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TITLE: CAMEROON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993 DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE CAMEROON Despite democratic reforms begun in 1990, political power remained in the hands of the President, Paul Biya, and a small circle of advisers drawn primarily from his own ethnic group and the former single party, the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM). Biya was reelected in October 1992 in presidential elections marred by widespread irregularities, ascribed largely to the Government by international observers. In contrast, the March 1992 legislative elections were generally considered free and fair by international observers, and some opposition parties gained representation in the National Assembly--while others boycotted the vote. The elections have not significantly diminished the authority of the President, since the present Constitution, which dates from the one-party era, imposes few legislative or judicial checks on executive power. The flawed presidential vote cast a shadow over Cameroonian politics throughout 1993. The President announced steps to reform the Constitution. At the end of the year, however, the Government still had not convened the promised constitutional consultative committee, which had been envisioned to be broadly representative of Cameroonian society; nor had it published the text of the constitution as revised by the government-dominated Technical Committee. Internal security responsibilities are shared by the national police, the National Intelligence Service (CENER), the gendarmerie, the Ministry of Territorial Administration (MINAT), military intelligence (SEMIL), the army, and to a lesser extent, the Presidential Security Service. MINAT is in charge of prisons, and its local officials (prefects or senior divisional officers) are responsible for invoking security forces to maintain order. The police, which includes a special security force, the Mixed Mobile Brigade (BMM), and the gendarmerie have the dominant role in enforcing internal security laws. As in previous years, security forces, including the BMM, committed numerous human rights abuses. Cameroon has a strong, diversified agricultural base and a small but important petroleum sector, which produces 50 percent of export earnings. With a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of about $800 in 1992-93, the country ranked among the lower middle-income developing countries. Per capita GDP has fallen by about 50 percent since 1986, due to population growth of nearly 3 percent per year, declining oil production, slow adjustment to a drop in the world prices of Cameroon's major exports, and the effects of corruption. Self-sufficiency in food production helps mitigate the effects of shrinking export earnings and a growing foreign debt burden. Private economic activity is hindered by a bloated public corporation sector, lack of fiscal integrity, and uneven judicial enforcement of contracts and property rights. There were serious human rights abuses, including political and extrajudicial killings. Security forces fired on peaceful opposition demonstrators in March, killing 2 persons and wounding more than 20. Security forces continued to engage in arbitrary detention--over 100 persons were detained on 1 day in November--and physical mistreatment to intimidate opposition leaders. They routinely beat persons detained in connection with common crimes. Although Cameroon's independent newspapers circulated widely and criticized the administration, the authorities used a variety of techniques to intimidate the press, e.g., arresting or bringing libel suits against some prominent journalists. The former labor wing of the ruling party continued to dominate the labor movement, and there were no other independent unions authorized. Societal discrimination against women also continued to be a serious problem. On May 26, a military tribunal convicted and sentenced one military officer and five soldiers for their roles in the January 1992 summary executions of Choa Arabs in Kousseri. The officer and one of the soldiers were sentenced to death and the remaining four soldiers were given prison sentences ranging from 10 to 15 years; four others were found innocent of similar charges. The six convictions are under appeal. The trial was the first case in which members of the security forces were publicly tried for human rights offenses. Generally, security force personnel commit even the most egregious abuses with impunity; persons reporting such abuses are more likely to be punished than are the perpetrators (see Section 1.a.). RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were several incidents of political and extrajudicial killing, some attributable to government security forces. While in their custody March 16-20, gendarmes beat to death Louis Abondo Langvoue, who was detained in connection with a theft in Bertoua, East Province. An autopsy report, corroborated by photographs and statements from the presiding medical examiner, concluded that Abondo had died from "severe continuous trauma, dehydration, and shock" due to "severe, merciless, and indiscriminate beating." As of late December, the Government had initiated no investigation or disciplinary action in the case but had suspended the medical examiner from his post. Using excessive force, gendarmes fired into a crowd of opposition demonstrators in Bamenda on March 25, killing 2 and wounding 20. The incident occurred during the second in a series of peaceful demonstrations held without legal authorization by the