Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September 2014, 16:29 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Cameroon

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Cameroon, 18 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a5f3008c.html [accessed 23 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.

Political context

The television appearance on February 27 of President Paul Biya, in power since 1982, during which he announced a draft amendment to Article 6.2 of the Constitution allowing him to seek additional terms and to re-run for the 2011 presidential elections, in a context of economic problems, brought things to a head. A transporters' strike, launched on February 25, 2008, in particular by taxi drivers, quickly transformed into a popular movement of social demands, paralysing the country for four days. According to the Minister of Communication, the violence left 40 dead, and over 1,500 people were arrested.1 The 2008 riots were also widely used as a pretext to launch unfair criminal proceedings and suppress the opposition and civil society. The EU2 and representatives of the civil society condemned the disproportionateuse of force by security forces, the scale of indiscriminate arrests, and the treatment of the arrested persons.3 Despite these events, on April 10, 2008 the National Assembly adopted on final reading the draft revision of the Constitution by a large majority,4 as members of the opposition party, the Social Democrat Front, did not vote in order to protest against this "constitutional coup".

These tensions highlighted the problems in the country, including the lack of democracy and good governance. Corruption, impunity, obstacles posed to civil society participation in public life, and recurrent human rights violations, including economic and social rights such as access to natural resources, public services, labour, health, education, housing, etc., remain commonplace. In this context, human rights defenders continued to be threatened throughout 2008.

Harassment of defenders who denounced the repression of riots in February 2008

During the February riots, human rights NGOs denounced the indiscriminate repression they experienced, as well as the disproportionate use of force by the security forces. Because she denounced these violations, especially to the international media, Ms. Madeleine Afité, President of the Human Rights House of Cameroon (Maison des droits de l'Homme du Cameroun – MDHC), received several death threats in March, and her car was ransacked. On March 7, 2008, during primetime television, a presenter even accused her of wanting to destroy the image of Cameroon abroad.5 Mr. Philippe Njaru, member of the MDHC in Kumba, was arrested on several occasions in 2008 and was threatened with death while trying to identify victims of the riots and shed light on their situation. Because of the seriousness of these threats, he had to leave Cameroon, and was still in exile in late 2008.6 Pressure would also have been exerted on journalists and the media when they did not relay official information.7 For example, the radio station Magic FM had to suspend its program after holding a debate on February 27 during which the President was severely criticised about the crisis management and his willingness to amend the Constitution. The suspension was only lifted on July 4, 2008, by decision of the Minister of Communication.8 Since the February riots, all the members of the Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture (Action des chrétiens pour l'abolition de la torture – ACAT) and the MDHC have been subjected to permanent surveillance.9

Harassment of defenders fighting corruption

The denunciation of corruption remained a high-risk activity in Cameroon. For instance, Mr. Paul-Eric Kingue, former Mayor of the city of Njombé-Penja, was arrested on February 29, 2008 and prosecuted for "complicity in group looting and incitement to revolt" in the context of the riots of February 25 – 28, 2008, which took place in the city of Njombé-Penja, and for "forgery of documents" and "embezzlement of public property" in connection with his mandate as mayor. These indictments would be linked to his actions against corruption, as since his election in July 2007 Mr. Paul-Eric Kingue has dismantled a network of corruption established by his predecessor, with the help of the banana plantation companies Haut Penja (PHP) of Njombé-Penja, and denounced the abuses suffered by employees of these companies. As of late 2008, investigations in the case for "false documents" and "misuse of public property" were still pending, after his lawyers appealed because of procedural flaws. On January 19, 2009, after several adjournments in the case for group looting, the Nkongsamba High Court, in Mungo, sentenced Mr. Kingue to six years' imprisonment and to the payment of eight hundred million francs CFA (about 1,220,000 Euros) in damages to PHP and four million francs CFA (about 6,098 Euros) to Mr. Daniel Nsonga, the straw man who brought the claim in damages for PHP.

In addition, on December 10, 2008, a protest organised by the Citizens' Association in Defence of Collective Interests (Association citoyenne de défense des intérêts collectifs – ACDIC) against misappropriation and corruption within the Ministry of Agriculture and against the corn crisis, was violently repressed by the police forces, wounding several people. That morning, riot police from the Mobile Intervention Group (Groupe mobile d'intervention – GMI) went to the headquarters of the association, where demonstrators were given appointments, preventing people to enter and leave premises. Nine protesters, including Mr. Nono Théophile and Mr. Mowha Franklin, members of the ACDIC, and the President of the Association, Mr. Bernard Njongang, were arrested and taken to the police station. They were all released on the evening of December 11 and ordered to appear before court on the morning of December 12, 2008. Following their appearance, all were released, but charges for "illegal demonstration" were still pending against them at the end of 2008.10 On December 11, the Solidarity Association for the Advancement of Human and Peoples' Rights (Solidarité pour la promotion des droits de l'Homme et des peuples – PRODHOP), member of the MDHC, issued a press release denouncing the arrests. Since the issuance of this press release, Ms. Maximilian Ngo Mbe, Executive Secretary of PRODHOP, Secretary of the MDHC and member of the Human Rights Defenders Network in Central Africa (Réseau des défenseurs des droits de l'Homme en Afrique centrale – REDHAC), has been subjected to anonymous calls, intimidation, and serious threats in the middle of the night against her and her family.11 PRODHOP also denounced the numerous violations committed by security forces during the February riots.

