Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November 2014, 14:08 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Cameroon

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Cameroon, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa2224.html [accessed 25 November 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.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

Cameroon is a multiparty republic which continues to be dominated 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 CPDM's power was last challenged in 1992 in relatively free National Assembly elections and highly flawed presidential elections in which Biya was elected to a 5-year term. The CPDM successfully dominates the National Assembly through its controlling share of a ruling coalition. In December 1995, the National Assembly passed amendments to the 1972 Constitution which were promulgated in January by President Biya. The amendments for the first time provide for presidential term limits and certain new legislative institutions, including an independent judiciary, which remains subject to political influence, a partially elected senate, and elected regional councils. However, the amendments have not yet been implemented and have done little to strengthen the independence of the judiciary or to moderate the President's power to dominate legislation, or rule by decree. In January the country held its first nationwide municipal elections.

Internal security responsibilities are shared by the national police, the National Intelligence Service (DGRE), the gendarmerie, the Ministry of Territorial Administration, military intelligence, the army, and to a lesser extent, the Presidential Security Service. The police and the gendarmerie have dominant roles in enforcing internal security laws. The security forces, including the military forces, remain under the effective control of the President, the civilian Minister of Defense, and the civilian head of police. The police and gendarmes continued to commit numerous human rights abuses.

Following nearly a decade of economic decline and widening financial imbalance, the 1994 cfa franc devaluation substantially restored external competitiveness. Economic growth recovered, averaging more than 3 percent annually over the last 3 years. The majority of the population is rural. The Government has begun implementing a program of structural reforms. Agriculture accounts for one-third of gross domestic product, while industry and the services sector account, for 26 and 33 percent, respectively. The petroleum sector has declined sharply as a share of public revenues. Principal exports include timber, coffee, cocoa, cotton, bananas, and rubber.

The Government's human rights record continued to be poor, although there was some improvement in certain areas. The Government continued to commit numerous serious human rights abuses. Citizens' ability to change their government remained limited. Security forces committed several extrajudicial killings and often beat and otherwise abused detainees and prisoners, generally with impunity. Conditions remained life threatening in almost all prisons. Security forces continued to arrest and detain citizens arbitrarily, often holding them for prolonged periods and, at times, incommunicado. The judiciary is corrupt, inefficient, and subject to political influence. Security forces conducted illegal searches, harassed citizens, infringed on their privacy, and monitored some opposition activists. A January law revoked formal press censorship and moved supervision of the press from the administrative authorities to the courts. However, the Government continued to impose some limits on press freedom. The authorities retain the power to seize publications deemed to put public order in jeopardy and used this power on at least two occasions. Although independent newspapers enjoyed considerable latitude to publish their views, journalists were subject to harassment, trial, and conviction under criminal libel laws. Authorities prosecuted and obtained convictions against several editors and journalists under these laws, and some received stiff fines and prison sentences. The Government sometimes restricted freedom of assembly and association. At times, security forces were used to inhibit political parties from holding public meetings. The Government restricts freedom of movement. Discrimination and violence against women remain serious problems.

Discrimination against ethnic minorities and Pygmies persists. The Government infringes on workers' rights, and slavery persists in an isolated northern region. Mob violence and intertribal disputes resulted in dozens of deaths. Nationwide multiparty municipal elections were relatively free and fair, although in some areas the Government restricted opposition candidate lists. After the election, the Government used legal but undemocratic means to ensure its control of municipal councils won by the opposition, provoking widespread protest and an attempt to conduct general strikes.

Respect for Human Rights

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no confirmed reports of political killings. However, the security forces continued to use excessive, lethal force and committed several extrajudicial killings.

In February an unarmed, unresisting taxi driver was shot and killed by a policeman near Bafut, Northwest province, in view of witnesses. The reasons for the shooting are unclear. The authorities took no action against the policeman, but an investigation into the case is underway.

On March 1, a pregnant woman was shot and killed by a soldier in the Limbe, Southwest province, market during a political demonstration by the Social Democratic Front (SDF) party. In the incident, the killer himself was immediately shot and killed by a fellow soldier. Security forces killed three other persons in an ensuing riot.

