandering, unbalanced media coverage, the use of state funds to promote party campaigns, interference with the right of opposition parties to register as candidates and to organize during electoral campaigns, and undue influence of traditional rulers, who were largely coopted by the CPDM. Traditional rulers, who received salaries from the government, openly declared their support for President Biya prior to the 2018 presidential election, and some reportedly compelled residents of their constituencies to prove they did not vote for an opposition candidate by presenting unused ballots. Traditional rulers who refused to associate with the government were either removed or threatened with destitution. Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service. Conversely, membership in some opposition political parties, especially the MRC, was often associated with threats and intimidation from the government.

Human rights organizations and opposition political actors considered the drawing of voter districts and distribution of parliamentary or municipal councilors’ seats unfair. They complained that smaller districts considered CPDM strongholds were allocated a disproportionate number of seats compared with more populous districts where the opposition was expected to poll strongly. Managers of state-owned companies and other high-level government officials used corporate resources to campaign for candidates sponsored by the ruling party.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities, or persons with disabilities in the political process and they did participate, although women remained underrepresented at all levels of government. There were no official laws limiting the participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; however, observers noted social stigma and criminalization of same-sex conduct may have deterred LGBTQI+ persons from openly participating in the political process. In parliament women occupied 87 of 280 seats, 61 in the National Assembly and 26 in the Senate. Women held 11 of 66 cabinet positions. Similar disparities existed in other senior-level offices, including territorial command and security and defense positions. The minority Baka, a nomadic indigenous group, were not represented in the Senate, National Assembly, or higher offices of government, although there were no laws limiting their participation.

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.

Indigenous Peoples

Taking as basis the criteria for identifying indigenous populations contained in the International Labor Organization Convention 169 and the Report of the African Commissions Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, the groups that may be considered indigenous in Cameroon are the Mbororo and the Baka. An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Baka, including Bakola and Bagyeli, resided primarily in (and were the earliest known inhabitants of) the forested areas of the South and East Regions. The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group. Logging companies continued to destroy indigenous persons’ naturally forested land without compensation. Other ethnic groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices. The government continued long-standing efforts to provide birth certificates and national identity cards to Baka. Nonetheless, most Baka did not have these documents, and efforts to reach them were impeded by the difficulty in reaching homes deep in the forest.

There were credible reports from NGOs that the Mbororo, nomadic pastoralists living mostly in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, continued to be subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities. The Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association indicated that the Anglophone crisis negatively affected the Mbororo community. According to the association program coordinator, between January and September 14, separatists were responsible for the killing of 10 Mbororos in the Northwest Region. Separatists reportedly burglarized 63 homes, burned down one house, and kidnapped 11 persons for ransom for a total of 7.61 million CFA ($13,800) during the same period.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

On February 12, a representative from Working for Our Wellbeing (WFW), an organization based in Douala working on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) matters reported that authorities had arrested six LGBTQI+ persons, including four transgender women, between November 2020 and February 8. Mildred Loic Njeuken, known as “Shakiro,” and Roland Moute, who is also known as “Patricia,” were arrested together on February 8. The WFW report added that every detainee experienced varying degrees of physical abuse, harassment, and threats of sexual violence from inmates and guards while inside New Bell Prison in Douala. While the charges against all but Shakiro and Patricia were dropped, the latter two were convicted in May on charges of attempted homosexuality and failure to display a national identity card, and they were sentenced to five years in prison. They were released on bail in July, and as of December the case was before the Court of Appeal in Bonanjo. On August 7, a group of young men violently assaulted “Shakiro” and “Patricia” after they had been released on bail pending an appeal in mid-July. Images and video footage found circulating on social media showed a group of young men violently attacking and disrobing the two survivors on the street. Police reportedly did not officially document the attack in an official report after arriving on the scene, although they escorted the two to the hospital.

In a July 1 report on gender-based violence, Alternative-Cameroon documented the case of a 33-year-old man who was illegally detained at the Douala New Bell Central Prison. On January 24, according to the report, residents in the Douala neighborhood accused the man of being gay, beat him, and called the Douala 10th police district. Police came and arrested the man whom the individuals accused of being homosexual and remanded him for less than 24 hours before referring him to New Bell Central prison, where he spent three months without appearing in court. The survivor lost his job and was evicted from his home.

Consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults is illegal and punishable with imprisonment lasting anywhere between six months and five years plus a fine.

LGBTQI+ human rights organizations such as the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, Humanity First Cameroon, Alternatives-Cameroon, the National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons and Their Defenders, Colibri, Working for Our Wellbeing, and others continued to report arbitrary arrests of LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ individuals continued to face significant stigma, violence, and discrimination from their families, communities, and the government.

In one instance on February 24, highlighted in the April HRW report, police officers raided the office of Colibri, a health and human rights organization that provides HIV prevention and treatment services in Bafoussam, West Region. Authorities arrested 13 persons on attempted homosexuality charges, including seven from the Colibri staff. Police released all 13 between February 26 and 27. Three of those who were arrested said police beat at least three Colibri staff members at the police station and threatened everyone who had been arrested. They added that police interrogated them without the presence of a lawyer and forced them to sign statements, which they were not allowed to read. One of them, a 22-year-old transgender woman, said, “Police told us we are devils, not humans, not normal. They beat up a transwoman in front of me.” Police also forced one of the 13 arrested, a 26-year-old transgender woman, to undergo an HIV test and a forced anal exam at a health center in Bafoussam on February 25. She reportedly told HRW that “the doctor was uncomfortable with performing the procedure but said he had to do the examination because the prosecutor’s office asked for it.”

On April 14, HRW reported that security forces since February had arbitrarily arrested, beat, or threatened at least 24 persons, including a 17-year-old boy, for alleged consensual same-sex conduct or gender nonconformity. Between February 17 and April 8, HRW said it interviewed 18 persons, including five who had been detained, three lawyers, and 10 members of LGBTQI+ NGOs in relation to the aforementioned case.

The constitution prescribes equal rights for all citizens; however, the law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons in housing, employment, nationality, and access to government services such as health care. Security forces sometimes harassed persons based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants. Fear of exposure affected individuals’ willingness to access HIV and AIDS services, and several HIV positive men who had sex with men reportedly were partnered with women, in part to conceal their sexual orientation. Anecdotal reports suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.

LGBTQI+ organizations could not officially register as such and thus sought registration either as general human rights organizations or as health-focused organizations. Many LGBTQI+ organizations found that operating health programs, particularly HIV programs, shielded them from potential harassment or shutdown rather than promoting advocacy for LGBTQI+ persons as their primary mission.

According to multiple reports, on November 15, an intersex person was sexually assaulted, beaten, and threatened by a violent mob in Yaounde. The attack, which lasted for several hours, was filmed and later posted on social media. In a press statement issued on November 26, the minister of communication condemned the publication of explicit videos, adding that while homosexuality was against the law, violence against those suspected of homosexuality was also illegal. A man allegedly connected to the attack was arrested and released 48 hours later. A complaint was filed with the police on behalf of the survivor.

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