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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Cameroon

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Cameroon, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4314.html [accessed 2 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

 

Nominally a multiparty republic, Cameroon continues to be ruled in fact by President Paul Biya and a circle of advisers drawn largely from his own ethnic group and from his party, the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM). The reigning CPDM's power was last challenged in 1992 in relatively free National Assembly elections and highly flawed presidential elections. The CPDM successfully dominates the National Assembly through its controlling share of a ruling coalition that has rendered the one significant opposition party in the Assembly, the National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP), essentially powerless. In addition, Cameroon's 1972 Constitution gives extraordinary powers to the President, including the authority to govern by decree during the 10 months of each year when the Assembly is not in session. Few significant opposition measures ever come to a vote.

Internal security responsibilities are shared by the national police, the National Intelligence Service (DGRE), the gendarmerie, the Ministry of Territorial Administration (MINAT), Military Intelligence (SEMIL), the army, and to a lesser extent, the Presidential Security Service. The police and the gendarmerie have dominant roles in enforcing internal security laws. As in previous years, security forces committed numerous and egregious human rights abuses. Cameroon's economy has continued to contract dramatically, despite abundant natural resources. In January the much-needed devaluation of the CFA currency, recommended by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank went into place. While it provided a significant boost to agricultural exports, city dwellers and salaried workers were badly pinched. Financially, the Government has a burdensome foreign debt and runs a chronic budget deficit. Its capacity to collect revenues is hampered by widespread and long-standing corruption and inefficiency.

The authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including a number of extrajudicial killings. In at least one case army troops, trying to control ethnic conflict in Far North province and to deal with a serious problem of banditry in that area, massacred civilians, including women and children, in retaliation for attacks on troops by bandits. In numerous instances, the police and other members of the security forces beat and tortured suspected criminals. They routinely beat prisoners throughout the country; in several instances, they beat and abused opposition party activists to intimidate and repress political activity. The Government rarely tries or punishes human rights abusers, thus creating a climate of impunity in which the abuses continue to flourish. The Government also restricted, to one degree or another, almost all of the human rights discussed in this report, including freedom of press and assembly, the right to a fair trial, and the right to change the government. The Goverment has failed to carry out repeated promises to undertake constitutional reform or hold multiparty elections. Discrimination and violence against women remain a serious and growing problem.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

While there were no killings known to have been politically motivated, public security forces continued to be responsible for a number of extrajudicial killings. There were several reliable reports of detainees having been beaten to death in prisons around the country. The most serious incidents occurred in Far North province near the Chadian border, where government security forces were called in to quell ethnic violence between Choa Arabs and members of the Kotoko ethnic group and to stamp out banditry. Security forces were responsible for arbitrary arrests of suspected perpetrators and, in at least one case, for a retaliatory attack on a village suspected of harboring them.

Malloum Eli, a Choa Arab arrested by government security forces in late January in connection with an assault on government security forces, which resulted in the death of nine soldiers, reportedly died in detention at an army barracks in the village of N'Djamena, Far North province.

In an apparently unrelated incident, three Choa Arabs, Harouna Djidda, Allakhou Mahmat, and Issa Mahmat, died in the custody of security forces shortly after their arrest on January 21 in Far North province. Djidda and Mahmat were credibly reported to have been tortured to death, while the third, Issa Mahmat, is reported to have been summarily shot.

On February 17, army troops, after an exchange of gunfire with bandits, were credibly reported to have entered a village of Choa Arabs in Far North province and to have massacred in retaliation as many as 55 people, most of them women and children, and wounded many others. While local provincial officials at first disputed the Choas' account of the incident, admitting only that several villagers were injured during an arms search, a report dated February 25 by a Far North Provincial Commission found that a number of deaths had in fact occurred. Villagers claimed the army surrounded the village and opened fire indiscriminately. Military officials later claimed that their troops had returned fire in self-defense. It has not been possible to verify either side's account of the events. The National Commission on Human Rights and Liberties, a government-appointed and funded group, did not have sufficient funds to visit the site of the alleged massacre or perform an investigation.

The Government is faced with a difficult situation in northern Cameroon where several ethnic groups carry on banditry and internecine disputes. Chadians, some of them engaged in banditry, generally move easily across the border. There were, however, reports that authorities arrested, mistreated, and possibly killed detained Chadians suspected of illegal entry or banditry.