opposition Union for Change. According to eyewitness accounts, a cordon of 30 gendarmes initially fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of some 500 seated demonstrators. As the crowd began to scatter, at least two gendarmes fired into the crowd. After issuing a public statement which blamed the deaths and injuries on opposition supporters armed with home-made weapons, the Prime Minister established a commission of inquiry composed entirely of government security officials. Its conclusion that gendarmes had fired in self-defense was belied by eyewitness accounts of the incident and the lack of any casualties among the gendarmes. On January 17, outside Bafoussam, West Province, unknown assailants abducted Cameroon Democratic Union (CDU) Vice President Benjamin Menga from his car and beat, stabbed, and shot him. He died 6 days later of his injuries. Since Menga was not robbed, his death was widely thought to be politically motivated. CDU officials charged that Menga was a victim of a rival opposition party, the Social Democratic Front, whose members had allegedly threatened him. However, the charges that Menga's death was politically motivated have not been substantiated. As of year's end, no suspects had been charged, and the investigation appeared to have lost momentum. In May members of the Palace Guard (Dogari) of the Lamido of Rey Bouba, a progovernment traditional ruler in North Province, killed 20 persons in countering a decision by villagers in Mbanre to install a pro-opposition chief. In the skirmishes, townspeople also killed three members of the Dogari with poisoned arrows. The nearest gendarmerie detachment, located in Belel, declined to intervene when informed of the fighting. In June there were reports that gendarmerie and army units shot and killed eight Choa Arabs who had been detained for alleged banditry and illegal possession of weapons in Far North Province. The Choas charged that they were ethnically targeted by the gendarmerie forces, but in the highly emotional ethnic rivalries of the northern region, it has not been possible to confirm or disprove this. The charge was based on allegations of personal vendettas by certain gendarmerie officers; on the other hand, the Choa Arabs have politically voted with the Government and have also been identified frequently among the highway bandits that plague the north. On November 25, 1993, Yaounde police reportedly shot and killed Moise Fokou, a 23-year-old street vendor, in Yaounde's Mokolo market area. Published photographs of the vendor's body and eyewitness accounts suggested that the vendor was in handcuffs at the time of his death. In December there were credible reports that 23-year-old Cyprain Tonwie Ndifor was beaten and later died while in gendarmerie custody in Northwest Province. However, no detailed investigation of the case had been completed at the end of the year. The Government seldom punishes abuses by security force members. Officials argue that publicly disclosing such abuses involving security forces would hurt military and police morale and thereby undermine their effectiveness. In a notable exception, a military tribunal tried 10 soldiers and gendarmes, including 2 officers, for the January 1992 summary execution of 5 Choa Arabs in Far North Province. In a decision handed down by a Yaounde military tribunal on May 26, five of the accused, including one officer, were found guilty. Two of the guilty were sentenced to death. As of December 31, an appeal was pending in the case. b. Disappearance There were no reports of long-term disappearance. However, police and gendarmes frequently failed to inform detainees' family members or attorneys of their whereabouts. For example, when police detained nearly 100 members of the opposition Union of Cameroonian Democratic Forces (UFDC) party on March 31, they did not inform family members who had to visit numerous detention facilities before finding them. Similarly, when police detained journalist and Union for Change administrative secretary Francois Borgia Marie Evembe on August 19, they notified neither his family nor his attorney. After nearly 2 days of searching, family members located him in a Yaounde police cell. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Although the Penal Code proscribes torture, renders inadmissible in court evidence obtained thereby, and prohibits public servants from using force against any person, there were many credible reports of security forces inflicting severe beatings, systematic torture, and other inhuman treatment (see Section l.a.). Sanctions against those responsible are rare, although the Government maintains that they face administrative punishments which are not made public. The security forces follow a pattern of degrading mistreatment of 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 other 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. For example, security forces beat Social Democratic Front (SDF) economic adviser Joseph Kwi and other opposition supporters in this manner; they had been detained for participation in the March and April peaceful protest demonstrations. Similarly, security forces beat Victorin Hameni Bieleu, President of the opposition UFDC party, who was detained March 31 to April 8 with approximately 100 of his supporters, on the soles of his feet; he also suffered blows to the eye. While in custody, security forces awakened Francois Borgia Marie Evembe during the night and subjected him to lengthy interrogation, sometimes lasting 6 or 7 hours (see Section l.b.). In May Secretary of State for Internal Security Jean Fochive issued a directive