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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Cameroon

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Cameroon, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Nominally a multiparty republic, Cameroon continues to be dominated in fact by President Paul Biya and a circle of advisers drawn largely from his own ethnic group and from his party, the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM). The CPDM's power was last challenged in 1992 in relatively free National Assembly elections and highly flawed presidential elections. The CPDM successfully dominates the National Assembly through its controlling share of a ruling coalition. On December 23, the National Assembly passed amendments to the 1972 Constitution which for the first time provide for presidential term limits and certain new legislative institutions, including a partially elected senate and regional councils. However, the amendments did little to strengthen the independence of the judiciary or to moderate the President's power to dominate legislation.

The national police and the gendarmerie have dominant roles in enforcing internal security laws. The security forces, including the military, remain under the effective control of the President, the civilian Minister of Defense, and the civilian head of police. These forces, in particular the police and gendarmes, continued to commit numerous human rights abuses.

Cameroon has a diversified agricultural and industrial base, with a small but important offshore petroleum sector. Over 58 percent of the population lives in rural areas, and agriculture accounts for about 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). The petroleum sector accounts for about only 7 percent of GDP, but it supplies nearly a third of the Government's budget. Principal export crops are timber, coffee, cocoa, cotton, bananas, and rubber. Although there are numerous public enterprises and state monopolies, recent reforms have reduced the Government's predominant role in the economy. Following years of contraction, the economy stabilized after a 50 percent currency devaluation in 1994 for the African franc zone, and exports shot up. GDP declined by 6.3 percent per year from 1985 to 1993. The precipitous decline pushed per capita income from its peak of $ 1,080 to $532 per year. Economic growth for 1994/95 was estimated at 3.3 percent.

Cameroon's human rights record continued to be poor, and the Government continued to commit numerous and serious human rights abuses. On many occasions, it prevented opposition political parties and other opposition groups from exercising the right of free assembly, with the police sometimes using excessive force to break up demonstrations. In midyear it launched a campaign to intimidate the private press that included increased censorship of articles, the arrest of journalists, the suspension and seizure of newspapers, and numerous beatings of vendors and distributors. The Government's censorship campaign appeared motivated, in part, by its desire to control the outcome of the nationwide multiparty municipal elections--arbitrarily postponed in 1992 and 1994 and finally scheduled for January 1996. Citizens' ability to change their government remained limited.

Additional egregious abuses included the routine beating by police of suspected criminals; arbitrary arrest; the prolonged detention of prisoners; life-threatening prison conditions; infringements on the right to privacy; and continued violations of worker rights. Discrimination and violence against women remained serious problems. Discrimination against minorities and indigenous people continued. Mob violence and intertribal disputes resulted in many 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 killings known to have been politically motivated. However, on the night of April 22-23, an unknown assailant(s) brutally murdered the Reverend Engelbert Mveng, a Jesuit priest and prominent Cameroonian historian, in his residence outside of Yaounde. The murder was only the most recent of several unsolved murders of clergy over the past several years. The police announced an investigation into the case, but at year's end, no progress had been reported. The Government was widely criticized for not seriously pursuing an investigation into this and other church murders, leading to widespread speculation about government complicity.

Security forces continued to use excessive force in dealing with civilians, and there were a number of incidents in which civilians died. In early January, for example, a police officer killed a 7-year-old girl, Appolonie Ngah Essala, when he opened fire on a taxicab that failed to halt at one of the numerous police roadblocks in the city. In condemning the shooting, Yaounde police officials promised that the officer would be sanctioned and face legal action in court, but such sanctions, if applied, had not been made public by year's end. In another incident in mid-January, gendarmes wounded a Yaounde high-school student, Eric Tonye, who was fleeing the scene of a car crash. Shortly thereafter, while in police custody, the student died from loss of blood. Witnesses claimed that the youth died from a lack of medical attention while in police custody. There was no investigation into the case.

