Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The country has a multiparty system of government, but the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has remained in power since its creation in 1985. In practice the president retains the power to control legislation. On October 7, citizens reelected CPDM leader Paul Biya president, a position he has held since 1982. The election was marked 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 registrations, and alleged polling results manipulation. On March 25, the country conducted the second senate elections in its history. They were peaceful and considered generally free and fair. In 2013 simultaneous legislative and municipal elections were held, and most observers considered them free and fair. New legislative and municipal elections were expected to take place during the year; however, in consultation with the parliament and the constitutional council, President Biya extended the terms of office of parliamentarians and municipal councilors for 12 months, and general elections were expected to take place in fall 2019 or early 2020.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces, including police and gendarmerie.
The sociopolitical crisis that began in the Northwest and Southwest Regions in late 2016 over perceived marginalization developed into an armed conflict between government forces and separatist groups. The conflict resulted in serious human rights violations and abuses by government forces and Anglophone separatists.
Human rights issues included arbitrary and unlawful killings by security forces as well as armed Anglophone separatists; forced disappearances by security forces, Boko Haram, and separatists; torture by security forces and Anglophone separatists; prolonged arbitrary detentions including of suspected Anglophone separatists by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; violence and harassment targeting journalists by government agents; periodic government restrictions on access to the internet; laws authorizing criminal libel; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers by the government; restrictions on political participation; violence against women, in part due to government inaction; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by Anglophone separatists, government-supported vigilance committees, and Boko Haram; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, and criminalization of consensual same-sex relations; child labor, including forced child labor; and violations of workers’ rights.
Although the government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses in the security forces and in the public service, it did not often make public these proceedings, and some offenders, including serial offenders, continued to act 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 that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of official duties.
In July, Human Rights Watch reported that, during government operations in 12 villages in the Northwest and Southwest Regions between January and April, government security forces shot and killed more than a dozen civilians, including at least seven persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities who had difficulty fleeing. On May 25, in Menka-Pinyin, Santa Subdivision of the Northwest Region, elements of the Gendarmerie, the 51st Motorized Infantry Brigade, and the Special Operations Group of the National Police carried out a raid on a location believed to harbor Anglophone activists, killing 27 persons, according to official sources. Security forces battling Anglophone secessionists in the Northwest and Southwest Regions allegedly killed two clerics. Anglophone separatists attacked and killed several dozen civilians considered loyal to the central government and members of defense and security forces in these two regions. According to the government’s Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Plan, as of June 11, the death toll attributed to separatists within defense and security forces was 84, including 32 members of defense forces, 42 gendarmes, seven policemen, two prison guards, and one Eco-guard, some of whom were mutilated or decapitated and their bodies exhibited on social media. Civilian victims included the following: the chief of Esukutan in Toko Subdivision of the Southwest Region, murdered on February 5; the divisional officer for Batibo in the
Northwest, abducted on February 11 and subsequently killed; and Ashu Thomas Nkongho, discipline master of the government bilingual high school in Kossala, Meme Division of the Southwest Region, killed on school premises on April 25. Unidentified gunmen killed a local chief in a church and a priest, supposedly because of their alleged opposition to secession by the Northwest and Southwest Regions.
Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued killing civilians, including members of vigilance committees, which were organized groups of local residents cooperating with government forces in the fight against Boko Haram, and members of defense and security forces in the Far North Region. According to the L’Oeil du Sahel newspaper, as of June 30, at least 153 civilians and 12 members of defense and security forces had been killed in the attacks.
Government security forces were widely believed to be responsible for disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists, with reports of bodies dumped far from the site of killings to make identification difficult. According to credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the government did not readily account for some of the activists arrested in connection with the Anglophone crisis. Family members and friends of the detainees were frequently unaware of the missing individuals’ location in detention for a month or more. For example, authorities held incommunicado Ayuk Sisiku Tabe, the “interim president” of the so-called Republic of Ambazonia, along with 46 other Anglophone separatists, from January 29 until late June when they were allowed to meet with their lawyers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
In an August 24 release, Ekombo Favien, vice president of human rights NGO
Frontline Fighters for Citizen Interests (FFCI), announced the disappearance of FFCI national president Franklin Mowha. According to the release, Mowha arrived in Kumba, Southwest Region, on August 2 to monitor human rights abuses. He was last seen leaving his hotel room on August 6. Ekombo indicated that authorities had previously targeted Mowha on several occasions because of his human rights reporting.
Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped civilians, including women and children, during numerous attacks in the Far North Region. According to L’Oeil du Sahel, as of June 30, at least 51 civilians had been victims of Boko Haram abductions, and some of them 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 beat, harassed, or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated suspected separatists and detainees.
Amnesty International reported in July 2017 on the cases of 101 individuals whom security forces allegedly tortured between March 2013 and March 2017 in detention facilities run by the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) and the General Directorate of Counter Intelligence (DGRE). While most of the cases documented involved persons arrested in 2014 and 2015 and allegedly tortured between 2014 and 2016, Amnesty International asserted that the practice continued into 2017. It stated that torture took place at 20 sites, including four military bases, two intelligence centers, a private residence, and a school. Specific sites named in the report included the BIR bases in Salak, Kousseri, and Kolofata in the Far North Region, and DGRE facilities in Yaounde. As of October the government had not shared results of its internal investigations but claimed it had investigated some, if not all, of the allegations.
Human Rights Watch documented the case of 22-year-old Fredoline Afoni, a thirdyear student at the Technical University of Bambili whom security forces beat to death on January 29. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline was home near Kumbo in the Northwest Region when he received a telephone call requesting that he pick up luggage at a nearby junction. Once at the location, persons dressed in civilian clothes forcefully took him away by truck. A truck belonging to the gendarmerie subsequently drove through the same junction with Fredoline sitting in the back, naked and handcuffed, with signs of having been badly beaten. Individuals reportedly appeared at a relative’s home and collected Fredoline’s laptop and cell phone. Fredoline’s uncle subsequently discovered that he was in gendarmerie custody. The uncle reportedly told Human Rights Watch that he discovered the victim’s naked and decaying corpse outside the local mortuary three days later. After a postmortem examination, the medical professional who examined the body told Human Rights Watch that Fredoline died as a result of his beatings.
Social media diffused a video in June showing security force members at the
Cameroon Protestant College of Bali in the Northwest Region forcing two girls to crawl through the mud while referring to them as Ambazonian spies. Media reports indicated that the gendarmes were arrested and placed in detention and were awaiting trial by the military tribunal, but there was no further information on the case.
Press reporting indicated there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government and separatists in Anglophone regions. For example, there were credible reports that on July 3, during security operations in Bamenda, Northwest Region, first-class soldier Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim he called aside for a routine national identity check. The soldier was arrested, although there was no further information on the case.
During the year the United Nations reported that it received five allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Cameroon deployed in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Three cases alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship, transactional sex), and three cases sexual abuse (rape), one of which involved minors. Several allegations each referred to more than one alleged perpetrator, more than one victim, or both. Investigations both by the United Nations and the government were pending. Interim action by the United Nations was taken in one case. Nine allegations reported previously were pending.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a significant problem 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 five times the intended capacity. Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children. Authorities often held detainees in pretrial detention and convicted prisoners together. In many prisons toilets were nothing more than common pits. In some cases women benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters. Authorities claimed to hold sick persons separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.
According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915 but which held close to 30,000 inmates as of June. For example, the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, was initially designed to accommodate 150 inmates. Successive expansions raised the capacity to 500 inmates. As of June 19, the prison held 1,600 inmates, more than two-thirds of whom had not been convicted of any crime. A third of the inmates were awaiting trial, hearings had begun for another third, and one-third had been convicted.
The quality of food, access to potable water, sanitation, heating, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate. As a result illness was widespread. Malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other untreated conditions, including infections, parasites, dehydration, and diarrhea, were rampant. The number of deaths associated with detention conditions or actions of staff members or other authorities was unknown.
Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems. Corruption among prison personnel was reportedly widespread. Visitors were at times forced to bribe wardens to be granted access to inmates. Prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, cell phones, beds, and transfers to less crowded areas of the prisons. Due to their inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained incarcerated after completing their sentences or after they had received court orders of release.
Administration: Independent authorities often investigated credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel; without authorization, 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. Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religions without interference.