On March 15, Andre Tchieutcho, a suspected thief, was shot and killed inside the Mboppi gendarme headquarters.

On April 14, police outside Yaounde fired on a stolen vehicle, killing, in addition to the suspected perpetrators, two apparently innocent young men who had been given a ride by the alleged thieves.

On May 24, a Douala taxi driver, Joseph Desire Tuete Kuipo, was shot and killed by a policeman when he allegedly refused to pay a bribe at one of the ubiquitous and illegal police roadblocks. An outraged crowd attacked the policeman, seriously injuring him. At year's end, an investigation into the killing was underway. The police officer was suspended pending the results of the investigation.

In January Haman Daouda, a member of the National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP) party and a member of the National Assembly and members of his staff were assaulted while campaigning in the municipal elections in the territory of the Lamido (chief) of Mayo Rey, North province. The Lamido, an important supporter of the ruling CPDM party, reportedly directed his palace guard to injure or kill the parliamentarians. Haman Daouda died in February as a result of his injuries. UNDP demands for a government investigation were unsuccessful. A continuing series of intertribal land disputes in Northwest province resulted in several deaths and injuries.

In March residents of the villages of Babanki and Bambili, Northwest province, battled over the ownership of a section of land adjoining both villages. Seven persons died. This clash was but one of several that occurred during the year in Northwest province, resulting in an unknown number of deaths and injuries. In response, the Government sought to resolve the dispute with the assistance of traditional rulers. Several persons were arrested for their participation in the violence.

Mob violence directed at persons suspected of criminal activity or witchcraft resulted in a number of deaths and injuries.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. However, in June a prominent Bafoussam, West province, barrister and SDF activist, Joseph Lavoisier Tsapy, claimed that he had been seized by armed plainclothes policemen, blindfolded, and held for 4 days in an unknown location before being released unharmed. The period of his disappearance coincided with a planned SDF general strike in Bafoussam, for which Tsapy, President of the Town Council, was a leading organizer. While government authorities denied any involvement in Tsapy's disappearance, and the charges were never proved, many independent observers considered Tsapy's claim credible.

In September Nicolas Tejoumessie, editor of the newspaper Challenge Nouveau, was arbitrarily detained and beaten by four persons who claimed to be members of the secret police (see Section 1.c.).

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 undue force against any person. In spite of this, there were credible reports that security forces inflicted beatings and other cruel and degrading treatment on prisoners and detainees. The beatings occurred not in prison facilities but in temporary detention areas in a police or gendarme facility.

Security forces subject prisoners and detainees to degrading mistreatment, including stripping, confinement in severely overcrowded cells, and denial of access to toilets or other sanitation facilities. Police and gendarmes often beat detainees to extract confessions and the names and whereabouts of alleged criminals. Sanctions against those responsible are rare.

Prison conditions are life threatening, especially outside major urban areas. Serious deficiencies in food, health care, and sanitation owing to the lack of resources occur in almost all prisons, including those run by traditional rulers in the north. Families are permitted to provide food and medicine. Beatings are common. Prisoners are reported to be chained at times in their cells and often denied adequate medical care. Juveniles and nonviolent prisoners are often incarcerated with violent adults. There are credible reports of sexual abuse of juvenile prisoners by adult inmates. Corruption among prison personnel is widespread. Some high profile prisoners are able to avoid some of the abuse that is routinely meted out to many common criminals. Some are held in elite wings of certain prisons where they enjoy relatively lenient treatment.

Following a March SDF demonstration in Limbe, security forces arrested 32 SDF members and held them under administrative detention in Buea Prison for more than 1 month pending investigation. There were credible reports that the prisoners suffered from excessive crowding and were denied adequate nutrition and medical care.

In the north, the Government permits traditional Lamibe (chiefs) to operate private prisons outside the government penitentiary system. Private prisons in the chiefdoms of Rey Bouba, Bibemi, and Tcheboa have the worst reputations. Members of the UNDP party alleged that their members have been detained in them and that some have died from mistreatment.