A number of intertribal land disputes in Northwest and West provinces resulted in many deaths. For example, in May and June, a land dispute between Bali and Chomba people in

Northwest province led to repeated outbreaks of fighting that resulted in the deaths of an undetermined number of people. At year's end, no charges had been brought against persons implicated in these incidents. In June fighting over land rights broke out in West province between Bamoun agriculturalists and Bororo cattle herders, reportedly killing seven persons. The authorities created an official commission to resolve the matter and made some arrests.

There was an upsurge of mob violence directed at persons suspected of witchcraft and sorcery, resulting in a number of deaths. For example, in Littoral province on the night of May 12-13, a mob burned to death a woman, E. Madeleine, who had been accused of sorcery. Mob violence also resulted in the deaths of a number of persons suspected of criminal acts. In late May, a mob in Bamenda, Northwest province, beat to death an individual named Mbete after accusing him of stealing food. Police often fail to intervene to prevent such acts of mob violence and rarely arrest perpetrators after they occur.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. However, politically motivated detentions are commonplace, and police and gendarmes frequently fail to inform detainees' family members or attorneys of their whereabouts. Families, associations, or political parties concerned about the whereabouts of a detained person commonly have to make inquiries at local police or gendarme headquarters to determine whether a family member or associate had been taken into custody.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading

Treatment or Punishment

The Penal Code proscribes torture, renders inadmissible in court evidence obtained thereby, and prohibits public servants from using force against any person. In spite of this, there were credible reports of security forces inflicting beatings and other cruel treatment. Often the beatings are reported to occur, not in prison facilities, but in temporary detention cells in a police or gendarme facility.

Security forces frequently inflict degrading mistreatment on detainees, including stripping, confinement in severely overcrowded cells, and denial of access to toilets or other sanitation facilities. Police and gendarmes routinely beat detainees to extract confessions and the names and whereabouts of alleged criminals. In particular, they often beat them on the soles of their feet with an iron bar or whip them with a reinforced rubber tube. Although abuses are rarely punished, the Government has made some efforts to discourage abuses by security forces. It made available in October a report on almost 100 Gendarme officers who were sanctioned for human rights abuses in recent years.

On June 10, Mahamamat Djibril, a member of a Cameroonian human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights and Liberties, was arrested in the town of Maga, Far-North province. According to a credible report, Djibril had gone to the local gendarmerie office to inquire into a case of alleged police abuse. Upon stating his business, he was reportedly seized, assaulted by three gendarmes, and detained for 3 days before being brought before a court in Yagoua where he was charged with assaulting a police officer and creating a disturbance.

There were numerous credible reports that police beat newspaper vendors and distributors, particularly in the port city of Douala, who attempted to sell suspended newspapers (see Section 2.a.).

A U.S. citizen was arrested in Douala on February 3 and charged with theft. Before they established his U.S. citizenship, police beat him on the soles of his feet with the flat side of a machete on two occasions. He was reportedly gagged during one of the beatings. The police did not provide diplomatic notification of the arrest until 5 days after it occurred. The authorities never provided a response to a diplomatic protest of the delay in notification, nor to a request for an investigation into the alleged mistreatment.

On October 25, a Peace Corps volunteer was approached by an apparently intoxicated policeman in an East province bar and, without provocation, threatened with bodily harm. When the volunteer attempted to leave the scene, he was struck in the face. Despite a diplomatic protest, at year's end there was no indication that any disciplinary action had been taken against the policeman.

Prison conditions are life threatening, especially outside major urban areas. Serious deficiencies in food, health care, and sanitation occur in almost all prisons, including those run by traditional rulers in the north. Prisoners are reported to be sometimes chained in their cells. Beatings are common, with numerous credible reports appearing in the private press of prisoners having been burned by cigarettes or painfully suspended over iron bars. Seriously ill prisoners are often denied adequate medical care. Juveniles and nonviolent prisoners are often incarcerated together with violent adults. Sexual abuse of juvenile prisoners by adult inmates appears to be common. Corruption among prison personnel is widespread.

