Australia is a constitutional democracy with a freely elected federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May, the Liberal Party and National Party coalition was re-elected with a majority of 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives. The House subsequently reconfirmed Scott Morrison as prime minister.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP), an independent agency of the Department of Home Affairs, and state and territorial police forces are responsible for internal security. The AFP enforces national laws and state and territorial police forces enforce state and territorial laws. The Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.
The government took steps to prosecute officials accused of abuses, and ombudsmen, human rights bodies, and internal government mechanisms responded effectively to complaints.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a limited right to freedom of political expression, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists expressed concern that strict defamation laws have had a “chilling effect” on investigative journalism and freedom of the press. In February businessman and political donor Chau Chak Wing won a defamation case against a media organization that linked him to a bribery case implicating a former president of the UN General Assembly. A member of parliament, Andrew Hastie, criticized the verdict, saying, “Generally speaking, we are concerned about the impact that defamation laws in Australia are having on responsible journalism that informs Australians about important national security issues.”
National Security: In June the AFP raided ABC’s headquarters and the home of a News Corp journalist as part of an investigation into the alleged publishing of classified national security information. The media union denounced the raids as an attempt to “intimidate” journalists; an Essential Poll found that three-quarters of citizens were concerned about press freedom in the aftermath of the raids. The country’s three largest media organizations–ABC, News Corp, and Nine Entertainment–jointly called for more legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers. In July the parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security opened an inquiry into the impact of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press. Media companies challenged the constitutionality of the AFP’s warrants in court.
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. The internet was widely available to and used by citizens.
Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications.
In April parliament passed the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Act in response to the livestreaming via Facebook of the shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by an Australian citizen. It introduced new offenses for social media sites and online content-hosting services that allow videos of offensively violent conduct to be viewed in the country. This law defined such conduct as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape, or kidnapping. Services that fail to rapidly remove material from their website are subject to large fines (including up to A$10.5 million ($7.1 million) or 10 percent of annual revenue for corporations) and the imprisonment of their employees. In September the government ordered five websites, all based outside the country, to remove “abhorrent violent material” or face prosecution. The material on at least one website included a video of the beheading of a Scandinavian tourist in Morocco.
Two special representatives of the UN Human Rights Council, David Kaye and Fionnuala Ni Aolain, publicly opposed the law and questioned its consistency with human rights standards and freedom of expression. These concerns were echoed by media companies in the country, which warned the law could lead to the censorship of legitimate speech. Facebook, Google, and Amazon also opposed the laws, warning it would require “proactive” surveillance of users worldwide.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
Although the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not codified in law, the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic and international organizations expressed serious concern about credible allegations of abuse of migrants in the detention center on Nauru and from the former detention center at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Abuses included inadequate mental health and other medical services, instances of assault, sexual abuse, suicide, self-harm, suspicious deaths, and harsh conditions. The government claimed to continue to provide necessary services to refugees.
In March parliament passed medevac legislation giving medical experts the authority to authorize refugees and asylum seekers from the former Manus Island detention center or Nauru to travel to Australia to receive medical treatment. According to media reports, 179 persons had transferred to the country for health reasons under this legislation as of December.
In December parliament repealed the medevac legislation, a step human rights advocates denounced. The repeal of the law restores the full discretion of federal ministers to accept or reject medical transfers to the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a statement saying that it was “disappointed by the repeal” and expressing concern that it “may negatively impact vital care for asylum seekers in offshore processing facilities.”
Refoulement: UNHCR noted that immigration authorities in the country and offshore detention centers forcibly deported refugees and asylum seekers. The government refused to allow these families to be reunited in the country. UNHCR is aware of several cases where family members are held on offshore processing facilities, while spouses undergoing medical treatment reside in the country.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. UNHCR identifies and refers the majority of applicants considered under the program.
The law authorizes the immigration minister to designate a country as a regional offshore processing center. Parliament must be notified and then has five days to reject the proposed designation. Asylum seekers transferred to third countries for regional processing have their asylum claims assessed by the country in which the claim is processed. Agreements were in effect with Nauru (2013) and Cambodia (2014), although the latter has been little used.
In May authorities intercepted a boat with 20 Sri Lankans trying to reach the country to claim asylum. The Sri Lankans were taken to Christmas Island, a small Australian island approximately 300 miles south of Jakarta. They were held there for a few days while their asylum claims were adjudicated. After the claims were denied, the 20 were flown back to Sri Lanka with the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government. The incident was the first use of Christmas Island for detention of asylum seekers in five years. Authorities also occasionally forced intercepted boats carrying smuggled persons back into the territorial waters of their country of embarkation when safe to do so.
By law the government must facilitate access to legal representation for persons in immigration detention in the country. Access to government-funded legal assistance is available only to those who arrived through authorized channels.
In June 2018 the immigration minister stated no refugee in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, including persons with close family ties, would be resettled in the country. The government sought to enforce this policy, although UNHCR representatives accused the government of breaking a previous promise to accept refugees with close family ties. Moreover, the long-term status of persons evacuated to the country for medical treatment pursuant to the March parliamentary action remained uncertain as of November.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and funded refugee resettlement services. The Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided case-specific assistance that included finding accommodation, employment programs, language training, registering for income support and health care, and connecting with community and recreational programs.
Temporary Protection: The law permits two temporary protection options for individuals who arrived in the country and were not taken to regional processing centers in third countries. The temporary protection visa (TPV) is valid for three years, and visa holders are able to work, study, and reside anywhere in the country with access to support services. Once expired, TPV holders are eligible to reapply for another TPV. The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that visa holders intend to work or study in nonmetropolitan areas. SHEV holders are eligible to apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is mandatory.
Recent Elections: The government held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government. The coalition won 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives; the opposition Labor Party won 68 seats and others won six seats.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.