Because of the Government's refusal to guarantee the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to all detention centers, official as well as unofficial, the ICRC has declined to visit any prisons since 1992, although both the Cameroonian Red Cross and the National Human Rights Commission make frequent visits.

In a May and June student strike at the University of Yaounde, a number of students were beaten both by police and by local thugs on university property, and as many as 30 were taken to prison and beaten there. Credible reports indicate that the troublemakers were encouraged by university authorities to help suppress the strike. Some of the students were held in prison for up to 40 days before being released pending court proceedings.

On September 8, Nicolas Tejoumessie, the editor of Challenge Nouveau, a prominent opposition newspaper, was seized at the doorway of his home in Douala by 4 men dressed in civilian clothing and taken to a location 30 kilometers outside the city, where he was severely beaten. His assailants allegedly claimed they were from the DGRE. During the beating, Tejoumessie's assailants reportedly interrogated him about his journalistic sources and warned him to cease his criticism of the Government. The identity of his assailants remains unknown.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Penal Code requires that detainees be brought promptly before a magistrate; however, security forces continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain citizens, although less frequently than in the past. Arbitrary, prolonged detention remained a serious problem as security forces often failed to bring detainees promptly before a magistrate and held them incommunicado.

Police may detain a person in custody in connection with a common crime for up to 24 hours, renewable 3 times, before bringing charges. However, the law only provides for the right to a judicial review of the legality of detention in the few majority Anglophone areas of the country. 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 and maintain public order. 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 law. Even there, bail is granted infrequently.

In March, 32 SDF militants arrested following a demonstration in Limbe were arbitrarily detained for more than 1 month despite a court finding that there were no grounds for holding them (see Section 1.c.). Prison authorities cited the detention provisions of a 1990 law. The prisoners were finally released in mid-April without charges being filed. The Buea court, however, found the local government prefect in contempt and fined him for not respecting the court's earlier order to release the prisoners.

The courts punished some instances of arbitrary detention. A Yaounde court in March convicted six policemen (four of them in absentia) on charges of having arbitrarily arrested, beaten, and detained a deputy magistrate in October 1994. The court sentenced all the policemen to long prison terms and heavy fines.

In July a Bamenda, Northwest province, court ordered a police officer to pay a heavy fine to a woman whom he beat and wrongfully detained.

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

Constitutional amendments ratified in January provide for an independent judiciary. However, the judiciary remains subject to political influence, and the Government took no concrete steps to implement the amendments. The courts did demonstrate a notable degree of independence in dealing with complaints in the aftermath of the January municipal elections.

The court system remains technically part of the executive branch, subordinate to the Ministry of Justice. The legal system is strongly influenced by the French legal system, although in the Anglophone provinces certain aspects of the Anglo-Saxon tradition apply. The court system includes the Supreme Court, a court of appeals in each of the 10 provinces, and courts of first instance in each of the country's 56 divisions. Some politically sensitive cases are never heard.

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.

Corruption and inefficiency in the courts remain serious problems. Justice is frequently denied or delayed. Powerful political or business interests appear to enjoy virtual immunity from prosecution, while critics of the Government are sometimes jailed under libel statutes considered by observers as unduly restrictive of press freedom. Prisoners may be detained indefinitely during pretrial proceedings.

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 free assistance in some cases. Trials are public.

In a highly charged case with political overtones that began in July 1994, 8 of 28 UNDP party militants were convicted in March and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for having participated in or abetted a riot to protest the visit to Maroua, Far North province, of a government official. One person was killed when rioters attacked the official's motorcade with stones. Court proceedings were characterized by repeated delays and irregularities that, at least in part, appear to have been politically motivated. Some of the defendants convicted were shown never to have been present at the demonstration but were sentenced on the presumption that they had encouraged the rioters. At year's end, the sentences were still under appeal. Credible observers disagree as to whether these convictions were based on political or criminal grounds.

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

Both invasions of the home and tampering with correspondence are illegal in most circumstances, but there were a number of credible reports that police and gendarmes harassed citizens, conducted searches without warrants, and seized mail. Security forces frequently used roadblocks to extract bribes.