Some high-profile prisoners, including several political opponents of the Government, have been 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 experience relatively lenient treatment.

In northern Cameroon, traditional Lamibe (chiefs) are permitted by the Government to operate their own private prisons outside the government penitentiary system. Private prisons in the chiefdoms of Rey Bouba, Bibemi, and Tcheboa have the worst reputations, including allegations by members of the National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP) 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.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

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

Police may detain a person in custody in connection with a common crime for up to 24 hours, 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 "pretrial detention" indefinitely pending court action. Furthermore, a 1990 law permits detention without charge for renewable periods of 15 days "in order to combat banditry." Persons taken into detention are frequently denied access to both legal counsel and family members. The law permits release on bail only in the Anglophone provinces, where the legal system includes features of British common law. Even there, bail is granted infrequently.

The Government imprisoned several journalists for alleged libel. Some of these cases were marred by judicial improprieties and appear to have been motivated by the Government's desire to inhibit criticism of important government figures or government policies (see Section 2.a.).

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. Other persons who received threats sought political asylum abroad (see Section 2.a.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is subject to political influence. Amendments to the Constitution passed on December 23 provide for the independence of the judiciary but do not make clear how this will be achieved. Under the amendments, the President retains power to appoint members of the bench, as he has in the past. The period for which judges will be appointed is not defined in the Constitution. Judges and magistrates acknowledge that rendering a decision that displeases the President may well result in a transfer to a less desireable position or nonreappointment.

The legal system is strongly influenced by the French legal system, although in the Anglophone provinces certain aspects of the Anglo-Saxon legal 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. The courts are notoriously corrupt and inefficient. 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 on specious grounds of libel. Prisoners may be detained indefinitely during pretrial proceedings.

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.

Because appointed attorneys receive little compensation, the quality of legal representation for indigent persons is often poor. The Bar Association and some voluntary organizations, such as the Cameroonian Association of Female Jurists, offer pro bono legal assistance in some cases. Trials are public, and those convicted have the right to appeal their sentences.

There were no known political prisoners at year's end (see Section 2.a.). However, a controversial court case in Far North province involving members of an opposition political party, UNDP, continued during 1995. In mid-1994 the authorities arrested 29 prominent UNDP activists from that province, including the party's local division head, Amadou Adji, following a rock-throwing attack on a motorcade in which the provincial governor and a cabinet minister, who had defected to the Government from the UNDP, were riding. The Government charged them with various offenses, including obstruction of a public highway, banditry, and assault, occasioning one death. UNDP leaders claim that all were arrested on political grounds, regardless of whether they were present when the incident broke out, and that the real culprits were juveniles who escaped. The authorities released 15 of the detainees, including Adji, in February pending trial, held 7 in detention, and dropped charges against 6 others in March. The trial opened on July 27 but was postponed in August, first at the request of the prosecution, and later at the request of the defense. The UNDP argued that the judge in the case, a member of President Biya's ethnic group, was biased against the defendants and permitted irregular courtroom procedures that favored the prosecution.

Attorneys presented closing arguments on December 14, but the judge did not issue a verdict. Instead, he postponed his decision until February 8, l996, after the municipal elections scheduled for January 21. Because the accused have not been convicted of a crime they may participate in those elections. However, a postelection conviction would render them ineligible to hold office, and the seven that remain in prison cannot participate in the electoral campaign. Defense attorneys and UNDP leaders were concerned that the judge would use a guilty verdict to annul election results unfavorable to the Government.