to all police officers stating that numerous abuses of detainees had come to his attention and that future incidents would result in disciplinary action--including demotion of those responsible. In the directive, which Fochive publicly acknowledged, he specifically cited whippings, beatings on the soles of feet, and beatings administered as detainees hung suspended from the ceiling (the so-called balancoire) as unacceptable practices. Nevertheless, released members of the opposition Union for Change reported in November that they had been beaten on the soles of their feet and then forced to stand or walk. In some cases, police demanded money from the detainees, threatening more severe threatment if they refused. Prison conditions are life threatening, especially outside major urban areas. An 18-year-old convicted thief died in the Buea prison in July after suffering from acute malnutrition. An August 8 newscast on government-controlled television revealed serious deficiencies in food, health care, and sanitation even in New Bell prison located in Douala, Cameroon's largest city. Overcrowding is severe throughout the penitentiary system. For example, Bamenda's central prison houses more than three times the number of inmates for which it was built. Some traditional rulers in northern Cameroon maintain private prisons which operate outside the authority of the government penitentiary system. Prisoners are sometimes chained in their cells. Conditions are worst at isolated Tchollire II prison, where inadequate food and medical attention reportedly caused at least 40 deaths between 1990 and 1992 among the inmates. The authorities have refused requests by foreign diplomats to visit the prison. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which reopened its office in Cameroon in 1992, suspended visits to prisons and detention centers following the Government's refusal to permit ICRC representatives access to some detainees. Women held in custody do not appear to be targeted for rape or abuse by security or prison personnel. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile Arbitrary, prolonged detention remained a serious problem. In particular, the security forces failed to implement fully the Penal Code requirement that detainees be brought before a magistrate within established time frames, and have held detainees incommunicado. By law, a person detained in connection with a common crime may be held in custody up to 24 hours before being charged. That period may be renewed three times. However, the law only provides for habeas corpus 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, the detainee may be held 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 some features of British common law. Even there, bail is granted infrequently. The Government repeatedly detained opposition activists on political grounds, as in the cases of Francois Borgia Marie Evembe, Joseph Kwi, and Victor Hameni Bieleu (see Sections 2.b. and 2.c.). Other politically motivated detentions occurred on August 28, when SDF Northwest Province coordinator Joseph Akonteh was held for 2 days on the eve of an opposition-led general strike, and on September 8, when Littoral Province coordinator Leolin Nja Kwa was taken into custody for 3 days. Both men were released without charge after their detention. Neither was physically harmed during these incidents. In October the police detained the spouse and children of opposition figure Jean Michel Nintcheu. The wife and three children under 10 years of age were detained for approximately 10 days without charges. The most serious instance of arbitrary detention was the arrest in November of approximately 100 persons in connection with the opposition coalition, the Union for Change. The detainees were questioned about their affiliation with the Union for Change and their intentions to attend a press conference given by John Fru Ndi, the leader of the main opposition party, the SDF. All detainees were released without charge within 48 hours of their arrest. Nearly all rank and file Union for Change supporters were beaten at the time of arrest, and most suffered beatings and extortion of money at the hands of police during their detention. Senior Union for Change officials were generally not mistreated while in custody. The Government does not practice political exile. However, some opposition members who considered themselves threatened by the Government have voluntarily left the country and declared themselves to be in political exile. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The Cameroonian court system is subordinate to the Ministry of Justice; it is part of the executive, not a separate or independent branch of government. Magistrates in Cameroon are career civil servants responsible to the Minister of Justice, and thus are subject, particularly in political cases, to government direction. For example, one widely publicized corporate control dispute between a European investor and a Cameroonian with close ties to the ruling party was decided on questionable grounds in favor of the ruling party supporter. Some politically sensitive cases are never heard. For example, it took nearly a year before the Chief Justice informed SDF lawyers that he had declined to hear their October 1992 appeal for an injunction against the presidential swearing-in, pending Supreme Court review of electoral irregularities. Magistrates acknowledge that rendering a decision that displeases the Government may result in transfer to a less desirable position. However, decisions in nonpolitical cases are usually not subject to government