Amnesty International (Covering events from January - December 2005)
Human rights defenders were harassed, assaulted and detained. Individuals were unlawfully detained on account of their sexual orientation. A group of political prisoners, convicted after unfair trials and held in life-threatening conditions that have killed three of their number since 1999, continued to be denied a right of appeal. Investigations were started into a few deaths in police custody that reportedly resulted from torture, but they were not independent or open. Inmates were killed and injured in prison riots stemming from severe overcrowding and harsh discipline.
The oil-rich Bakassi peninsula remained under the control of the Nigerian government, despite a 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague that it be handed over to Cameroon. Local leaders of Nigerian nationality urged their government not to cede sovereignty over the peninsula to Cameroon.
Human rights defenders under threat
Critics of the government’s human rights record continued to be routinely harassed, detained and assaulted.
Nelson Ndi, a member of the government’s National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms, was assaulted on 3 February by members of the paramilitary police Mobile Intervention Unit. He had tried to stop officers beating a group of youths near his office. No action was known to have been taken against his assailants.
Unlawful detention for sexual orientation
Eleven men, aged between 18 and 49, and two women were arrested by gendarmes on 20 and 21 May in Yaoundé, the capital. The two women were charged with public disorder and released to await trial. The men, who should have been brought before a judge within three days, were transferred to Kondengui Central Prison in Yaoundé on 13 June, where they saw a lawyer for the first time. They were subsequently charged with sodomy because of their real or perceived same-sex orientation.
Southern Cameroons National Council
In December, the Appeal Court in Yaoundé decided on appeals by imprisoned members of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) against their 1999 convictions by a military tribunal. Adelbert Ngek and Promise Nyamsai, who were serving 10-year prison terms, had their convictions quashed and were released. Three prisoners had their life sentences reduced to 25 years, and one had a 20-year term reduced to 15 years. Two prisoners had 15-year terms reduced to 10 years, and four others had 10-year terms confirmed. Two prisoners, Wilson Che Neba and Samuel Che Neba, had been released in May after serving eight-year prison terms. The prisoners who remained in custody appealed to the Supreme Court against the decision of the Appeal Court.
The prisoners had been denied an appeal for more than five years. After lawyers lodged a complaint with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the prisoners’ behalf, the Minister of Defence announced in November 2004 that they could appeal to the Appeal Court. The hearings, which started in January 2005, were repeatedly adjourned because the authorities failed to produce some of the prisoners in court or provide an interpreter for English-speaking prisoners.
The prisoners had been sentenced to between eight years and life imprisonment after an unfair trial before a special court directly controlled by the Ministry of Defence, on charges in connection with armed attacks in North-West Province in 1997. Most of the prisoners who appeared before the Appeal Court looked sick and frail as a result of life-threatening prison conditions and medical neglect.
Julius Ngu Ndi, who had been serving a 20-year prison sentence, died from tuberculosis in July. He had reportedly been denied adequate and prompt medical treatment for several months and was taken to hospital only days before he died.
Peaceful political activities by SCNC members were met with arbitrary and unlawful detentions.
On 15 January as many as 40 SCNC supporters were detained and the group’s leader, Henry Fossung, was reportedly assaulted by Mobile Intervention Unit officers in Buéa. The women detainees, who had been preparing food for a celebration at Henry Fossung’s home, were released without charge the same day. The men were freed two days later. A government minister reportedly said they had been holding a clandestine meeting. Ayemba Ette Otun and about 20 other SCNC members were arrested while meeting in October and detained for up to two weeks.
Denial of freedom of expression
The authorities continued to use criminal libel laws to imprison journalists in cases that appeared to be politically motivated.
Jules Koum Koum, director of Le Jeune Observateur newspaper, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment on 10 January for publishing articles alleging corruption among insurance company executives. Provisionally released on 9 February, he faced further charges in criminal libel cases involving an insurance company and two former government ministers.
Harsh prison conditions
Overcrowding, inadequate food and medical neglect continued to result in high mortality rates in prisons. New Bell prison in Douala, built for only 800 prisoners, held about 3,000 at the start of 2005. Prisoners were said to sleep on the ground, sometimes in the toilets and even outdoors. Prison authorities failed to ensure the safety of inmates.
On 3 January, one prisoner was reportedly killed and about 20 injured in a riot in New Bell prison. The fighting between prisoners involved a group known as “anti-gang”, which was accused of inflicting harsh discipline in the prison, including by beatings, at the request of the authorities. Soon after the riot was quelled, the prison director was replaced.
Torture and ill-treatment
The systematic torture continued of suspects arrested by the police and gendarmerie. Most perpetrators were not held to account, but investigations were opened in a few cases in which suspects died.
In March, after months of inaction, the procuracy in Buéa initiated investigations into the death of Afuh Bernard Weriwo in hospital on 10 July 2004. A senior police officer had allegedly been involved in assaulting and setting fire to him after he was arrested at his home in Ikiliwindi town on suspicion of stealing a bicycle. In October the High Court in Kumba sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment for torturing and causing the death of Afuh Bernard Weriwo. A key witness for the prosecution reportedly received death threats for testifying against the officer.
On 8 February, Emmanuel Moutombi died from injuries sustained after he was detained in Douala in mid-January following accusations of embezzlement. A postmortem revealed severe swelling and injuries to his entire body. Six gendarmes and the victim’s former manager were implicated in the death and were on trial before the Douala military tribunal at the end of 2005.
Eleven people arrested in September 2004 in connection with the killing of John Kohtem, a leader of the opposition Social Democratic Front, remained in custody without trial. A member of parliament implicated in the killing remained free on bail.
Violence against women
Women remained without adequate protection in law against violence. Approximately 20 per cent of women and girls were reported to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), which continued to be practised primarily in the far north and the south-west and was still not prohibited in law. Provisions also remained in the Penal Code that exempted a rapist from judicial proceedings if he married his victim, effectively protecting the perpetrator while subjecting the victim to further abuse.
No death sentences were known to have been passed or executions carried out. By the end of 2005 the authorities had still not made public how many prisoners under sentence of death had benefited from a presidential decree issued on 29 December 2004. Under the decree, death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment, except in some specified cases, including the killing of a child. The numbers of prisoners still awaiting execution remained unknown.
AI country visits
The government continued to deny AI representatives access to the country, as it has done for over a decade.