Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 14:37 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Cameroon

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Cameroon, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa2d14.html [accessed 20 August 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, 1998.

CAMEROON

Cameroon is a multiparty republic that continues to be dominated by President Paul Biya and a circle of advisers drawn largely from his own and related ethnic groups and from his party, the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM). Since Biya won the highly flawed 1992 presidential election, elections have been tainted by an electoral process that is controlled by the Government's Ministry of Territorial Administration. International and local observers generally view the process as not free and fair. The CPDM continued to dominate the National Assembly after elections in May that were characterized by numerous irregularities. In October Biya won reelection as the President in an election boycotted by the three main opposition parties, and generally considered by observers to be marred by a wide range of procedural flaws and not free and fair. The President retains the power to control legislation or to rule by decree. According to the ratified amendments to the 1996 Constitution, the presidential term is 7 years, renewable once. Biya began his first 7-year term on November 3. The amendments also provide for new legislative institutions, including a partially elected senate, elected regional councils, and an independent judiciary. The Government took no action to establish these new institutions, although the President announced that most of these would be acted upon in the course of 1998. The judiciary is subject to political influence and suffers from corruption and inefficiency.

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 serious human rights abuses.

Following nearly a decade of economic decline and widening financial imbalance, economic performance has improved, with annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaging more than 5 percent over the last 2 years. The Government began in 1996 to implement a program of structural reforms. The majority of the population is rural. Agriculture accounts for 25 percent of GDP, while industry and the services sectors account for 22 and 35 percent, respectively. The petroleum sector accounts for less than 10 percent of public revenues. Principal exports include timber, coffee, cocoa, cotton, bananas, and rubber.

The Government's human rights record continued to be generally poor, and government officials continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens' ability to change their government remained limited. International observers deemed the May national legislative elections to be flawed. Legislative by-elections held after some 150 legal challenges were submitted to the Supreme Court were also marred by charges of irregularities by opposition parties. 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 arbitrarily various opposition politicians, local human rights activists and other citizens, often holding them for prolonged periods and, at times, incommunicado. Security forces conducted illegal searches, harassed citizens, infringed on their privacy, and monitored some opposition activists. The judiciary is corrupt, inefficient, and subject to political influence. A 1996 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 freedoms. Although independent newspapers enjoyed considerable latitude to publish their views, journalists continued to be subject to official harassment, trial, and conviction under criminal libel laws. The authorities obtained convictions against several journalists under these laws; some received stiff fines and suspended prison sentences. The Government continued to seize publications deemed threatening to the public order. On several occasions, the Government restricted freedom of assembly and association. At times, the Government used its security forces to inhibit political parties from holding public meetings. Government security forces impede domestic travel. Discrimination and violence against women remain serious problems. Discrimination against ethnic minorities and Pygmies continues. The Government infringes on workers' rights, and slavery persists in isolated areas. Mob violence resulted in some deaths.

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.

On January 8, gendarmes used excessive force in arresting a tribal leader in Northwest province. Five women were hospitalized as a result of shotgun wounds or beatings. On January 31, security forces again used excessive force to disperse a group of 36 women who had gathered outside a gendarmerie facility in the Northwest province town of Wum to await the tribal leader's release. All the women suffered injuries; one later died of her wounds. The Government took no action against security force members following the incidents.

On February 9, a driver for the diocese of Yaounde, Faustin Betsogo, was arrested by plainclothes DGRE officers following a traffic altercation with them. He was taken to headquarters, beaten, and released, but he died shortly thereafter.

On May 12, during the legislative electoral campaign, opposition candidate Koulagna Nana's campaign entourage had a violent encounter with the forces of a traditional ruler. A total of five persons died in the fighting, including two opposition militants. After reporting the incident to the gendarmerie in Touboro, Koulagna Nana and 15 associates were arrested. Two were later released. No members of the traditional ruler's militia were arrested. The gendarmerie is still investigating the incident.