interference. Trials are public. A 1990 law established a State Security Court to try "crimes against the internal and external security of the state." Persons detained during the 1992 state of emergency were arraigned by State Security Court prosecutors but were not formally charged with a crime. If a defendant is indigent, the presiding judge in the case will designate an attorney from among the members of the bar in the court district. However, because appointed attorneys receive little compensation, the quality of such legal representation 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. Traditional courts continue to play an important role, particularly 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 decisions to traditional authorities of higher rank. There were no known political prisoners, as distinct from political detainees, at year's end. However, political prisoners released under the 1991 Amnesty Decree complained that the Government had not implemented provisions mandating that former military officers and public servants be reinstated to positions they held prior to their incarceration. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence While both invasions of the home and tampering with correspondence are violations of Cameroonian law, there were reports of police and gendarmes harassing citizens and conducting searches without warrants. This practice was particularly widespread in Southwest Province, where security forces entered private homes and businesses to enforce payment of taxes and customs duties. Gendarmes destroyed goods, alleged to have been smuggled, without permitting due process of law for those accused of import violations. In one instance, gendarmes participating in an anticontraband drive set fire to a small cargo vessel belonging to a Nigerian trader in Limbe, Southwest Province, when he refused to pay a bribe. There were 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 1972 Constitution provides for freedom of expression and press, Cameroonian law and practice have long restricted these liberties. In late 1990, a new law established more liberal regulations to begin publication of newspapers and magazines. That same law, however, formally enshrined prepublication censorship and granted the Ministry of Territorial Administration the authority to suspend or revoke the right to publish. The law also provided for licensing of private radio and television stations, but, as of the end of December, no licenses had been granted, and the Government retained complete control of the electronic media. Public servants employed by the official media face retribution for openly criticizing the Government, as in the case of numerous Cameroon radio-television journalists who have been transferred to less desirable assignments for such remarks. The Government publishes an official newspaper--the Cameroon Tribune--and determines the content of radio and television broadcasts. Nevertheless, government reporters sometimes run stories which implicitly criticize the ruling party or portray government programs in an unfavorable light. The government- controlled broadcast media, although funded by all taxpayers, provide disproportionately high levels of coverage to the CPDM functions, while giving little air time to opposition events. Parties represented in the National Assembly, however, were given access to television and radio time during scheduled "expression directe" political broadcasts. Some 70 private newspapers are published, about one-quarter weekly and the others at irregular intervals. These newspapers circulate widely and are often outspoken in their criticism of the Government and the President. Starting in mid-1993, there were fewer cases of censorship of individual articles. Rather, issues containing articles critical of the Government and its supporters were subject to seizure or to restrictions on distribution. The Government used its licensing authority to suspend nine private newspapers in November 1992. Although the papers continued to circulate clandestinely until the suspension order was lifted in May, the order imposed a severe economic hardship on these nine newspapers and had a chilling effect on the fledgling private press. After the suspension was lifted, the police seized several newspapers for publishing stories that embarrassed the Government. For example, police removed from newstands the June 22 and July 20 editions of La Nouvelle Expression, which reported a scandal involving construction of a presidential golf course, and the September 27 issue of Le Nouvel Independant, which implicated a confidant of the President in a 1988 murder. In other intimidating techniques, the Government stationed security forces throughout the spring outside Rotoprint, the Douala firm which prints most private papers. It detained journalist Francois Borgia Marie Evembe for a total of nearly 10 days in connection with two articles he wrote for Le Messager which criticized the President (see Sections l.b. and 1.c.). It tried Le Messager publisher Pius Njawe, Challenge Nouveau publisher Benjamin Zebaze, and Challenge journalist Martin Waffo for their April publication of a purported letter from the Minister of Justice to the Prime Minister suggesting charges against opposition leader John Fru Ndi and others for "insurrection, murder, spreading of false information, and incitement to revolt" in the aftermath of the 1992 presidential election. The court gave Njawe a 6-month suspended sentence, and Zebaze and Waffo received 5-month prison terms; however, at year's end, all three men were free while their sentences remain under