Le groupe armé Boko Haram s’est rendu coupable de crimes de droit international et d’atteintes aux droits humains, dont des attentats-suicides dans des zones civiles, des exécutions sommaires, des enlèvements, le recrutement d’enfants soldats, ainsi que le pillage et la destruction de biens publics ou privés. Pendant l’année, il a perpétré au moins 150 attaques, dont 48 attentats-suicides, qui ont fait au moins 250 morts parmi les civils, dans le cadre d’une campagne de grande ampleur et systématique contre la population civile vivant autour du lac Tchad. Boko Haram a délibérément pris pour cible des civils en commettant des attentats contre des marchés, des mosquées, des zones commerciales et d’autres lieux publics.
Cette année encore, les forces de sécurité ont arrêté arbitrairement des personnes accusées de soutenir Boko Haram, souvent sur la base de preuves minces, voire inexistantes, et parfois en ayant recours à une force injustifiée ou excessive. Les personnes arrêtées ont souvent été placées en détention dans des conditions inhumaines, qui mettaient leur vie en danger.
Il est fort probable que des officiers supérieurs de l’armée basés à Salak aient été au courant des actes de torture, mais n’aient rien fait pour les empêcher. Des militaires américains étaient aussi régulièrement présents à la base du BIR, et une enquête a été ouverte pour déterminer s’ils auraient pu être au courant des violations des droits humains qui y étaient commises ; ses conclusions n’avaient pas été publiées à la fin de l’année.
Des défenseurs des droits humains, parmi lesquels des militants de la société civile, des journalistes, des syndicalistes, des avocats et des enseignants, ont continué d’être victimes de manœuvres d’intimidation, de harcèlement et de menaces. Entre janvier et avril, ainsi que début octobre, les services de téléphonie et d’accès à Internet ont été coupés dans les régions anglophones, sans explication officielle.
Plus de 20 manifestants ont été abattus par les forces de sécurité dans les régions anglophones les 1er et 2 octobre, et plus de 500 ont été arrêtés. D’autres encore, blessés au cours de manifestations, ont été obligés de s’enfuir des hôpitaux où ils recevaient des soins vitaux, par crainte d’être arrêtés. Par ailleurs, de nombreux membres des forces de sécurité, parmi lesquels des soldats et des gendarmes, ont été tués lors d’attaques commises au cours de l’année par des insurgés anglophones dans les régions du Sud et du Nord-Ouest.
Cette année encore, des procès iniques, souvent entachés d’irrégularités, se sont tenus devant des tribunaux militaires.
Exemple : Le tribunal militaire de Yaoundé a condamné Aboubakary Siddiki à 25 ans d’emprisonnement pour, entre autres, hostilité envers la patrie, activités révolutionnaires et outrage au président de la République. Abdoulaye Harissou a été condamné à trois ans d’emprisonnement et remis en liberté, ayant déjà purgé cette peine. Le procès a été entaché par des irrégularités. Durant leur première phase de détention, les deux hommes avaient été maintenus au secret pendant plus de 40 jours dans un centre illégal de la Direction générale de la recherche extérieure, et soumis à la torture.
Les conditions carcérales demeuraient désastreuses : surpopulation chronique, nourriture insuffisante, soins médicaux limités, et conditions sanitaires et d’hygiène déplorables. La population de la prison centrale de Yaoundé était d’environ 4 400 détenus alors que sa capacité maximale est de 1 500 prisonniers. Cette surpopulation carcérale était principalement due aux vagues d’arrestations, depuis 2014, de personnes accusées de soutenir Boko Haram, au grand nombre de personnes détenues sans inculpation, et à l’inefficacité du système judiciaire.
Au moins 250 000 réfugiés venant de République centrafricaine vivaient dans des conditions très difficiles dans des camps surpeuplés ou chez des familles d’accueil dans la zone frontalière du sud-est du Cameroun. Environ 60 000 réfugiés venus du Nigeria se trouvaient dans le camp de Minawao, géré par les Nations unies, dans la région de l’Extrême-Nord ; quelque 30 000 autres vivaient péniblement à l’extérieur de ce camp, en proie à l’insécurité alimentaire, sans accès aux services de base, harcelés par les forces de sécurité et menacés de renvoi forcé car perçus comme des sympathisants de Boko Haram.