From March 27 to 31 in Northwest province, armed attackers launched raids against six government sites, including several gendarmerie stations. Security forces killed at least seven people in the raids; three gendarmes died. Security sweeps after these raids reportedly rounded up over 300 persons. The Government opened an inquiry but made neither a public report nor brought charges against the estimated 59 persons remaining in detention at year?s end. Some critics believe that these incidents were instigated with government connivance to discredit the opposition. In the wake of the attacks, three detainees (Mathias Gwei, Samuel Tita, and Richard Ngwa Formasoh) were reliably reported to have died from abuse inflicted by the authorities (see Section l.c.). Other estimates indicated that there were from one to eight deaths from abuse or illness. The Government did not respond to these reports.

Several prisoners died in custody due to abuse inflicted by members of the security forces or harsh prison conditions and inadequate medical treatment (see Section 1.c.).

The February 1996 incident in which an unarmed, unresisting taxi driver was shot and killed by a policeman near Bafut, Northwest province, in front of witnesses, was still pending in court.

There were no developments in the 1996 killings of: Andre Tchieutcho, a suspected thief who was shot and killed inside the Mboppi gendarme headquarters; Joseph Desire Tuete Kuipo, a Douala taxi driver; or Haman Daouda, a member of the National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP) party and a member of the National Assembly.

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

b. Disappearance

There were no credible reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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. Although President Biya also promulgated a new law on January 10 that bans torture by government officials, there were at least two reported cases of torture, and there were credible reports that security forces continued to inflict beatings and other cruel and degrading treatment on prisoners and detainees. The authorities often administer beatings not in prison facilities but in temporary detention areas in a police or gendarme facility.

There are reliable reports that the balancoire torture technique is still in use in the interrogation of certain prisoners. In this technique, the prisoner, with his hands tied behind his back, is suspended from a rod and beaten.

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. Reported sanctions against those responsible are rare. Such abuse was reportedly inflicted on those persons arrested in a security force dragnet following the March attacks in the Northwest province. At least three detainees are believed to have died from this abuse: Mathias Gwei and Samuel Tita died in May, and Richard Ngwa Formasoh died at Nkondengui Prison in the capital in early July (see Section 1.a.).

Ndifet Zacharia Khan, one of those detained at the gendarmerie legion in Bamenda was badly beaten, developed gangrene, and later had all his toes amputated.

Security forces arrested a local journalist, Christian Ngah Mbipgo, on February 26 and severely beat him for writing articles critical of local authorities. Following his release he described how security forces beat the soles of his feet with "iron studded rubber truncheons." On July 31, Maroua prison authorities recaptured an escaped convict and severely tortured him. A local human rights official, Mohamadou Moustapha, who attempted to intercede was also badly beaten. There were no developments in this case.

Prison conditions are generally life threatening, especially outside major urban areas. Serious deficiencies in food, health care, and sanitation due to a lack of funds occur in almost all prisons, including those in the north operated by traditional rulers. In March six inmates died of tuberculosis in such facilities.

In the Douala central prison of New Bell, families are permitted to provide food and medicine to inmates. Beatings are common. Prisoners are reported to be chained or flogged 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. Babies and small children are sometimes held in prison if their mothers are incarcerated there. Corruption among prison personnel is widespread. Some high-profile prisoners are able to avoid some of the abuse that security forces routinely inflict on many common criminals. Some are held in elite wings of certain prisons where they enjoy relatively lenient treatment. A 1997 report on prison conditions indicates that Bertoua Prison, which was built to hold 50 detainees, currently houses 700 persons.

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 ensure that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has 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. The ICRC was permitted to visit Nigerian civilian internees and soldiers captured in the territorial dispute with Nigeria.

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 three 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 administrative or "pretrial detention" indefinitely, pending court action. Furthermore, a 1990 law permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days, ostensibly 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.