Indigenous persons and other minorities generally were underrepresented in elective office relative to their share of the population. Voters elected the first indigenous woman to the House of Representatives in 2016 and the first Chinese-Australian woman to the House of Representatives in the May elections. The country’s first indigenous cabinet minister, Ken Wyatt, was appointed in May.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively.
Corruption: All states have anticorruption bodies that investigate alleged government corruption, and every state and territory appoints an ombudsman who investigates and makes recommendations in response to complaints about government decisions. The government also appoints one commonwealth (federal) ombudsman as laws differ between states, and one process or policy cannot always be used across jurisdictions.
The Australian Capital Territory established its anticorruption commission in July.
The law requires persons and entities who have certain arrangements with, or undertake certain activities on behalf of foreign principals to register with the government.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal, state, and territory elected officials to report their financial interests. Failure to do so could result in a finding of contempt of parliament and a possible fine or jail sentence. Federal officeholders must report their financial interests to a register of pecuniary interests, and the report must be made public within 28 days of the individual’s assumption of office. The law prohibits foreign campaign contributions.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Commission (HRC), an independent organization established by parliament, investigates complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights under the federal laws that implement the country’s human rights treaty obligations. The HRC reports to parliament through the attorney general. Media and nongovernmental organizations deemed its reports accurate and reported them widely. Parliament has a Joint Committee on Human Rights, and federal law requires that a statement of compatibility with international human rights obligations accompany each new bill.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions and associate freely domestically and internationally, to bargain collectively and to conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.
The law requires that employers act in “good faith” when a majority of employees want a collective agreement, although it places some restrictions on the scope of collective bargaining. Prohibited terms include requiring payment of a bargaining services fee, enabling an employee or employer to “opt out” of coverage of the agreement, and anything that breaches the law. Furthermore, the law prohibits multienterprise agreements or “pattern bargaining,” although low-paid workers can apply for a “low-paid bargaining stream” to conduct multienterprise bargaining.
When deciding whether to grant a low-paid authorization, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) looks at factors including the terms and conditions of employment, the bargaining strength of employees, and whether employers and employees are bargaining for the first time. A bargaining agent may represent either side in the process. The law designates collective agreements as being between employers and employees directly; trade unions are the default representatives of their members but, with some exceptions, are not official parties to collective agreements.
The law restricts strikes to the period when unions are negotiating a new enterprise agreement and specifies that strikes must concern matters under negotiation, known as “protected action.” Protected action provides employers, employees, and unions with legal immunity from claims of losses incurred by industrial action. Industrial action must be authorized by a secret ballot of employees; unions continued to raise concerns this requirement was unduly time consuming and expensive to implement. The law subjects strikers to penalties for taking industrial action during the life of an agreement and prohibits sympathy strikes. The law permits the government to stop strikes judged to have caused “significant economic harm” to the employer or third parties. Some jurisdictions have further restrictions. For example, in New South Wales the state government may cancel a union’s registration if the government makes a proclamation or calls a state of emergency concerning an essential service and the “industrial organization whose members are engaged in providing the essential service has, by its executive, members, or otherwise, engaged in activities which are contrary to the public interest.”
The government effectively enforced applicable laws. Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining protections for individuals and for corporations were generally sufficient to deter violations. The FWC is the national independent industrial relations management institution. Its functions include facilitating dispute resolution; if dispute resolution is unsuccessful, the parties may elect the FWC to arbitrate the dispute, or the applicant may pursue a ruling by a federal court.
Unions reported concerns that the scope of collective bargaining had been narrowed in recent years, including through decisions by the FWC, which also affected the right to strike.
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including by migrant workers. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. As of January 1, companies of a certain size must file annual statements identifying risks for modern slavery in their supply chains and efforts to address those risks. The first statements are due by mid-2020.
The government effectively enforced applicable labor laws and convicted four defendants in one case involving forced labor. In one case, in April a court convicted a couple of bringing a Fijian woman to the country, withholding her passport, and forcing her to work as a maid in their Brisbane home between 2008 and 2016. Most forced labor cases were addressed through civil law.
Some foreign nationals who came to the country for temporary work were subjected to forced labor in sectors such as agriculture, cleaning, construction, hospitality, and domestic service. There were reports some domestic workers employed by foreign diplomats faced conditions indicative of forced labor.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Not all of the worst forms of child labor are prohibited. As noted by the International Labor Organization, the use, procuring or offering of a child age 16 and 17 for the production of pornography or pornographic performances is not prohibited in New South Wales. In Queensland it remains unclear whether children ages 16 and 17 can be used, procured, or offered for the production of pornography or pornographic performances. There is no law prohibiting the use, procuring, or offering of a child younger than age 18 for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs, in the Northern Territory.
There is no federally mandated minimum age of employment. State minimums vary from no minimum age to age 15. With the exception of the states of Victoria and Queensland, and the Norfolk Island territory, states and territories have established 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work.
There are laws and regulations pertaining to hazardous work across sectors. For example, under the law in Western Australia, an underground worker may not be younger than age 18 unless he or she is an apprentice or a cadet working underground to gain required experience; a person handling, charging, or firing explosives may not be younger than age 18; and a person may not be younger than age 21 to obtain a winding engine driver’s certificate.
Federal, state, and territorial governments effectively monitored and enforced the laws. Penalties for violations of related laws included fines and were sufficient to deter violations.
The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) actively sought to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities. Compulsory educational requirements effectively prevented most children from joining the workforce full-time until they were age 17. Although some violations of these laws occurred, there was no indication of a child labor problem in any specific sector. There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings for information on the territories of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Island, and Norfolk Island.
Federal, state, and territory laws provide for protections against employment discrimination. The HRC reviews complaints of discrimination on the ground of HIV/AIDS status under the category of disability-related complaints.