In April Conscience Africaine, a human rights organization, reported repeated tampering with its mail. The organization's headquarters was also burglarized; files as well as valuable equipment were taken. Police failed to conduct a serious investigation, in the view of Conscience Africaine.

In June the Governor of West province ordered gendarmes to seal off the house of barrister Joseph Lavoisier Tsapy for several days to prevent entry or egress. According to authorities, the measure was taken because Tsapy was engaged in encouraging violent civil disorder during an SDF-inspired general strike (see Section l.b.). Authorities termed their action a legal measure intended to preserve public order.

Prior to the summit of the Organization of African Unity held in Yaounde in July, police conducted widespread preemptive searches in some neighborhoods for suspected criminals. These were aimed at providing security for the meeting. The searches included entry into private homes without warrants, an act permitted by the law. The law permits a police officer to enter a private home during daylight hours without a warrant if he is pursuing an inquiry and has reason to suspect that a crime has been committed. He must have a warrant to make such a search after dark. However, a police officer may enter a private home at any time in pursuit of a criminal observed committing a crime. An administrative authority may authorize police to conduct neighborhood sweeps in search of suspected criminals or stolen or illegal goods without individual warrants. Such sweeps are conducted frequently.

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

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression and the press; however, the Government continued to impose some limits on these rights. In contrast with past years, the press enjoyed considerable liberty to publish due to the repeal of a law that had authorized press censorship by the Government. Nevertheless, the Government prosecuted nine editors and journalists on criminal libel charges, and courts imposed stiff fines and jail terms. In only one case did a journalist actually serve time in prison, however, and he was provisionally released after only 2 days. Some of these charges appeared to have been politically motivated. In addition, there were at least two instances in which the Government demanded that newspapers be seized under court orders, citing laws authorizing preservation of public order.

The Government publishes an official newspaper, the Cameroon Tribune, and operates all radio and television broadcasting. The law has provided since 1990 for the licensing of private radio and television stations, but the Government has not approved implementing regulations. Government reporters rarely criticize the ruling party or portray government programs in an unfavorable light, but sometimes do so implicitly. The government-controlled broadcast media provide broad coverage of CPDM functions, while giving relatively little attention to opposition events.

While 40 to 50 private newspapers are published sporadically, only about 10 were published on a regular basis during the year. These newspapers are often outspoken in their criticism of the President, the Government, corruption, and economic policies. Because of the high cost of a newspaper to an average citizen, as well as distribution problems, newspapers are not read widely outside the major cities.

Television and radio programming includes a weekly program that allows an opportunity for political parties represented in the National Assembly to present their views. In contrast with past years, the program faced no arbitrary suspensions although in September one UNDP program was censored. None of the country's nonparliamentary parties, including those that are known to have significant popular support, had access to the electronic media.

On February 27, Pius Njawe and Eyoum Ngangue, the publisher and editor, respectively, of Le Messager Popoli, were convicted in Douala of having libeled the President. The article in question was a satirical piece in which the President was referred to by an insulting name. Eyoum Ngangue was sentenced to 1 year in prison and a $600 fine; Pius Njawe was sentenced to 1 year in prison and a $200 fine. The two journalists appealed their sentences to an appeals court, which confirmed the sentences. Pius Njawe was subsequently arrested on October 29 and jailed in a Douala prison. Following widespread domestic and international criticism, he was released on November 15 on provisional liberty at the order of the Supreme Court, which agreed to review his request that the decision of the appeals court be invalidated. At year's end, Pius Njawe and Eyoum Ngangue remained at liberty and continued their journalistic activities.

In March two issues of the newspaper Dikalo were seized in Douala on orders of the governor of Littoral province on grounds that articles in the newspaper disturbed the public order. One of the offending articles charged that President Biya had placed government delegates as administrators of certain towns to counter the results of municipal elections in which opposition mayors were freely elected. A second article reported opposition party plans to stage a series of general strikes.

