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Cameroon

Executive Summary

Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The country has a multiparty system of government, but the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has remained in power since it was created in 1985. In practice the president retains the power to control legislation. In April 2013 the country conducted the first Senate elections in its history, which were peaceful and considered generally free and fair. In September 2013 simultaneous legislative and municipal elections were held, and most observers considered them to be free and fair. In 2011 citizens re-elected CPDM leader Paul Biya president, a position he has held since 1982, in a flawed election marked by irregularities, but observers did not believe these had a significant impact on the outcome.

Civilian authorities maintained some control over security forces, including police and gendarmerie. President Biya is the commander in chief of security forces. Ministers-Delegate lead security and defense forces on a day-to-day basis but do not exercise total authority.

The most significant human rights violations continued to be killings and other abuses by Boko Haram in the Far North Region. These included child soldiering, abductions, beheadings, and burnings of persons and property. Other major concerns included involvement of security force members in torture and abuse; prolonged and sometimes incommunicado arbitrary detentions, often of suspected Boko Haram members; and denials of fair and speedy public trials.

Additional human rights abuses included disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, life-threatening prison conditions, use of unofficial detention facilities, restrictions on freedom of expression, including detention and harassment of and violence against journalists, and restrictions on movement. Corruption continued to be a severe challenge at all levels of government. Opposition and civil society activists were harassed, detained, and denied the right to assemble or operate by the government. Gender-based violence and discrimination, child abuse, and trafficking in persons remained problems, and harassment of and discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community, as well as the Baka and Mbororo minorities, continued. Violations of workers’ rights were recurrent, and child labor remained a problem, especially in the informal sector.

Although the government took some steps to punish and prosecute officials who committed abuses in the security forces and in the public service, it did not often make public actual sanctions, and offenders often continued acting with impunity. The antiterrorism law was often used as justification by security forces to act with greater autonomy and less oversight by civilian authorities, at times leading to abuses with impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

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

There were several reports security force members committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of official duties, as a result of personal grievances, or through torture or other abuse of detainees. A June report by Amnesty International (AI) documented the deaths of six persons in custody following torture or mistreatment and the deaths of an additional four individuals in custody whose cause of death was unknown. Civil society organizations and newspapers generally blamed members of the three primary security forces–the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), the Motorized Infantry Battalion, and the gendarmerie–as being responsible for the deaths.

On March 25, Moupen Moussa, a motorbike rider, allegedly died at a Secretary of State for Defense (SED) detention facility after gendarmes severely beat him for failing to produce his national identity card. According to reports, Moussa and another motorbike rider were returning from work late at night when a gendarme from the joint control unit stopped them and asked for identification. The officer physically abused Moupen and took the two to an SED facility, where gendarmes allegedly stripped them and beat them with a belt and baton. The gendarmes eventually released the second man after Moupen died. As of April 5, the responsible gendarmerie officer was allegedly in custody awaiting trial.

The terrorist network Boko Haram continued killing civilians, including members of vigilance committees and members of defense and security forces in the Far North Region. As of September 30, Boko Haram carried out at least 113 attacks in the Far North Region, which killed at least 262 civilians, 30 vigilance committee members, and at least six soldiers. There were numerous examples of abuses, such as the following: on January 13, a suicide bomber killed 13 during prayers at the Kouyape mosque, Kolofata subdivision, in the Far North Region.

Some abuses committed in 2014 and 2015 became public during the year. According to AI’s June report, at least five of the 15 men arrested and brought to the Salak military base following a raid in Bornori in November 2014 died in custody, some as a result of torture inflicted by the BIR.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. Nevertheless, there continued to be reports of arrests and disappearances of individuals by security forces in the Far North Region. In its June report, AI reconfirmed earlier reporting that since December 2014 at least 130 individuals arrested in Magdeme and Double remained unaccounted for. As of September 30, there was no news of the whereabouts of most of them. In its 2016 report, AI stated it had documented 17 additional cases of suspected enforced disappearances of persons accused of supporting Boko Haram committed by security forces in the Far North Region between April 2015 and February. As of June AI had not received a response to requests submitted to authorities about their whereabouts.

Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped civilians, including women and children, during numerous attacks in the Far North Region. Some of the victims remained unaccounted for.

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, beat, harassed, or otherwise abused citizens. According to credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), soldiers, police, and gendarmes tortured persons inside and outside detention facilities. Police, gendarmerie, and BIR officials reportedly detained and tortured persons in temporary holding cells in police, gendarmerie, and BIR facilities, and in cells located at the Directorate General for External Research (DGRE).