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

Both invasions of the home and tampering with correspondence are illegal, but there were numerous credible reports that police and gendarmes harassed citizens, conducted searches without warrants, and seized mail. There were numerous credible reports that the Government kept some opposition activists and dissidents under surveillance.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the Constitution provides for freedom of expression and the press, the Government does not always respect these liberties. In fact, it vigorously censors and intimidates the large private press. A 1990 law established more liberal regulations to begin publication of newspapers and magazines, but it also formally authorized prepublication censorship and granted the Ministry of Territorial Administration the authority to suspend or revoke the right to publish. In December the National Assembly passed a new press law restricting the Government's right to censor individual articles in advance of publication but expanding the Government's right to ban or seize publications "which threaten the public order or good morals," terms which the new law does not define.

The law also provided for the licensing of private radio and television stations, but, as of late 1995, the Government had granted no licenses and retained complete control of the electronic media. The Government informed license applicants that, while private stations are theoretically legal, there exists no statutory framework for issuing licenses. Public servants employed by the official media face retribution for openly criticizing the Government. In addition to direct censorship, many private newspapers were harassed and intimidated into practicing a degree of self-censorship.

The Government publishes an official newspaper, the Cameroon Tribune, and determines the content of radio and television broadcasts, the most important media for reaching the public. While government reporters sometimes run stories which implicitly criticize the ruling party or portray government programs in an unfavorable light, the government-controlled media provide disproportionately high levels of coverage to CPDM functions, while giving little attention to opposition events.

There are 40 to 50 private newspapers which publish sporadically; only about 10 appeared on a regular basis in 1994-95. While these newspapers are often outspoken in their criticism of the President and the Government, the press is not read widely outside the major cities because of the high cost of a newspaper to the average citizen, as well as distribution problems. Despite its advantage, starting in the spring the Government waged a severe campaign of intimidation against the press, which included frequent and arbitrary censorship of articles (particularly those critical of leading government figures), the arrests of journalists, beatings and arrests of newspaper vendors and distributors, repeated seizures of newspaper copies, and finally the outright suspension of the leading independent journals. The Government claimed that they had violated prepublication censorship laws, although one newspaper's suspension notice was based on the "behavior" of the editor, grounds which have no known basis even in Cameroonian press law. The repeated seizures of thousands of copies of newspapers dealt a severe blow to many financially strapped independent newspapers, two of which were bought in September by progovernment businessmen. By late 1995, fewer newspapers appeared regularly on the streets, and most of those appearing had adopted a decidedly more cautious tone.

The manager of the government-directed Cameroon Radio and Television Corporation arbitrarily suspended from January 1 through March 2 a weekly radio and television program created by a 1991 law to allow political parties represented in the National Assembly to represent their views. The entirely illegal suspension of the program appeared designed to inhibit expression by members of the UNDP, the only major opposition party represented in the National Assembly, of their claim that the Government was engaged in efforts to destabilize their party.

Of the many arrests made during the year, several stand out. On May 4, gendarmes arrested Patrice Ndedi Penda, editor of the independent newspaper, Galaxie, and detained him overnight in a Douala prison. His arrest, which was made without a legal warrant, stemmed from a year-old court case in which Penda had accused a government minister of an impropriety. The judge in the case had declared himself incompetent to rule on the matter, and the case had been considered closed. In obtaining the May 4 arrest, the concerned minister is believed to have improperly prevailed upon contacts within a Douala gendarme unit. A Douala court later ruled that the arrest and detention had been illegal. In the same month, several thousand copies of Galaxie's four editions for May were seized and destroyed.

On June 6, the Government arrested Ndzana Seme, the publisher of Le Nouvel Independant, on grounds of having committed outrage to the Head of State and inciting to rebellion after he published an article accusing the head of the Government's security services of embezzlement and other financial improprieties. Ndzana Seme had been jailed on similar charges in 1994 and held for 2 1/2 months without bail. He received a stiff fine and a suspended sentence in that case. During the June 6 arrest, police reportedly beat two of the publisher's associates. Following his June arrest, the authorities held Ndzana Seme in a Yaounde prison for 2 months and did not bring formal charges against him until 4 to 5 weeks after his arrest. In August a court sentenced him to 2 months' imprisonment but immediately released him on the grounds that he had already served the sentence. In November a court convicted him on additional charges of outrage to the Head of State and sentenced him to 12 months in prison and a large fine. At year's end, Ndzana Seme had gone into hiding to evade the authorities.