In April Pius Njawe and journalist Tietcheu Kameni were fined and sentenced to prison terms on charges of having libeled the Deputy Prime Minister in Charge of Territorial Administration. Their article accused the deputy Prime Minister of defrauding voters by interfering with the electoral registration process. While the two were found guilty of defamation of character, they were found not guilty of propagating false news. At year's end, the case was being reviewed on appeal, and neither Njawe or Kameni have yet served time in prison on these charges.

In May Vianney Ombey Ndzana, publisher of the newspaper Generation, was sentenced to a 5-month prison term and a heavy fine for having defamed the character of the director general of an important state-owned petroleum firm. An article in Ndzana's newspaper accused the Director General of financial improprieties. The court also suspended publication of his newspaper for 6 months. At year's end, both the prison term and the suspension remain under appeal, and neither had been implemented.

In June Njawe and journalist Paul Nyemb were ordered to pay a large sum to the former mayor of the town of Sangmelima on grounds that they had libeled him. At year's end, the court's decision remained under appeal.

In June Patrice Ndedi Penda, publisher of Galaxie, was sentenced to 2 years in prison and a large fine for having libeled the Minister of State in charge of agriculture. At year's end, Ndedi Penda had not been jailed, and his case remained under appeal.

In August Samuel Eleme, publisher of the newspaper La Detente and journalist Gaston Ekwalla were sentenced to 5 months' imprisonment and a heavy fine on charges that they libeled a CPDM (ruling party) member of the National Assembly. In addition, the newspaper was suspended from publication for 6 months. At year's end, the newspaper remained under suspension, but Eleme and Ekwalla had not been jailed. Their case remained under appeal.

On December 12, publisher William Mandio and reporter Daniel Atangana of the newspaper Le Front Independent were arrested by the presidential guard and held in the Center Province gendarmerie legion building in Yaounde. The motives for their arrest appeared to have been presidential guard's dissatisfaction with an article that the two had published that was critical of the unit. Mandio was released on December 15 and Atangana was released approximately 2 weeks later. At year's end, there were no charges pending against the two men.

In August Pierre Essama Essomba, the managing editor of the government Cameroon Tribune, was arrested and briefly detained on orders of the then-Minister of Justice on grounds that the editor had allowed a libelous letter about the Justice Minister to be published. Essama Essomba was released within hours of his arrest on orders of the Minister of State in charge of communication, who cited the editor's right to publish the letter.

Although there are no legal restrictions on academic freedom, state security informants operate on university campuses. Many professors believe that adherence to opposition political parties can have an adverse effect on their professional opportunities and advancement. Free political discussion at the University of Yaounde is dampened by the presence of armed security forces, as well as sometimes strident pro-opposition groups. Other universities and educational institutions appeared to be relatively free of the coercive presence of armed security forces or strident student groups. During a May-June strike at the University, university authorities used the police and vigilante gangs to suppress student activists. Several students were beaten and arrested during campus clashes (see Section l.c.). Four alleged leaders of the strike have been banned from any Cameroonian universities and face trial on charges of assault. While the accused student leaders deny that they instigated violence, a number of university teachers and administrators claim that they were targets of death threats and intimidation by students.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of assembly is provided for in the law, but the Government sometimes restricts this right in practice. The Penal Code prohibits public meetings, demonstrations, or processions without prior government approval.

In May the Governor of Southwest province issued an order banning all political activities within the province, including meetings and rallies. He took this step in response to efforts by the SDF and UNDP to organize general strikes to protest the Government's decision to impose government delegates on several municipalities won by the opposition in the January elections.

In March, Yaounde police used tear gas to break up a demonstration by aged retirees who had gathered in front of the National Social Security Office to demand payment of their back pensions. Several of the elderly victims were injured by the tear gas.

Freedom of association is provided for in the law, but the Government sometimes restricts this right in practice. Some 120 political parties operated legally together with a growing number of civic associations. In contrast with 1995, when many political parties faced government-imposed restrictions on their ability to assemble and operate, there were few such restrictions in 1996.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally does not restrict it in practice. Religious groups must be approved and registered with the Ministry of Territorial Administration in order to function legally.