On April 19, soldiers in Edea, Littoral province, arrested Desire Nken for suspected burglary and tortured him to death at a nearby military base the same day. Photographs of his badly beaten body were widely disseminated in the private press. The Government ostensibly investigated the incident but announced no results. During the night of May 25-26, a secondary school student was shot to death during a riot by a gendarme in the town of Nanga Eboko, Center province. According to a report by a Ministry of Education official who investigated the case, gendarmes removed the student's body to their headquarters, extracted the bullet, and stabbed the body to make it appear that the boy had died during the riot by nonofficial means. A robbery suspect, Christian Pidi Ekoka, died on July 15 in the custody of Douala gendarmes, following what the attending physician determined to have been a severe beating that had produced multiple injuries.

In September the head of a notorious special police unit that has been widely and credibly accused of engaging in extrajudicial arrests, tortures, and murders was arrested. Credible reports indicate that his arrest was precipitated in part by his extrajudicial activities.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of long-term disappearances. However, police and gendarmes frequently failed to inform detainees' family members or attorneys of their whereabouts.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Penal Code proscribes torture, renders inadmissible in court evidence obtained thereby, and prohibits public servants from using force against any person. In spite of this, there were many credible reports of security forces inflicting severe beatings, systematic torture, and other inhuman treatment (see Section l.a.). Sanctions against those responsible are rare, although the Government maintains that they face administrative punishments which are not made public. Public security forces are credibly reported to operate a number of unofficial prisons and torture centers of which one, the Chateau Americanos, is particularly notorious. These unofficial prisons have been inaccessible to outside observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or other humanitarian organizations.

In November the authorities arrested and jailed two Yaounde police officers after they allegedly stripped and beat a submagistrate who had attempted, as part of his official duties, to visit prisoners. No public legal proceedings had begun involving police officers by the end of the year.

Security forces habitually inflict degrading mistreatment on detainees, including stripping, confinement in severely overcrowded cells, and denial of access to toilets or other sanitation facilities. Police and gendarmes routinely beat detainees to extract confessions and the names and whereabouts of alleged criminals. In particular, they often beat them on the soles of their feet with an iron bar or whip them with a reinforced rubber tube.

In July the government-supported National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, with a grant from the Canadian Government, sponsored a 3-day human rights conference for military and police officers. Some 70 officers attended. In November the ICRC sponsored a course on law and order and the code of conduct in combat, which was attended by 30 instructors from the army, marines, and gendarmerie.

On January 12, following a riot at the University of Yaounde, security forces supported by helicopters sealed off the University and attacked the students with tear gas, then transported them to the infamous Chateau Americanos. Many were badly beaten before being released the next day. In another incident, a squad of gendarmes assaulted four activists in a branch office of the opposition UNDP Party near Bot Maka, Littoral province, as they returned from a party meeting on April 30. The four were badly beaten and left unconscious by the roadside.

Similarly, on May 21, several members of the Progressive Movement, an opposition party, were badly beaten by gendarmes and riot police when they attempted to hold a meeting at the Bamenda Omnisport Stadium in Douala. The Government had earlier banned the intended meeting.

On September 25, a U.S. resident of Yaounde was struck in the face and kicked in the groin by a police officer when stopped at a roadblock and accused of speeding. Unusually, the victim later received an official apology. This incident typifies police conduct at roadblocks. It is widely believed that some police have targeted expatriates for harassment in order to extort money.

Prison conditions are life threatening, especially outside major urban areas. Between March and September, 21 inmates died in an epidemic of typhoid and tuberculosis in Douala's central prison. There are serious deficiencies in food, health care, and sanitation in almost all prisons. Some traditional rulers in Northern Cameroon continue to maintain private prisons which operate outside the authority of the government penitentiary system. Prisoners are sometimes chained in their cells. Beatings are common, with numerous credible reports appearing in the private press of prisoners having been burned by cigarette butts or painfully suspended over iron bars. Seriously ill prisoners are often denied adequate medical care. Juveniles and nonviolent prisoners are often incarcerated together with violent adults. Corruption among prison personnel is widespread. The ICRC doesn't visit prisons because it is too infrequently allowed access to those detainees in whom it is interested. These include detainees who re detained outside the official prison system.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Arbitrary, prolonged detention remains a serious problem. Security forces failed to implement fully a Penal Code requirement that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate and have held detainees incommunicado.