Michel Atangana, a former presidential aide, was arrested without warrant on May 12 by a police special operations team. He was held at a police station and later under administrative detention for 53 days before being transferred to Nkondengui prison. On May 21, former Minister of Health and longtime presidential official Titus Edzoa, who had declared himself a candidate in the fall presidential elections 1 month earlier, was questioned by the judicial branch of the police force and placed under house arrest on June 5. He was initially charged with "activities and statements likely to disrupt the public order." Media attention to the case resulted in better treatment for Edzoa and pressure on the authorities to bring charges. Subsequently, both he and Atangana, who had become Edzoa's campaign manager, were charged with influence peddling and embezzlement. They were tried together and convicted on criminal charges by the High Court and sentenced to 15 year?s imprisonment. While appealing their sentences, both men were held in confinement at the gendarmerie headquarters, reportedly in cramped quarters with very limited access to visitors.

Another declared presidential candidate, Albert Dzongang, was held in Douala police station on July 11 and 12 on obscure charges concerning allegedly subversive tracts. No official charges were filed.

On April 14, Paulinus Jua, an opposition party contender for a seat in the May legislative elections was arrested in connection with the March raids, together with about 50 persons (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c.). He was released without charge several days later and later won a seat in the Assembly.

Before the results of the legislative elections were officially rendered, police carried out a series of mass arrests, lasting from May 30 until June 3, allegedly to prevent violent incidents. Among those arrested were well-known opposition activists Mboua Massock and Brice Nintcheu. Massock was held in New Bell prison for 15 days before being released without charge.

A reliable Paris-based press monitoring group indicated that a total of 13 journalists had been imprisoned at one time or another over the past 18 months. In late December, the authorities detained again Pius Njawe, the well-known journalist-publisher of the publication Le Messager, reportedly for publishing an article alleging that President Biya may have had a heart attack (see Section 2.a.).

The courts punished some instances of arbitrary detention in 1996. At year?s end, there were two cases under investigation following the deaths of two detainees in Yaounde prison in October. In one, a police commissioner and three colleagues were arrested pending trial.

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 Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary remains subject to political influence, with few signs that it is becoming more independent.

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.

The Constitution provides for a fair public hearing in which the defendant is presumed innocent. 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.

There were no reliable estimates of the number of political prisoners held at the end of the year. The eight UNDP militants, convicted in a highly charged case with political overtones of participation in and abetting a riot, were provisionally released by the court of Maroua on December 17, pending decisions on their appeals. Credible observers disagree as to whether these convictions were based on political or criminal grounds.

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

The preamble of the Constitution provides for the inviolability of the home, for the protection against search except by virtue of law, and for the privacy of all correspondence. However, 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. There were credible reports that the Government kept some opposition activists and dissidents under surveillance.

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. The officer 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 roundups are conducted frequently.

Sweeps involving forced entry into homes occurred in Yaounde and Douala on several occasions during the year. Typically, security forces seal off a neighborhood, search homes one after another, arrest persons without identification, and seize suspicious or illegal articles. In January they carried out such sweeps in Yaounde following a series of crimes there. The purview of a March order issued by Northwest province Governor Francis Fai Yengo restricting movement also included searches of individual premises and residences and imposition of a curfew.

In August the press published transcripts of telephone conversations between senior officials. It was unclear whether the taping constituted illegal surveillance. There was no information as to who authorized the surveillance or the release of this information.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press; however, the Government continued to impose some limits on these rights. The Penal Code's libel laws specify that defamation, abuse, contempt, and dissemination of false news are offenses punishable by prison terms and heavy fines.

These various criminal libel statutes are sometimes invoked by the Government to silence criticism of the Government and government officials. There are also instances of legitimate libel cases resulting from reporting by untrained and inexperienced journalists.

The press enjoyed increased liberty to publish due to the 1996 repeal of a law that had authorized press censorship by the Government. Nevertheless, the Government arrested at least five members of the press and prosecuted four on criminal libel charges. The courts imposed stiff fines and jail terms, and one journalist reported being tortured during detention (see Section 1.c.). Some of these prosecutions appear to have been politically motivated. In addition, there were at least 10 instances in which the Government demanded that newspapers be seized under court orders, citing laws authorizing preservation of public order. In the case of one newspaper, Mutations, seizures ordered by the Minister of Territorial Administration continued in certain provinces following a July 4 court ruling that they cease. Other cases involved the suspension or reassignment of public media reporters who displayed independence from the Government.