Police reportedly tortured detainees. For example, on February 4, Eyebe Levodo died while in detention at the legal department of the court of first instance in Yaounde. According to newspaper and NGO reporting, members of the regional delegation of judicial police arrested Eyebe on January 30 in the Yaounde neighborhood of Tongolo on suspicion of membership in a criminal gang. Police officers detained Eyebe on February 4 and referred him to the public prosecutor, a few hours prior to his death. At the mortuary of Yaounde central hospital, observers reported seeing bruises on his neck, wrists, shoulders, arms, ankles, and legs. In addition, they noticed Eyebe’s mouth was swollen and there were other injuries to the head and other parts of the body, in addition to many other signs of trauma. The victim’s sister allegedly told a journalist from Kalara weekly newspaper she received a telephone call from her brother who claimed that he had suffered horrific violence and that police used force to extort information from him. The public prosecutor opened an investigation shortly after the death. As of year’s end, there was no publicly available update on the investigation.

On May 28, in Nom-Kandi, Ngan-Ha subdivision, Adamawa Region, four members of the fifth BIR tortured to death two young men named Abdou and Moussa. According to reports, villagers witnessed the torture but did not intervene because the soldiers were armed. The incident occurred after a woman accused Moussa of stealing 5,000 CFA francs ($9). Four BIR soldiers rushed to the suspect’s residence, where they found him and Abdou. Moussa allegedly acknowledged the theft but pointed out that Abdou was not involved. The soldiers ordered both of them to get down on their knees and beat them. After Abdou and Moussa died, regional authorities, including the governor, confirmed the incident and claimed they had ordered an investigation. No information was released as of year’s end.

AI’s July report documented 29 cases of torture at the BIR military bases in Salak and Mora and at the headquarters of the DGRE in Yaounde. For example, Radio France International journalist Ahmed Abba was stripped and beaten while detained at the DGRE. Fifteen men arrested in Bornori were brought to Salak, where many of them were tortured and one died; four others later died in custody in Maroua prison. Other torture victims documented by AI described being beaten for long periods with sticks, whips, and machetes and stomped with boots, often with their hands tied behind their backs, as well as being slapped and kicked. AI documented the cases of six persons who died in custody following such torture.

Other government employees, including one teacher, abused children with disabilities placed under their custody (see section 6). During the year Mbuaye Manga Emmanuel, a staff member of the Bulu Rehabilitation Institute for the Blind in Buea, allegedly raped a dozen children with vision disabilities at the center. According to credible organizations, both public and nongovernmental, the victims were boys and girls ages seven to 17. They told police on May 28 Mbouehe had been sexually abusing them since 2014 and on several occasions he had forceful anal intercourse with them. Children said they had informed the director of the center, Jerome Nkwelle Ewang, but he did not act to help them. According to reports, barrister Mfontem Ozongashu eventually uncovered the abuses and filed a criminal complaint against the perpetrator with consent of the victims’ parents. Preliminary investigations suggested the director helped the offender escape. The prosecutor remanded the director in custody for alleged complicity but granted him bail a few days later, and Ewang was able to resume work. As of September 10, the case was still open.

The United Nations announced in March that in 2015 there were 69 allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in 10 peacekeeping missions around the world. At least one of these was committed by a Cameroonian peacekeeper in the Central African Republic (CAR). Reportedly new Cameroonian peacekeepers are required to sign individual commitment forms not to engage in sexual abuse as proof of the government’s resolve in ensuring missions are carried out in good conditions, but their binding nature under the law remained unclear.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding, inadequate food and medical care, and poor sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was pervasive in most prisons, especially in major urban centers. Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as four to five times the intended capacity. Sanitation, food, and medical care were wholly inadequate. Authorities stated sick persons were detained separately from the general population; this was often not the case.

In January the country’s prisons, which had an intended capacity of 17,000, held 27,997 inmates, according to the Ministry of Justice. Prisons in the Centre Region, with an intended capacity of 4,270, held 7,304 inmates. Those in the Littoral Region with a designed capacity for 1,550 held 4,250, while prisons in the North Region with a combined capacity of 1,300 held 2,776 inmates. At the individual prison level, for example, the Yaounde Kondengui Central Prison, with an intended capacity of 1,500, held 4,210 inmates; Maroua Central Prison, with an intended capacity of 400 inmates, held 1,486; and the Garoua Central Prison, with an intended capacity of 500, held 1,758 inmates.

Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children. Unlike in previous years, there were no reported cases of officials routinely holding women in police and gendarmerie facilities with men.

As in 2015 physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems. In addition, “disciplinary cells” were often used to enforce discipline. Prison overcrowding led to a riot in one prison. According to media outlets and NGOs, on March 12-13, inmates of Garoua Central Prison launched a protest that developed into a mutiny. The prisoners were reportedly protesting life-threatening overcrowding, as there were nearly 2,000 inmates in the 500-capacity prison. Prisoners denounced lack of potable water and other inhuman conditions. Some detainees besieged the main prison courtyard and refused to return to their cells because of excessive heat and poor ventilation. The protest allegedly became violent when security force members attempted to return forcibly the prisoners to their cells. Three inmates died, according to official sources, and more than 40 wounded.