Police may detain a person in custody in connection with a common crime for up to 24 hours before bringing charges. That period may be renewed three times. However, the law only provides for the right to a judicial review of the legality of detention in a few areas of the country with an Anglophone majority. Elsewhere, the Francophone legal tradition applies, precluding judicial authorities from acting on a case until the administrative authority that ordered the detention turns the case over to the prosecutor. After a magistrate has issued a warrant to bring the case to trial, he may hold the detainee in "pretrial detention" indefinitely pending court action. Furthermore, a 1990 law permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days "in order to combat banditry." Persons taken into detention are frequently denied access to both legal counsel and family members. The law permits release on bail only in the Anglophone provinces, where the legal system includes features of British common la. Even there, bail is granted infrequently.

On July 30, the authorities arrested 28 members of the UNDP and charged them with having fomented civil disorder as a result of a riot in Maroua, North province, in which the motorcade of Hamadou Moustapha, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Town Planning, was attacked. The Government claimed that the detainees either participated in the attack or instigated it. Leaders of the UNDP claimed that the detainees had nothing to do with the attack and that the Government instigated the attack as an excuse to arrest prominent members of the UNDP. At the end of the year, the detainees remained in police custody without any indication of when a trial would be held. They were allowed access to attorneys. The Government does not practice political exile. Some opposition members who considered themselves threatened by the Government have voluntarily left the country and declared themselves to be in political exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court system is part of the executive branch of Government, subordinate to the Ministry of Justice. Magistrates are thus subject, particularly in political cases, to government direction. Corruption is endemic, and in many cases a favorable judgment goes to the highest bidder. Some politically sensitive cases are never heard.

Magistrates acknowledge that rendering a decision in a political case that displeases the Government may result in transfer to a less desirable position. Because appointed attorneys receive little compensation, the quality of legal representation for indigent persons is often poor. The Bar Association and some voluntary organizations, such as the Cameroonian Association of Female Jurists, offer pro bono legal assistance in some cases. Trials are public.

Traditional courts are important in rural areas. Their authority varies by region and ethnic group, but they are often the arbiters of property and domestic disputes and may serve a probate function as well. Most traditional courts permit appeal of their decisions to traditional authorities of higher rank.

There were no known political prisoners, as distinct from political detainees, at year's end.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Both invasions of the home and tampering with correspondence are illegal, but there were numerous credible reports that police and gendarmes harassed citizens and conducted searches without warrants. Security forces, including police, frequently set up roadblocks to extract bribes from travelers. This longstanding practice appears to have increased as the economy declined. In June a high-ranking CPDM official involved in a commercial dispute with a foreign citizen, rather than resolve his dispute through legal means, employed the police to seize the citizen's property unlawfully. The foreign citizen then sought redress through the courts. At year's end, the dispute remained before the courts without resolution.

On August 23, the national police breached accepted diplomatic immunity in forcibly entering U.S. Government diplomatic property (USAID and Administrative Compound) in Yaounde, removing three vehicles and miscellaneous items. The bailiff claimed he had authority to seize the property pursuant to a court decision. The bailiff also claimed to have an order of execution (warrant) signed by the Attorney General. Police and bailiffs again forcibly entered the grounds on August 26 and again attempted to seize U.S. Government property. The Embassy in both instances protested vigorously this violation of diplomatic immunity and twice received high-level apologies. Government officials repeatedly promised that the vehicles would be returned to the Embassy, but at year's end their return was still pending.

There were numerous credible reports that the Government kept some opposition activists and dissidents under surveillance.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of expression and press, these liberties are not always respected. In 1990 a new law established more liberal regulations to begin publication of newspapers and magazines. That law, however, formally enshrined prepublication censorship and granted the Ministry of Territorial Administration the authority to suspend or revoke the right to publish. The law also provided for the licensing of private radio and television stations, but at the end of 1994, no licenses had been granted, and the Government retained complete control of the electronic media. Public servants employed by the official media face retribution for openly criticizing the Government, as in the case of numerous radio and television journalists who have been transferred to less desirable assignments for remarks that the Government considered critical.

The Government publishes an official newspaper, the Cameroon Tribune, and determines the content of radio and television broadcasts. Nevertheless, Government reporters sometimes write articles which implicitly criticize the ruling party or portray government programs in an unfavorable light. The government- controlled broadcast media provide disproportionately greater attention to CPDM functions, than to opposition events.

