Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency. The president retains power over the legislative and judicial branches of government. The ruling political party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, has remained in power since its creation in 1985. The country held legislative elections on February 9, which were marked by irregularities. The ruling party won 152 of 180 National Assembly seats. Paul Biya has served as president since 1982. He was last reelected in 2018 in an election marked with irregularities.
The national police and the national gendarmerie are responsible for internal security. The former reports to the General Delegation of National Security and the latter to the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the Gendarmerie. The army is primarily responsible for external security and shares some domestic security responsibilities; it reports to the minister delegate at the presidency in charge of defense. The Rapid Intervention Battalion reports directly to the president. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over security forces. Members of security forces committed numerous abuses.
In July jailed separatist leader Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe announced he talked with the government regarding the prospects for peace in the Anglophone regions. The government, however, denied Ayuk Tabe’s announcement, and other separatists opposed the talks. Cameroon Renaissance Movement president Maurice Kamto urged Cameroonians to stage nationwide peaceful protests on September 22 to demand a resolution to the crisis in the Anglophone regions and for electoral reform before the December 6 regional elections. Hundreds of protesters were arrested, including journalists, and Kamto was placed under unofficial house arrest.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by security forces, armed Anglophone separatists, Boko Haram, and ISIS-West Africa; forced disappearances by security forces; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government, Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN missions, and nonstate armed groups; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; political prisoners or detainees; politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside the country; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on freedom of expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigations and accountability for violence against women; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and the existence or use of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between adults.
Although the government took 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 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 numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings through excessive use of force in the execution of their official duties. Most of the killings were associated with the armed conflict in the two Anglophone regions (see also section 1.g., Abuses in Internal Conflict). Additionally, many included unarmed civilians not in conflict-afflicted areas, and others resulted from the use of excessive force on citizens by government agents, including members of defense and security forces.
The Ministry of Defense, through the Secretariat of State in charge of the National Gendarmerie (SED), is responsible for investigating whether security force killings, including police killings, are justifiable. Prosecutions related to these matters are conducted through the Military Tribunal. In some high-profile cases, preliminary investigations are entrusted to a mixed commission of inquiry, including civilian members with relevant professional backgrounds.
On July 23, the Douala-based private television channel Equinoxe TV reported that a taxi driver died in a health center after he was allegedly tortured at the 6th district police station in New Bell, a neighborhood in Douala. According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Mandela Center, on July 20, Mitterrand Tchouateum Nja parked his vehicle incorrectly and was subsequently punished for refusing to pay a bribe. Police commissioner Mvoundi Evina and members of the 21st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion of Terminus Saint Michel, including Chief Warrant Officer Lawrence Nkimantap, brutally assaulted Tchouateum. After the assault, police detained Tchouateum at the 6th district police district. He was transferred to Nkoloulou district medical center on July 22 after his condition rapidly deteriorated. Tchouteum remained chained to his hospital bed until a few hours before his death, which came soon after his release from police custody. As of December 8, the Mandela Center had filed a complaint with the Military Tribunal in Douala, and the Military Tribunal had referred the case to the High Court. No criminal charges had been filed against the perpetrators of the attack as of December 15.
According to the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Central Africa (CHRDA), on August 13, Cameroonian soldiers raided the village of Mautu in the Southwest Region and killed seven unarmed civilians. The victims, including an elderly man and a pregnant woman known as ‘Mami Blessing,’ were reportedly shot at close range in their homes. Before these killings, the military raided a church on the outskirts of Mautu and shot the church’s pastor. The soldiers executed two boys alongside the pastor and shot another as he tried to escape. The soldiers allegedly invaded the church because the worshipers sympathized with separatist ideology. The CHRDA reported that they were unaware of any ongoing investigation into the incident.
On August 11, multiple media outlets reported the beheading of 32-year-old Comfort Tumassang by suspected Anglophone separatists. The incident took place in Muyuka, Southwest Region. A video circulating on social media that day showed a woman seated on the ground with her hands tied behind her. She begged for mercy before she was beheaded; her body was left in the street. Human Rights Watch also reviewed a second video, filmed before the killing, showing separatists interrogating and threatening Tumassang, whom they accused of collaborating with the military. The three main Anglophone separatist groups–the Ambazonia Governing Council, the “interim government” led by Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, and its splinter faction led by Samuel Ikome Sako–condemned the killing and denied responsibility for the crime.
On November 24, suspected Islamist terrorists attacked the village of Gabas, located within Mayo Tsanaga in the Far North Region, killing three civilians. On November 25, a member of the Gabas vigilance committee, Jean Baptiste Yagai, told the media that terrorists attacked at about 7:00 p.m., hours before the normal time that residents leave the village to hide in the surrounding hills every evening to avoid Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks. The assault on Gabas was the latest in a series of attacks by Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Far North Region, especially within Mayo Tsanaga and Mayo Sava. In November at least six civilians were killed in attacks in Mayo Sava, while five civilians were killed and at least four others abducted in Mayo Moskota.
While the government repeatedly promised to investigate abuses committed by security forces, it did not do so transparently or systematically. Unlike in the previous year, however, some information was made available concerning the outcome of investigations into abuses committed by security forces as well as the status of some ongoing trials. President Biya ordered an investigation into the February 14 killing by security forces of an estimated 23 civilians in the village of Ngarbuh, Northwest Region. On April 22, the president released a summary of the investigation’s findings, identifying a sergeant, a gendarme, and a soldier as responsible for the killing of 13 civilians during the incident. President Biya reportedly ordered disciplinary action against the battalion commander, who oversaw the operation, and the arrest of the other three suspects. Their trial was expected to begin on December 17 at the Yaounde Military Tribunal. A total of 17 members of a vigilante group and a former separatist fighter were also charged but remained at large.