Overall, the quantity and quality of medical care, hygiene, and medicines was inadequate. Disease and illness were widespread, and sick inmates were not systematically and promptly separated from the general population due to lack of facilities. Malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and diarrhea, were rampant. In the Buea Central Prison, for instance, the infirmary contained four beds and a staff of four, including a doctor, a nurse, an assistant nurse, and a lab technician, some of whom were also expected to provide services to other prisons. Potable water and food were inadequate. Prisoners generally had one meal a day, and officials expected prisoners’ families to provide additional food. There were reports of detainees using buckets as latrines in some temporary holding cells within police or gendarme facilities.

Corruption among prison personnel was reportedly widespread. Visitors were forced to bribe wardens to access inmates, and prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, beds, and transfers to less crowded areas of the prisons. Due to inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained imprisoned after completing their sentences or receiving court orders of release.

Many citizens in the North and Far North Regions turned to traditional chiefs for dispute resolution. In contrast with previous years, there were no reports of persons held in private detention facilities. There were, however, reports of the use of unofficial military detention facilities in the Far North Region, including on the BIR bases at Salak and Mora.

Administration: Recordkeeping on prisoners remained inadequate, especially in holding cells at police and gendarmerie premises where detainees often were not registered. Independent authorities often investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel, failing which they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates. In addition visits to Boko Haram suspects were highly restricted. Some detainees were held far from their families, reducing the possibility of visits.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted international humanitarian organizations access to prisoners in official prisons; observers did not have access to prisoners held in unofficial military detention facilities. The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms and NGOs, including the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese, made infrequent unannounced prison visits. The government continued to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to make more regular prison visits. As in 2015 there were no reports human rights activists attempting to visit prisoners were required to pay bribes to prison officials.

Improvements: On July 12, the president enacted a law to amend the existing penal code, providing for alternatives to detention, including community service and reparative sentences to reduce prison overcrowding. Under the amended penal code, a person convicted of an offense punishable by a maximum of two years or a fine may be allowed to work for a public entity or compensate victims as alternatives to incarceration. Human IS Right, a Buea-based civil society organization, in partnership with Operation Total Impact, implemented a formal education and reformation education program in Buea and Kumba principal prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. The law states that, except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest shall disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason. The law also provides that persons arrested on a warrant shall be brought immediately before the examining magistrate or the president of the trial court who issued the warrant, and that the accused persons shall be given reasonable access to contact their family, obtain legal advice, and arrange for their defense. The government occasionally did not respect these provisions.

There were several reports the government arbitrarily arrested and detained innocent citizens. In April, 63 individuals, including leading members of the opposition, were detained until late into the evening without charge, and at least one senior member of an opposition party sustained injuries from police handling. Government officials unofficially accused them of rebellion and inciting revolt, reportedly for organizing a campaign to wear black and distributing pamphlets. In October, 54 opposition members were again arrested at a political party meeting and detained for more than eight hours without being informed of the reason for their detention.

AI’s July report indicated arbitrary arrests and detentions continued on a large scale in the Far North Region, and even the basic legal safeguards concerning arrest and detention were rarely respected.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, DGRE, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Territorial Administration, and, to a lesser extent, Presidential Guard, are responsible for internal security. The Ministry of Defense–which includes the gendarmerie, army, and the army’s military security unit–reports to an office of the Presidency, resulting in strong presidential control of security forces. The army is responsible for external security; the national police and gendarmerie have primary responsibility for law enforcement. The gendarmerie alone has responsibility in rural areas. The national police–which includes the public security force, judicial police, territorial security forces, and frontier police–report to the General Delegation of National Security (DGSN), which is under the direct authority of the presidency.

The government took some steps to hold police accountable for abuses of power. Police remained ineffective, poorly trained, and corrupt. Impunity continued to be a problem.

Civilian authorities maintained some control over the police and gendarmerie, and the government had somewhat effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The DGSN and gendarmerie investigate reports of abuse and forward cases to the courts. Lesser sanctions are handled internally. The DGSN, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Justice claimed members of security forces were sanctioned during the year for committing abuses, but the government provided few details.

On August 26, Captain Hamadjam Hamadjida Rene, commander of the Mokolo gendarmerie, Mayo-Tsanaga Division, Far North Region, was allegedly remanded in custody at the Kaele prison on a warrant issued by the government commissioner at the Maroua military tribunal. Captain Hamadjam allegedly played a role in a series of armed robberies targeting traders. He was relieved of his duties and immediately replaced.

The National Gendarmerie and the army have special offices to investigate abuse. The secretary of state for defense and the minister-delegate at the presidency are in charge of defense of sanctioned abusers. The minister-delegate of defense refers cases involving aggravated theft, criminal complicity, murder, and other major offenses to the military courts for trial.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police obtain a warrant before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement. The law provides that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate, although this often did not occur. Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once. This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought. Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods. The law 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 for access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but it occurred, especially in connection with the fight against Boko Haram. The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmerie, and government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado. “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe to be released earlier, continued. There were several reports police or gendarmes arrested persons, without warrants, on circumstantial evidence alone, often following instructions from influential persons to settle personal scores. There were also reports police or gendarmes arbitrarily arrested persons during neighborhood sweeps for criminals and stolen goods or arrested persons lacking identification cards, especially in connection with the fight against growing insecurity, including the Boko Haram threat.