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. Police commonly demand illegal payments from citizens whom they stop at roadblocks or other points.

The Government occasionally uses its passport control powers against those whom it considers potential threats. Victorin Hameni Bieleu, the President of the Union of Cameroonian Democratic Forces (UFDC) party, had his passport withdrawn 5 years ago. He has since been unable to obtain a new one. Some student activists implicated in the May-June Yaounde clashes have also been unable to obtain passports.

In Bamenda, Northwest province, in May, antigovernment strikers prevented some citizens from traveling to work, using physical intimidation and smashing car windshields.

Cameroon has long served as a safe haven for displaced persons and refugees from nearby countries. Although the Government occasionally returns illegal immigrants, there were no reports of forced repatriation of recognized refugees. Some illegal immigrants have been subjected to harsh treatment, including imprisonment.

The Government cooperates with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. The Government provides first asylum to persons who arrive at the border without documentation and can show a valid claim to refugee status. There are currently 46,000 refugees in Cameroon for whom the country is a country of first asylum. The majority of these persons – nearly 42,000 – are Chadian. The remainder are principally from Liberia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire. There were 1,400 refugees who arrived in Cameroon as a country of first asylum in 1996. The Government accepts for resettlement refugees who are granted refugee status by the UNHCR. In 1996 Cameroon accepted approximately 30 Rwandan refugees from Tanzania for resettlement. There were no reports of forced expulsion of persons having a valid claim to refugee status during the year.

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

Citizens have the Constitutional right to change their government, but dominance of the political process by the President and his party limit the ability of citizens to exercise this right. While the 1992 legislative elections were relatively free and fair, the 1992 presidential elections were highly criticized by international observers and widely viewed as fraudulent.

The January nationwide multiparty municipal elections were judged to be generally free and fair by domestic and international observers, including members of the diplomatic community. Opposition parties won victories in 104 of 336 elections contested. In most, but not all, locations, elections appeared to be conducted largely in accordance with the rules and to respect the will of the voters. Diplomatic observers watching the elections at booths around the country on voting day reported few signs of deliberate malfeasance on that particular day. Opposition parties, in particular, have complained that the vote in many places was skewed in favor of the Government by preelectoral manipulation of voter registration lists. These allegations have been very difficult to prove. Several parties complained that their lists of candidates in specific locations were arbitrarily and illegally rejected by government-controlled administrative authorities shortly before election day. Such claims form the basis of many of the challenges that were filed with the Supreme Court. The Court ruled itself incompetent to judge in many of these cases. Government authorities claim that they did not arbitrarily reject lists of opposition candidates. Rather, they say, the lists contained some error of format or procedure that rendered them inadmissable under the law.

While opposition parties scored major gains in the municipal elections in most urban areas and in the north and west, the center and south voted solidly for the President's CPDM party. Opposition parties charged that the Government illegitimately excluded them from contesting many localities, particularly in the center and south, in order to preserve the region as a CPDM stronghold. A total of 96 cases were filed with the Supreme Court. In the opinion of observers, the Supreme Court demonstrated a considerable degree of independence and respect for the law in its handling of these cases. By year's end, the Supreme Court had disposed of all 96 cases. Although the Court declared itself, on technical and legal grounds, unable to rule in a majority of the cases brought before it, in 18 cases it declared elections null and void. In annulling these elections, the Court demonstrated no bias for or against the ruling party. Contrary to the law, however, the Government has to date failed to organize new elections in those councils in which the elections were annulled, allowing councils with no legal authority to continue functioning.

A second aspect to the municipal election controversy involves the Government's appointment of delegates to head the administrations of several municipalities won by opposition parties. Under a 1993 decree the President has the authority to name a government delegate to head municipal councils in urban centers. Opposition parties viewed these appointments as a deliberate attempt by the Government to frustrate the will of the voters. To protest these appointments, the two major opposition parties, the SDF and the UNDP, sought to stage a series of rotating general strikes. These, however, failed to draw widespread support from the economically and politically dispirited population and were called off in June.

