Republic of Cameroon

Head of state: Paul Biya
Head of government: Peter Mafany Musonge
Capital: Yaoundé
Population: 14.7 million
Official languages: French, English
Death penalty: retentionist
1999 treaty ratifications/signatures: African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

Large numbers of people were extrajudicially executed in the north of the country. Torture and ill-treatment by the security forces remained routine, and prison conditions amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, resulting in a high mortality rate. Critics of the government, including supporters of opposition political parties, journalists and human rights activists, were harassed, arrested and imprisoned. Thirty-six people were convicted after an unfair trial before a military tribunal. Perpetrators of human rights violations continued to act with impunity.

Extrajudicial executions in the north

Extrajudicial executions of criminal suspects in North, Far-North and Adamawa Provinces continued during operations to combat armed robbery by a joint unit of the army and gendarmerie (the paramilitary police), known as the brigade anti-gang .

Since March 1998, when the unit was deployed, some 700 people were reported to have been extrajudicially executed.

In late April or early May 1999, 15 people were reported to have been extrajudicially executed by the brigade anti-gang on the road to Kossa, north of Maroua, Far-North Province, and their bodies abandoned by the roadside. While killings were reported to have continued throughout 1999, the practice of abandoning unburied bodies decreased and it became more difficult to establish the numbers killed.

The fate of Alioum Aminou, a photographer who had distributed photographs of victims of extrajudicial executions, remained unknown. He had been arrested by the brigade anti-gang in October 1998 in Maroua.

Human rights defenders

Members of a non-governmental organization, the Mouvement pour la défense des droits de l'homme et des libertés (MDDHL), Movement for the Defence of Human Rights and Liberties, were repeatedly threatened because of their exposure of extrajudicial executions by the brigade anti-gang . AI urged that those defending human rights be allowed to carry out their activities in safety.

  • In early May 1999 the brigade anti-gang ambushed and threatened MDDHL members who were investigating the killings on the road to Kossa. Later that month they went to the homes of Abdoulaye Math, President of the MDDHL, and a colleague, Semdi Soulaye. Both men were away at the time. Abdoulaye Math's home was reported to have been surrounded by some 18 armed members of the brigade anti-gang who pointed guns at a member of his family. Abdoulaye Math and Semdi Soulaye fled to Yaoundé. Abdoulaye Math's house was surrounded and his family intimidated on subsequent nights.

Another MDDHL member, Maurice Tchambou, was arrested in November in Maroua by the gendarmerie. He was subsequently transferred to the custody of the brigade anti-gang and denied all visits. He remained held without charge at the end of the year.

Other killings by the security forces

Killings which appeared to be extrajudicial executions took place in other parts of the country.

  • On 28 December 1998 a student, Guy Hervé Nwafo Diessé, was shot dead by a police inspector in Bafoussam, West Province, after a fight between the two men in a shop. The police inspector was subsequently arrested and on 2 August 1999 was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • On 4 February 1999, three men from the semi-nomadic pastoral Mbororo community were reported to have been killed on the orders of the traditional ruler, known as the Fon, of Bali, North-West Province, after a dispute about stolen cattle. The three men – Issa Adamaou, Salihou Jibo and Idrissou Kari Buba – were beaten and burned to death. An official investigation into the killing took place and an arrest warrant was issued against the Fon, a prominent member of the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement. He was not arrested and no further action was taken against him although several others were subsequently arrested in connection with the killings.

Torture and ill-treatment

Torture and ill-treatment of detainees in police stations and gendarmerie headquarters remained widespread and systematic; incidents were reported throughout 1999. Torture included severe beatings to the head, legs, feet, arms and back, and the balançoire, where victims were suspended from a rod between their hands tied behind their legs. Many victims were refused medical treatment for injuries sustained as a result of torture. Several people were also reported to have been injured in incidents where the security forces used excessive force.