In a similar case, in August a court sentenced Pius Njawe, publisher of Le Messager, to 2 months' imprisonment on charges he defamed the head of the Government's security services in an article alleging financial improprieties. The sentence was suspended on appeal.

In mid-July, a court sentenced Paddy Mbawa, an outspoken critic of the Government and the publisher of the Anglophone Cameroon Post, to 9 months in prison on two counts of having libeled a prominent businessman. Mbawa and his supporters claimed that the charges against him were part of a government conspiracy to silence him and to destroy his newspaper. The 9-month sentence was unusually severe for a case of this type, and, in addition, the court proceedings against him were marked by judicial irregularities. Mbawa was jailed on August 10 although the court's failure to provide a written judgment in the case prevented him from filing a timely appeal. Subsequent appeals and requests for bail were denied. At year's end, Mbawa remained in prison, and the Government had filed a new set of charges against him, accusing him of libel and antigovernment rhetoric. If convicted, he could face a lengthy prison term.

In April Julius Wamey, the former editor in chief of the Cameroon Post, a newspaper that is often harshly critical of the Government, sought (and subsequently received) political asylum in the United States. He reported that he had been subject to police harassment and death threats in Cameroon.

In August the Government arbitrarily suspended indefinitely four major private newspapers, La Nouvelle Expression, Le Messager, Dikalo, and Challenge Hebdo. All four had been outspokenly critical of the Government. The Government based its suspension order of three of the newspapers on their alleged defiance of censorship rules. La Nouvelle Expression had the proof that it had abided by the censorship rules; it was suspended on other grounds, that of the "behavior" of the editor. The newspapers' editors argued, accurately, that the censorship rules were arbitrary and capricious.

There were dozens of instances of press seizures throughout the year and many arrests of newspaper vendors. For example, in mid-April the authorities arrested three newspaper vendors, handled them roughly, and briefly jailed them in Douala on grounds they were selling a banned edition of Le Messager. The edition carried an article critical of the Vice Prime Minister. In August the authorities arrested several dozen newspaper vendors in Douala and Yaounde on grounds that they had distributed suspended newspapers. While only briefly detained, the police beat many of the vendors, and magistrates handed out heavy fines.

Although there are no legal restrictions on academic freedom, free political discussion at the university is dampened by the presence of armed security forces, reported state security informants, as well as the sometimes strident pro-opposition groups. Some professors believe that their political viewpoints and activism have had a negative impact on professional opportunities and advancement. In August the Abbe Jean-Marc Ela, a respected theologian and professor of sociology at the University of Yaounde, sought political asylum in Canada claiming that he had received death threats.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of assembly and association are provided for in law but restricted in practice. The Penal Code prohibits public meetings, demonstrations, or processions without prior government approval. Some 113 political parties operated legally, albeit with severe restrictions, along with a growing number of civic associations.

The Government restricted the ability of opposition parties to operate, generally by refusing them permission to hold meetings on the grounds that the proposed meetings threatened public order. There were many instances of government interference during the year, even when the parties had followed proper advance procedures. For example, on March 25, police antiriot forces dispersed militants of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), a major opposition party, who had gathered peacefully in a Yaounde public square for a memorial service dedicated to deceased SDF members. In dispersing the gathering, the police injured a number of persons and briefly arrested 18 persons. The police also disrupted a number of SDF municipal election rallies in the South and Center provinces in October and November.