Approximately 40 to 50 private newspapers are published, most only sporadically. These newspapers are often outspoken in their criticism of the Government and the President, but newspapers are not read widely outside the major cities. Censorship declined and was suspended completely for a period of about 6 weeks following a national communications conference in late August. By mid-October, however, censorship was reinstituted, and police posted at printing plants to enforce it. The Government continued to censor articles or newspapers that it considered libelous or a threat to the public order. As in earlier years, authorities seized or restricted articles critical of the Government and its supporters.

By year's end, the Government had censored 73 individual articles, seized 7 issues of various newspapers, and suspended 3 newspapers for periods ranging from 1 to 3 months. During the course of the year police arrested or intimidated several journalists and editors.

Authorities detained publishers and editors for publication of unfavorable news and commentary about the Government. For example, on January 7, police arrested Ndzana Seme, publisher of Le Nouvel Independant, following an interview with Presidency Secretary General Joseph Owona in which Owona was quoted as having made unfavorable comments about the Bamileke ethnic group. Police held Seme for 3 days without charges in three different Yaounde police stations. His newspaper was suspended for 2 months. Seme's wife was not notified of his arrest, nor was she permitted to visit him. Ndzana Seme was arrested again on October 14 on charges of inciting public disorder and of slander against President Biya. The charges were precipitated, apparently, by a series of articles dealing with inner circle political scandals in the Government. The arresting authorities, however, cited no specific offending article. After being held without bail for 2 1/2 months, his case was heard on December 23. He was found guilty o both counts, and fined approximately $900, given a 1-year suspended prison sentence, and placed on probation for the next 3 years.

Although there are no legal restrictions on academic freedom, it is generally believed that there are state security informants on university campuses. Some professors believe that their political viewpoints and activism have had a negative impact on professional opportunities and advancement. Free political discussion at the university is dampened by the presence of armed security forces, as well as the sometimes strident pro-opposition groups. In July newly appointed Minister of Higher Education Peter Agbor Tabi decreed that university lecturers would not be permitted to depart Cameroon without his specific authorization. In at least one instance, a departing professor was removed from an airplane destined for Bangui by security forces and forbidden to leave the country. The Education Minister's apparent primary purpose in initiating the travel ban, which has not been tested in court, was to stem the outward flow of trained cadres rather than inhibit the movement of political opponents.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of assembly and association are provided for in law but restricted in practice. The Penal Code prohibits public meetings, demonstrations, or processions without prior government approval. Some 90 political parties operated legally, albeit with severe restrictions, along with a growing number of civic associations. The Government severely hindered the ability of opposition parties to operate, generally by refusing them permission to hold meetings on various technicalities. While the Government insisted that political parties were permitted to hold meetings if they had obtained a permit, it frequently denied permits on the grounds that the proposed meetings threatened public order. Through such means, the Government prohibited the UNDP from holding meetings in its stronghold of Adamaoua and the North provinces, following a riot in Maroua in late July. Although the ban on meetings included all parties, the directive was clearly aimed at the UNDP.

Similarly, the Government in August banned meetings by the Social Democratic Front (SDF) Party, and several times prohibited the Progressive Movement Party from holding a rally in Douala. Various bans and interdictions effectively limited the ability of opposition parties and coalitions to function normally. On November 26, government security forces broke up a rally in Bafoussam by members of the Allied Front for Change, a coalition of 16 opposition political parties. Police prevented John Fru Ndi, the head of the coalition, from entering the city to lead the rally and arrested several coalition activists. The Government asserted that, as the coalition is not a legally recognized political party, it does not have the right to stage rallies. The Government permitted the Allied Front for Change to hold an end-of-year rally in Yaounde on December 29, but discouraged attendance through intimidation tactics, such as roadblocks on routes leading into Yaounde, a heavy police presence around the stadium venue, nd helicopters circling over the stadium.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Government generally does not restrict freedom of religion. A religious group must be approved and registered with the Ministry of Territorial Administration in order to function legally. There were no reports of Government harassment of Jehovah's Witnesses, although the Government has not returned properties confiscated in 1970. The Witnesses are free to build new places of worship.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law does not restrict freedom of movement within the country, but the Government does in fact impede domestic travel. Police frequently stop travelers to check identification documents, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. With increasing frequency, police demanded illegal payments from citizens at roadblocks or other points.