  • On 17 February an official of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the main opposition party, was arrested in Bamenda, North-West Province, following an authorized SDF meeting and held at gendarmerie headquarters for nine days before being transferred to the Central Prison in Bamenda. While held by the gendarmerie he was reported to have been stripped, handcuffed and repeatedly beaten on the soles of his feet with a plastic truncheon. He was released after three weeks.
  • A prisoner at the Central Prison, New Bell, in Douala was reported to have died on 25 March after being beaten with wooden truncheons by prison guards following an escape attempt. He had injuries to his head, shoulders and legs and had suffered a brain haemorrhage.
  • On 17 March police officers forced their way into a children's home in Douala, apparently searching for a criminal suspect. They forced children to kneel and beat and kicked them. Two received bullet wounds and were refused medical assistance. Several children, including those with bullet wounds, were taken to a police station where they were beaten on their bodies and on the soles of their feet. The police eventually admitted that they had acted on incorrect information.

Legislation passed in January 1997 prohibiting torture was persistently violated by police and gendarmerie officers. Most enjoyed impunity, but in a few cases perpetrators were prosecuted. Two police officers, sentenced to 10 years and six years' imprisonment for the death in November 1997 of a young man in police custody in Yaoundé, had their sentences reduced on appeal to eight years and one year respectively in February 1999.

Conditions in prisons remained extremely harsh and amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In most prisons, prisoners under sentence of death were kept with their feet chained. Severe overcrowding, poor hygiene and ventilation, inadequate food and lack of medical care resulted in a high mortality rate. The Central Prison, Nkondengui, in Yaoundé, and New Bell prison in Douala, each designed to hold 800 prisoners, held some 2,700 and 2,500 prisoners respectively in mid-1999. At least 30 prisoners were reported to have died at New Bell prison during the first half of 1999.

Prisoners of conscience

Freedom of expression and association continued to be curtailed.


Journalists were convicted of criminal offences such as criminal defamation, abuse, contempt or dissemination of false news.

  • Séverin Tchounkeu, director of an independent newspaper, La Nouvelle Expression, journalist Henriette Ekwé and John Fru Ndi, leader of the SDF, had been charged with criminal defamation in 1998 following publication of allegations that a former SDF official had embezzled party funds. Both John Fru Ndi and Séverin Tchounkeu were convicted in February 1999 and received a suspended sentence of a fine; Henriette Ekwé was acquitted.
  • Anselm Mballa, director of Le Serment, was convicted of defamation on 16 July 1999 and sentenced to six months' imprisonment following an article published in April which was considered to have criticized a government minister. He was serving his sentence in Nkondengui prison at the end of 1999.
  • In May 1999 police went to the home of Aimé Mathurin Moussy, director of a weekly newspaper, La Plume du Jour, which had been suspended by the authorities in September 1997, and interrogated several members of his family. This followed an interview which was critical of the Cameroon government given by Aimé Mathurin Moussy, at that time in France, in May 1999 to a French radio station.

Political opponents

Members of opposition political parties, including the SDF, continued to be harassed, arrested and detained, usually for short periods. One prominent member of an opposition political party remained held throughout 1999.

  • Nana Koulagna, a former National Assembly member of the Union nationale pour la démocratie et le progrès (UNDP), National Union for Democracy and Progress, continued to be held at Garoua Central Prison, North Province. He had conducted an election campaign on behalf of the UNDP in May 1997. He and other UNDP members were attacked by the private militia of the traditional ruler, known as the lamido, of Rey Bouba in North Province. Two UNDP members and three members of the militia died in the confrontation. While no member of the militia was arrested, Nana Koulagna and several other UNDP supporters were arrested and although the judicial authorities ordered Nana Koulagna's release, he remained in administrative detention. In October 1998 he and six other UNDP supporters were charged by a military tribunal with murder, arson, looting, illegal possession of arms and other offences. They were not, however, brought to trial. AI called for Nana Koulagna's immediate and unconditional release.
  • Five men from Cameroon's English-speaking minority continued to be held without charge or trial in Nkondengui prison. Abel Acha Apong, Chrispus Kenebie, John Kudi and Jack Njenta were arrested in September 1995 and Arrey Etchu Wilson in February 1997. In September 1995 they had collected signatures for an unofficial referendum on independence organized by the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), a group supporting independence for the English-speaking North-West and South-West Provinces. AI called for their immediate and unconditional release unless they were to be charged with a criminal offence and given a fair trial.