The Government publishes an official newspaper, the Cameroon Tribune, and operates all radio and television broadcasting. Since 1990 the law has provided 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 reporting of CPDM functions, while giving relatively little attention to opposition events.

While 40 to 50 private newspapers are published sporadically, only about 15 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 provides an opportunity for political parties represented in the National Assembly to present their views. The program faced no arbitrary suspensions during the year. Eight opposition candidates from nonparliamentary parties received limited access to the electronic media during the 2-week presidential campaign.

Christian Eyoum Ngange of Le Messager, who had been arrested in 1996 for writing a satirical piece on President Biya that referred to him by an insulting name, was sentenced to 1 year in prison and fined $600. The appeals court upheld the ruling, and he was sent to prison on January 24. The Supreme Court then received an appeal based on procedural grounds and overturned the appellate judgment. He was released on March 27 but faces the possibility of a new trial.

On April 30, Jean-Bosco Tchoubet, publisher of La Revelation, was arrested on libel charges for published insinuations that the finance minister was corrupt. On June 1, he was transferred to prison pending trial; on July 15, he was convicted, given a 6-month suspended sentence, and ordered to pay a $100 fine.

On March 20, the publisher of L'Independant Hebdo, Evariste Menouga, was arrested along with several colleagues and detained for 1 month before being convicted for libel. He received a 6-month suspended sentence. He had reported that the army was on the brink of rebellion.

In the most publicized case during the year, on December 24 the authorities detained Pius Njawe, the well-known human rights activist and publisher of Le Messager, reportedly for publishing an article alleging that President Biya may have had a heart attack. Njawe remained in prison at the end of the year and was scheduled for trial in early 1998. He had already spent 17 days in jail in 1966 under similar circumstances and was also awaiting review of the appeals of his two 1966 libel convictions. Many national and international media organs condemned his detention.

There were no developments in several 1996 cases. Journalists Tietcheu Kameni and Paul Nyemb, who had been convicted with Njawe in 1966, and Eyoum Ngangue remained at liberty awaiting the outcome of their appeals of their libel convictions. The conviction of Vianney Ombey Ndzana, involving a suspension and a 5-month prison term remained under appeal.

Patrice Ndedi Penda, publisher of Galaxie, was sentenced in 1996 to 2 years in prison and a large fine for having libeled the Minister of State in charge of agriculture; the case remained under appeal.

In the case of Samuel Eleme, publisher of the newspaper La Detente, and journalist Gaston Ekwalla, the newspaper remained under suspension, but Eleme and Ekwalla were not jailed. Their case remained under appeal.

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 student groups. Other universities and educational institutions appeared to be relatively free of the coercive presence of armed security forces or strident student groups.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

Following the attacks on government installations in the Northwest province in late March, Governor Francis Fai Yengo signed an order for a dusk-to-dawn curfew that was not lifted until late July.

On April 2, South West province Governor Peter Oben Ashu banned the publication ceremony of a book by the Government?s ambassador to the Central African Republic, Christopher Nsahlai, on the pretext that it would disrupt public order, although a similar ceremony had been held in Yaounde a few weeks earlier.

On May 28, Governor Ashu signed an order banning all political and social meetings throughout the South West province following several incidents of postlegislative election violence. The ban was lifted on July 14.

On June 6, Sani Alhadji, SDF provincial coordinator for the Center province and other opposition militants were arrested outside the Supreme Court while peacefully demonstrating against the Court's official rendering of the May 17 election results.

On July 16, Center province governor Oumarou Koue issued an order banning all political gatherings in the province until July 25 in order to enable parliamentarians to return to their constituencies after the June session. This order prevented the opposition SDF party from holding a major rally at the national stadium on July 19, for which the authorities had already granted permission.