On September 21, the Yaounde Military Tribunal issued a sentence in the case against seven soldiers accused of the extrajudicial killing of two women and two children, believed to have taken place in 2015 in the village of Zelevet, Far North Region. The lead officer, Captain Etienne Fabassou, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and breach of regulations for his role and received a sentence of 10 years in prison. Sergeant Cyriaque Bityala, Corporal Barnabas Donssou Gorvo, and Soldier First Class Jean Baptiste Tchanga Chiengang were found guilty of murder and breach of regulations and were also sentenced to 10 years in prison. Of the remaining three soldiers, Soldier First Class Ghislain Landry Ntieche Fewou was found guilty of breach of regulations and sentenced to two years in prison. The two remaining soldiers were found not guilty. Both the prosecution and all those convicted filed appeals. In the case of the prosecution, the sentences were less than those the prosecution had requested.
As in the previous year, government security forces were believed to be responsible for enforced disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists or their supporters. Multiple credible organizations documented the case of Samuel Abue Adjiekha (aka “Wazizi”), a news anchor for Buea-based independent radio station Chillen Muzik and Television Pidgin. Wazizi was detained on August 2, 2019, and pronounced dead on June 5. Wazizi was accused of having connections with armed Anglophone separatists. He was transferred to a military-run facility in Buea on August 7, 2019, and never appeared in court, despite several scheduled hearings. In a June 5 press release, the Defense Ministry asserted Wazizi died of severe sepsis on August 17, 2019 (see also section 1.c.). On June 5, the French ambassador to Cameroon told the press at the end of an audience with President Biya that the president had promised to order an investigation into Wazizi’s death. As of mid-December, there were no developments reported on the investigation.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports that security force members tortured or otherwise abused citizens, including separatist fighters and political opponents. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which security forces severely mistreated political opponents and others in which armed separatists mistreated civilians and members of defense forces. Public officials, or persons acting at their behest, reportedly carried out acts that resulted in severe physical, mental, and emotional trauma.
On July 2, the Cameroon Journalists Trade Union denounced the hijacking of Wazizi’s body as a move to conceal signs of torture on the journalist during his detention.
On July 7, according to CHRDA, 39-year-old Ben Uze was tortured and maimed by the military in Wum, Northwest Region. He reportedly sold 10 liters of palm wine and pineapples to soldiers, who took the items but refused to pay. An eyewitness reportedly told CHRDA that the victim reported the matter to the army commander, who accused him of associating with separatists. As a result, when Uze refused to pay the soldiers he encountered, they severely beat him, causing severe damage to his eye and groin area. Uze reportedly died of his injuries in a hospital.
In a September 24 preliminary report, Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) lawyers claimed police violently suppressed the party’s peaceful demonstrations throughout the country, beating protesters and arresting journalists. They stated that police elements, who used water cannons, batons, and tear gas, injured demonstrators in cities throughout the country, including Douala, Bafoussam, and Kribi. The lawyers reported cases of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment at Yaounde central police station No. 1, listing Therese Assomo Ondoua, Nde Diffo Jaurel, and Wilfred Siewe as some of those tortured during their arrests. Anecdotal evidence and accounts by some protesters who were released corroborated the lawyers’ preliminary report.
Human Rights Watch reported that on May 30, separatists kidnapped and tortured a humanitarian worker in Bali, Northwest Region, accusing him of collaborating with security forces. They released him the following day, and he spent several days in a Bamenda hospital for treatment of the injuries sustained during his detention. The victim told Human Rights Watch that he was blindfolded and taken to a separatist camp on a motorbike. He was later taken to a second location, tied to a tree with a rope, and beaten and kicked before he was released.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, five allegations were submitted during the year of sexual exploitation and abuse by Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions. There were also 29 other open allegations dating from previous years of sexual exploitation and abuse by Cameroonian peacekeepers deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, including 16 from 2019, four from 2018, four from 2017, two from 2016, and three from 2015. As of September, the Cameroonian government had not yet provided the accountability measures taken for all 34 open cases. Of the open cases, nine allegedly involved rape of a child, 16 allegedly involved transactional sex with one or more adults, five allegedly involved an exploitative relationship with an adult, one allegedly involved rape of an adult, and one allegedly involved sexual assault of an adult. There were also two cases that involved multiple instances within each case. One of those case allegedly involved four instances of rape of a child and two instances of exploitative relationships with an adult. The other case allegedly involved rape by two peacekeepers of two children and an exploitative relationship with an adult.
Credible organizations including the CHRDA reported that Reverend Thomas Nganyu Tangem died chained to his hospital bed in Yaounde in July. He was a member of the Mbengwi Monastery in the Northwest Region and was arrested at Mile 16 in Buea in 2018 and transferred to Yaounde where he was allegedly tortured while in detention for two years without charge. Equinoxe Television reported that on several occasions, prison authorities dismissed concerns expressed by other prisoners regarding his health. On July 25, prison authorities took him to Yaounde Central Hospital, where he was shackled to his hospital bed. He died a few days later on August 5. Tangem was never officially charged with a crime.
Anecdotal reports suggested there were cases of rape and sexual abuse by persons associated with the government in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions. NGOs also indicated armed separatists were involved in rape and sexual abuse cases in the two regions.
There was at least one report of medical abuse by government forces. Djilieu Pommier alleged that after being arrested during MRC demonstrations on September 22 in Bafang (West Region), army Lieutenant Mvoundi Evina on September 22 injected him with an unknown substance. As a result of the injection, Djilieu lost the use of his legs and was effectively paralyzed pending an official medical diagnosis.