On April 22, in Esu, Mentchum Division, Northwest Region, at approximately 2 a.m., four gendarmes allegedly forced open the door to the home of Redemption Godlove, a high school teacher, seized him without warrant, and secretly detained him in Bamenda at the gendarmerie. On May 2, the gendarmerie referred Godlove to the state counsel of Mezam, who prepared a holding charge accusing him of “depredation by band” along with eight others and sent the accused to the examining magistrate of Mezam, who remanded Godlove in custody while conducting preliminary inquiries. The arrest was allegedly orchestrated by Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, owner of the Elba Ranch, who claimed the accused committed the alleged offenses. Godlove had served as spokesperson for Esu during a meeting with administrative authorities over a protracted land conflict with Danpullo. On May 31, the magistrate declined jurisdiction, claiming the state counsel of Mezam could not have jurisdiction since the alleged offense was committed in Mentchum Division, which has a high court, state counsel, and examining magistrate. The magistrate of Mezam canceled the remand warrant. The state counsel, however, kept Godlove in detention until July 14 when he complied, allegedly following the intervention of the attorney general of the Northwest Region.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years for a date in court. In January the Ministry of Justice indicated that of a prison population of 27,977 inmates, 15,616 were in pretrial detention. Some pretrial detainees had been waiting for trial for more than two years. The increase in prison population was attributed to staff shortages, lengthy legal procedures, and administrative and judicial bottlenecks, including procedural trial delays and corruption.

For example, Oben Maxwell, an activist, remained in pretrial detention in Buea Central Prison, Southwest Region, as of August 31, where he had been detained since his arrest in 2014. The cited reason for his detention was holding an illegal meeting. The military tribunal initially handled the case; it was then assigned to the Buea court of first instance.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law persons arrested or detained, whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. There were no reported cases of challenges.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary. While the judiciary demonstrated impartiality and independence at times, it was often corrupt and subject to political influences. Individuals reportedly accused innocent persons of crimes or caused trial delays to solve personal disputes. As in 2015 there were no reliable reports that authorities disregarded court orders.

Over the past several years, Alhadji Baba Danpullo, a politically influential businessperson, used the judicial system to harass Musa Usman Ndamba, the senior vice president of the Mbororo Social and Development Association. The most recent episode of harassment was on April 27, when the examining magistrate at the Bamenda court of first instance committed Usman Ndamba and two others for trial over an issue that the court earlier dismissed in 2014. The magistrate charged them with propagation of false information and defamation of character, despite irrefutable evidence that he was not linked to the alleged offense.

The court system is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice. The constitution designates the president as “first magistrate,” thus “chief” of the judiciary, making him the legal arbiter of any sanctions against the judiciary, although he has not played this role publicly. The constitution specifies the president is the guarantor of the legal system’s independence. He appoints all judges, with the advice of the Higher Judicial Council. While judges hearing a case should be governed only by the law and their conscience as provided for by the constitution, in some matters they are subordinate to the minister of justice. For example, the Special Criminal Court must have approval from the minister of justice before it may drop charges against a defendant who offers to pay back the money he/she was accused of having embezzled. Despite the judiciary’s partial independence vis-a-vis the executive and legislative powers, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.

The legal system includes statutory and customary law, and many criminal and civil cases may be tried using either one. Criminal cases generally were tried in statutory courts.

Customary courts served as a primary means for settling domestic cases, including succession, inheritance, and child custody cases. Customary courts may exercise jurisdiction in a civil case only with the consent of both parties. Either party has the right to have a case heard by a statutory court and to appeal an adverse decision by a customary court to the statutory courts.

Customary court convictions involving alleged witchcraft are automatically transferred to the statutory courts, which act as the courts of first instance. The law provides for sentences of between two and 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 5,000 and 100,000 CFA francs ($9-$170). There were no arrests or trials for alleged witchcraft reported during the year.

Customary law is deemed valid only when it is not “repugnant to natural justice, equity, and good conscience,” but many citizens in rural areas remained unaware of their rights under civil law and were taught they must abide by customary law. Customary law partially provides for equal rights and status; men may limit women’s rights regarding inheritance and employment. Customary law practiced in rural areas is based on the traditions of the predominant ethnic group and is adjudicated by traditional authorities of that group. Some traditional legal systems regard wives as the legal property of their husbands.

Military tribunals may exercise jurisdiction over civilians when the president declares martial law and in cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence. Military tribunals also have jurisdiction over gang crimes, banditry, and highway robbery if such crimes are committed with firearms.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public hearing, without undue delay, in which the defendant is presumed innocent, but authorities did not always respect the law. For instance, trials of Boko Haram suspects were sometimes not public. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. They have the right to a presumption of innocence, but the government often did not respect that right, resulting in many pretrial suspects being treated as if they were convicted. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense, and the government generally respected this right, especially in criminal matters. Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases, although in some cases the government did not make the evidence available in timely fashion. Defendants may appeal a conviction. The law extends these rights to all citizens, although they were not always extended in the cases of suspected Boko Haram affiliates.