The law provides for freedom of association, but the Government sometimes restricts this right in practice. Over 140 political parties operated legally together with a growing number of civic associations. There were fewer government-imposed restrictions on these parties to assemble and operate than in years prior to 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; there are no reports that the Government refused to register any Christian denomination. Christian churches of various denominations operate freely throughout the country. The Government verbally attacked the Catholic Church for being overly supportive of the political opposition through its forthright criticism of corruption and mismanagement in government. Muslim centers also operate freely throughout the country.

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

The law does not restrict freedom of movement within the country, but government security forces 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 party, had his passport withdrawn 6 years ago. Following the legislative elections on May 17, he was issued a passport by frontier police authorities. Some student activists implicated in 1996 Yaounde clashes have also been unable to obtain passports.

Following the March attacks on government installations in the Northwest province, Governor Yengo signed an order instituting controls and checks of all persons and goods moving through the province.

Cameroon has long been 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 but can show a valid claim to refugee status. There are currently some 47,332 refugees in the country for whom Cameroon is a country of first asylum. The majority of these persons--nearly 44,390--are Chadian. The remainder are principally from Liberia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, and the former Zaire, the Democratic Republic of Congo. There were 1,400 refugees who arrived in Cameroon as a country of first asylum in 1996 and 800 during the year. 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, and in 1997 received 66 Rwandan refugees from Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There were no reports of forced expulsion of persons having a valid claim to refugee status during the year.

In response to a transfer order from the U.N. Tribunal in Arusha, the Government transferred four persons suspected of war crimes to Tanzania in February. The transfer of two more persons to the U.N. Tribunal occurred on November 19.

In late August and early September, there were reports that about 500 Congolese refugees fleeing turmoil in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo and other parts of that country arrived at Mouloundou in East province. According to the UNHCR, only about 200 were actual Congolese citizens. The others, including Cameroonians, chose to return across the border after a brief stay. The remainder were brought to Bertoua, and voluntary repatriation began.

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. The President and his party have controlled the Government since 1982. The 1992 presidential election was highly criticized by international observers and widely viewed as fraudulent. The 1996 nationwide multiparty municipal elections were judged to be generally free and fair by domestic and international observers. However, the May 17 legislative elections, in which the ruling party ultimately won 116 of the 180 Assembly seats, were criticized by three international observer missions as flawed because of numerous irregularities in voter registration, counting procedures, and violation of certain other aspects of the electoral code.

Following the May 17 balloting, 21 political parties submitted some 150 appeals to the Supreme Court; 4 parties demanded the annulment of the contest, and 19 parties, including the ruling party, called for the elections to be annulled in 65 of 74 constituencies. Some 600 local observers who received accreditation also reported numerous anomalies leading to the disenfranchisement of a significant portion of the electorate. The Supreme Court demonstrated a modest degree of independence in dealing with these complaints and called for by-elections to be held in the case of seven seats, which the ruling party won on August 3. Citizens expressed their disapproval of the electoral process through a low-voter turnout. The registration process, which is open continuously except during elections, is hampered by officials who appear to apply the law irregularly and unevenly.

The majority of international observers endorsed a reform measure espoused by the opposition that calls for the formation of a permanent and autonomous electoral commission to replace the present system of elections run by the Ministry of Territorial Administration. The opposition maintains that the Ministry's control leads to preelectoral manipulation of voter registration lists. In late August, the opposition rallied behind a proposed bill to amend the Constitution to allow for an independent electoral commission, a second round runoff system for the presidential election, and a return to the 5-year term for president. The President's majority in the special session of the Assembly chose not to consider this bill, opting instead for the passage of a few minor reforms to the 1991 electoral code, including increased discretionary power for the Minister of Territorial Administration to rule on the admissibility of candidacies.