The law requires organizations with 100 or more employees to establish a workplace program to remove barriers to women entering and advancing in their organization. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government continued efforts to encourage persons under the Disability Support Pension (DSP) program to enter the workforce when they have the capacity to do so, including by requiring compulsory workforce activities for DSP recipients younger than age 35 who can work for more than eight hours per week.
The government enforced laws prohibiting employment discrimination; however, employment discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities occurred. According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the full-time gender pay gap was 15.3 percent. The International Labor Organization noted its concern that, despite several government initiatives, indigenous peoples continued to be disadvantaged and that employment targets were not met.
Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination. In 2017-18, the latest year for which such data were available, approximately 30 percent of the complaints about disability discrimination received by the HRC were in the area of employment and 36 percent in the area of goods, services, and facilities.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
For a single adult living alone, the minimum wage exceeded the poverty line defined as 50 percent of median income.
By law maximum weekly hours are 38 plus “reasonable” additional hours, which, by law, must take into account factors such as an employee’s health, family responsibilities, ability to claim overtime, pattern of hours in the industry, and amount of notice given. An employee may refuse to work overtime if the request is “unreasonable.”
Federal or state occupational health and safety laws apply to every workplace, including in the informal economy. By law both employers and workers are responsible for identifying health and safety hazards in the workplace. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law includes an antibullying provision. The law also enables workers who are pregnant to transfer to a safe job regardless of their time in employment.
The government effectively enforced laws related to minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. The FWO provides employers and employees advice on their rights and has authority to investigate employers alleged to have exploited employees unlawfully. The ombudsperson also has authority to prosecute employers who do not meet their obligations to workers. FWO inspectors may enter work sites if they reasonably believe it is necessary to ensure compliance with the law. The number of FWO inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors can order employers to compensate employees and sometimes assess fines. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, but there were some reports violations continued in sectors employing primarily migrant workers.
Workers exercised their right to a safe workplace and had recourse to state health and safety commissions, which investigate complaints and order remedial action. Each state and territory effectively enforced its occupational health and safety laws through dedicated bodies that have powers to obtain and initiate prosecutions, and unions used right-of-entry permits to investigate concerns.
Most workers received higher compensation than the minimum wage through enterprise agreements or individual contracts. Temporary workers include both part-time and casual employees. Part-time employees have set hours and the same entitlements as full-time employees. Casual employees are employed on a daily or hourly wage basis. They do not receive paid annual or sick leave, but the law mandates they receive additional pay to compensate for this, which employers generally respected. Migrant worker visas require that employers respect employer contributions to retirement funds and provide bonds to cover health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.
There continued to be reports of employers exploiting immigrant and foreign workers (also see section 7.b.). As part of the FWO’s Harvest Trail inquiry into the exploitation of overseas workers in the agricultural sector, the FWO continued to operate a system for migrant workers to report workplace issues anonymously in 16 languages.
There were reports some individuals under “457” employer-sponsored, skilled worker visas received less pay than the market rate and were used as less expensive substitutes for citizen workers. The government improved monitoring of “457” sponsors and information sharing among government agencies, particularly the Australian Tax Office. Employers must undertake “labor market testing” before attempting to sponsor “457” visas. A “417” working holiday visa-holder inquiry recently found the requirement to do 88 days of specified, rural paid work to qualify for a second-year visa enabled some employers to exploit overseas workers.
Safe Work Australia, the government agency responsible to develop and coordinate national workplace health and safety policy, cited a preliminary estimate that, in the year to October, 121 workers died while working. Of these fatalities, 41 were in the transport, postal, and warehousing sectors; 28 in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors; and 17 in construction.
Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The president retains the power over the legislative and judicial branches of government. In October 2018 Paul Biya was reelected president in an election marked by irregularities. He has served as president since 1982. His political party–the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM)–has remained in power since its creation in 1985. New legislative and municipal elections are scheduled to take place in February 2020. Regional elections were also expected during the year, but as of late November, the president had not scheduled them.
The national police and the national gendarmerie have primary responsibility over law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country and report, respectively, to the General Delegation of National Security and to the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the Gendarmerie. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities and reports to the Ministry of Defense. The Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) reports directly to the president. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Maurice Kamto, leader of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM) party and distant runner-up in the October 2018 presidential elections, challenged the election results, claiming he won. On January 26, when Kamto and his followers demonstrated peacefully, authorities arrested him and hundreds of his followers. A crisis in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions that erupted in 2016 has led to more than 2,000 persons killed, more than 44,000 refugees in Nigeria, and more than 500,000 internally displaced persons. A five-day national dialogue to address the crisis took place from September 30 to October 4, producing a number of recommendations, including some new ones. Anglophone separatists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions as well as in the diaspora shunned the meeting. On October 3, President Biya announced the pardoning of 333 lower-level Anglophone detainees, and on October 5, the Military Tribunal ordered the release of Kamto and hundreds of his associates.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by security forces, armed Anglophone separatists, and Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) fighters; forced disappearances by security forces; torture by security forces and nonstate armed groups; arbitrary detention by security forces and nonstate armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, and abuse of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; crimes involving violence against women, in part due to government inaction; violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex relations; and child labor, including forced child labor.
Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, it did not do so systematically and rarely made the proceedings public. Some offenders, including serial offenders, continued to act with impunity.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right, explicitly or implicitly.
Freedom of 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 frequently faced reprisals. On several occasions, the government invoked laws requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse. Many civil society and political organizations reported increased difficulty when obtaining approval to organize public gatherings.