Although most opposition leaders traveled freely, some political activists faced restrictions. The Government, for instance, occasionally used its passport control function to prevent dissidents from leaving the country. In February, for example, Charly Gabriel Mbock, the national campaign manager for the SDF, was prevented from traveling to Benin where he was to represent his party at a conference. Airport special police questioned Mbock for several hours under the apparent pretext that he was wanted for a criminal offense and freed him only after his flight had departed. In several instances, opposition parties erected roadblocks or otherwise impeded free movement of the public.

Cameroon has long served as a safe haven for displaced persons and refugees from the region. The Government estimates the total number of displaced Africans, mostly Chadians, at 45,000. Although Cameroon occasionally returns illegal Chadian immigrants, there were no reports of forced repatriation of recognized refugees. Some illegal immigrants have been subjected to harsh treatment, including imprisonment (see Section l.a.).

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens have the constitutional right to change their government, but the 1992 presidential elections, which were marred by widespread government manipulation, and the near total dominance of the political process by the President and his party call into serious doubt the ability of citizens to exercise this right.

In contrast to the relatively open March 1992 National Assembly elections, the last presidential election held in October 1992 was characterized by widespread irregularities; it was highly criticized by independent observers and widely regarded in Cameroon as fraudulent.

The Government's control over Cameroon's administrative apparatus is broad and deep. The President appoints by decree the chief operating official, the Government Delegate, of Yaounde, Douala, Bamenda, and several other large cities, which have no elected mayors. The governors of each of the provinces are also appointed directly by the President. Important lower level members of the provincial administrative structures, including the senior divisional officers, the divisional officers, and the district chiefs are all appointed by the Prime Minister, who is also a member of the CPDM. The governors and senior divisional officers wield considerable authority within the areas under their jurisdiction, including, significantly, the authority to ban political meetings that they deem likely to threaten public order. Governors and divisional officers frequently exercised this authority during the year to ban meetings by opposition parties.

The CPDM's longevity is best explained by the fact that the extensive powers it derives from the 1972 Constitution enable it to maintain itself in power. Opposition parties, recognizing that they are unlikely to win a significant measure of participation in the governance of Cameroon under the present Constitution, have consistently called for a process of constitutional reform that would lead to a greater decentralization of presidential power. On December 15, the President convened a consultative constitutional review committee to review a draft constitution prepared by the Government without outside consultation. The members of the committee were selected entirely by the President without reference to the wishes of any other groups or entities and were given 1 week to convey their responses to the Government's draft. The committee's deliberations were not open to public scrutiny. Far from mollifying opposition groups, this maneuver by the Government was seen as an effort to manipulate constitutional canges in a way that minimized public debate or broad participation.

In April the Government attempted to ban a meeting of the All-Anglophone Conference (AAC). The AAC, a loose structure of Anglophone organizations primarily from Cameroon's Northwest and Southwest provinces, defied the ban and met secretly to discuss constitutional reform issues, primarily focusing on the creation of a federal system within Cameroon that would give the Anglophone West a greater degree of autonomy. Government officials expressed concern that the AAC planned to issue a call for secession by the Anglophone provinces. In their efforts to block the meeting, the Government first issued a ban order, then placed security forces around the scheduled meeting site. AAC delegates contravened the Government's efforts by holding a series of secret meetings. The delegates, rather than calling for secession, called for renewed efforts to negotiate a federal constitution within a reasonable time.

The Government has focused its energies on weakening and destabilizing all sources of opposition to the hold exercised by the Beti ethnic group in the circle around the President and within the CPDM. However, while the President's inner circle is heavily drawn from his own Beti ethnic group, all levels of the administration include significant numbers from other ethnic groups. There are no specific discriminatory laws prohibiting women or minorities from participating in government or in other areas of public life. Women are represented in the President's Cabinet (2 of 44 members), the National Assembly (21 of 180 members), the CPDM, the judicial system, and numerous state-run enterprises, although not in numbers proportional to their share of the population. Suffrage is universal at age 20.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights monitoring groups continued to operate. Nevertheless, the Government impeded their effectiveness through intimidation. It limited access to prisoners, delayed issuance of visas to international monitors, and, in the case of the governmental National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, withheld financial resources. Among numerous nongovernmental civic associations, some of the most active include the National League for Human Rights, the Organization for Human Rights and Freedoms, the Association of Women against Violence, the Cameroonian Association of Female Jurists, the Cameroonian Association for Children's Rights, and the Human Rights Clinic and Education Center. Financial hardships, inexperience, and occasional fear of government reprisals sometimes discouraged these groups from publicly criticizing the Government's human rights record. Nevertheless, several organizations issued press releases to denounce specific human rights abuses. In general the Government did not respond publicly to specific allegations of wrongdoing by human rights monitors. Instead, it issued a "white paper" on the state of human rights in the country, which was widely criticized by independent observers as an attempt to distort and justify its actual record of abuses. The ICRC did not visit prisoners in 1994 because past experience indicated that, even when the Government permitted ICRC access to prisons, it did not always provide access to detainees of particular concern. A few other international organizations conducted investigations, and one in particular, Paris-based Rapporteurs Sans Frontieres, denounced the Government's repeated detention of journalists. Amnesty International issued reports on several cases of alleged human rights abuses, and Article 19, a London-based organization, also investigated abuses.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, enshrines freedom of religion, and mandates that "everyone has equal rights and obligations." However, discrimination based on race, language, religion, or social status is not explicitly forbidden.

