Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 6
Status: Not Free
Population: 15,700,000
GNI/Capita: $580
Life Expectancy: 48
Religious Groups: Indigenous beliefs (40 percent), Christian (40 percent), Muslim (20 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Cameroon Highlander (31 percent), Equatorial Bantu (19 percent), Kirdi (11 percent), Fulani (10 percent), Northwestern Bantu (8 percent), Eastern Nigritic (7 percent), other (14 percent)
Capital: Yaounde


Overview

Despite an October 2002 International Court of Justice ruling that awarded the disputed oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, the country's relations with its neighbor Nigeria, which had also claimed the Bakassi border region, were cordial but tense in 2003. Meanwhile, President Paul Biya's government intensified its efforts to stifle the independent press with a major crackdown on the fledgling private broadcasting sector.

Cameroon was seized during World War I, in 1916, and divided between Britain and France after having been a German colony from 1884. Distinct Anglophone and Francophone areas were reunited as parts of an independent country in 1961. For three decades after independence, Cameroon was ruled under a repressive one-party system.

Prime Minister Biya succeeded President Ahmadou Ahidjou in 1982. In 1996, the constitution extended the presidential term to seven years and allowed President Paul Biya to run for a fourth term. His reelection in 1997, with 93 percent of the vote, was marred by serious procedural flaws and a boycott by the three major opposition parties.

The ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) dominated legislative and municipal elections in 2002 that were no more free and fair than previous polls, despite the creation of the National Observatory of Elections. In the June 2002 parliamentary elections, the ruling CPDM increased the number of its seats in the 180-member National Assembly from 116 to 149. The main opposition, the Social Democratic Front, won 22 seats, down from 43 it had held previously. Smaller parties won the remainder. Municipal elections, which had been postponed from January 2001, were also dominated by the CPDM. Opposition leaders were briefly detained by the police on several occasions in 2003.

In 2003, Cameroon moved closer to resolving its dispute with Nigeria over the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula following meetings between the two countries on the implementation of an October 2002 International Court of Justice ruling awarding the territory to Cameroon. Cameroon and Nigeria have occasionally clashed militarily over the region, and Nigeria maintains a troop presence there. Nigeria initially rejected the court ruling, but in August 2003, a joint commission of the two countries began the process of demarcating their common border. Most Bakassi residents consider themselves Nigerian.

With elections approaching in 2004, the ruling CPDM stepped up repression of political opponents and the privately owned media. Radio and television stations that issued reports critical of the government of President Biya were closed on the grounds that they lacked proper licensing. Journalists were harassed and arrested. Leaders of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), a secessionist group based in the country's English-speaking provinces, were periodically detained by security forces. The SCNC has reportedly formed a military wing, raising fears of violence and sharper internal divisions in the run-up to national elections next year.

Privatization and economic growth in Cameroon have progressed, but graft and the absence of independent courts inhibit business development. Oil from a joint, World Bank-backed pipeline with Chad hit international markets in October 2003. The oil is expected to boost government revenues by $20 million per year.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Although Cameroon's constitution provides for a multiparty republic, citizens have not been allowed to choose their government or local leaders by democratic means. Presidential elections have been devalued by rampant intimidation, manipulation, and fraud, and legislative elections have also been fraudulent. Approximately one-fourth of Cameroonians are Anglophone. The administration of President Paul Biya remains largely Francophone, and the country's main opposition is from Anglophone Cameroonians. The linguistic distinction constitutes the country's most potent political division.

The constitution provides for freedom of the press, but criminal libel laws have often been used to silence regime critics. There are at least 20 private newspapers that publish regularly. Eleven years after the National Assembly passed a bill liberalizing the audio and visual media, Biya signed the legislation into force in 2001. A handful of private radio stations were already operating without a license, but they broadcast only religious or music programs locally. There are at least six national Internet service providers, some of which are privately owned. The government has not tried to restrict or monitor these forms of communication.

Repression of the media increased in 2003. In February, the government closed two privately owned television stations, RTA and Canal 2, on the grounds that they were operating illegally. In March, a radio station, Magic FM, was shut down for running programs critical of the government. In May, police shut down a new radio station the day before it was due to go on the air, saying that it lacked government permission to broadcast; local journalists said they believed the licensing requirement was a pretext. In August, the host of a satirical radio program was imprisoned to a six-month sentence following his conviction in absentia a year earlier for criminal defamation. The charges were based on comments the journalist, Remy Ngono, made on the air regarding accusations of embezzlement against a local businessman. Three journalists from Cameroon's only independent daily, Mutations, were briefly detained in April for a report discussing the potential turmoil that could ensue in the event of Biya's retirement.

Freedom of religion is generally respected. Although there are no legal restrictions on academic freedom, state security informants reportedly operate on university campuses and many professors fear that participation in opposition political parties could harm their careers.

Numerous nongovernmental organizations generally operate without hindrance. Trade union formation is permitted, but is subject to numerous restrictions. Workers have the right to strike but only after arbitration, the final decisions of which the government can overturn. In April, the government arrested six trade unionists, including the president of the Confederation of Cameroon workers, on sabotage charges.

Cameroon's courts remain highly subject to political influence and corruption. The executive controls the judiciary and appoints provincial and local administrators. Military tribunals may exercise jurisdiction over civilians in cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence. In the north, powerful traditional chiefs known as lamibee run their own private militias, courts, and prisons, which are used against the regime's political opponents. Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and detainees are routine. Indefinite pretrial detention under extremely harsh conditions is permitted either after a warrant is issued or in order to "combat banditry." Inmates routinely die in prison.

Various intelligence agencies operate with impunity, and opposition activists are often held without charges or disappear while in custody. Security forces routinely impede domestic travel, repress demonstrations, and disrupt meetings. Steps have been taken in Belgium, under its universal jurisdiction law, by Cameroonian political and civil society groups to institute legal proceedings against Biya for crimes against humanity.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International called for an investigation into reports that dozens of extrajudicial executions were carried out in 2002 as part of an anticrime campaign. A military court in July 2002 acquitted six of eight gendarmes accused of killing nine young men who had disappeared in January 2001 after having been detained by an anticrime squad called the Operational Command. Two other gendarmes were given suspended sentences.

Cameroon's population consists of nearly 200 ethnic groups. Slavery reportedly persists in parts of the north, and discrimination exists against indigenous Pygmies and other ethnic minorities. The Beti and Bula dominate the civil service and state-run businesses.

Violence against women is reportedly widespread. Women are often denied inheritance and landownership rights, even when these are codified, and many other laws contain unequal gender-based provisions and penalties. Cameroon is a transit center and market for child labor and traffickers.

Trend Arrow

Cameroon received a downward trend arrow due to increased government repression of the media.

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