The Government's control over the country'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. These delegates easily dominate the elected municipal councils, most of whose members belong to opposition parties. 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 career civil servants appointed by the Prime Minister. 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. A majority of important government jobs are held by close confidants of the President, many of them drawn from his own ethnic group.

In December 1995, the National Assembly passed a set of government-introduced amendments to the 1972 Constitution, which established strongly centralized power. All debate was held behind closed doors. The amendments included term limits for the President, the creation of a partially elected (70 percent) and partially appointed (30 percent) Senate, and the creation of a set of regional councils with limited powers over local affairs. The amendments did not weaken presidential powers, and the independence of the judiciary remained questionable. The amendments were promulgated by the President in January, but have not yet been implemented.

There are no laws that specifically prohibit women or minorities from participating in government, in the political process, or in other areas of public life. Women are underrepresented in the President's Cabinet (2 of the 44 members), in the National Assembly (22 of the 180 members), and in the CPDM. Many of the key members of the Government are drawn from the President's own ethnic group; members of other ethnic groups and regions hold 32 seats in the Cabinet (compared with 12 held by members of the President's ethnic group), and 142 seats in the National Assembly (compared with 32 held by members of the President's ethnic group).

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

Domestic and international human rights monitoring groups have considerable latitude to operate. A large number of independent human rights monitoring groups exist, although the activities of virtually all are limited by a shortage of funds and trained personnel. The Government did not generally prevent human rights monitors from operating, but on occasion harassed and obstructed them. The Government sometimes impedes the effectiveness of human rights NGO's by limiting access to prisoners and refusing to share information.

The most active human rights NGO's 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, Conscience Africaine, the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights and Liberties, the Human Rights Defense Group, and the Human Rights Clinic and Education Center. A number of these groups issued press releases or reports detailing specific human rights violations. Many held seminars and workshops on various aspects of human rights.

The governmental National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, although hampered by a shortage of funds, conducted a number of investigations into human rights abuses and organized several human rights seminars aimed at judicial officials, security personnel, and other government officers. The Commission has never, however, published any results of its investigations. Its reports have been submitted to the Prime Minister and President but never released.

In February Cameroon hosted the first general conference of African National Human Rights Institutions in Yaounde. The conference, organized by the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, sought to facilitate the exchange of information and strengthen cooperation among Africa's national human rights organizations and encourage states without human rights monitoring bodies to create them. In September the Government hosted a visit by the U.N. Nations Human Rights Commission. It requested that the Commission establish a regional human rights office in Yaounde. In mid-November, the Government cooperated with the ICRC in holding a workshop attended by 23 African nations that addressed the relationship between international human rights and military operations. Military personnel participated in the workshop.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex and mandates that "everyone has equal rights and obligations." It does not explicitly forbid discrimination based on race, language, religion, or social status. The Government does not effectively enforce these constitutional provisions.

Women

Violence against women remains at high levels. Women's rights advocates report that the law does not impose effective penalties against persons who commit acts of domestic violence against women. 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 beating. While there are no reliable statistics on violence against women, the number of newspaper reports indicates that the frequency is high.

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 respect to venue. In the northern provinces, some Lamibe reportedly prevent their numerous wives from ever leaving the palaces.

Children

The Constitution provides for a child's right to education, and schooling is mandatory through the age of 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. The degree of familial child abuse is not known 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 damaging to both physical and psychological health, is not widely practiced, but is practiced in some areas of Far North and Southwest provinces. It includes the most severe form of the abuse, infibulation, and is usually practiced on preadolescent girls. The Government does not recognize FGM as a problem and has not allocated resources to educate the public on the problem.

People with Disabilities

A 1983 law and subsequent implementing legislation provide certain rights for persons with disabilities. These include access to public institutions, medical treatment, and education. The Government is obliged to bear part of a disabled person's educational expenses, to employ disabled persons where possible, and, as necessary, to provide them with public assistance. However, these rights are in fact rarely respected. There are few facilities for disabled persons and little public assistance of any kind. Lack of facilities and care for the mentally disabled is particularly acute. Society tends to treat the disabled as tainted, leaving churches or foreign NGO's responsible for providing assistance. The law does not mandate special access provisions for people with disabilities.