Le 2 mars, le Cameroun, le Nigeria et le Haut-Commissariat des Nations unies pour les réfugiés (HCR) ont signé un « Accord tripartite pour le rapatriement volontaire des réfugiés nigérians vivant au Cameroun ». Cependant, entre janvier et septembre, le Cameroun a renvoyé de force au moins 4 400 Nigérians dans le cadre d’une vaste opération d’expulsion.
Certaines de ces personnes renvoyées de force, dont des enfants, affaiblies par des mois voire des années de manque de nourriture et de soins médicaux, sont mortes pendant leur expulsion. En décembre, le HCR a indiqué avoir enregistré plus de 5 000 Camerounais, principalement des femmes et des enfants, qui s’étaient enfuis des régions anglophones du Cameroun et réfugiés au Nigeria.
En décembre, près de 3,3 millions de personnes – 61 % d’entre elles se trouvant dans la région de l’Extrême-Nord – avaient besoin d’une aide humanitaire, notamment de nourriture et de soins médicaux. Or, l’acheminement de l’aide humanitaire continuait d’être entravé par le conflit en cours.
Plusieurs dizaines d’écoles ont été fermées dans les régions anglophones entre novembre 2016 et septembre 2017, à la suite d’appels à la grève et au boycott lancés par des syndicats et des membres de la société civile. Des membres extrémistes de groupes anglophones favorables à la sécession ont mené des attaques contre des établissements scolaires qui « brisaient le boycott ».
Entre janvier et septembre 2017, plus de 30 écoles ont été incendiées et gravement endommagées.
Cette année encore, des personnes accusées de soutenir Boko Haram ont été condamnées à mort à l’issue de procès inéquitables devant des tribunaux militaires, mais aucune n’a été exécutée. Toutes les poursuites avaient été engagées au titre de la loi antiterroriste de 2014, qui présentait de graves failles.
Freedom in the World 2018, Cameroon profile
President Paul Biya has ruled Cameroon since 1982. His Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has maintained power by rigging past elections, using state resources for political patronage, and limiting the activities of opposition parties. Security forces use violence to disperse antigovernment protests, especially in the country’s two Anglophone regions. The Boko Haram insurgent group continues to attack civilians in northern Cameroon, and security forces responding to the insurgency have been accused of committing human rights violations against civilians.
Key Developments in 2017:
- The government continued to repress an antigovernment protest movement in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest Regions. The protests began in late 2016 with strikes by lawyers and teachers, who objected to a general lack of acceptance of the English language in courts and schools, despite its constitutional status as one of Cameroon’s two official languages.
- In October, at least 20 people were killed when security forces responded to demonstrations in the Anglophone regions with live bullets and tear gas. At least 500 people were arrested in response to the protests.
- Internet access was shut down for 93 days in the two Anglophone regions, with the disruption lasting from January into April.
- In December 2017, government forces were accused of burning several whole villages in one of the Anglophone regions, in response to a deadly separatist attack against a military base in which four soldiers were killed.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: Political rights:
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? The president is directly elected to a seven-year term in a single voting round and may serve an unlimited number of terms. Cameroon’s fragmented opposition was unable to coalesce around a single candidate ahead of the 2011 presidential election, and Biya easily beat out nearly two dozen opponents to claim 78 percent of the vote. Turnout was low, with one civil society organization reporting it at 35 percent.
A Commonwealth election monitoring mission noted problems with voter registration, and said abuse of public resources by the ruling party during the election campaign had tilted the playing field significantly. The mission also noted a general sense of apathy among voters. The country still lacks an obvious successor to the 84-year-old President Biya, whose current term is scheduled to end in 2018.
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
In 2013, Cameroon held National Assembly elections, direct elections for municipal councilors, and long-delayed elections for its first Senate. The ruling CPDM won 56 of the elected Senate seats, while the main opposition party, the Anglophone-led Social Democratic Front (SDF), won the remaining 14. Biya appointed an additional 30 senators, three from each of the country’s 10 regions.
The CPDM took 148 assembly seats and won 305 of the country’s 360 communes. While some observers characterized the elections as credible, there were also accusations that the CPDM paid bribes to certain municipal councilors of up to $90 each. The CPDM also enjoyed an advantage over fragmented and weak opposition parties due to preexisting party infrastructure.
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The electoral commission, Elections Cameroon (ELECAM) was created in 2006 to address concerns about the fair management of previous elections. However, Biya chooses its members, and CPDM partisans have traditionally dominated the body. The ruling party has benefited from electoral gerrymandering.