On May 6, the High Court of Mbam and Inoubou in the Center Region sentenced the head of local police to a three-year suspended prison sentence for mistreatment of 16-year-old Ibrahim Bello in 2017 that resulted in his losing both legs and his left hand; a colleague received a four-year prison sentence. The court ordered them jointly to pay 50 million Central African francs (CFA) ($86,800) in damages. Following the ruling, the NGO Mandela Center filed an appeal requesting damages be increased to CFA one billion ($1.74 million) due to the gravity of the injuries. The convicts and the General Delegation of National Security also filed separate appeals, requesting that damages be reduced. In mid-December, the court of appeals of the Center Region in Yaounde opened appeal hearings; there was no ruling as of year’s end.
While some investigations and prosecutions were conducted and a few sanctions meted out, especially in high-profile cases, security force impunity remained a concern. Such impunity involved most defense and security force branches from the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) to police. Few of the reports of trials involved those in command. The General Delegation of National Security and the Secretariat of State for Defense in charge of the National Gendarmerie investigated some abuses. The government meted out some sanctions to convicted low-level offenders, and other investigations were ongoing as of year’s end. Factors contributing to impunity included the government’s lack of transparency on the steps taken to address allegations of human rights violations.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages and poor-quality food, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding remained a significant problem in most prisons, especially in major urban centers. Prison overcrowding was exacerbated by sustained increases in the number of arrests related to the conflict in the Anglophone regions and the September 22 protests by the opposition MRC. Officials held prisoners in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons. Authorities often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners in the same cells. In many prisons, toilets were only common pits. In some cases, female detainees benefitted from better living conditions, including improved toilet facilities and less crowded living quarters. Prisons generally had separate wards for men, women, and children. Authorities reported that the sick were held separately from the general prison population, but this was often not the case.
According to prison administration officials, the country had 79 operational prisons, with an intended capacity of 17,915. As of October 31, the overall prison population was 22,430, including 580 women and 577 minors. The Ministry of Exterior Relations’ Minister Delegate to the Commonwealth Felix Mbayu provided the figures on November 19, within the framework of the 67th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Access to food, water, sanitation, heating and ventilation, lighting, and medical care was inadequate. Consequently, malnutrition, tuberculosis, bronchitis, malaria, hepatitis, scabies, and numerous other treatable conditions, including infections, were rampant. Hundreds of cases of COVID-19 were recorded among inmates released from five prisons across Cameroon’s Central Region in April, according to Reuters, which cited unpublished government data. According to the article, the Yaounde Central Prison was the worst hit. More than 31 inmates died there in April, compared with a prepandemic average of one or two a month. A senior prison official reportedly told Reuters that no inmates were tested for COVID-19.
Physical abuse by prison guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence were problems. Some credible organizations reported that physical abuse by persons associated with the government was less prevalent in prisons than in gendarmerie and police detention cells, where some officers often used harsh interrogation techniques. Conversely, violence among inmates was reported in virtually all prisons. In an August 18 letter to the Minister of Justice Shufai Blaise Sevidzem Berinyuy representing detained Anglophones separatists at the Kondengui Principal Prison, informed the minister that Reverend Kisob Bertin was attacked on August 16 in his bed by fellow inmates. He stated that witnesses said the attack had the blessing of the prison administrators, who told some inmates they would not face sanctions if they attacked “Ambazonians” and seized their property.
Administration: Authorities allegedly did not address all credible allegations of mistreatment. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, independent authorities did not investigate the most credible allegations of mistreatment. Visitors needed formal authorization from the state counsel; without authorization, they had to bribe prison staff to communicate with inmates. Overall prison visits were limited in compliance with COVID-19-related restrictions. Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to observe their religious practices without interference.
Independent Monitoring: Independent monitoring of prisons was constrained by COVID-19-related restrictions. The NGO Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme, however, stated it visited a few prisons up to April and a few others as of August, including in Bafia, Bafoussam, and Nanga Eboko. The Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Archdiocese in Bamenda also stated it conducted regular visits to the Bamenda Central Prison and provided legal assistance to inmates facing crimes related to the ongoing Anglophone conflict at the Military Tribunal. The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF) reported it did not conduct any prison visits as of late August because of a lack of funding.
Improvements: The new Douala-Ngoma Central Prison located approximately 12 miles from Douala, was completed. The facility is expected to help address prison overcrowding and improve the living environment of inmates at the Douala-New Bell central prison. The new prison needed equipment and some other finishing touches before receiving inmates. On April 15, President Biya signed a decree to decongest prisons as part of government measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, approximately 1,800 inmates were freed by May 8. As of July, the total number of inmates who benefitted from the decree was estimated at close to 3,000.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness in court of an arrest or detention. The law states that except in the case of an individual discovered in the act of committing a felony or misdemeanor, the officials making the arrest must disclose their identity and inform the person arrested of the reason. Any person illegally detained by police, the state counsel, or the examining magistrate may receive compensation. The government did not always respect these provisions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires police to obtain a warrant from a judge or prosecutor before making an arrest, except when a person is caught in the act of committing a crime, but police often did not respect this requirement. The law provides that suspects be brought promptly before a judge or prosecutor, although this often did not occur, and citizens were detained without judicial authorization. Police may legally detain a person in connection with a common crime for up to 48 hours, renewable once. This period may, with the written approval of the state counsel, be exceptionally extended twice before charges are brought. Nevertheless, police and gendarmes reportedly often exceeded these detention periods. The law also permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days by administrative authorities, such as governors and civilian government officials serving in territorial command. The law also provides that individuals arrested on suspicion of terrorism and certain other crimes may be detained for investigation for periods of 15 days, renewable without limitation with authorization of the prosecutor. The law allows access to legal counsel and family members, although police frequently denied detainees access to both. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, but such cases occurred, especially in connection with the Anglophone crisis. The law permits bail, allows citizens the right to appeal, and provides the right to sue for unlawful arrest, but these rights were seldom respected.
Arbitrary Arrest: Police, gendarmes, the BIR, and other government authorities reportedly continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods without charge or trial and at times incommunicado. “Friday arrests,” a practice whereby individuals arrested on a Friday typically remained in detention until at least Monday unless they paid a bribe, continued, although on a limited scale.
