By Boris Esono Nwenfor
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour under the US State Department says there is widespread human rights abuse that is ongoing in the country. In their 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Cameroon was cited with a host of human rights abuses that were prevalent in the country 2020 and still being observed this year.
The report is streamlined into seven sections focusing on a host of aspects of human rights, labour conditions in the country. Section 1 – Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom; Section 2 – Respect for Civil Liberties; Section 3 – Freedom to Participate in the Political Process. Section 4-Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government. Section 5- Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights; Section 6- Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons; and Section 7 – Worker Rights.
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, and non-state armed groups were mentioned as some of the human rights issues in the country.
There are also 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, amongst others.
“The country held legislative elections on February 9, which were marked by irregularities,” according to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour. The ruling party won 152 of 180 National Assembly seats as major opposition parties boycotted the election citing the ongoing humanitarian “catastrophe” that is ongoing in the two English-speaking Regions of the country.
“President Paul Biya who has been in power since 1982 was last re-elected to another seven-year term in 2018 in an election marked by irregularities according to the state department. 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,” the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour noted in the report.
Arbitrary Arrests and 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 the defense and security forces.
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.
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.
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.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment
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 defence forces. Public officials, or persons acting at their behest, reportedly carried out acts that resulted in severe physical, mental, and emotional trauma.
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 litres 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.
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.
Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
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.
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.
The government and employers do not effectively enforce the applicable laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Penalties for violations were rarely enforced and were not commensurate with those for comparable violations. Administrative judicial procedures were infrequent and subject to lengthy delays and appeals.
Anecdotal reports suggested that in the South and East Regions, some Baka, including children, continued to be subjected to unfair labour practices by Bantu farmers, who hired the Baka at exploitative wages to work on their farms during the harvest seasons.
Discrimination in employment and occupation allegedly occurred concerning ethnicity, HIV status, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, especially in the private sector. There were legal restrictions on women’s employment in occupations deemed arduous or “morally inappropriate” and in industries including mining, construction, factories, and energy. Members of ethnic groups often gave preferential treatment to other members of their group in the business. Persons with disabilities reportedly found it difficult to secure and access employment. There were no reliable reports of discrimination against internal migrant or foreign migrant workers, although anecdotal reports suggested such workers were vulnerable to unfair working conditions. The government took no action to eliminate or prevent discrimination and kept no records of incidents of discrimination.