Unfair trial before a military tribunal

In early October 1999 a military tribunal passed lengthy prison terms after an unfair trial. Those convicted, all civilians, had been charged with offences including murder, attempted murder, grievous bodily harm, illegal possession of firearms, arson and robbery, in connection with armed attacks in North-West Province in March 1997 during which 10 people, including three gendarmes, were killed. The authorities blamed the attacks on the SCNC and the affiliated Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL).

Fifty-three prisoners held in connection with these events at Nkondengui and Mfou prisons, most of them for more than two years, and another 15 who had been released on bail during 1998, were finally brought before a military tribunal in Yaoundé in April 1999 to be charged. A law passed in April 1998 extended the jurisdiction of military tribunals to offences involving firearms.

The trial began on 25 May 1999 and there were further hearings during the following months. Three defendants received life sentences and 33 others were sentenced to between one and 20 years' imprisonment; the others were acquitted. Those sentenced to two years or less were released. Eighteen prisoners remained imprisoned, serving sentences of eight years' to life imprisonment. Appeals against conviction and sentence had not been heard by the end of 1999.

The military tribunal was neither independent nor impartial. It operated under the authority of the Ministry of Defence and the prosecution was under the direction of the Minister of State in charge of Defence. The defendants had no access to defence lawyers during pre-trial detention, or to the indictment against them, and were therefore unable to prepare their defence adequately. Twelve lawyers represented all 68 defendants. Although prosecution witnesses referred to written evidence proving that SCNC and SCYL members had planned and coordinated the attacks, no such evidence was reportedly produced in court.

Members of the security forces who appeared as prosecution witnesses claimed that the defendants had confessed. Some of the defendants, however, said that they had been tortured and ill-treated during interrogation. At least 10 prisoners of this group had died since March 1997 as a result of torture and ill-treatment or inadequate medical care.

AI called for those convicted to be allowed a retrial before a civilian court in accordance with international standards of fair trial.

Intergovernmental organizations

In May 1999 the UN Special Rapporteur on torture visited Cameroon and travelled to Yaoundé, Douala, Bafoussam, Bamenda and Maroua. Findings and recommendations were expected to be published in early 2000.

In October the UN Human Rights Committee considered Cameroon's third periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and expressed concern that rights guaranteed by the treaty were persistently violated. It criticized widespread extrajudicial executions, the imposition of death sentences, excessive use of lethal force, sometimes resulting in deaths, torture by police officials and the absence of an independent mechanism for investigation, and prison conditions characterized by severe overcrowding, inadequate food and medical care. The Committee expressed concern about indefinite administrative detention and the jurisdiction of military courts over civilians, and the prosecution of journalists for dissemination of false news. It also concluded that the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms lacked independence from the government.

In November, during the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government meeting in South Africa, AI called for Cameroon's human rights record to be scrutinized and for the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee to be reinforced by the Commonwealth. The organization specifically recommended that Cameroon be included in the mandate of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Harare Declaration.

AI country reports and visits


  • Cameroon's human rights record under scrutiny by the United Nations (AI Index: AFR 17/003/99)
  • Cameroon fails to protect the fundamental human rights of its citizens (AI Index: AFR 17/006/99)
  • Cameroon: Lengthy prison terms after unfair trial before military tribunal (AI Index: AFR 17/010/99)


An AI delegate visited Cameroon in July in order to observe the trial before the military tribunal in Yaoundé.

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