On August 24, barrister Mohamad Al Amine of Maroua stated persons suspected of complicity with Boko Haram or being likely to compromise the security of the state were consistently tried by military court. He said the accused typically had no legal counsel and noted that, while the government commissioner assigned lawyers to defend them, the lawyers in turn assigned the cases to trainee lawyers, who received 5,000 CFA francs ($9) for legal fees. Often these designated lawyers were not allowed to access case files or visit their clients, which contributed to the poor quality of legal assistance. There were more than one hundred capital punishment sentences issued by the courts in the Far North Region between July 2015 and July 2016.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

No statistics were available on the precise number of political prisoners. Political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in the SED. Some were allegedly held in the DGRE and at the Yaounde central and principal prisons, and the government did not permit access to such persons on a regular basis, or at all, depending on the case.

Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention. On May 18, the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to 20 years. On June 2, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision qualifying Marafa’s detention “a violation of international laws” and asked the government to immediately free and compensate him for damages suffered. The United Nations made it clear there were multiple irregularities in the judicial procedure.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights violations through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options involved lengthy delays. There were a few reports the government failed to comply with a court decision on labor issues. For example, despite a court order, the government continued to work with the Cameroon Confederation of Trade Unions’ former leader, who no longer represented the organization, to the detriment of newly elected officials.

Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. In 2012, for example, Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara, former secretary general at the presidency, filed a complaint against the government with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Mebara complained the government was keeping him imprisoned on the basis of the Operation Sparrow Hawk Affair even though the Mfoundi High Court ordered his release. The commission delivered its verdict in April in Banjul, The Gambia. The commission directed the government of Cameroon to release Mebara immediately, compensate him 400 million CFA francs ($681,000) for damages, and punish all officials involved in the violations perpetrated on Mebara. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has no ability to compel a state to comply with its decisions.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Over the past few years, to implement infrastructure projects, the government seized land occupied or used by civilians. The government failed to resettle or compensate those displaced in a prompt manner, leading them to protest in the streets on several occasions. In a few cases, corrupt officials misappropriated the money the government had earmarked for compensation. The government identified some offenders and opened cases against them. No particular group was reported to have been intentionally targeted for discriminatory treatment.

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 for the “higher interests of the state,” and there were credible reports police and gendarmes harassed citizens and conducted searches without warrants.

The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant if he is pursuing a criminal suspect. Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision. A police officer may enter a private home at any time in pursuit of a person observed committing a crime.

An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer (SDO), may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this occurred.

Police and gendarmes sometimes sealed off a neighborhood, systematically searched homes, arrested persons, sometimes arbitrarily, and seized suspicious or illegal articles. In Wum, Northwest Region, on February 17, during an early morning raid following arson at the military barracks a few days earlier, police detained citizens without identification cards until identity could be established. There were several complaints police arbitrarily confiscated motorbikes and electronic devices.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press but also criminalizes media offenses, and the government restricted speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy. Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately sometimes faced reprisals. The government occasionally used the law requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse, and many civil society and political organizations reported increased difficulty in obtaining approval to organize public gatherings. The government attempted to impede criticism by monitoring political meetings.

Antiterrorism legislation was also used to exercise government control over public and private expression. In November the military court of Yaounde sentenced three men to 10 years in prison for exchanging private text messages that joked about Boko Haram. The three individuals were not military personnel and were not accused of any terrorist involvement or support, but they were tried and convicted of “nondenunciation of terrorist acts.”

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although there were restrictions, especially on editorial independence, in part due to terrorism concerns and the fight against Boko Haram. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government, especially on security matters.

Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents subjected journalists to arrest, detention, physical attack, and intimidation due to their reporting.

On May 17, a Voice of America (VOA) correspondent and state media Cameroon Radio and Television reporter, Moki Edwin Kindzeka, reported he was detained for four hours over a story he published on VOA speaking about crackdowns on corruption and some politicians’ beliefs that President Biya was eliminating his political opponents. Unknown individuals forced Kindzeka into a car and interrogated, threatened, and offered him money for “favorable” reporting.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The National Communication Council (NCC) is empowered to ensure all printed media comply with the legal requirement that editors in chief deposit two signed copies of each newspaper edition with the Prosecutor’s Office for scrutiny within two hours after publication. Journalists and media outlets practiced self-censorship, especially if the NCC had suspended them. The NCC issued fewer warnings and suspensions than in 2015.

On July 14, the NCC issued sanctions ranging from warnings to temporary suspensions for up to six months. The weekly newspaper L’Epervier and its publisher received two suspensions of six and three months, respectively, for publishing unsubstantiated statements deemed likely to impair the reputation of persons, including Martin Belinga Eboutou, director of the civil cabinet of the presidency, and Eletana Ayinda Rene, another staff member of the presidency. Weekly newspapers Ades-info and Le Regard received three-month suspensions. Weekly newspaper La Tornade received a two-month suspension, while weekly newspaper Canard Libre received a one-month suspension. The daily newspaper The Guardian Post, weekly newspaper Essingan, and Roger Kiyek, Royal FM director each received a warning for unethical conduct, following complaints by some staff members of the presidency and the CPDM.