Women

Despite constitutional provisions recognizing women's rights, women do not, in fact, enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Polygyny is permitted by law and tradition, but polyandry is not. The extent to which a woman may inherit from her husband is normally governed by traditional law in the absence of a will, and customs vary from group to group. In many traditional societies, custom grants greater authority and benefits to male than to female heirs. In cases of divorce, the husband's wishes determine custody of children over the age of 6. While a man may be convicted of adultery only if the sexual act takes place in his home, a female may be convicted without regard to venue. In the northern provinces, traditional leaders (Lamidat) prevent their numerous wives from ever leaving the palace.

Women's rights advocates report that violence against women has surged in recent years, and that the law does not impose effective penalties against violators. Spouse abuse is not a legal ground for divorce. In cases of sexual assault, a victim's family or village often imposes direct, summary punishment upon the suspected perpetrator through means ranging from destruction of property to lynching. While there are no reliable statistics on violence against women, the number of newspaper reports indicates its frequency is high.

Children

The Constitution provides for a child's right to education, and schooling is mandatory through age 14. Nevertheless, rising school fees and costs for books have forced many families to forego sending their children to school. Babies and small children are sometimes held in prison if their mothers are incarcerated. Familial child abuse is not common, but is one of several targeted issues of children's rights organizations.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which has been condemned by international health experts as dangerous to both physical and psychological health, is not practiced widely but is practiced in some areas of Far North and Southwest provinces. It includes the most severe and dangerous form of the abuse, infibulation, and is usually practiced on young, preadolescent girls. The Government does not recognize FGM as a problem and has allocated no resources to education on the issue.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There are frequent and credible allegations of discrimination among Cameroon's more than 200 ethnic groups. President Biya's Beti ethnic group receives special preferences in all sectors affected by the Government. As a result, Betis hold a preponderance of key positions in Government, the security forces, and the military. In other sectors, discrimination by other ethnic groups is common. Virtually all ethnic groups tend to provide preferential treatment to fellow members of their group when they are able to do so. An important ethnic and political division falls along linguistic lines rooted in the colonial period. The Anglophone minority (20 percent) often charges that the Francophone majority does not share real power and that the Government provides fewer economic benefits to English-speaking regions. As noted in Section 3, the Government tried to prevent the Second Annual Convention of the All-Anglophone Conference from taking place in Bamenda, the capital of Northwest province.

Cameroon's indigenous population of Pygmies (a term which in fact encompasses several different ethnic groups) primarily resides in the forest areas of the south and southeast. While no legal discrimination exists, other groups often treat the Baka as inferior and sometimes subject them to virtual slave labor.

People with Disabilities

The Constitution does not specifically protect the disabled. Lack of facilities and care is particularly acute for the mentally handicapped. Although Cameroonian society is generally tolerant of physical disabilities, which are commonplace, the Government has not mandated accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1992 Labor Code allows workers to form and join trade unions of their own choosing. It permits groups of at least 20 workers to organize a union but also requires registration with the Ministry of Labor. Provisions of the Labor Code do not apply to civil servants, employees of the penitentiary system, or workers responsible for national security. Some sections of the Labor Code have never taken effect, as not all of the implementing decrees have been issued. No new implementing decrees were issued in 1994.