There were a number of examples of official interference with activities of the Union of Democratic Forces (UFDC). On January 31, the Yaounde authorities banned a UFDC rally intended to install newly elected party officials. On February 1, Yaounde police dispersed a meeting of the Allied Front for Change, a coalition of 16 major opposition parties, including the UFDC, when Front members gathered in UFDC headquarters to elect a coalition president. On March 22, police barricaded UFDC headquarters to prevent Mongo Beti, a celebrated Cameroonian writer and intellectual, from delivering a lecture on his book criticizing the French role in Africa.

The Government attempted frequently to interrupt meetings of groups supporting greater autonomy or independence for the Anglophone region. On July 3, for example, gendarmes in Bamenda, Northwest province, used tear gas to disperse a group welcoming leaders of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), a pro-Anglophone group engaged in a public campaign. On the same day, gendarmes surrounded the Bamenda home of an SCNC leader and prevented free entry or exit. The governor of Southwest province banned all demonstrations, meetings, and rallies by SCNC or the Liberal Democratic Alliance (LDA) party throughout the Fako division of the province. On July 13, gendarmes broke up an LDA rally in Kumba, Southwest province, even though party organizers had followed the required advance procedures.

The Government's efforts to intimidate opposition party meetings had an impact. Several parties reported that the Government's repressive acts had discouraged them from attempting to hold rallies or other organizational activities.

In a related incident, on August 31, Yaounde police disrupted a workshop on election monitoring by prohibiting participants from meeting in the hotel where they had made prior arrangements or in any of several alternative hotels. The seminar organizers, members of the private organization Conscience Africaine, had taken all the necessary legal steps to obtain advance approval for the seminar. The Government later relented after the conference had already been moved to a diplomatic venue.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally does not restrict this freedom. However, 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 1972 Constitution provides all citizens the right to settle in any place and to move about freely, subject to statutory provisions concerning public order, security, and tranquility. In reality, government forces commonly impede domestic travel on specious and arbitrary grounds. Police frequently stop travelers to check identification documents, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration control measures. Security forces, including police, frequently set up roadblocks primarily to extract bribes. This long-standing practice appears to have increased as the economy declined, although security forces did not take the drastic 1994 salary cuts imposed on civil servants.

The Government occasionally uses its passport control function against those it considers a potential threat. For example, it withdrew the passport of Victorin Hameni Bieleu, the President of the UFDC party, 4 years ago, and he has been unable to obtain a new one.

Cameroon has long served as a safe haven for displaced persons and refugees from the region, and it cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Although the Government occasionally returns illegal immigrants, there were no reports of forced repatriation of recognized refugees. However, there were continuing reports that some illegal immigrants have been subjected to harsh treatment, including imprisonment.

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.

In contrast to the relatively open March 1992 National Assembly elections, the last presidential election held in October 1992 was characterized by widespread irregularities; it was highly criticized by independent observers and widely regarded in Cameroon as fraudulent. Municipal elections, which had been repeatedly postponed in 1992 and 1994 were finally scheduled for January 1996.

Considerable controversy surrounded the Government's handling of preparations for these local elections. The electoral registration period was marred by widespread and credible charges that administrative obstacles rendered it difficult for many citizens to register. There is no independent nonpartisan national election commission, and the 1992 municipal election law, passed by a CPDM-dominated National Assembly, favors the incumbent party. Government authorities have broad powers permitting them to determine candidates' eligibility for office, monitor the operations of local polling commissions, announce election results, and invalidate entire lists of candidates.

The Government's control over Cameroon's administrative apparatus is broad and deep. The President appoints by decree the Chief Operating Official, the Government delegate, of Yaounde, Douala, Bamenda, and several other large cities, which have no elected mayors. The governors of each of the provinces are also appointed directly by the President. Important lower level members of the provincial administrative structures including the senior divisional officers, the divisional officers, and the district chiefs, are all appointed by the Prime Minister, who is also a member of the CPDM. The governors and senior divisional officers wield considerable authority within the areas under their jurisdiction, including, significantly, the authority to ban political meetings that they deem likely to threaten public order (see Section 2.b).