On May 11, six volunteers from “Survival Cameroon,” a fundraising initiative launched by opposition leader Maurice Kamto to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, were arrested while handing out free personal protective equipment in Yaounde. They were placed in custody at the Yaounde II police district without judicial authorization. The volunteers were released on bail after several days of detention. Two other volunteers were arrested on May 14 while filming the transfer of their comrades from the police station to the prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor released them on bail on May 26. Christian Penda Ekoka, president of the management committee of the initiative, stated that three other volunteers who were peacefully distributing free masks and hand sanitizer in Sangmelima, South Region on May 23 were arrested and placed in custody at the city’s central police station. They were released on bail after several days of detention. The individuals were accused of unauthorized demonstrations. If found guilty, they could face four years in prison.
According to Cameroon People’s Party (CPP) president Edith Kah Walla, on September 19, members of security forces abducted at least five members of the NGO consortium Stand Up for Cameroon. The arrest occurred after the members left a “Friday in Black” meeting held at the CPP headquarters in Douala. The abductees, including Moussa Bello, Etienne Ntsama, Mira Angoung, and Tehle Membou, were reportedly subjected to brutality and interrogated without legal counsel.
On September 19, 21, and 22, security forces arrested approximately 593 citizens in connection with peaceful protests called for by the MRC opposition party. While some were released, the Military Tribunal charged many with revolution, insurrection, and rebellion and placed them in pretrial detention. MRC women’s wing president Awasum Mispa was arrested on November 21 when she led a group of women to visit MRC president Maurice Kamto. On November 23, an investigating magistrate at the Yaounde Military Tribunal charged her with complicity in revolution and rebellion and placed her in pretrial detention for a period of six months renewable. On November 27, the same investigating magistrate dropped the charges and released her. Kamto’s de facto house arrest was lifted on December 8, two days after the election of regional councilors. The Yaounde Court of First Instance had not opened any substantive hearings in the proceedings initiated by his lawyers.
Pretrial Detention: The code of criminal procedure provides for a maximum of 18 months’ detention before trial, but many detainees waited years to appear in court. The 2014 antiterrorism law provides that a suspect may be held indefinitely in investigative detention with the authorization of the prosecutor. Of the 22,430 detainees as of October 31, a total of 14,973 were pretrial detainees.
Amadou Vamoulke, a former general manager of state-owned Cameroon Radio Television, who was arrested and detained in 2016 on embezzlement charges, continued to await trial at the Kondengui Central Prison. After at least 30 hearings as of July 15, the Special Criminal Court failed to produce strong evidence to support the charges against him.
See also section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, case of Thomas Tangem.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but this is not always the case in practice. In some instances, the outcomes of trials appeared influenced by the government, especially in politically sensitive cases. Authorities did not always respect and enforce court orders.
Despite the judiciary’s partial independence from the executive and legislative branches, the president appoints all members of the bench and legal department of the judicial branch, including the president of the Supreme Court, and may dismiss them at will.
Military courts may exercise jurisdiction over civilians in a broad number of offenses including civil unrest.
The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and the defendant is presumed innocent. Authorities did not always respect the law. Criminal defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free assistance of an interpreter. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice, but in many cases the government did not respect this right, restricting access to lawyers, particularly in cases of individuals suspected of complicity with Boko Haram, Anglophone separatists, or political opponents. When defendants cannot pay for their own legal defense, the court may appoint trial counsel at public expense, but the process was often burdensome and lengthy and the quality of legal assistance was poor. Authorities generally allowed defendants to question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, but authorities often violated this right. Hearsay and anonymous testimony were sometimes permitted, especially in terrorism cases. Defendants are entitled to an interpreter at no charge, but often the quality of interpretation was described as poor. Defendants may appeal convictions. In some cases, authorities did not give the victim a chance to confront the offender and present witnesses or evidence to support his or her case.
Courts often limited procedural rights in politically sensitive cases. On July 16, the Court of Appeals in Yaounde heard a case involving 10 Anglophone separatist leaders, including Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, whom the Yaounde Military Tribunal sentenced to life imprisonment in August 2019. On July 17, prison officials denied the Anglophone leaders access to their defense lawyers, according to several lawyers, including Emmanuel Simh. In a July 17 statement, Dabney Yerima, the jailed vice president of the Ambazonian “interim government,” confirmed and then denounced the denial of access to legal representation. Although they were present at the court, Sisiku and his companions reportedly refused to be judged in French, demanding that their trial be conducted in English. The case was adjourned until August 20, and then until September 17 when a final decision was to be delivered. They reportedly did not receive a legal opinion from the court official on this case. On August 20, the case was postponed until September, after the magistrate in charge was transferred to the Supreme Court. On September 18, the Court of Appeals eventually confirmed the initial life sentence for separatist leader Ayuk Tabe and others.
There were cases where the courts demonstrated some neutrality. On June 16, the Administrative Court in Yaounde ruled that the minister of territorial administration had acted illegally when he independently declared that the leader of the CPP, Edith Kah Walla, had been replaced by the proregime party founder Samuel Fon before the October 2018 Presidential election.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of newly identified political detainees as of September, most of whom were associated with the September 22 protests called for by the MRC opposition party. While there were no official statistics available, the number of detainees was estimated to be close to 600. Prominent among the detainees were MRC Treasurer Alain Fogue and Maurice Kamto’s spokesperson, Olivier Bibou Nissack. Political prisoners were detained under heightened security, often in SED facilities and at the Kondengui Principal Prison and the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. Some were allegedly held at Directorate General for External Research facilities. The government did not readily permit access to such individuals.