Libel/Slander Laws: Press freedom is constrained by strict libel laws. Any citizen may file a lawsuit against media organs for defamation of character. These laws authorize the government, at its discretion and the request of the plaintiff, to criminalize a civil libel suit or to initiate a criminal libel suit in cases of alleged libel against the president or other high government officials. Such crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines. The libel law places the burden of proof on the defendant. The government contended libel laws are aimed at safeguarding citizens whose reputations can be permanently damaged by defamation. The government and public figures reportedly used laws against libel or slander to restrict public discussion. While government officials and individuals filed libel complaints against media outlets with the NCC, none of the complaints was sanctioned with prison terms.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 11 percent of the population used the internet in 2014. Other studies stated the usage rate remained the same during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, state security informants reportedly continued to operate on university campuses. There were no reports the government censored curricula; sanctioned academic personnel for their teachings, writing, or research; restricted academic travel or contacts; intimidated academics into self-censoring; or attempted to influence academic appointments based on political affiliation. There were a few reports, however, of security personnel disrupting student activities. Further, the penal code adopted in July bans “political processions in any public establishment, school, or university”; it was criticized by some observers as isolating youth from the political process.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

Although the law provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The law requires organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, and processions to notify officials in advance but does not require prior government approval of public assemblies and does not authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it has not approved in advance. Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assembly. The government often refused to grant permits for assemblies and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits. The government also prevented civil society organizations and political parties from holding press conferences. Police and gendarmes forcibly disrupted meetings and demonstrations of citizens, trade unions, and political activists throughout the year.

In the early hours of April 8 in Yaounde, the police Mobile Intervention Unit (GMI) detained 12 political activists at the judicial police headquarters for hours. GMI agents initially arrested the activists at the Biyem Assi neighborhood for wearing black, as they prepared for a distribution of pamphlets calling on Yaounde residents to observe a Black Friday, and took them to the GMI office in the Tsinga neighborhood. Edith Kah Walla of Cameroon People’s Party (CPP) and Alain Fogue of Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) went to the GMI to inquire about the others, and police detained them. Police subsequently transferred the detainees to the judicial police headquarters at Elig-Essono neighborhood and allegedly subjected them to humiliation for hours. Police took detainees’ pictures, fingerprints, height, and shoe sizes before releasing them later in the day. Kah Walla and 53 CPP party members were again detained in October for more than eight hours, during which they were questioned without being informed of the reason for their detention. Speaking to media following their release, Kah Walla indicated the police arrested them with claims they were holding an illegal meeting.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the law also places limits on this right. The minister of territorial administration may, on the recommendation of the SDO, suspend the activities of an association for three months on grounds the association is disrupting public order. The minister may also dissolve an association if it is deemed a threat to state security.

National associations may acquire legal status by declaring themselves in writing to the Ministry of Territorial Administration, but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations and religious groups; if they do not, the law imposes heavy fines for individuals who form and operate any such association. The law prohibits organizations that advocate a goal contrary to the constitution, laws, and morality, as well as those that aim to challenge the security, territorial integrity, national unity, national integration, or republican form of the state.

Conditions for government recognition of political parties, NGOs, or associations were complicated, involved long delays, and were unevenly enforced. This resulted in associations operating in legal uncertainty, their activities tolerated but not formally approved.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, these rights sometimes were impeded. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Police and gendarmes at roadblocks and checkpoints in cities and on most highways often extorted bribes and harassed travelers. Male refugees in Gado, for example, reported they were often required to pay between 2,000 and 4,000 CFA francs ($3.40-$6.80) when they traveled to Meiganga, even when they carried UNHCR-issued identification cards. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification documents, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures.

Exile: The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it. Some citizens remained in self-imposed exile because they feared the government.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

Several thousand persons abandoned their homes in some villages on the border with Nigeria and fled to cities in the Far North Region because of frequent attacks by Boko Haram (83 percent of IDPs), while others left their homes as a result of natural disasters (13 percent of IDPs), mainly flooding. The July International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix 4 for the Far North Region indicated the number of IDPs due to the conflict increased from 81,693 to 157,657 between April 2015 and July 2016. The total number of IDPs reported by UNHCR, including populations affected by natural disasters, was estimated at 192,912 as of September 30. Thirty percent of IDPs were children of school age, according to estimates by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). While IDPs were within communities spread across the entire Far North Region, Logone and Chari, with an estimated 91,131 IDPs (40 percent); Mayo Tsanaga with 24,258 (11 percent); and Mayo Sava with 45,386 (20 percent) were the three divisions that hosted most IDPs.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system of providing protection to refugees. UNHCR continued to play an important role in providing documentation and assistance to the refugee population. UNHCR and the government conducted biometric verification and registration of all refugees and asylum seekers in the Adamawa, East, and North Regions. As of September 30, 83,273 individuals, including 43,522 women and 39,751 men, had been registered. The country hosted at least 574,704 persons of concern to UNHCR as of September 30.