In the early hours of February 23, police surrounded CRM headquarters in the Odza neighborhood of Yaounde and the New-Deido in Douala to prevent prospective activists from registering with the party. In other cities, such as Bafoussam and Mbouda in the West Region, security forces disrupted the registration process and arrested CRM activists. In Bafoussam, police seized CRM’s campaign truck and detained it along with its driver. On April 30, Zacheus Bakoma, the divisional officer for Douala 5, ordered a 90-day provisional closure of the Mtieki community hall after the CRM used the hall as a venue for a meeting on April 28.
Press and Media, including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed diverse views. This landscape, however, included restrictions on editorial independence, in part due to stated security concerns related to the fight against Boko Haram, the Anglophone crisis, and the postelectoral crisis. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions for criticizing the government, especially on security matters. According to the 2018 Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders, the re-election of President Biya for a seventh term of office was accompanied by multiple instances of intimidation, attacks, and arrests of journalists.
Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists for their reporting. Journalists were arrested in connection with their reporting on the Anglophone crisis. According to reports by multiple organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), police arrested Pidgin news anchor Samuel Wazizi, who worked for the Buea-based independent station Chillen Muzik and Television. The arrest occurred on August 2 in Buea, Southwest Region. Police initially held Wazizi at the Buea police station and subsequently handed him over to the military, who detained him on August 7 without access to his lawyer or family. As of late November, he was presumed to still be in detention.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Under a 1990 law, the Ministry of Communication requires editors to submit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication. Journalists and media outlets reported practicing self-censorship, especially if the National Communication Council (NCC) had suspended them previously. In February the NCC issued a press release calling on journalists to be professional in their publications. The release was in reaction to media coverage following the January 26 protests called for by CRM, the arrests of hundreds of activists, including Maurice Kamto, and the ransacking of the Cameroonian embassy in Paris by anti-President Biya protesters. The NCC chairman indicated that the government had informed all professional media about the facts through official procedures and regretted that some press organizations continued to spread opinion contrary to government’s position, thereby maintaining confusion.
At its 23rd ordinary session, the NCC issued warning notices in 21 media regulation cases. The charges stated that the groups engaged in practices contrary to professional ethics, social cohesion, and national integration.
In a July 20 meeting with 100 private media outlet managers, Minister of Communications Rene Sadi chided Cameroon’s private media for abandoning its duty to “inform, educate, and entertain” by publishing articles that “sowed divisiveness and promoted tribalism.” He accused the private press of “playing politics under the influence of journalistic cover.” As of year’s end, no private television or radio station held a valid broadcasting license. Although the few that could afford the licensing fee made good-faith efforts to obtain accreditation, the ministry had not issued or renewed licenses since 2007. The high financial barriers coupled with bureaucratic hurdles rendered Cameroonian private media’s very existence illegal.
Libel/Slander Laws: Press freedom is constrained by libel laws that authorize the government to initiate a criminal suit when the president or other senior government officials are the alleged victims. These laws place the burden of proof on the defendant, and crimes are punishable by prison terms and heavy fines.
National Security: Authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government. During a security meeting in Douala on August 9, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji called on the representatives of NGOs and media professionals to be responsible, contribute their own quota to nation building, and avoid derogatory language that discredits government actions. Atanga Nji said many media houses in Douala organized weekly debates in order to sabotage government actions and promote secessionist tendencies. He urged private media organizations to exercise responsibility when carrying out their activities, warning them to construct, not destroy, the nation. He called on opposition political parties to respect the law and not to force his hand to suspend them. The minister also warned NGOs to respect the contract they signed with his ministry or be suspended.
Nongovernmental Impact: There were reports that separatist groups in the Southwest and Northwest Regions sought to inhibit freedom of expression, including for the press. In an August 13 online post, Moki Edwin Kindzeka, a Yaounde-based journalist, said it was becoming impossible for journalists to practice their profession, because they faced pressure from both separatist fighters and the government. The article was in reaction to Atanga Nji’s August 9 statements.
No credible reports indicated that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government occasionally disrupted access to the internet.
Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, some school authorities reportedly sanctioned academic personnel for their teaching on politically sensitive topics, and administrative officials often deterred teachers from criticizing the government.
On March 5, Jean-Pierre Voundi Abondo, the principal of Yaounde’s Government Bilingual High School Mendong, suspended Felix Ningue from his duties as a philosophy teacher. Ningue reportedly proposed an abstract from Maurice Kamto’s 1993 book entitled L’Urgence de la Pensee (The Urgency of Thought), as one of the topics for student discussion in an examination on February 17. In an interview on Canal 2 television channel, Voundi said the school was apolitical and that he asked Ningue to stop teaching pending an investigation.
The government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Although the law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government often 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, nor does it authorize the government to suppress public assemblies that it did not approve in advance. Nevertheless, officials routinely asserted the law implicitly authorizes the government to grant or deny permission for public assemblies. The government often refused to grant permits for gatherings and used force to suppress assemblies for which it had not issued permits. Authorities typically cited security concerns as the basis for deciding to block assemblies.
On January 26, in Yaounde, Douala, Bafoussam, and other cities across the country, police arrested several dozen CRM activists who participated in a rally to denounce electoral irregularities in the October 2018 presidential election, the ongoing crisis in the two Anglophone regions, and poor management of infrastructure projects associated with the 2019 African Cup of Nations. The CRM notified authorities in advance of the protests but did not receive authorization. Security forces, in response, used excessive force against demonstrators. According to Amnesty International, more than one hundred protesters were arrested in Douala, Yaounde, Dschang, Bafoussam, and Bafang. Approximately 50 were released the following day, and the remainder were transferred to Yaounde and placed under administrative custody. Seven persons were shot and injured in the city of Douala, including lawyer Michele Ndoki, while other protesters were beaten. Communication Minister Rene Emmanuel Sadi denied the use of live ammunition against protesters, but social media contradicted that account with videos of gunfire in Douala and a member of the riot police firing a rubber bullet at close range into the leg of a peaceful protester.