appeal. In a highly publicized libel case, the owner of a fish import company sued La Nouvelle Expression editor Severin Tchounkeu and staff writer David Nouwou in Douala court, alleging he had been falsely accused of involvement in a customs fraud scandal. Although the journalists offered documentary proof for their story, the court found them guilty, and on April 4 the judge imposed an unusually stiff sentence of 6 months in prison--the first time since independence that a journalist served time for libel. The two journalists spent 6 weeks in prison before the judge's ruling was overturned on appeal. There is credible evidence to suggest that Government displeasure at the journalists' implication of the Customs Minister in the scandal contributed significantly to the harsh sentences the court handed down. There are no legal restrictions on academic freedom, though it is generally believed that there are state security informants on university campuses. Some university professors believe that their political viewpoints and activism have had a negative impact on professional opportunities and advancement. Free political discussion at the university is dampened by the presence of armed security forces, as well as sometimes strident pro-opposition groups. 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. The 1990 Law on Freedom of Association established that Cameroonians may freely form associations simply by notifying the responsible administrative authority according to a set procedure. Some 90 political parties operated legally, along with a growing number of civic associations. While political parties and civic associations were generally permitted to hold public assemblies, the Government at times harassed opposition groups by denying them access to meeting facilities or refusing their permits on technicalities. For example, in April the All Anglophone Conference was at the last minute denied permission to use the conference hall at the University of Buea. In August the governor of Southwest Province issued a communique forbidding the Cameroon Anglophone Movement from holding a meeting. Some opposition leaders, such as Ndeh Ntumazah and Garga Haman Adji, were unable to hold scheduled press conferences when they were denied authorization. In September security forces disrupted a meeting of the newly formed Liberal Democratic Alliance (LDA) in Buea, using tear gas to disperse supporters gathered outside LDA chairman Njoh Litumbe's home. In November, government security forces blocked two separate Yaounde press conferences of opposition leaders John Fru Ndi and Garga Haman Adji. On November 3, Fru Ndi was denied access to the privately owned headquarters of the opposition UFDC, where he had intended to hold a press conference. Minutes later, the vehicle in which Fru Ndi was riding was rammed and sprayed with high pressure water by a mobile government water cannon. Fru Ndi suffered minor lacerations during the confrontation and sought refuge in the residence of a diplomat. In the case of Garga, on November 18, Yaounde police first prohibited a conference in the Yaounde Hilton and then prevented Garga from receiving journalists in his private residence. On December 1, security officials forcibly broke up and dispersed a press conference of the Cameroonian National Trade Union, which was calling for a general strike to protest public sector salary cuts. In some cases, opposition parties deliberately flouted the requirement to obtain permission for public meetings or protest marches. For example, in Northwest Province, the Social Democratic Front refused to apply for permits to hold demonstrations in March and April, despite pleas by the provincial governor that they do so. c. Freedom of Religion Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution, and there is no established state religion. There are no restrictions on places of worship, the training of clergy, religious education, religious travel--such as the hajj--or participation in charitable activities. A religious group must be approved and registered with the Ministry of Territorial Administration in order to function legally. A presidential decree in February granted legal status to Jehovah's Witnesses, banned from 1970 until 1990. There were no reports of government harassment of Jehovah's Witnesses. Although properties confiscated in 1970 have not been returned, the Witnesses are free to build new kingdom halls. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation Freedom of movement within the country is not restricted by law. Police frequently stop travelers to check identification documents, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as a security and immigration control measure. During a gendarmerie and police campaign to stop contraband smuggled from Nigeria, the checks became pervasive and occasionally oppresive in Southwest Province. Personnel manning these roadblocks frequently solicited bribes to speed passage. During antigovernment protests, opposition supporters sometimes erected roadblocks. For example, during the August Anglophone "Solidarity Day" general strike some strike supporters in Southwest Province used barricades to enforce the work stoppage. Roadblocks were erected by Union for Change supporters in Bamenda during demonstrations in March and April, and again in August to protest the detention of Northwest Province coordinator Joseph Akonteh. Opposition supporters also inhibited movement in Douala during the general strike called for August 30 and 31. The Government has sometimes used its passport control function against those it considers real or