On October 12, President Biya won re-election in a process marred by serious procedural flaws, and generally considered by observers as not free and fair. The three major oppositions parties boycotted the elections, and the election irregularities were especially egregious in opposition strongholds, with opposition activists not present to monitor the process.

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 President also directly appoints the governors of each of the provinces. The governors wield considerable power in the electoral process, interpreting the laws and determining how these should be implemented. 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 political appointees are drawn from the President's own ethnic group.

In 1995 the National Assembly passed a set of government-introduced amendments to the 1972 constitution, which established strongly centralized power. The amendments included a two-term limit 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 power over local affairs. The amendments did not weaken presidential power, and the independence of the judiciary remained questionable. Although promulgated by the President in January 1996, most of these amendments have not yet been implemented.

There are no laws that specifically prohibit women or members of minorities from participating in government, in the political process, or in other areas of public life. Women are underrepresented in the Cabinet (3 of the 50 members), in the National Assembly (10 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 34 Cabinet seats, compared with 16 Cabinet positions 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 generally 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 used its authority to approve or withhold official recognition of nongovernmental organizations (NGO?s). This was the case with Conscience Africaine, an NGO that received international support for training election observers until the Government announced that it had not received official recognition, thus halting implementation of its program; however, the NGO continued to operate in practice. The Government sometimes impedes the effectiveness of human rights NGO's by limiting access to prisoners and refusing to share information.

There were several cases of possible harassment of human rights monitors. On February 27, Abdoulaye Math, president of a human rights organization based in Maroua was arrested as he was preparing to go abroad to attend a human rights program. Charged with fraud, he was provisionally released pending trial. There were no further developments in that case, but he was arrested again in November, allegedly in connection with a fraudulent vehicle purchase. He was subsequently released, and no charges were filed. Another member of this organization, Mohamadou Moustapha, was severely beaten at Maroua prison on July 31 when he attempted to intercede on behalf of a prisoner being abused (see Section 1.c.).

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.

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, 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. There are no gender-specific assault laws, despite the fact that women are the predominant victims of domestic violence. 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 on the suspected perpetrator through extralegal means ranging from destruction of property to beating. While there are no reliable statistics on violence against women, the large number of newspaper reports--a fraction of actual incidents--indicates that it is common.

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 forgo sending their children to school. Babies and small children are sometimes held in prison if their mothers are incarcerated (see Section 1.c.). 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 it 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 sponsored several events directed at this problem in the capital during the year.

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 to buildings and facilities for people with disabilities.

Indigenous People

The population of indigenous Baka Pygmies, a term that fact encompasses several different ethnic groups, primarily reside in the forested areas of the South and East provinces. While no legal discrimination exists, other groups often treat them as inferior and sometimes subject them to unfair and exploitative labor practices.

Religious Minorities

There is some societal discrimination against Christians. Some Christians in rural areas of the north, a predominantly Muslim region, complain of discrimination by Muslims. Such discrimination appears to arise from cultural bias.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There are frequent and credible allegations of discrimination among Cameroon's more than 200 ethnic groups. President Biya's Bulu ethnic group and members of closely related Beti groups hold key positions in government, the security forces, and the military forces. 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.

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

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 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 few strikes during the year.

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. No sectoral collective bargaining negotiations were undertaken during the year. 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.

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

The Constitution and the Labor Code prohibit forced or compulsory labor, but it occurs in practice. Forced or bonded labor by children is not specifically prohibited (see Section 6.d.). 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. In South and East provinces, Baka Pygmies are subjected to unfair and exploitative labor practices (see Section 5).

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

Although the Constitution prohibits forced or bonded labor, it does not specifically prohibit such labor by children (see Section 6.c.). Pygmy children are sometimes subject to unfair and exploitative labor practices. The Constitution declares that the nation shall protect and promote the family, with a specific reference to the young. It provides for a child's right to education and makes primary education compulsory. 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.

In September the ILO's Africa Office held a workshop in Yaounde to develop an action plan against child labor.

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 minimum wage is approximately $40 (23,500 cfa francs) per month. It 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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