Refoulement: Following security measures taken by authorities in the Far North Region to counter Boko Haram, civil society organizations reported cases of forced returns, including individuals of Nigerian descent who spoke Kanuri. According to NGOs, persons speaking Kanuri were considered Boko Haram members or sympathizers and were systematically returned to Nigeria. UNHCR and government sources, however, did not confirm these allegations. Furthermore, 338 Nigerian asylum seekers arrived in early June in Kolofata, where UNHCR processed them for assistance. Cameroonian military authorities, however, unilaterally returned them to Nigeria.

Durable Solutions: The Cameroonian and Nigerian governments agreed in principle with UNHCR on the safe return of refugees who wish to be repatriated. Cameroon signed the agreement but awaited Nigeria’s signature.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, extending this protection to approximately 100,000 individuals during the year, including third-country nationals who had fled violence in the CAR.

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. President Biya and CPDM members, however, controlled key elements of the political process, including the judiciary.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In April 2013 the country held its first Senate elections. The ruling CPDM won 54 of the 70 elected seats; an additional 30 senators were appointed by the president, in accordance with the constitution. The elections were peaceful and generally free and fair.

In September 2013 the country held simultaneous legislative and municipal elections, with 29 parties participating in the legislative elections and 35 in the municipal elections. The CPDM won 148 of 180 parliamentary seats and 305 of 360 municipal council positions, representing slight gains for opposition parties, compared with the parliament elected in 2007. In preparation for the 2013 legislative and municipal polls, Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), whose members were appointed by the president, recompiled voter rolls using biometric technology and issued biometric voter identification cards that were required at polling booths. Despite irregularities, such as the inconsistent use of identification cards due to lack of expertise of local polling officials, opposition parties generally accepted the results. The high voter turnout (70 percent) and ELECAM’s administration of the election were viewed as major improvements over previous elections.

In October 2011 President Biya was re-elected in a poll marked by irregularities, but one that most observers believed reflected popular sentiment.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The country had 300 registered political parties. Membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service. The president appoints all ministers, including the prime minister, and directly appoints the governors of each of the 10 regions, who generally represented CPDM interests. The president has the power to appoint important lower-level members of the 58 regional administrative structures. The government pays the salaries of (primarily nonelected) traditional leaders, which supports a system of patronage.

In the three elections held in 2013, the CPDM was the most popular party except in the Northwest, where it faced strong competition from the Social Democratic Front. The CPDM remained dominant in state institutions, partially due to unfair drawing of voter districts, use of government resources for campaign purposes, interference with the right to organize and publicize views during electoral campaigns, and privileges associated with belonging to the ruling party.

Authorities sometimes refused to grant opposition parties permission to hold rallies and meetings.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws preventing women or members of minority groups from voting, running for office, and serving as electoral monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens. Cultural and traditional factors, however, reduced women’s political participation compared to that of men. The law provides that lists of candidates for legislative and municipal elections should consider the sociological components of the constituency, including gender. Women remained underrepresented at all levels of government, but their political participation continued to improve. For the 2013-18 electoral period, women occupied 26 council mayor positions, in comparison with 23 in 2007-13, 10 in 2002-07, two in 1992-97, and one in 1987-92. Women occupied 10 cabinet positions, 76 of 280 parliamentary seats, and other senior level offices, including territorial command and security/defense positions. The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family and civil society organizations such as More Women in Politics continued to promote women’s political participation.

The minority Baka people took part as candidates in municipal and legislative elections but were not represented in the Senate, National Assembly, or higher offices of government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, although these were not always enforced in cases involving high-profile ruling party officials. The government increased anticorruption activities, including through integrating the UN Convention Against Corruption into the penal code enacted in July. Under the new code, different offenses are identified as corruption, including insider trading, involvement in a prohibited employment, and nondeclaration of conflict of interest. Reporting of corruption is encouraged through exempting those who report corruption to judicial authorities from criminal proceedings. Furthermore, corruption in official examinations is punished with imprisonment of up to five years, fines up to two million CFA francs ($3,390), or both. Nevertheless, corruption remained pervasive at all levels of government. The government did not always effectively address high-profile cases, and officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. The judiciary was not always free to independently investigate and prosecute corruption cases. In the context of the fight against Boko Haram, local sources indicated that corruption-related inefficiencies and diversion of resources from their intended purposes continued to represent a fundamental national security vulnerability.

Corruption: During the year the government sanctioned government employees for corruption, embezzlement, and mismanagement. Operation Sparrow Hawk, which was launched in previous years to fight corruption, including embezzlement of public funds, continued. The court opened new corruption cases and issued verdicts on some pending cases. Human rights activists and media reports, however, indicated many former officials ostensibly arrested for corruption had not been formally charged and that several had died in detention after not receiving proper medical attention. They claimed the government was using its crackdown on corruption as a pretext to target potential political rivals of the president.