On April 5, Minister of Territorial Administration Atanga Nji issued a press release prohibiting all meetings or public events by the CRM. Days later, on April 13, the party initiated a series of meetings throughout the country to demand the immediate release of Maurice Kamto, who by that time had been imprisoned for more than two months. The CRM also aimed to denounce “the selective modification of the electoral code” and the mismanagement of the funds dedicated to infrastructure projects associated with the 2019 African Cup of Nations, which was to be hosted by Cameroon before being ultimately awarded to Egypt. The CRM unsuccessfully appealed the ministry’s decision.
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, but the law also limits this right. On the recommendation of the prefet, the Ministry of Territorial Administration may suspend the activities of an association for three months on grounds that 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, but the ministry must explicitly register foreign associations, and the president must accredit religious groups upon the recommendation of the Minister of Territorial Administration. The law imposes heavy fines for individuals who form and operate any such association without ministry approval. 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 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.
During the year the government did not ban any organizations. The Ministry of Territorial Administration, however, regularly used threats of suspension on the heads of political parties and NGOs. At a press conference after the January 26 CRM protests, Minister Atanga Nji indicated that the ministry had the right to take certain precautionary measures, meaning the CRM’s suspension. A number of observers stated that political motivations were evident in the government’s selective application of the law.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, at times the government restricted these rights. Growing concerns over the entry of armed groups into Cameroon from the Central African Republic (CAR) and the conflict with Boko Haram in the Far North Region appeared to have prompted the government to adopt a more restrictive approach to refugee movement. The government made it more difficult for refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons to move freely in the country.
In some instances, the government worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government sometimes failed to respect its obligations under relevant international laws. There were instances where it forcibly returned asylum seekers to their countries and did not readily provide humanitarian organizations such as the United Nations access to asylum seekers before refouling them.
In-country Movement: Using minor infractions as a pretext, police and gendarmes at roadblocks and checkpoints in cities and on most highways often extorted bribes and harassed travelers. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification documents, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. Unaccompanied women were frequently harassed when traveling alone. Authorities restricted movements of persons and goods, including motorbikes, especially in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, citing security concerns. Armed Anglophone separatists also restricted the movements of persons and goods in the two Anglophone regions, sometimes in a deliberate attempt to harass and intimidate the local population. Humanitarian organizations cited difficulty in accessing certain areas and in some instances were harassed and denied passage by government authorities.
On June 14, Governor Adolphe Lele Lafrique of the Northwest Region lifted the curfew placed in the region since November 2018. The curfew, which lasted eight months, restricted movement of persons and property in the Northwest Region between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Evolving civil unrest and violence in Northwest and Southwest Regions continued to spur population displacement. According to OCHA, an estimated 710,000 individuals were displaced in Littoral, Northwest, Southwest, and West Regions. In addition, UNHCR estimated that more than 44,000 Cameroonian refugees were in southeastern Nigeria. An August 26 announcement by an armed separatist group on social media imposed a restriction of movement on all persons and closure of businesses starting September 2 for three weeks. This led to a further exodus of persons from the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Even prior to the announcement, relief agencies estimated that more than 2,800 persons fled the two regions to seek refuge in the Littoral and West, and an additional 879 individuals crossed the border into Nigeria between August 1 and 20.
As of September 30, the displaced population in the Far North Region was 488,418, including 271,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), 106,418 refugees, and 111,000 returnees, in part driven from their homes by attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA, according to estimates by the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR.
The government did not put in place mechanisms to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs in the Far North Region. Provision of basic social services to IDPs and assistance to returnees have been carried out by relief actors with minimal support from the government. In the Northwest and Southwest Regions, the government did not manage any efforts to ensure unhindered access for humanitarian actors to deliver aid to persons in need. Its actions were focused on blocking the delivery of aid to show that there is no humanitarian crisis in these regions. Although it made some effort to provide urgently needed in-kind assistance to crisis affected IDPs in the Northwest and Southwest based on its Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan, this assistance was distributed to populations without an assessment of their needs and only to persons in accessible areas, especially in regional capital cities.
According to UNHCR and government estimates, the country hosted 403,208 refugees and 9,435 asylum seekers as of September 30. The refugee population included 291,803 CAR nationals, 108,335 Nigerians, and 1,599 Chadians. The remaining refugee population hailed from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, Burundi, and the Republic of Congo.
In principle, Cameroon operates an open-door policy and has ratified the major legal instruments for refugee protection, including the 1951 Refugee Convention. These commitments were not translated into a progressive legal framework allowing refugees their rights as stated in various legal instruments.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government cited other concerns, including security and suspicion of criminal activity, to justify arbitrary arrests and detention of refugees and asylum seekers. The government at times cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Refoulement: The government stated there was no official policy of forcibly repatriating refugees. On January 16, however, Cameroon forcefully returned 267 Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram to northeast Nigeria. In a February 27 statement, Medicins Sans Frontieres stated Cameroonian and Nigerian authorities ordered 40,000 refugees in Cameroon to return to northeast Nigeria and expressed concern over their possible fate due to continuing insecurity in Rann and a lack of humanitarian assistance. Tens of thousands of persons had fled the town of Rann in northeast Nigeria to Cameroon after a January attack by Islamist insurgents. In 2018 UNHCR and NGOs also reported cases of forced returns of asylum seekers, mostly of Nigerians. According to HRW, in 2017 more than 4,400 asylum-seeking Nigerians were forcibly returned to Nigeria. UNHCR reported that 1,300 were forcibly returned in 2018 and an estimated 600 in 2019. In February an estimated 40,000 Nigerian refugees who had fled to Cameroon in the wake of armed attacks were soon after returned to Nigeria, after Nigerian government officials advised that conditions were safe for their return. Humanitarian organizations, however, stated the conditions were unsafe for return and that the area was largely inaccessible to relief agencies.