The 10 Anglophone separatist leaders, including Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, whom the Yaounde Military Tribunal sentenced to life imprisonment on August 20, 2019, remained in detention, as the Court of Appeals in September confirmed the sentence. MRC Vice President Mamadou Mota and a few other MRC members, in addition to the 10 leaders sentenced to life, remained in detention as of December, despite a reduction of their sentences upon appeal. Former minister of state for territorial administration Marafa Hamidou Yaya, who was convicted in 2012 on corruption charges and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment, remained in detention. In 2016 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention described Marafa’s detention as “a violation of international laws.” The government did not respond to repeated requests for members of the diplomatic community to meet with Marafa.
Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country
There were credible reports that for political reasons the government attempted to exert bilateral pressure on other countries aimed at having them take adverse legal action against specific individuals, including Anglophone separatists and other political opponents.
On August 18, Serge Sihonou, the secretary of MRC’s operation in Gabon, was allegedly detained by the counterinterference service of the B2 Brigade in Libreville, where he was harassed and physically abused. He was accused of continuing to run an MRC operation that he created in the town of Oyam, despite a ban on the party in Gabon. On August 21, MRC leader Maurice Kamto sent a letter to the Gabonese ambassador to Cameroon denouncing the treatment and demanding the release of Sihonou. In his letter, Kamto accused the Cameroonian ambassador to Gabon of instigating the harassment of MRC members in Gabon since 2018.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Citizens and organizations have the right to seek civil remedies for human rights abuses through administrative procedures or the legal system; both options involved lengthy delays. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse decisions domestically or to regional human rights bodies, but the decisions of regional human rights bodies are not binding.
There were reports that the government delegate to the Douala City Council had failed to comply with civil court decisions pertaining to labor matters of city council employees. The Douala City mayor, who replaced the government delegate, however, found a compromise solution after more than 30 months of litigation between Douala City Council workers and the government.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, these rights were subject to restriction in the interests of the state, and there were credible reports police and gendarmes abused their positions by harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants.
The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant only if pursuing a person suspected of or seen committing a crime. Police and gendarmes often did not comply with this provision and entered private homes without a warrant whenever they wished. According to media reports, security forces on June 27 conducted raids in the mostly Anglophone neighborhoods of Obili and Melen in Yaounde, following the detonation of two improvised explosive devices in the city. They entered private homes by force and arrested anyone deemed suspicious or who did not possess a national identification card. Many of those detained told media they had been harassed, humiliated, and abused in the process. A video on social media showed more than 100 men and women sitting on the ground surrounded by security officers within a large courtyard in Obili. At the end of the operation, the security officers took away dozens of persons without identification.
An administrative authority, including a governor or senior divisional officer, may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, and this practice occurred. Following a late March decision by Jean Claude Tsila, the senior divisional officer for Mfoundi, approximately 50 prostitutes were placed in police custody after coming in contact with travelers in quarantine due to COVID-19 in some hotels in Yaounde.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
Killings: There were credible reports that members of government forces and separatist fighters deliberately killed innocent citizens. On April 22, according to credible organizations, members of government security forces executed six unarmed men in Muambong, Southwest Region. The victims included four former separatist fighters who had accepted an amnesty offer in 2019. Most of the executions were reportedly carried out in front of the victims’ relatives.
On March 12, according to credible accounts, Anglophone separatists killed at least five civilians held hostage, including the deputy mayor of Babessi council, Chefor Oscar, and the newly elected mayor of the Mbengwi council, Ndangsa Kenedy Akam, who was kidnapped 15 days earlier. The killings took place after the Cameroonian army raided their camp, freed five hostages, and killed seven separatist fighters. According to reports, the hostages were subjected to both physical and sexual violence. On May 10, Anglophone separatists ambushed and killed the newly elected mayor of Mamfe, 35-year-old Priestley Ashu Ojong. Shortly after news of Ashu Ojong’s death, Lucas Ayaba Cho, leader of the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF), praised ADF fighters for eliminating a high value target.
Boko Haram and ISIS-WA intensified deadly attacks on civilians and members of security forces in the Far North Region. L’Oeil du Sahel reported that on June 25 in Goudoumboul, Boko Haram insurgents killed 18-year-old Almada Ali. On June 26, in Cheripouri, assailants believed to be Boko Haram fighters ambushed and killed 12-year-old Ousmane and his older brother while they were asleep in their home.
On October 24, according to Amnesty International, unidentified gunmen in civilian clothes on motorbikes attacked a school in Kumba in the Southwest Region, firing into a classroom. The attackers killed eight schoolchildren and injured another 12 children. On October 28, Minister of Communications Rene Emmanuel Sadi announced security forces had killed one of the gunmen allegedly responsible for the attack. The government declared a national day of mourning and a delegation of government ministers traveled to Kumba to meet with the victims’ family members. The government also sent a medical team to provide medical and psychosocial support. On the day of the attack, Communications Minister Sadi announced an investigation into the killing, but the government did not follow through with an independent investigation into the attack.
On December 6, unidentified gunmen shot at Encho Elias Ambi, a municipal councilor for Widikum in the Northwest Region, after he cast his vote for the election of regional councilors. He was not harmed during the incident.
Abductions: Armed separatists kidnapped dozens of persons, burned property, and threatened voters in the period before the February 9 legislative and municipal elections. Armed separatists allegedly kidnapped several traditional leaders in retaliation for the traditional leaders’ participation in the December 6 regional elections. They held noncombatants as hostages, including public officials, political leaders, teachers, schoolchildren, and traditional leaders. There were credible allegations that separatists physically abused abduction victims, including committing rape, using stress positions, administering beatings, and flogging with machetes. In some cases the abductors freed the victims after either negotiations or receiving ransom payments.