Indigenous People

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

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 holds key positions in government, the security forces, and the military services. In other sectors, discrimination by other ethnic groups is common. Virtually all ethnic groups provide preferential treatment to fellow members where they are able to do so.

An important ethnic, 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.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

A 1992 Labor Code allows workers to form and join trade unions of their choosing. The Labor Code permits groups of at least 20 workers to organize a union but also requires registration with the Ministry of Labor. In practice, independent unions have found it extremely difficult to obtain registration. Registered unions are invariably subject to government domination and interference.

Provisions of the Labor Code do not apply to civil servants, employees of the penitentiary system, or workers responsible for national security. In lieu of strikes, civil servants are required to negotiate grievances directly with the minister of the concerned department and with the Minister of Labor. 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 during the year.

There are two trade union confederations. In March 1995, the Government encouraged the creation of a new labor confederation, the Union of Free Trade Unions of Cameroon (USLC), with which it maintains close ties. Previously, the sole labor confederation had been the Confederation of Cameroonian Trade Unions (CCTU), formerly affiliated with the ruling CPDM party under the name Organization of Cameroonian Trade Unions. While both organizations appear to be dominated or at least thoroughly intimidated by the Government, the creation of the USLC was widely interpreted as an effort by the Government to create a rival trade union confederation more firmly under its control.

The Labor Code explicitly recognizes workers' right to strike but only after mandatory arbitration. Arbitration proceedings are not legally enforceable and can be overturned by the Government. The Labor Code provides for the protection of legal strikes and prohibits retribution against them.

There were several strikes during the year. In January workers from the disbanded Urban Transport Company demonstrated in front of the Prime Minister's office to demand social services and other assistance. Police broke up this peaceful demonstration.

In March employees of the national airline, Cameroon Airlines, staged a 1-day strike to protest staff retrenchment, nonpayment of retirement benefits, and plans to privatize the airline.

Throughout much of the year teachers in many parts of the country joined a rotating 2-days-per-week strike to protest nonpayment of back salaries and difficult working conditions.

In Bafoussam, West province, teachers' strikes severely disrupted the academic year. In some cases, striking teachers tried to prevent some of their colleagues from carrying out their duties. In an incident in Bafoussam, striking teachers tried to disrupt student examinations, leading to fights and 12 arrests. The arrested teachers were released after brief detentions.

The CCTU is a member of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). The USLC filed applications for membership with these organizations in 1995. At year's end, the USLC was still awaiting a response to its bid to join the OATUU and ICFTU.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Code provides for collective bargaining between workers and management in work places, 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 year's end.

In May some shop owners in West province and in Douala were reportedly punished by government authorities with fines and temporary closure for having heeded a call by SDF leaders to support a general strike.

The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination, and employers guilty of such discrimination are subject to fines of up to $2,000. However, employers found guilty are not required to reinstate the workers against whom they discriminated. The Ministry of Labor reported no complaints of such discrimination during the year.

The International Labor Organization noted that the Government has failed since 1991 to recognize the National Union of Teachers of Higher Education.

There is an industrial free zone regime, but the Government did not grant approval to any firms to operate under it during the year. Free zone employers are exempt from some provisions of the Labor Code but must respect all internationally recognized worker rights.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by the Labor Code. However, the authorities continued to allow prison 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 the North province.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code forbids the employment of children under the age of 14. However, Ministry of Labor inspectors responsible for enforcing the law 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 domestic helpers, while many urban street vendors are under 14 years of age. There are no special provisions limiting working hours for children.

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. The present wage is approximately $47 (23,500 cfa francs) per month. The minimum wage does not provide a decent standard of living for an average worker and family.

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 weekly rest. The Government sets health and safety standards, and Ministry of Labor inspectors and occupational health doctors are responsible for monitoring these standards. However, they lack the resources for a comprehensive inspection program. There is no specific legislation permitting workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

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