Access to Asylum: The laws provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system of providing protection to refugees, but the implementation of this system is less likely. UNHCR continued to provide documentation and assistance to the refugee population. Nevertheless, local authorities did not always recognize these documents as official, which prevented refugees from travelling and engaging in business activities. UNHCR and the government continued to conduct biometric verification and registration of refugees in the Far North Region, including of those not living in a refugee camp.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees had limited access to health care, education, and employment opportunities. Their rural host communities faced similar challenges, but the situation was somewhat worse for refugees. Access to these services varied according to the location of the refugees, with those in camps receiving support through humanitarian assistance, while refugees living in host communities faced difficulty receiving services.
Durable Solutions: UNHCR and the governments of Cameroon and Nigeria started the voluntary repatriation of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon as agreed upon under the 2017 tripartite agreement. The first phase of the voluntary repatriation exercise was conducted on August 22, and involved 133 Nigerian refugees, who departed Maroua for Yola in Nigeria’s Adamawa State, using a Nigerian Air Force plane.
In June 2018 UNHCR carried out return intention surveys using a sample of 4,000 CAR refugees that indicated that approximately one quarter of those surveyed would be interested in going back home, while three quarters would prefer local integration as a durable solution. As of year’s end, UNHCR had assisted more than 2,000 CAR refugees who elected to voluntary return to their areas of origin.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary, unofficial protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, extending this protection to hundreds of individuals during the year, including third-country nationals who had fled violence in CAR. Due to their unofficial status and inability to access services or support, many of these individuals were subject to harassment and other abuses.
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.
Recent Elections: In March 2018 the country held its second senate elections. The ruling CPDM won 63 of the 70 elected seats, while the opposition Social Democratic Front won seven elected seats. The president, in accordance with the constitution, appointed an additional 30 senators, including 24 from CPDM, two from National Union for Democracy and Progress, and one each from four other nominal opposition parties, including Union of the People of Cameroon, National Alliance for Democracy and Progress, Movement for the Defense of the Republic, and Cameroon National Salvation Front. The election was largely peaceful.
In October 2018 the country conducted a presidential election, against the backdrop of protracted sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions and insecurity in the Far North Region due to attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. Eight candidates took part in the elections; a ninth dropped out just before election day to support a rival opposition candidate. The election was marred by irregularities, including intimidation of voters and representatives of candidates at polling sites, late posting of polling sites and voter lists, ballot stuffing, voters with multiple registration, and a lack of transparency in the vote tallying process. In its preliminary statement, the African Union election observation mission noted that the security environment resulted in the curtailment of civil and political liberties in certain regions and negatively impacted the level of participation of citizens in the electoral process.
New legislative and municipal elections were expected during the year, but in July the government extended the term of office of members of the National Assembly by two months, effective October 29. On July 15, the president signed a decree extending the term of office of municipal councilors until February 29, 2020. By law regional elections must be held by the end of February 2020.
Political Parties and Political Participation: As of September 2018, the country had 305 registered political parties. The CPDM remained dominant throughout every level of state institution. This was due to restrictions on opposition political parties, including gerrymandering, unbalanced media coverage, use of government resources for CPDM campaigning, interference with the right of opposition parties to organize during electoral campaigns, and influence of traditional rulers, who were largely coopted by the majority party. Additionally, membership in the ruling political party conferred significant advantages, including in the allocation of key jobs in state-owned entities and the civil service.
Human rights organizations and opposition political actors considered the drawing of voter districts and distribution of parliamentary or municipal councilors’ seats unfair, stating 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 in both senate and presidential elections to the detriment of the other candidates. Traditional rulers, who receive salaries from the government, openly declared their support for President Biya prior to the presidential election, and some reportedly compelled residents of their constituencies to prove that they did not vote for an opposition candidate by presenting unused ballots.
In March Cabral Libii submitted the documentation for the legalization of his political party, Les Citoyens. Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji refused to legalize the party, and Cabral instead joined the Cameroonian Party for National Reconciliation.
After President Biya announced legislative and municipal elections would be held on February 9, 2020, Kamto’s Cameroon Renaissance Movement party reported persistent interference from local government officials as party leaders sought the necessary documents to file candidate lists. Reports included local officials refusing to come to work during the registration period, judges requiring traditional rulers to confirm residency, and local officials refusing to certify birth certificates for CRM candidates. On November 25, as a result of this interference, CRM announced its decision to boycott the elections.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process; however, due to cultural factors, women remained underrepresented at all levels of government. Women occupied 26 of 374 council mayor positions, 81 of 280 parliamentary seats, and 11 of 66 cabinet positions. Similar disparities existed in other senior level offices, including territorial command and security and defense positions. With the voting age set at 20, youths older than 18 and younger than 20 are not allowed to vote. The minority Baka, a nomadic Pygmy people, were not represented in the senate, national assembly, or higher offices of government.
During the year Minister of Territorial Administration Atanga Nji maintained his refusal to recognize Edith Kah Walla, who was elected in 2011 as leader of the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), as the legitimate leader of the party. Atanga Nji continued to maintain his stance that Samuel Tita Fon, who created the party in 1991 but became a supporter of the ruling party, remained the CPP leader.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. The penal code identifies different offenses as corruption, including influence peddling, involvement in a prohibited employment, and nondeclaration of conflict of interest. Reporting of corruption was encouraged through exempting whistleblowers from criminal proceedings. Corruption in official examinations is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, fines up to two million CFA francs ($3,400), or both. There were reports that senior officials sentenced to prison were not required to forfeit ill-gotten gains.
In 2018 the National Anticorruption Commission instituted a toll-free number to encourage citizens to denounce acts of corruption of which they were victims or witnesses. In addition, there were a number of organizations who joined a common platform known as the National Platform of Cameroonian Civil Society Organizations, which under the 2018 Finance Law was provided a budget of 150 million CFA francs ($255,000).