On July 13, armed individuals abducted at least 60 men, women, and children in the village of Mmouck Leteh in the Southwest Region. On July 15, a local administrator told the BBC that gunmen entered the village late at night, moved through the community kidnapping persons–many of whom were at a local snack bar–and led them away at gunpoint to an unknown destination. According to the BBC, a significant number of the victims were children between the ages of 12 and 16. Later that day, the BBC reported that at least 12 of the abductees had escaped captivity and had returned to the community, and that separatist leader General Ayeke had demanded a ransom totaling $2,500 for the remaining victims. Several hours later, multiple local media outlets announced the release of the remaining abductees, reportedly after negotiations with separatists.
On July 7, five civilians were kidnapped in Muyuka, Southwest Region, presumably by Anglophone separatists. A week later, the victims were still missing. On May 30, according to Human Rights Watch, separatists abducted and mistreated a humanitarian worker, whom they accused of being a spy. The worker was released the next day. In Bambui on May 30, separatists abducted seven staff members of a religious nonprofit organization; they were released after two days.
On April 24, armed men abducted three government officials in Boyo, Northwest Region.
On January 21, suspected separatists abducted 24 schoolchildren in Kumba in the Southwest Region. Security forces rescued the hostages in an operation later the same day, killing two of the abductors in the process.
On January 5, armed separatists kidnapped Choh Issa Bouba, the opposition party Social Democratic Front’s mayor of Babessi, Northwest Region, along with some councilors of his municipality.
On December 12, Anglophone separatists allegedly kidnapped traditional leader Nelson Sheteh in the Northwest Region. On December 13, suspected Anglophone separatists in the Southwest Region abducted three traditional rulers, including Chief Emmanuel Ikome Ngalle. Ngalle died in separatist custody and the other two traditional leaders, Simon Kombe, traditional ruler of Bolifamba, and Emmanuel Efande Ewule, traditional ruler of Lower Bokova, were released on December 14. Many Cameroonians believed that the timing of the abductions and social media statements by separatist leaders suggested the abductions were in retaliation against leaders who participated in the December 6 regional elections.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to anecdotal reports, members of government forces physically abused civilians and prisoners in their custody. Reports suggested that on January 5, a detainee died in Ndu, Northwest Region after being abused by soldiers (See also section 1.a).
In a March 13 report available online, journalist Moki Edwin Kindzeka reported that Anglophone separatists killed four hostages, including a local official, after troops attacked their camp in a western part of the country. The military reportedly freed five others. According to Kindzeka, a young woman recovering at a military base in Bafoussam told a reporter that she had also been raped by her abductors.
Child Soldiers: The government did not generally recruit or use child soldiers, but there were allegations that some members of defense and security forces in at least one instance allegedly used a child for intelligence gathering in the Southwest Region in November 2019. Some community neighborhood watch groups, known as vigilance committees, may have used and recruited children as young as 12 in operations against Boko Haram and ISIS-WA. In July, Human Rights Watch reported that from mid-March to late April, soldiers in Mozogo, Far North Region, forced civilians to perform local night guard duty to protect against attacks by Boko Haram. According to the report, the 42nd Motorized Infantry Battalion in Mozogo worked with local authorities to compile lists of approximately 90 men and at least one boy who were required to join night guard duty.
Boko Haram continued to use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets. There were also some reports that Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and Northwest Regions used children as fighters.
According to UNICEF, from January to December 2019, there were nine incidents involved minors used as forced suicide bombers in the Far North Region (Mayo Sava, Mayo Tsanaga, and Logone-and-Chari divisions). UNICEF’s analysis found individuals manipulated into serving as suicide bombers or forced suicide bombers included children whose parents had been killed in violence, abducted orphaned children, and women whose husbands had been killed.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: As in the previous year, there were reports of repeated attacks on health workers and institutions and the use of firearms around health facilities by members of security forces and Anglophone separatists.
Human Rights Watch reported in July that security forces and armed separatists attacked hospitals and medical staff on multiple occasions. The organization indicated that on June 10, following clashes between separatists and soldiers, including members of the BIR, a grenade was fired into the courtyard of the district hospital in Bali, Northwest Region. One patient died, four others were injured, and four vehicles were destroyed. Human Rights Watch further reported that on June 30 soldiers forcibly entered St. Elizabeth Catholic Hospital in Shisong, Northwest Region, looking for wounded separatists. They fired three gunshots and broke down doors, causing panic among patients, nurses, and other workers who fled.
On July 6, separatists in the Southwest Region killed a Doctors without Borders community health worker known as Felix, after accusing him of collaborating with the military. In addition, in response to the announcement of the Presidential Plan for the Reconstruction and Development of the Northwest and Southwest Regions on July 5, separatists launched attacks on July 6 in villages across the Anglophone regions, destroying public buildings in Lebialem and Manyu in the Southwest Region as well as in Bui, Donga and Mantung, and Ngoketunjia in the Northwest Region.
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. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the freedom of speech, assembly, and association.
Freedom of Speech: 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.
On July 24, the senior divisional officer for Upper Plateaux in the West Region, Yampen Ousmanou, sent a warning letter to Jean Rameau Sokoudjou, the traditional ruler of Bamendjou in the West Region, accusing him of rebellion after he organized a meeting in his palace on July 18 without prior approval. The meeting reportedly brought together citizens of diverse political sides and civil society groups to exchange ideas about the country’s future.
Freedom of Press and Media, including Online Media: Private media were active and expressed a wide spectrum of adherence to journalistic ethics. The landscape included constraints on editorial independence, in part due to fear of reprisal from state and nonstate actors, including separatists connected to the armed conflict in the two Anglophone regions. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions, including financial repercussions, for criticizing or contradicting the government.
Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists. Journalists were arrested in connection with their reporting on the Anglophone crisis. The state’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on journalists created de facto restrictions.