The National Union of Teachers of Higher Education (SYNES) applied in 1991 for legal status as a public service association, as did the National Union of Contract Officers and State Agents in 1994. At year's end, the Ministry of Public Service had not accorded legal status to either union. The Government also never responded to a 1993 finding by the International Labor Organization Committee on Freedom of Association that the Government was at fault for delays in registering SYNES, and for failure to respond to charges that its members were subject to harassment.

The Labor Code explicitly recognizes workers' right to strike but only after mandatory arbitration. It provides for the protection of legal strikers and prohibits retribution against them.

As the economy contracted, the Government and state-owned enterprise sector fell behind in salary payments, and several strikes occurred. The civil servants' strike which had begun in December 1993 continued into February 1994. Since the Government has never recognized civil servants' unions, it considered the strike illegal. In January, 11 members of the National Union of Secondary School Teachers, SYNAES, were arrested, detained for 5 days at provincial police headquarters, and reportedly beaten. Subsequently, over 150 secondary school teachers were dismissed, and at least 75 teachers had their salaries suspended. In addition, the president of SYNES and the president of the National Order of Cameroon Teachers as well as other leading activists in the strike were dismissed from their civil service positions.

Despite an agreement between the Government and public sector employees in early March which barred any further punishment of civil servants who took part in the strike, many public sector employees complained of continued harassment and intimidation, including 11 professors at the University of Yaounde, who were suspended for "irregular absences." The 11 who were suspended were among the most active supporters of the strike.

The only labor confederation is the Confederation of Cameroonian Trade Unions (CCTU), formerly affiliated with the ruling CPDM party under the name Organization of Cameroonian Trade Unions. The CCTU formally declared its political independence in 1992, but Secretary General Louis Sombes' attempts to exert that independence met with considerable government opposition in 1994. In April the CCTU President, also a member of the CPDM's Central Committee, dismissed Sombes in spite of the opposition of the remaining members of the CCTU Executive Committee. When Sombes continued to exercise his duties as Secretary General, police detained him and several of his associates for several hours. Meanwhile, a new secretary general, appointed by the CCTU President, took office.

In May the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) condemned the actions of the police and of the CCTU President as "actions which violate internationally recognized labor standards and practices as set out by conventions of the International Labor Organization." Nevertheless, in early September, police broke into CCTU headquarters, changed the locks on Sombes' office doors to bar his entry, and locked Sombes and his family out of their CCTU-owned official residence. Although a Yaounde court subsequently ruled that Sombes should be reinstated in his position, he had not regained access to his office by the end of the year.

The CCTU is a member of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and the ICFTU.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Code provides for collective bargaining between workers and management in local workplaces, as well as between labor federations and business associations in each sector of the economy. Nevertheless, no sectoral collective bargaining negotiations had been undertaken by the end of 1994.

The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination, and employers guilty of such discrimination are subject to fines ranging up to the equivalent of $2,000 (1 million CFA). However, employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination do not have to reinstate the workers who have experienced discrimination. The Ministry of Labor reported no complaints of such discrimination in 1994.

Three firms obtained approval in 1994 to operate under Cameroon's Industrial Free Zone regime, and four more submitted applications. Free zone employers are exempt from some provisions of the Labor Code but by law must respect all internationally recognized worker rights.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is officially prohibited by the Labor Code. However, Cameroonian prisons continued to allow inmates to be contracted out to private employers or used as communal labor for municipal public works.

There are credible reports that slavery continues to be practiced in the Lamidat of Rey Bouba, an isolated traditional kingdom in North province.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code establishes that no child may be employed before the age of 14. Ministry of Labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing the minimum age of employment but lack resources for an effective inspection program. In rural areas many children begin work at an early age on family farms. Often, rural youth, especially girls, are employed by relatives as domestics, while many urban street vendors are under 14.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Under the Labor Code, the Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting a single minimum wage applicable nationwide in all sectors. In 1993 the Prime Minister failed to sign a decree establishing the monthly minimum wage at approximately $80 (25,000 1993 CFA). The devaluation of the CFA in January rendered the proposed minimum wage unacceptable, and a new minimum wage had not been negotiated by the end of 1994.

The Labor Code establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in public and private nonagricultural firms, and 48 hours in agricultural and related activities. The Code makes compulsory at least 24 consecutive hours of rest per week. The Government sets health and safety standards, and the Ministry of Labor Inspectors and Occupational Health Doctors are responsible for monitoring these standards. However, they lack the resources for a comprehensive inspection program.

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