In December the National Assembly passed a set of government-introduced amendments to the strongly centralized 1972 Constitution. 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.

There are no specific discriminatory laws prohibiting women or minorities from participating in government, in the political process, or in other areas of public life. Women are represented in the President's Cabinet (2 of 44 members), in the National Assembly (22 of 180 members), in the CPDM, in the judicial system, and in numerous state-run enterprises, although not in numbers anywhere near proportional to their share of the population. In June two women were named to secretary-general posts in the Ministries of National Education and Tourism.

While most of the key members of the Government, such as those from the Ministries of Territorial Administration and Defense, are drawn from the President's own Beti ethnic group, all levels of the administration include participants from other ethnic groups and regions. Suffrage is universal at age 20.

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

The Government permits numerous domestic and international human rights monitoring groups to operate. It sometimes impeded the effectiveness of these nongovernmental organizations, including the ICRC, by limiting access to prisoners, refusing to divulge information, and otherwise inhibiting their activities. On occasion, human rights workers have been beaten and harassed (see Section l.c.). Some of the most active include the National League for Human Rights, the Organization for Human Rights and Freedoms, the Association of Women against Violence, the Cameroonian Association of Female Jurists, the Cameroonian Association for Children's Rights, Conscience Africaine, the Movement for the Defense of Human Rights and Liberties, the Human Rights Defence Group, and the Human Rights Clinic and Education Center. Financial hardships, inexperience, and occasional fear of government reprisals sometimes discouraged these nongovernmental civic associations from publicly criticizing the Government's human rights record. Nevertheless, several organizations issued press releases to denounce specific human rights abuses. Many held seminars and workshops on various aspects of human rights.

The governmental National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, whose operations had been hampered in previous years by lack of official funding, in 1995 received sufficient funds from the Government to enable it to carry out limited activities. The Commission has submitted reports to the President and the Prime Minister but has never released these publicly. It organized events or hosted several human rights seminars during the year. These included a national poster campaign in February to educate the population about their civil and human rights and a human rights seminar in March in Bamenda for government officials.

The Government cooperated with the ICRC in preparing a draft training manual for gendarme units to be used in riot control and other "maintenance of order" operations. In September the Government permitted a U.S. military unit to offer a seminar for the first time on peacekeeping, disaster relief, democracy, and military code of conduct to a selected group of military officers. The seminar included considerable human rights content. In October a government ministry shared with diplomatic officials a report of sanctions taken against a number of gendarmes accused of human rights violations in 1993 and 1994. While sketchy, the report marks one of the few times the Government has demonstrated a willingness to publicize sanctions taken against the forces of law and order.

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." However, it does not explicitly forbid discrimination based on race, language, religion, or social status. The Government does not effectively enforce these constitutional provisions.


Credible reports indicate that violence against women has surged in recent years and that the law does not impose effective penalties against violators. Spousal 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 indicate the frequency is high.

Despite constitutional provisions recognizing equal 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 irrespective of venue. In the northern provinces, traditional leaders (Lamibe) prevent their numerous wives from ever leaving the palaces.


The Constitution provides that a child has the right to an education, and the Government sets mandatory schooling through age 14. Nevertheless, rising school fees and costs for books have forced many families to forgo sending their children to school. The degree of familial child abuse is not known but is one of several targeted issues of children's rights organizations. Babies and small children sometimes accompany their mothers to prison.

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is not widely practiced in Cameroon, but it occurs in some areas of the Far North and Southwest provinces. It includes the most severe form of the abuse, infibulation, and is usually practiced on young, preadolescent girls. The Government does not recognize FGM as a problem and has not allocated resources to educate the public on the issue.

People With Disabilities

A 1983 law and subsequent implementing legislation provide certain guarantees 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. These rights and guarantees 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 it to churches or foreign NGO's to provide assistance.