On May 15, according to reports by multiple organizations, including the National Association of English-speaking Journalists, security forces arrested freelance journalist Kingsley Fomunyoy Njoka. He was taken from his home in Douala and detained incommunicado for 24 days. According to Njoka’s legal team, the security forces accused him of criticizing the government’s handling of the Anglophone crisis on social media. On June 12, the Yaounde Military Tribunal indicted the journalist on multiple counts, including secession and collusion with an armed group, and placed him in pretrial detention at the Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. On July 13, Njoka filed a defamation complaint against Colonel Cyrille Serge Atonfack, the Ministry of Defense’s communication officer. The suit followed a July 5 interview on Equinoxe Television, during which Atonfack said that Njoka admitted he participated in the killing of former separatist fighters who surrendered at disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) centers in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. He characterized Njoka as the coordinator of the Bui Warriors, an armed separatist group based in Bui, Northwest Region. On June 30, Reporters without Borders noted the allegations against Njoka had not yet been substantiated. They stated that persons close to the journalist characterized his criticism of the government’s handling of the Anglophone crisis as factual and stated the security forces probably monitored him because he regularly discussed the conflict with colleagues.
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 had suspended them previously.
Following the February 14 killing of civilians by security forces in Ngarbuh, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji attacked media for publishing the Human Rights Watch report that accused the Cameroonian army of killing civilians. Atanga Nji particularly targeted Equinoxe Television, STV, Radio Balafon, and Le Jour, asking them to stop relaying false information designed to undermine Cameroonian security forces (see also section 1.a.).
Libel/Slander Laws: Press freedom is constrained by libel and slander laws. Libel, slander, defamation, and blasphemy are treated as criminal offenses. The law authorizes 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. While the government may initiate criminal suits when the president or other senior government official are alleged victims, ordinary citizens may also file libel or slander suits, but the law is often applied selectively and privileges senior government officials and well connected individuals. Some persons successfully filed defamation suits and prosecuted perpetrators. In other cases, courts were reluctant to open hearings. For example, Paul Chouta was detained for alleged defamation of a person who was close to the government, whereas courts failed to acknowledge Alice Nkom’s and Maximilienne Ngo Mbe’s defamation suit against someone associated with the government and did not open hearings on the case.
National Security: Authorities often cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to threaten critics of the government.
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 a January article available online, journalist Moki Edwin Kindzeka reported that journalists in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions said separatists were attacking them because of critical reporting and their refusal to broadcast rebel propaganda. He said separatist intimidation was reportedly intensifying as the country prepared for local and parliamentary elections, which the separatists had vowed to stop. Mbuotna Zacks Anabi, the manager and presenter of the community radio station Stone FM in the town of Ndop in the Northwest Region, said the station stopped broadcasting after armed men stormed it on January 27 and set the building on fire.
Anecdotal reports indicated that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government occasionally disrupted access to the internet.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, some school authorities reportedly sanctioned academic personnel for teaching politically sensitive topics, and administrative officials often deterred teachers from criticizing the government.
On May 6, Horace Ngomo Manga, the vice chancellor of the University of Buea, terminated the contract of Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla, an instructor in the Department of English Law. The decision was reportedly taken by the university’s disciplinary panel after Higher Education Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo urged the vice chancellor to address Agbor Balla’s alleged ethics violations. Ngomo Manga cited an examination question during the first semester of the 2019-20 academic year that read, “The Anglophone crisis since 2016 was caused by the lawyers’ and teachers’ strike–assess the validity of this statement.”
On October 24, unidentified armed men killed seven children and wounded at least 13 others during an attack on Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, a school in the town of Kumba, Southwest Region. In a press release also released on October 24, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi attributed the attack to separatists. He said 10 heavily armed men on three motorbikes entered the school and opened fire on students inside classrooms. Reports indicated attackers also used machetes. He reported that five girls and one boy died during the attack and described the conditions of several of the wounded as critical, noting that they were taken to hospitals in Kumba and in other nearby towns.
b. Freedoms 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 for 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. Progovernment groups, however, were generally authorized to organize public demonstrations.
On August 13, the divisional officer of Yaounde II, Mamadi Mahamat, banned the civil marriage ceremony of MRC leader Maurice Kamto’s spokesperson, Olivier Bibou Nissack, which was scheduled to take place at Massao Hotel in Yaounde. Mamadi stated that the organizers of the marriage did not seek authorization for the public event. He also called into question the credentials of Civil Status Secretary Valentin Lewoua, who was to help officiate the marriage. He further stated the chief officiating officer, traditional leader and Maurice Kamto associate Biloa Effa, had been removed by the minister of territorial administration in December 2019.
On August 15, the divisional officer of Nkongsamba in the Littoral Region banned a meeting of the MRC scheduled to take place at the party’s headquarters. Following the ban, some MRC members met at the residence of a colleague, Fabrice Tchoumen, for a private discussion. On August 19, the chief commissioner in Nkongsamba, Joseph Hamadjam, summoned Tchoumen for questioning on August 24, saying that he organized a meeting at his residence without authorization. As of September, the MRC had not reported any ongoing legal proceedings following the questioning.
In September authorities took a series of administrative decisions banning public demonstrations after the MRC called for peaceful protests on September 22 over the government’s decision to organize regional elections before resolving the crisis in the two Anglophone regions and advancing electoral reforms. On September 11, the governors of the Littoral and Center Regions banned public meetings and demonstrations indefinitely. Three days later, Territorial Administration Minister Atanga Nji, in a letter to the two governors and the governor of the West Region, urged them to arrest anyone organizing or leading demonstrations. On September 15, Minister of Communication Rene Emmanuel Sadi warned political parties that protests could be considered “insurrection” and that illegal demonstrations across the country would be punished under the antiterror law. The communications minister also threatened to ban the MRC.
On September 19, the headquarters of the opposition CPP in Yaounde was surrounded by more than 30 police officers and gendarmes. The Yaounde district officer stated that the CPP was holding a public meeting without approval, but CPP president Edith Kahbang Walla said in a statement published the same day that they were holding a regularly scheduled meeting for their members.