As in 2017, authorities allowed NGOs to conduct formal education and other literacy programs in prisons. At the principal prison in Edea, Littoral Region, the NGO Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture sponsored a Literacy and Social Reintegration Center that provided primary and lower secondary education to inmates. Because of the sociopolitical unrest in the Southwest Region, Human IS Right, a Buea-based civil society organization, and the NGO Operation Total Impact discontinued their formal education and reformation education program in the principal prisons in Buea and Kumba. The central prison in Garoua, North Region, continued to run a full-cycle primary school.
Independent Monitoring: Unlike in the previous year, the government restricted international humanitarian organizations’ access to prisoners in official prisons.
For example, as of June authorities had not allowed the ICRC access to its target prisons and detention centers. On July 3, however, the ICRC was able to visit the 47 Anglophone separatists repatriated from Nigeria, and some of the detainees delivered messages through the organization to their families. The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) and the Commissions for Justice and Peace of the Catholic archdioceses also conducted prison visits but were denied access to some detention centers. In January NCHRF members visited prisons in Monatele in the Center Region; Bertoua, Doume, and AbongMbang in the East Region; and Maroua in the Far North Region. The NCHRF reported that it did not have access to some prisons in Yaounde, including those hosting the 47 suspected separatists repatriated from Nigeria. The NCHRF also alleged authorities did not grant access to a victim who was shot and admitted at the Yaounde Emergency Center.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the right to challenge the lawfulness in court of an arrest or detention. The law states that, except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest 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 law provides that any person who has been illegally detained by the police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation. On several occasions the government did not respect these provisions.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The national police, DGRE, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Territorial Administration, and, 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 the Office of the Presidency, resulting in strong presidential control of security forces. The army is responsible for external security, while the national police and gendarmerie have primary responsibility for law enforcement. Historically the gendarmerie has responsibility in rural areas. Increasingly in the Anglophone regions, responsibility for security in the rural areas is left to another security force, the BIR. The BIR falls outside the purview of conventional forces. The national police–which includes public security, judicial, territorial security, and frontier police–reports to the General Delegation of National Security (DGSN), which is under the direct authority of the presidency. The government took some steps to hold police accountable for abuses of power. Police remained ineffective, poorly trained, and corrupt. Impunity continued to be a problem.
Civilian authorities maintained some control over the police and gendarmerie, and the government had some mechanisms in place to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The DGSN and gendarmerie investigated reports of abuse and forwarded cases to the courts. Lesser sanctions were handled internally. The DGSN, Ministry of Defense, and Ministry of Justice stated that members of security forces were sanctioned during the year for committing abuses, but few details were known about investigations or any subsequent accountability.
The national gendarmerie and the army have special offices to investigate abuse. The secretary of state for defense and the minister delegate at the presidency are in charge of prosecuting abusers. The minister delegate of defense refers cases involving aggravated theft, criminal complicity, murder, and other major offenses to the military courts for trial.
In March authorities opened an investigation into the case of taxi driver Jean Nga Mvondo, who died a few hours after the Ngousso gendarmerie brigade in Yaounde released him from detention. Pending the outcome of the investigation, on March 23, the secretary of state in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED) relieved the brigade commander of his duties.
As reported above, on July 24, the minister delegate for defense announced that the gendarmerie in Bamenda, Northwest Region, arrested first class soldier Mbita Arthur and referred him to the office of the Bamenda military court prosecutor. The minister also promised to take disciplinary action against the soldier in accordance with the law. Mbita Arthur allegedly raped a female victim on July 23.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires police to obtain a warrant before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement. The law provides that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate, although this often did not occur. Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once. This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought. Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods. The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command. The law provides for access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both. Contrary to the wide-reaching antiterror law, civilian law prohibits incommunicado detention, but it occurred, especially in connection with the sociopolitical unrest in the two Anglophone regions. 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. On August 8, Supreme Court Chief Judge Daniel Mekobe Sone commissioned the first members of the Compensation Commission for Illegal Detention, a body created to provide citizens with recourse if they believe they were wrongfully detained.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmes, BIR soldiers, and government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado. “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued. There were several reports by media and NGOs that police or gendarmes arrested persons without warrants on circumstantial evidence alone, often following instructions from influential persons to settle personal scores. There were also credible reports that police or gendarmes arbitrarily arrested persons during neighborhood sweeps for criminals and stolen goods or arrested persons lacking national identification cards, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis and the fight against Boko Haram.