In May authorities arrested a number of current and former government officials who allegedly played a role in diverting resources allocated for the compensation of Lolabe, Mboro, and Bongale populations in connection with the construction of the Kribi deep sea port. The officials included Jean Francois Vilon, former SDO for the Ocean division, now retired; Joseph Andre Edyebe, former assistant SDO for the Ocean division and currently divisional officer (DO) for Bagante; Hubert Bessala, former DO for Kribi I subdivision; and Ngoum, Ocean divisional delegate for agriculture, among others. As of September 30, the suspects remained in pretrial detention.

Although police were reportedly sanctioned for corruption, some officers convicted of corruption were relieved of their duties but retained their jobs due to weak oversight, accountability, and enforcement mechanisms for internal disciplining. Individuals reportedly paid bribes to police and the judiciary to secure their freedom. Police demanded bribes at checkpoints, and influential citizens reportedly paid police to make arrests or abuse individuals with whom they had personal disputes. There were reports some police associated with the issuance of emigration and identification documents collected additional fees from applicants. During the year the delegate general for national security, according to anecdotal reports, implemented measures to deter police officers from corrupt practices. Police officers found taking bribes were allegedly required to work without uniforms for a certain period, during which they had to serve as informants to denounce their colleagues as necessary.

Judicial corruption was a problem. According to press reports, judicial authorities accepted illegal payments from detainees’ families in exchange for a reduced sentence or the outright release of their relatives. Judges were susceptible to executive influence and often delayed judicial proceedings in response to governmental pressure. In a few instances, the court avoided handling cases for politically motivated reasons. Many powerful political or business interests had virtual immunity from prosecution.

For example, after the DO for Bertoua I in East Region banned the meeting the MRC opposition party planned to hold on April 23, the party’s lawyer, on April 20, filed a motion requesting the court cancel the DO’s decision so that the MRC could meet on April 30. The law provides that in such circumstances, the court must issue a decision within eight days, but the court did not issue a decision until April 30. The court kept requiring additional paperwork until the MRC could no longer hold its meeting.

Overall, national anticorruption agencies helped recover an estimated 20 billion CFA francs ($34 million) of ill-gotten funds as of June 30.

Corruption in the education sector continued to be a major problem. Officials of major national training schools continued to be cited for corruption.

Financial Disclosure: The constitution and law require senior government officials, including members of the cabinet, to declare their assets, although the president had not issued the requisite decree to implement the law by year’s end.

Public Access to Information: There are no laws providing citizens with access to government information, and such access was difficult to obtain. The National Institute of Statistics and other government agencies have websites that provide some level of information. Most government documents, however, remained unavailable to the public and media.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases. Government officials, however, impeded the effectiveness of many local human rights NGOs by harassing their members, limiting access to prisoners, refusing to share information, and threatening violence against NGO personnel. Human rights defenders and activists received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and e-mail. The government took no action to investigate or prevent such occurrences. The government criticized reports from international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, accusing the organizations of being biased and of intervening in security matters in a sovereign state without soliciting the government’s point of view. Despite these restrictions, numerous independent domestic human rights NGOs continued operations.

There were several reports of intimidation of, threats against, and attacks on human rights activists, including members of the Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa (REDHAC), OS-Civile Droits de l’Homme, and Front Line Fighters for Citizens’ Interests (FFCI), amongst others.

For example, the intimidation of Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, executive director of REDHAC, continued. In February her landlord expelled her without notice from the house she had occupied for five years in Douala. The landlord claimed he was designated to become a traditional ruler and that authorities insisted his official coronation take place in Ngo Mbe’s residence. As of August 31, however, the house remained unoccupied. In addition, on September 28 in Bafoussam, West Region, an unidentified person attacked FFCI member Nouayou Edy Michel and stabbed him in his left shoulder. The victim was returning to a hotel where he had an FFCI working session. The assailant did not take anything from Michel, who had two telephones and an important sum of money with him. Also, Mey Ali, president of OS-Civil Droits de l’Homme, continued to receive anonymous telephone and text-message threats, which compelled him to abandon his Kousseri residence and seek refuge elsewhere in the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has a national Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF), an independent institution for consultation, monitoring, evaluation, dialogue, concerted action, promotion, and protection of human rights. The NCHRF was established by a 1990 presidential decree and subsequently given more powers by a 2004 law. NCHRF powers are limited, however. It can only make recommendations to competent authorities. The commission publishes yearly reports on the human rights environment and may engage in research, provide education, coordinate actions with NGOs, and visit prisons and detention sites. As of September 30, the NCHRF had not released its 2015 human rights report. NGOs, civil society, and the general population considered the NCHRF to be a dedicated and effective organization, albeit inadequately resourced and with insufficient ability to effectively hold human rights violators to account. Its budget was far smaller than that of most other agencies with comparable status, such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC) and ELECAM.

The National Assembly’s Constitutional Laws, Human Rights and Freedoms, Justice, Legislation, Regulations, and Administration Committee was adequately resourced and effective in reviewing the constitutionality of proposed legislation. It approved most ruling party legislation, however, and was not an effective check on ruling party initiatives.

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