According to MRC leaders, an estimated 593 party members were detained throughout the country after they attempted to hold peaceful marches on September 22. Several persons in the Yaounde protest sustained minor injuries. They were reportedly arrested due to concerns they were participating in an insurrection. Videos of the protest showed security officers dispersing crowds with water cannons and tear gas and police firing rubber bullets at protestors. The MRC reported that security forces seriously wounded one individual at the residence of its leader, Maurice Kamto, during the night of September 21.
Freedom of Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, but the law also limits this right. On the recommendation of the prefect, 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, and associations were complicated, involved long delays, and were unevenly enforced. This resulted in associations operating in legal uncertainty with their activities tolerated but not formally approved.
During the year the government did not officially ban any organizations, but it restricted the MRC’s activities, and virtually prohibited all events planned by the party. In a September 7 press briefing following the announcement of regional elections, Minister Atanga Nji suggested that the MRC could be officially banned. The Ministry of Territorial Administration regularly used threats of suspension against political parties, NGOs, and media outlets. c. Freedom of Religion
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
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, the conflict with Boko Haram and ISIS-WA in the Far North Region, and the armed conflict in the two Anglophone regions appeared to have prompted the government to adopt a more restrictive approach to refugee movements. The government made it more difficult for refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons to move freely in the country.
In-country Movement: Using minor infractions as a pretext, police and gendarmes often extorted bribes and harassed travelers at roadblocks and checkpoints in cities and on most highways. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification documents, including national identity cards, passports, residence permits, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. Just as in the previous year, humanitarian organizations cited difficulty in accessing certain areas and in some instances were harassed and denied passage by government authorities. 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. Separatist warlords “taxed” cocoa trucks passing through rural areas of the Southwest region. They often used weekly lockdowns referred to as ghost towns to enforce restrictions on movement, in which the armed separatists demanded all businesses close and residents stay home.
On March 13, Northwest Region Governor Adolphe Lele Lafrique signed an order prohibiting the circulation of motorbikes. The order was enforceable daily in the divisions of Bui, Mezam, Momo, Menchum, Ngohketunjia, and Boyo from 6:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. For the same reasons, on September 4, the mayor of Bamenda, Paul Tembeng Achobong, announced a ban on commercial and private motorbikes within most of the city, scheduled to begin on September 7, with the goal of limiting separatist activity in the city. In a press release later that day, Northwest Region Governor Lafrique endorsed the ban and accused separatists of perpetrating attacks on motorbikes. Hours later, the leader of the Southern Cameroons Civil Society Consortium separatist group, John Mbah Akuroh, stated in a video on social media that the prohibition would impoverish thousands of commercial motorbike riders and their families and urged car owners in Bamenda to ground their vehicles until the government lifted the ban.
Foreign Travel: Citizens have the right to leave the country without arbitrary restrictions. The movement of some political opponents and debtors, however, were monitored, and their travel documents were often confiscated to confine them to the country. To obtain exit permits, citizens need a valid passport and visa for their country of destination. With the development of human trafficking operations and networks, children and young women were often subjected to more stringent controls at border locations, including airports.
According to UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates, there were 1,755,787 persons of concern as of July, including one million IDPs, of whom 297,321 were in the Far North Region and 679,000 in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. In addition, the country had an estimated 354,360 returnees in the Far North, Northwest, and Southwest Regions. The population of concern increased by more than 58 percent since 2018. Mass displacements in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of the country, largely after lawyers’ protests and a teachers’ strike in 2016 morphed into armed conflict, were the primary drivers of this increase. Humanitarian access remained very limited, since military officials maintained tight control over access in the area. Additional factors driving displacements included the desire to flee Boko Haram violence.
The government put in place disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration centers to promote the safe, voluntary return, resettlement, or local integration of IDPs in the Far North, Northwest, and Southwest Regions. Reports suggested the government’s DDR centers were inadequately resourced, and many of the returnees left them. Provision of basic social services to IDPs and assistance to returnees were carried out by relief actors with minimal support from the government. In the Northwest and Southwest Regions, the government did not facilitate efforts to ensure unfettered access for humanitarian actors to deliver aid to persons in need. It made some efforts, however, to provide urgently needed in-kind assistance to crisis-affected IDPs in the Northwest and Southwest Regions 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.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government at times cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations regarding treatment of IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The country operated an open door policy. This policy, however, was not translated into a progressive legal framework allowing refugees their rights as stated in various legal instruments.
Refoulement: Unlike in 2019, there were no reported cases of forced returns.
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 was weak. UNHCR continued to provide documentation and assistance to the refugee population, although local authorities did not always recognize the 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 those not living in refugee camps.
Freedom of Movement: The government often cited security concerns and suspected criminal activity to restrict the movement of refugees and asylum seekers.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees had limited access to health care, education, and employment opportunities. Their rural host communities faced similar problems, 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: In October 2019 the United Nations and the governments of Cameroon and the Central African Republic (CAR) initiated the voluntary repatriation of some 4,000 CAR refugees from Cameroon. Some 500 refugees reportedly signed up in the first phase of the program. By the end of December 2019, UNHCR had repatriated more than 3,500 CAR refugees out of those who expressed the desire to return. The repatriation followed a June 2019 tripartite agreement between Cameroon, CAR, and UNHCR to provide for a safe and dignified repatriation of 285,000 CAR refugees to their home country. Repatriation of CAR refugees stopped in the first part of the year due to funding shortfalls and COVID-19 restrictions.
Temporary Protection: The government continued to provide temporary and unofficial protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, extending this protection to hundreds of individuals, including third-country nationals who had fled violence in the CAR. Due to their unofficial status and inability to access services or support, many of these individuals were subject to harassment and other abuses.
g. Stateless Persons