There were credible reports that authorities held some suspects in the Anglophone crisis for long periods without notifying them of the charges. For example, authorities detained Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, the president of the Anglophone separatist movement, and 46 others incommunicado and without official charge for close to six months. The suspects were arrested in Nigeria on January 5 and extradited to Cameroon on January 25. Defense lawyers considered the arrest and extradition illegal and filed an application for immediate release with the Mfoundi High Court in Yaounde. On August 30, the judge dismissed the application on procedural grounds. The court eventually heard the case on November 1 and delivered a verdict denying the release of Sisiku Ayuk Tabe and the nine other leaders of the Anglophone separatist movement on November 15.
Pretrial Detention: The law provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court. No comprehensive statistics were available on pretrial detainees. According to prison authorities, as of June the central prison in Ngaoundere, Adamawa Region, housed approximately 1,600 inmates, two-thirds of whom were pretrial detainees and appellants. Some pretrial detainees had been awaiting trial for more than two years. The increase in pretrial prison populations was due in large part to mass arrests of Anglophone activists and persons accused of supporting Boko Haram, staff shortages, lengthy legal procedures, lost files, administrative and judicial bottlenecks, including procedural trial delays, corruption, negligence, and court fees.
The NGO Human IS Right documented the case of 24-year-old Beng Pascal Ngong, who was detained without judgement at the Buea Central Prison for more than 26 months. Police arrested Beng in 2015 for allegedly not possessing a national identity card, an offense punishable with imprisonment from three to 12 months, a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 CFA francs ($85 to $170), or both. Following a habeas corpus request filed by the NGO Human IS Right, judicial authorities ultimately released Beng on March 21, after more than double the duration of the sentence he would have served had he been prosecuted and convicted. Until his release Beng Pascal had never appeared before a judge.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government limited and restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
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 has not approved 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. 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, arrested participants in unapproved protests, and blocked political leaders from attending protests.
On March 9, in Yaounde, police arrested approximately 20 women who participated in a rally, holding up a banner that read, “Stand Up for Cameroon.” According to the organizers of the rally, including Edith Kabang Walla, the president of the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), the event was aimed to call attention to the deteriorating sociopolitical situation in the country. Police released the women after keeping them for a few hours at the judicial police’s regional headquarters.
Authorities also banned some political rallies. In April the divisional officer of Fokoue in Menoua Division, West Region, banned a meeting meant to encourage voter registration by the CRM opposition party. The CRM claimed they notified the divisional officer that they were organizing an event on April 11. This event would have been 10th in a series organized in conjunction with Elections Cameroon, the organization that oversees and administers elections, to encourage more persons to register to vote. The divisional officer initially told CRM leaders the meeting might not be authorized because April 11 was a market day. On April 9, he reportedly changed his mind and instead referred CRM’s leaders to the mayor, whom he said had control over the market place. Organizers said they had contacted the mayor, who said she had planned to conduct a tax collection exercise in the market that day and turned down the request. Further, in June the mayor of Bagangte banned a rally by the CRM at the local ceremonial ground and reportedly justified his decision by saying that the ceremonial ground was meant only for exceptional events and official ceremonies. CRM officials said the ruling CPDM held a meeting at the venue a few days earlier. Authorities also banned rallies by the CRM in Baham and Bandjoun in the West Region.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the law also limits this right. On the recommendation of the senior divisional officer, the Ministry of Territorial Administration may suspend the activities of an association for three months on the 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 religious groups. 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.
Unlike in 2017 the government did not ban any organizations during the year. On July 18, however, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji unilaterally designated three political figures as spokespersons for three opposition political parties, disregarding these parties’ own hierarchies and internal elections. The minister stated the three parties, the Cameroon People’s Party (CPP), the
Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), and the African Movement for a New Independence and Democracy (Manidem), were suffering from persistent internal crises. He urged administrative command officers nationwide to authorize only events organized by the appointees. On July 20, all three appointed leaders joined 17 other nominally “opposition” leaders to rally with their parties behind President Biya for the October 7 presidential election.