Republic of Cameroon
Head of state: Paul Biya
Head of government: Peter Mafany Musonge
Population: 15.2 million
Official languages: French, English
Death penalty: retentionist
2001 treaty ratifications/signatures: Optional Protocol to the UN Children's Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict
Criminal suspects continued to be extrajudicially executed by the special security forces. Under strong national and international pressure, the government took steps to investigate some of the killings but no results of investigations were published. Throughout the year human rights defenders continued to be ill-treated and intimidated by the security forces. Offices of several human rights organizations were targeted for arson and burgled in Douala and Maroua. In October the security forces killed three people when dispersing peaceful demonstrations in North-West Province. Leading members of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) were arrested and held for two months without trial. Eighteen detainees sentenced to long prison terms after an unfair trial in 1999 remained held; some were in a critical state of health.
In preparation for the Franco-African Summit held in Yaoundé in January, the authorities banned meetings announced by civil society groups intending to address the government's human rights record. The World Bank appointed an International Advisory Group to monitor the upholding of international human rights standards and the use of revenue and loans in connection with the construction of the Chad-Cameroon Petroleum Development and Pipeline Project. The territorial dispute with Nigeria over the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula remained unresolved. Opposition parties continued to challenge the government about the elections supervisory body, the Observatoire national des élections, expressing particular concern about its powers and composition, and its perceived lack of independence.
Faced with accusations of condoning large-scale extrajudicial executions carried out by the Commandement opérationnel (CO), a special security force set up in 2000, the government announced steps in January to restructure the force. After a brief period during the Franco-African Summit when no extrajudicial executions were alleged, reports again increased after January. In April, following growing public protests, the government conducted an internal inquiry; eight security officials were arrested. They remained in detention at the end of the year. No findings of the inquiry were made public, and the CO continued to be reportedly responsible for the extrajudicial execution of criminal suspects.
- On 23 January, nine youths were arrested by security forces from the Bépanda Omnisports neighbourhood in Douala, suspected of stealing a neighbour's cooking gas bottle. The nine were subsequently transferred to a detention facility in Bonanjo-Douala belonging to the CO. They were last seen there by relatives on 26 and 27 February. There was no later information about their whereabouts and they were believed to have been killed by security forces.
Security forces continued to use excessive, sometimes lethal, force in operations to disperse demonstrations and suppress freedom of expression. Tension mounted in the English-speaking South-West and North-West provinces as arrests continued of activists from the SCNC, a group supporting independence for those provinces.
- At least three people were killed and nine injured on 1 October after gendarmerie and police used firearms to disperse a peaceful demonstration in Kumbo, North-West Province.
- Eighteen leading members of the SCNC were arrested in October and detained for nearly two months without trial.
Human rights defenders and journalists continued to be harassed for denouncing human rights violations and commenting on actions by the security forces. Steps taken in May in Belgium by political and civil society groups to prosecute President Paul Biya for crimes against humanity were followed by a growing number of incidents of repression and harassment against human rights defenders. The offices of the Action des Chrétiens pour l'abolition de la torture (ACAT), Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, were targeted in a failed arson attack which caused damage to adjacent offices. The offices of the Maroua-based Mouvement pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme et des Libertés (MDDHL), Movement in Defence of Human Rights and Freedom, were burgled. In August, Abdoulaye Math, president of the MDDHL, was arrested and intimately body-searched. Documents relating to human rights violations were taken from him and were not returned.
- Jean-Marc Soboth, editor of the Douala-based newspaper La Nouvelle Expression was arrested and questioned by police about an article published on 24 September which discussed plans by the authorities to counter demonstrations planned for 1 October. He was released without charge the next day.
- On 26 April, five men, four of them activists from the Collectif national contre l'Impunité, National Collective against Impunity, were arrested while on their way to a meeting. They were released without charge after three days.
- After lodging a complaint with the regional military tribunal in April, a relative of Luc Bassilekin, who was killed reportedly by members of the CO in Douala in October 2000, was harassed, his private possessions were searched and documents stolen after his office was burgled. No progress on the case was reported by the end of 2001.
Eighteen prisoners, convicted in 1999 after an unfair trial of charges including murder and robbery in connection with armed attacks in North-West Province in March 1997, remained held in Yaoundé. Most suffered from serious health problems as a result of poor prison conditions and prolonged confinement in darkness. They continued to be denied access to adequate medical treatment.
In March, Frederik Ebong Alobwede, Chief Otun Ayamba, James Sabum and three other SCNC activists were released after 14 months' detention without trial. Maurice Tchambou, a member of the MDDHL, was released in December. He had been first arrested in 1999 by the Brigade anti-gang, a special security force.
AI country reports/visits
- Cameroon: The government must throw more light on the "disappearance" of nine children in Douala (AI Index: AFR 17/002/2001)
- Cameroun: Justice pour les victimes du Commandement opérationnel – des ONG internationales se mobilisent pour obtenir la vérité sur les exactions des derniers mois (AI Index: AFR 17/004/2001)
- Cameroon: Security forces must respect human rights in reaction to political demonstrations (AI Index: AFR 17/009/2001)
Despite repeated requests to visit the country, the Cameroonian authorities failed to grant visas to AI delegates.
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