Indigenous People

Cameroon's population of indigenous Pygmies (a term which in fact encompasses several different ethnic groups) primarily resides in the forest areas of the south and southeast. While they suffer no legal discrimination, they are subject to much societal and economic discrimination; other groups often treat the Pygmies 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 receives special preferences in all sectors affected by the Government. This has resulted in Betis holding a preponderance of key positions in government, the security forces, and the military. In other sectors, discrimination by other ethnic groups is not uncommon. Virtually all ethnic groups tend to provide preferential treatment to their coethnics 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

The 1992 Labor Code allows workers to form and join trade unions of their own choosing. It permits groups of at least 20 workers to organize a union but also requires registration with the Ministry of Labor. 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 in 1995.

The Labor Code explicitly recognizes workers' right to strike but only after mandatory arbitration. Arbitration proceedings are not legally enforceable and may be overturned by the Government. The Labor Code, in theory, provides for the protection of legal strikers and prohibits retribution against them. In fact, the Government responded aggressively to a number of strikes, many of which were occasioned by long-term arrearages in civil service salaries. In January it dismissed 20 University of Yaounde administrative employees after they staged a strike demanding payment of several months salary arrearages. While in May the Government acceded to part of the demands of the Yaounde urban council workers for back pay, in June and July it used security forces to help terminate strikes over salary arrearages by members of the Cameroon Public Servants Union (CAPSU), an independent and unregistered union, and by Public Works Workers (Grands Travaux). In the latter instance, on August 7 the Government called out the Presidential Guard to evict workers from a state-owned building.

In September the National Union of Secondary School Teachers (SNAES), a registered union, filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO), charging that the Government had illegally assigned members of the union's executive committee to remote areas in retaliation for union participation in a December 1993 to February 1994 strike over salary arrearages and improved professional status for teachers. SYNES, the National Union of Teachers of Higher Education, submitted a complaint to the ILO concerning the Government's long-term refusal to register it.

In March 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.

Earlier, in January the Government had permitted the CCTU to hold a congress and agreed not to interfere in the union's activities and to respect the decisions of the CCTU majority. In 1994 the Government had engineered the ouster of Louis Sombes, who was seen as a threat to government control of the union, from his post as Secretary General. The ILO and other international trade union organizations criticized the Government's action, and Sombes was reelected to the secretary general post in the January election.

In June the ILO expressed regret over the Government's silence in response to its 1994 inquiries concerning government interference in the leadership of the CCTU.

The CCTU is a member of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. The USLC, established in March, filed an application for membership with these organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The 1992 Labor Code provides for collective bargaining between workers and management in local 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.

The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination, and employers guilty of such discrimination are subject to fines ranging up to the equivalent of $2,000 (1 million CFA francs). However, employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination do not have to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The Ministry of Labor reported that there were no complaints of such discrimination in 1995. In contrast, CCTU delegates reported that many trade unionists were dismissed from their jobs in 1995 due to union activities. The Cameroon Railroad Corporation suspended all union activities in 1995 and fired some union members.

Cameroon has an industrial free zone regime. The Government approved several firms to operate under it in 1994 but none in 1995. 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, prisons continued to allow inmates to be contracted out to private employers or used as communal labor for municipal public works. There are credible reports that slavery continues to be practiced in the Lamidat of Rey Bouba, an isolated traditional kingdom in North province.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code establishes that no child may be employed before age 14. Ministry of Labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing the minimum age of employment but lack resources for an effective inspection program. In rural areas many children begin work at an early age on family farms. Often, rural youth, especially girls, are employed by relatives as domestics, while many urban street vendors are under the age of 14. 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. In February the Prime Minister set the wage at approximately $47 (24,000 CFA francs) per month. The wage does not provide a decent living for the 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, and there is no provision in the Labor Code authorizing workers to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety. Workers do have the right to report a dangerous situation to a Ministry of Labor medical doctor. The doctor may inspect the suspect work site and recommend remedies but, in many cases, fails to do so.

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