potential threats. For example, the Government has refused for more than 2 years to issue a passport to UFDC president Victor Hameni Bieleu. Although government officials claim that the problem stems from legal charges pending against Hameni Bieleu since the 1992 state of emergency, the denial of his passport predates these charges. Cameroon has long served as a safe haven for displaced persons and refugees from the region. As of December 31, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cameroon was providing assistance to more than 2,000 refugees, primarily from Chad, but also from Liberia, Zaire, and Sudan. However, estimates of the total number of refugees, mostly spontaneously settled Chadians, range from 8,000 to 50,000. Although Cameroon occasionally returns illegal Chadian immigrants, there were no reports of forced repatriation of recognized refugees. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Cameroon continues to be governed by the President and a small circle of advisers, many drawn from his own ethnic group, who came to power during a period of single-party authoritarian rule. His party controls the National Assembly, and he has the power to dissolve the Assembly and call new elections at any time; to return bills for a second reading, requiring that they be passed by a majority of the full Assembly; and to govern by decree during the 10 months each year when the Assembly is not in session. With a working parliamentary majority, the ruling party, the CPDM, and its coalition partners also set the legislative agenda, preventing many opposition initiatives from coming to a vote. The governing parliamentary coalition consists of the CPDM, the former single party; the MDR, a small, northern-based party allied with the CPDM since April 1992; and the legalized wing of the splintered leftist party, the UPC. The only parliamentary party not formally allied with the CPDM is the UNDP. The CPDM and several small parties campaigned in the 1992 presidential election under the banner of the "Presidential Majority." While this entity is not known to have had any official standing as such, it was given extensive coverage in the official press as a coalition of parties which had ralled to President Biya. Opposed to the Presidential Majority was the Union for Change coalition of parties supporting the chairman of the SDF Party, Ni John Fru Ndi, and his call for a limited, 2-year presidential mandate to implement democratic reforms and to convene a national conference. The Union for Change does not have any official status as a political organization, although its constituent parties are legally recognized. The SDF is the largest party within the Union for Change but has its own structures and policies. The Union for Change has continued to operate as an opposition political organization since the October 1992 presidential election. Based on the results of the October 1992 presidential elections, the two largest parties not to be formally allied with either the Union for Change or the CPDM-led coalition are the UNDP, headed by Bello Bouba Maigari, and the CDU, headed by Adamou Ndam Njoya. Although multiparty elections were held in 1992, the flawed presidential race represented a step backward in Cameroon's democratization process. The widespread electoral irregularities attributed principally by international observers to the Government undermined public confidence in President Biya's professed commitment to political reforms. There were also irregularities during the annual voter registration period, which resulted in a sharp decrease in registered voters nationwide. According to estimates made public by Minister of Territorial Administration Gilbert Andze Tsoungui, the number of registered voters fell by 20 percent. MINAT ascribed the decrease to the removal of fictitious or underage persons from the rolls. Political reform efforts focused on revising Cameroon's 1972 Constitution, which dates from the one-party era. However, the constitutional reform process has been tightly controlled by the Presidency and has permitted minimal public or opposition participation. A multiparty commission established in 1991 to draft a new basic law was adjourned in February 1992 prior to completing its mission. In May, however, the Government unilaterally released a draft which it claimed to be the work of the multiparty commission. The May draft retains a centralized presidential system, in which human rights guarantees may be superseded by subsequent legislation. In the next phase of the constitutional reform process, the President promised to appoint a constitutional consultative committee, including opposition delegates, to review the work of the technical committee of lawyers and academics and prepare a "quasi-final draft." The President will decide on the final version to be submitted for ratification by either the National Assembly or a popular referendum. As of year's end, the Government had taken no further steps to advance the constitutional reform process but maintained that there will be a new Constitution in 1994, as well as municipal elections. Members of the President's ethnic group, the Beti, wield a disproportionate share of political power, particularly in key economic and security portfolios. Women serve in prominent positions in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Government, but are underrepresented among the senior leadership. Only 2 women sit in the 44-member Cabinet, and 1 woman sits on the 14-member Supreme Court. There are 17 women in the 180-seat National Assembly. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights Domestic and international human rights monitoring groups were permitted to operate in Cameroon, but their effectiveness was impeded by the Government. Numerous nongovernmental civic associations included 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, and the Human Rights Clinic and Education Center. Financial hardships, inexperience, and occasional fear of government reprisals discouraged these nongovernmental civic associations from publicly criticizing the Government's human rights record. For the most part, therefore, these groups sought primarily to heighten awareness of human rights issues rather than investigate specific alleged violations. In order to accomplish this, they distributed informational publications and held awareness clinics and meetings. One group, the Cameroonian Association of Female Jurists, made public announcements of its activities on radio and television programs. The presidentially appointed National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms, occasionally critical of the Government, was refused access to political detainees and was unable to conduct investigations due to lack of funding by the Prime Minister's office. It also failed to report publicly on its investigations into allegations of human rights abuses. Members of the International Federation of Editors and Journalists were unable to investigate reported harassment of the independent press, when they were twice denied visas to Cameroon and, as noted in Section 1.c., the ICRC suspended visits to prisoners and detainees because of Government restrictions. While government officials often make public statements giving their version of alleged human rights abuses, they generally do not respond publicly to specific charges of wrongdoing made by domestic or international monitors. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status The preamble to the 1972 Constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, enshrines freedom of religion, and mandates that "everyone has equal rights and obligations." However, discrimination based on race, language, religion, or social status is not explicitly forbidden. Both English and French are official languages in Cameroon. Women Despite constitutional provisions, women remain subservient to 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. A married woman may not legally obtain contraceptives or be sterilized without her husband's consent. 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. Women's rights advocates report that violence against women has surged in recent years, and that the law does not impose effective penalties against violators. Wife beating 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 lynching. While there are no reliable statistics on violence against women, the number of newspaper reports indicate the frequency is high. In September a senior Ministry of Health official publicly estimated that a high percentage of emergency room admissions nationwide were cases of spousal abuse. Children The Constitution guarantees a child's right to education, and schooling is mandatory through age 14. Babies and small children are sometimes held in prison if their mothers are incarcerated. Child marriages are not common, although young girls often wed in their midteens, especially in rural areas. The Cameroonian Association for Children's Rights is concerned with a wide range of children's rights issues, including child incarceration and child marriages. Female genital mutilation (circumcision), which has been condemned by international health experts as dangerous to both physical and psychological health, is usually practiced on girls at an early age. It includes the most severe form of the abuse, infibulation, and continues to be practiced in some areas of the Far North and Southwest Provinces. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities There are frequent and credible allegations of discrimination among Cameroon's more than 200 ethnic groups. Ethnic favoritism is a factor in both private and public sector employment. The Bamileke, the country's largest single ethnic group (with at least 20 percent of the population), believe they have been systematically denied political power commensurate with their numbers and economic importance. Opposition newspapers frequently attacked the Beti, while those close to the Government criticized the Bamileke and Anglophone groups. Outbreaks of ethnic violence occurred between the Kotoko and Choa Arab communities in Far North Province, between Mbo and Bamileke residents in West Province, and in Bui Division Northwest Province. An important ethnic, political division falls along linguistic lines. 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. In April the All-Anglophone Conference enumerated a long list of Anglophone grievances and called for a two-state federal system, divided into French-speaking and English-speaking states, to protect their minority language rights. The heavy police and gendarmerie presence in English-speaking Southwest Province, ostensibly to stop the flow of Nigerian contraband (see Section l.f.), contributed to Anglophone resentment. People with Disabilities The Constitution does not protect the disabled. Lack of facilities and care is particularly acute for the mentally handicapped. Although Cameroonian society is generally tolerant of physical disabilities, which are commonplace, the Government has not mandated accessibility for the disabled. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association A new Labor Code passed in 1992 allows workers to form and join trade unions of their own choosing. Under the new rules, groups of at least 20 workers may organize a union but must then register with the Ministry of Labor. Provisions of the Labor Code do not apply to civil servants, employees of the penitentiary system, or workers responsible for national security. At year's end, some but not all of the implementing decrees had been issued for the new Code. Ministry officials explained that they had received applications to create national confederations but that these could not be authorized before local unions and regional or sectoral federations were formed. The Federation of National Educators (SYNES) applied in 1991 for legal status as a public service association, since government workers are not permitted to form trade unions. The Ministry of Public Service had not accorded legal status to SYNES by year's end. In response to a complaint filed by SYNES, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association criticized the Government for delays in registering the new union and for failure to respond to charges that its members were subject to harassment. The new Labor Code explicitly recognizes workers' right to strike but only after mandatory arbitration. As the continuing economic contraction caused the Government and state-owned enterprise sector to fall behind in salary payments in 1993, numerous wildcat strikes occurred. Workers at both the Cameroonian Press Corporation (SOPECAM), which publishes the government daily Cameroon Tribune, as well as the Cameroonian Transport Corporation walked off the job on separate occasions during the year, demanding payment of salary arrears. One SOPECAM strike lasted more than 6 weeks; the others were of shorter duration. Employees returned to work after management agreed to make partial payment. Other workers staged sit-ins or temporary work stoppages during the year at Yaounde's Congress Hall (where arrears totaled 11 months) and the Bamenda provincial hospital. The new Labor Code provides for the protection of legal strikers and prohibits retribution against them provided that they follow the labor arbitration procedures outlined in the Code. The only labor confederation in Cameroon is the Confederation of Cameroonian Trade Unions (CSTC), formerly affiliated with the ruling CPDM party under the name Organization of Cameroonian Trade Unions. The CSTC formally declared its political independence in 1992, and secretary general Louis Sombes publicly criticized the Government during 1993. However, since no other labor organizations have been legalized, the CSTC is still widely regarded as a quasi-official labor confederation, even by many of its own members. There are no known individual unions entirely independent of government and political party controls. The only new union registered by the Ministry of Labor in 1993, the Union of Contract Employees and State Agents (SYNCAE), is an affiliate of the CSTC. The CSTC is a member of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. 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. As of December 31, sectoral collective bargaining negotiations had not been undertaken, although the Government instructed individual state-owned enterprises to negotiate salary reductions with workers. Prior to passage of the new Code, the Government collaborated with the CSTC and employers to set wages through a complicated formula that took into account the sector and region of employment and the worker's education level. The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination, and employers guilty of such discrimination are subject to fines ranging up to the equivalent of $3,500 (1 million CFA). However, employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination do not have to reinstate the workers who have been discriminated against. The Ministry of Labor reported no complaints of such discrimination in 1993. In November the CSTC disputed the legality of wage cuts in public and public corporation sectors and called for a general strike. Although there was no labor union organized to represent civil servants as a whole, the first efforts to form a public sector union were made in November. Eight firms have obtained approval to operate under Cameroon's industrial free zone regime, and four had begun operations by the end of the year. 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 new Labor Code, although it specifically excludes "any work or service extracted from any person as a consequence of a conviction in a court or law" and "work or service in the general interest, forming part of the civic obligation of citizens." In 1993 Cameroonian 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 be employed before the age of 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. Some rural youths, especially girls, are often employed by relatives as domestics. Street vendors in the cities are sometimes under 14. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work Under the 1992 Labor Code, the Ministry of Labor is responsible for setting a single minimum wage applicable nationwide in all sectors of the economy. As of the end of the year, the minimum wage had not been set. A decree establishing the monthly minimum wage at approximately $80 (25,000 CFA) had been submitted to the Prime Minister for approval but had not been signed by year's end. 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 the Ministry of Labor inspectors and occupational health doctors are responsible for monitoring these standards. However, they lack the resources for a comprehensive inspection program. (###)
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