Corruption: The results of the 2019 competitive examination into the National School of Administration and Magistracy highlighted unethical practices surrounding the organization of public service examinations. Anecdotal reports suggested most successful candidates either hailed from specific localities or were sponsored by or related to senior-level government officials, to the detriment of ordinary candidates.
The government continued Operation Sparrow Hawk that was launched in 2006 to fight embezzlement of public funds. As in the previous year, the Special Criminal Court opened new corruption cases and issued verdicts on some pending cases. On March 8, the court placed former defense minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o and his wife in pretrial detention at the Yaounde Kondengui Central Prison. Authorities accused them of financial malpractices associated with the purchase of military equipment for the army, from the time Mebe Ngo’o served as minister of defense.
Financial Disclosure: The constitution requires senior government officials, including members of the cabinet, to declare their assets prior to and after leaving office, but the government had not implemented it since its promulgation in 1996.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups investigated and published findings on human rights cases. Government officials 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 email. The government took no action to investigate or prevent such occurrences. The government at times denied international organization access to the country. The government criticized reports from international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, HRW, and the International Crisis Group, accusing them of publishing baseless accusations. On April 12, for example, officials at Douala International Airport refused entry to an HRW researcher, even though she held a valid visa.
There were several reports of intimidation, threats, and attacks aimed at human rights activists including members of the REDHAC and the Network of Cameroonian Lawyers against the Death Penalty, among others. A female human rights advocate was sexually assaulted by an armed man who warned her to stop harassing the government.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In May UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet visited Cameroon, at the invitation of the Cameroonian government, to evaluate progress made in the protection and promotion of human rights. Bachelet expressed concern to the government over the shrinking of civic space in Cameroon.
Government Human Rights Bodies: In June the government passed a law establishing the Cameroon Human Rights Commission (CHRC), as a replacement for the existing NCHRF. Like the NCHRF, the CHRC is a nominally independent but government-funded institution. The law establishing the CHRC extended its missions to protect human rights, incorporating provisions of Articles 2 and 3 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The CHRC did not become operational during the year, because the president had not yet designated its members. The NCHRF continued to operate in its place. It coordinated actions with NGOs, visited some prisons and detention sites, and provided human rights education. NGOs, civil society, and the general population considered the NCHRF dedicated and effective, albeit inadequately resourced and with insufficient ability to effectively hold human rights violators to account. A number of observers questioned the decision to establish a new institution and expressed concerns about its ability to confront the government that funds it.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. This does not apply to multiple groups of workers, including defense and national security personnel, prison administration civil servants, and judicial and legal personnel. The law also prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Statutory limitations and other practices substantially restricted these rights. The law does not permit the creation of a union that includes both public- and private-sector workers, or the creation of a union that includes different, even if closely related, sectors. The law requires that unions register with the government, have a minimum of 20 members, and formalize the union by submitting a constitution and by-laws. Founding members must also have clean police records. Those who form a union and carry out union activities without registration can be fined under the law. More than 100 trade unions and 12 trade union confederations were in operation, including one public-sector confederation. Trade unions or associations of public servants may not join a foreign occupational or labor organization without prior authorization from the minister responsible for “supervising public freedoms,” currently the minister of territorial administration.
The constitution and law provide for collective bargaining between workers and management, as well as between labor federations and business associations in each sector of the economy. The law does not apply to the agricultural or informal sectors, which included the majority of the workforce.
Legal strikes or lockouts may be called only after conciliation and arbitration procedures have been exhausted. Workers who ignore procedures to conduct a legal strike may be dismissed or fined. Free Industrial Zones are subject to some labor laws; however, there are several exceptions. The employers have the right to determine salaries according to productivity, the free negotiation of work contracts, and the automatic issuance of work permits for foreign workers.
The government and employers did not effectively enforce the applicable legislation on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were rarely enforced and were ineffective as a deterrent. Administrative judicial procedures were infrequent and subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Collective agreements are binding until after a party has given three months’ notice to terminate. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reported allegations that the minister of labor and social security negotiated collective agreements with trade unionists who had nothing to do with the sectors concerned and did not involve trade union confederations that prepared the draft agreements. The government continued to undermine the leadership of the Cameroon Workers Trade Union Confederation (CSTC), one of 12 trade union confederations elected in 2015.
Despite multiple complaints by CSTC’s elected leadership, the government continued to work with former leaders. In June for example, the minister of labor reportedly included Celestin Bama, a member of the former leadership team, as CSTC’s representative in the Cameroonian delegation to the International Labor Conference in Geneva. The International Trade Union Confederation worked with CSTC’s legitimate leadership for its 4th Congress held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in early December 2018.
Trade unionists reported some company officials disregarded labor legislation and prohibited the establishment of trade unions in their companies. They cited the examples of Sarsel and Harjap, two Lebanese-owned businesses based in Douala, as well as several small- and medium-sized Cameroonian companies. Unlike in 2018, there were no reported allegations that some companies retained 1 percent of unionized workers’ salaries as union dues but refused to transfer the money to trade unions.
Many employers used subcontractors to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights. Workers’ representatives said most major companies, including parastatal companies, engaged in the practice, citing the electricity company Energy of Cameroon, the water company Camerounaise des Eaux, cement manufacturer Cimencam, Guinness, Aluminum Smelter (Alucam), COTCO, Ecobank, and many others. Subcontracting was reported to involve all categories of personnel, from the lowest to senior levels. As a result, workers with equal expertise and experience did not always enjoy similar advantages when working for the same business, and subcontracted personnel typically lacked a legal basis to file complaints.