Human rights defenders defending the rights of detained persons harassed and assimilated with criminals

In the framework of their activities, many defenders, including lawyers, faced obstacles, particularly in police stations, where they go to defend the detainees. In 2008, cases of abuse, confiscation of documents, arrest of defenders for false reasons, attempts to discredit them or threats of prosecution against human rights organisations remained widespread. Mr. Mamsour Hamadou, member of the Movement for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (Mouvement pour la défense des droits de l'Homme et des libertés – MDDHL), had his membership card confiscated and was accused of "usurpation of title" and "trouble" while he was trying to be recognised as the adviser of a detainee whom he visited on November 22, 2008.12 This was also the case, in October 2008, of Mr. Jean-René Manfo Songong, lawyer to the Bar of Cameroon and Head of the legal unit of ACAT-Littoral and the MDHC, who was insulted and threatened by police while inquiring about the reasons for the arrest for questioning of his client, Mr. Ngalle Moussobo. As of late 2008, Mr. Jean-René Manfo Songong continued to receive threats, especially for defending of his clients, Mr. Paul-Eric Kingue and Mr. Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo, suspected following the hunger strikes on February 25-28, 2008.

Representatives of the judiciary were also guilty of such pressure, such as the Prosecutor of the Republic with the Courts of First Instance in Maroua, who, on March 28, 2008, called Mr. Abdoulaye Math, President of the MDDHL and leader of the Regional Observatory of Human Rights of the Greater North (Observatoire regional des droits de l'Homme du Grand nord), on his mobile phone to threaten and warn him that any contact with detainees would be henceforth prohibited. In violation of the criminal law of Cameroon, prison guards blocked access to the prison in a case where he was acting as a court-appointed lawyer. For his part, Mr. Gaston Tagaï, a member of MDDHL falsely accused of theft and arrested in September 2008, was shown on national television with handcuffs along with two other individuals, wearing a sign on his chest presenting him as one of the "authors of the theft of a squad weapon in 2006", in an attempt to associate him with criminals. This staging occurred while the MDDHL was preparing to open an office in Roua, for which Mr. Tagaï would be responsible. Since then, the proposed antenna office has been called into question. Mr. Tagaï, who had been deferred to the Garoua prison, was provisionally released in December 2008, pending trial.

Urgent Interventions issued by the Observatory in 200813

Names of human rights defendersViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Mr. Abdoulaye MathDeath threats / HarassmentUrgent Appeal CMR 001/0408/OBS 047April 3, 2008
Mr. Gaston TagaïArbitrary arrest / HarassmentUrgent Appeal CMR 002/1008/OBS 161October 8, 2008
Mr. Jean-René Manfo Songong, Mr. Ngalle Moussobo, Mr. Paul-Eric Kingue and Mr. Pierre Roger Lambo SandjoArbitrary detention / Judicial proceedings / HarassmentUrgent Appeal CMR 003/1008/OBS 163October 16, 2008
Mr. Mamsour Hamadou and Mr. Abdoulaye MathArbitrary arrest / Judicial harassment / ThreatsUrgent Appeal CMR 004/1208/OBS 208December 5, 2008

1 See Human Rights House of Cameroon (MDHC).

2 While recalling that the Constitution adopted in 1996 was the result of political dialogue and the democratic expression of people's will, the EU stressed the importance of submitting proposals for constitutional revision in a debate largely free and open, including all elements of Cameroonian society. It also denounced the violence in late February and the attempts at ethnic manipulation that followed. See Statement by the EU Presidency, March 27, 2008.

3 Human rights NGOs have put the figure of at least a hundred dead. But since human rights defenders did not have access to the morgues, this figure is an estimate. Several thousand people were arrested – rioters and demonstrators, but also people unjustly arrested. Cases of torture were reported and, more generally, in addition to the expeditious rulings, Prosecutors would have used all the resources provided by the Criminal Code to accuse the persons brought, with charges ranging from "failure to submit an identity card" to "demonstrations on the streets, gathering and carrying weapons, destruction, rebellion and violence with regard to group officials, looting and theft" etc.

4 The overwhelming majority of MPs belong to the ruling party, the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM).

5 On this day, during the 1 pm news edition on Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), the presenter, Mr. Marc Mouzom, spoke of "an unknown person, out of nowhere, a woman claiming to a human rights defender and being heard at the international level when she says nothing true", targeting Ms. Afité, who had expressed herself several times in the international media. See Press Release on the situation in Cameroon of the Special Rapporteur of the ACHPR on human rights defenders, March 11, 2008.

6 See MDHC.

7 See Press Release on the situation in Cameroon of the Special Rapporteur of the ACHPR on human rights defenders, March 11, 2008.

8 See Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières – RSF) Press Release, July 7, 2008.

9 See MDHC.

10 See Front Line Press Release, December 12, 2008.

11 These threats were continuing as of late 2008.

12 Mr. Hamadou was released on November 22, 2008 but in late 2008, a procedure was initiated against him before the Public Prosecutor of Maroua.

13 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.

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