Several strikes were announced during the year. Some were called off after successful negotiation, and some were carried out peacefully, while others faced some degree of repression.
On July 31, the Free National Union of Dockers and Related Activities of Cameroon embarked on a peaceful and lawful strike at the port of Douala. The striking workers demanded improved working conditions, including the effective implementation of a presidential decree of January 24 that offered them hope for better conditions of employment and work. Port officials allegedly called police and administrative authorities to the scene shortly after the start of the strike. They threatened the striking workers with dismissal if they did not return to work and arrested Jean Pierre Voundi Ebale, the elected leader of the dockers’ union, and two other members of the union, Guialbert Oumenguele and Elton Djoukang Nkongo. The senior divisional officer for Wouri placed them on a renewable two-week administrative custody at the Douala Central Prison. Voundi Ebale and his codetainees were released on September 1, after one full month of detention, reportedly on banditry-related charges.
As of November 30, the government delegate to the Douala City Council had not implemented a September 2017 decision of the Littoral Court of Appeal’s Labor Arbitration Council requesting the delegate to reinstate the 11 workers’ representatives he suspended in April 2017. The delegate instead opposed the court decision and referred the issue back to the labor inspector, who once again referred it to the region’s Court of Appeal. After multiple postponements, the court on October 29 confirmed the initial decision to reinstate the workers’ representatives and pay their salaries and outstanding arrears.
The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced and compulsory labor. The law prohibits slavery, exploitation, and debt bondage and voids any agreement in which violence was used to obtain consent. Penalties would have likely been sufficient to deter violations if enforced. The law also extends culpability for all crimes to accomplices and corporate entities. Although the statutory penalties are fairly severe, the government did not enforce the law effectively, in part due to a lack of capacity to investigate trafficking and limited labor inspection and remediation resources. In addition, due to the length and expense of criminal trials and the lack of protection available to victims participating in investigations, many victims of forced or compulsory labor resorted to accepting an out-of-court settlement.
There continued to be anecdotal reports of hereditary servitude imposed on former slaves in some chiefdoms in the North Region. Many members of the Kirdi–whose ethnic group practiced predominately Christian and traditional faiths and who had been enslaved by the Muslim Fulani in the 1800s–continued to work for traditional Fulani rulers for compensation, in room and board and generally a low and unregulated salary, while their children were free to pursue schooling and work of their choosing. Kirdi were also required to pay local chiefdom taxes to the Fulani, as were all other subjects. The combination of low wages and high taxes (although legal) effectively constituted forced labor. While technically free to leave, many Kirdi remained in the hierarchical and authoritarian system because of a lack of viable options.
Anecdotal reports suggested that in the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labor practices by Bantu farmers, who hired the Baka at exploitive wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor and sets 14 as the minimum age of employment. The law prohibits children from working at night or longer than eight hours per day. It also outlines tasks children younger than 18 cannot legally perform, including moving heavy objects, undertaking dangerous and unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and prostitution. Employers are required to provide skills training to children between ages 14 and 18. Because compulsory education ends at age 12, children who were not in school and not yet 14 were particularly vulnerable to child labor. Laws relating to hazardous work for children younger than 18 are not comprehensive, since they do not include prohibitions on work underwater or at dangerous heights. Children engaged in hazardous agricultural work, including in cocoa production. The government in 2018 earmarked funds for the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to revise the hazardous work list. There were no reported developments or progress achieved as of late November. The law provides penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment for those who violate child labor laws. These penalties likely would have been sufficient to deter violations, if enforced.
Children worked in agriculture, where they were exposed to hazardous conditions, including handling heavy loads, machetes, and agricultural chemicals. Children worked in mining, where they carried heavy loads and were exposed to dangerous conditions. Children worked as street vendors and in fishing, where they were exposed to hazardous conditions. Children in these sectors mainly worked alongside families and not under formal employers. Children were subjected to forced begging as talibes in Quran schools. Children were recruited or coerced by armed groups to work as porters, scouts, cooks, and child soldiers.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
The law contains no specific provisions against discrimination, but the constitution in its preamble provides that all persons shall have equal rights and obligations and that every person shall have the right and the obligation to work.
Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred with respect to ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, especially in the private sector. Ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to members of their respective ethnic group in business and social practices, and persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment. There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions. The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents of discrimination.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage in all sectors was greater than the World Bank’s international poverty line. Premium pay for overtime ranged from 120 to 150 percent of the hourly rate, depending on the amount of overtime and whether it is weekend or late-night overtime. Despite the minimum wage law, employers often negotiated with workers for lower salaries, in part due to the extremely high rate of underemployment in the country. Salaries lower than the minimum wage remained prevalent in the public-works sector, where many positions required unskilled labor, as well as in domestic work, where female refugees were particularly vulnerable to unfair labor practices.
The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in public and private nonagricultural firms and a total of 2,400 hours per year, with a maximum limit of 48 hours per week in agricultural and related activities. There are exceptions for guards and firefighters (56 hours per week), service-sector staff (45 hours per week), and household and restaurant staff (54 hours per week). The law mandates at least 24 consecutive hours of weekly rest.
The government sets health and safety standards in the workplace. The minister in charge of labor issues establishes the list of occupational diseases in consultation with the National Commission on Industrial Hygiene and Safety. These regulations were not enforced in the informal sector. The labor code also mandates that every enterprise and establishment of any kind provide medical and health services for its employees. This stipulation was not enforced.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is responsible for national enforcement of the minimum wage and work hour standards, but it did not enforce the law. Ministry inspectors and occupational health physicians are responsible for monitoring health and safety standards, but the ministry lacked the resources for a comprehensive inspection program. The government more than doubled the total number of labor inspectors, but the number of labor inspectors was still insufficient. Moreover, the government did not provide adequate access to vehicles or computers, hampering the effectiveness of the inspectors.