Political pluralism and participation
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
The ability to organize political groups and those groups’ freedom to operate is subject to the whims of the central government, and opposition leaders risk arrest and imprisonment. In January 2017, the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), an Anglophone political grouping, was banned. In October 2017, a military court convicted Aboubakar Siddiki, a critic of Biya and the head of the small Cameroon’s Patriotic Salvation Movement, of attempting to incite a revolution and sentenced him to 25 years in prison, prompting condemnation from Amnesty International and others.
In February 2017, authorities banned a rally and a march planned by the main opposition SDF, which were to have taken place in the capital. In October, authorities in the capital granted the SDF a permit to hold a march and a rally intended to show solidarity with protests in the Anglophone regions. However, the permit was revoked days later on grounds that the activities constituted a threat to public safety.
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
Despite having almost 300 political parties, Cameroon remains essentially a one-party state. The numerous opposition parties are highly fragmented, preventing any one from becoming a credible threat to the ruling CPDM.
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable?
State patronage and Biya’s control of high-level appointments help the CPDM retain power.
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
Anglophone Cameroonians, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals, and individuals from some ethnic groups, such as the Bamiléké, are generally excluded from political processes, and their interests are poorly represented by elected officials.
Freedom of expression and belief
Are there free and independent media?
Journalists face pressure and the risk of detention or arrest in connection with their work. Defamation remains a criminal offense, and the National Communications Council (CNC) has a history of harassing independent journalists and outlets.
In 2017, the government clamped down on media coverage of the Anglophone protest movement. The CNC issued an official statement warning that media outlets that covered the demonstrators’ grievances could “adversely affect the Republican system, unity and territorial integrity, and the democratic principles on which the state stands,” which was interpreted as a threat to impose sanctions against outlets that covered the issue. In January, authorities shut down a radio station after it aired a debate about the Anglophone protest movement. The same month, the German news agency DW reported that its journalists and others had been threatened with sanctions if they covered the demonstrations.
And in December 2017, Cameroonian-American author Patrice Nganang, known for his criticism of Biya, was jailed for three weeks and then deported. The government said he had threatened Biya’s life in a Facebook post, but Nganang’s family said he was detained after writing an article for the French-language, pan-African magazine Jeune Afrique, in which he criticized Biya’s repression of the Anglophone protest movement. Radio journalist Mancho Bibixy remained in detention at year’s end on charges related to his calls for the secession of the Anglophone regions.
Ahmed Abba—a Nigerian journalist arrested in 2015 in connection with his reporting on Boko Haram—in 2017 was convicted on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison. However, he was freed after being credited with time served when a court later reduced his sentence to 24 months.
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Religious freedom is somewhat restricted in areas affected by the presence of Boko Haram, which has carried out violent attacks against places of worship. In 2015, the government banned full face veils in the Far North region following two suicide bombings that were attributed to Boko Haram and thought to have been carried out by veiled women. However, the ban is not usually enforced. Separately, the government has at times closed churches in order to encourage resolutions to leadership disputes.
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
There are no legal restrictions on academic freedom, but state security informants operate on university campuses. Individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Public criticism of the government and membership in opposition political parties can have a negative impact on professional opportunities and advancement. Cameroonians tend to avoid discussing sensitive political issues for fear of reprisals, notably the potential for a return to a federal system that would grant the Anglophone regions more autonomy, or the regions’ outright secession.
Internet access in the Anglophone regions was completely shut down for a total of 93 days between January and April of 2017 after several days of demonstrations in Bamenda, the regions’ main city, inhibiting online discussion of the Anglophone protest movement. Internet outages hit the region again in October, following that month’s protests. The mass arrests of protest participants in October further discouraged discussion of the Anglophone issues.
Cameroon’s Schools Are Under Attack, And The UK Can Help Stop It
Bede Sheppard, Deputy Director, Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. (link)
The teacher sat with her handbag clenched in her fingers, ready in case she needed to leave suddenly. Her eyes seemed to dart from window to door, checking her exits. At first, she wasn’t even willing to tell me her name, and, for her protection, I won’t repeat it here. She is a teacher in the English-speaking region of Cameroon, a country where most of the population speaks French. When she told me about her students, she loosened her tight grip on her handbag, and her eyes locked solidly on mine.
She told me that a group of separatist rebels had visited her school three months earlier. The insurgents had taken up arms to fight for independence for Cameroon’s Anglophone regions and told the headmaster that the teachers had to stop going to school.
Their threats carried weight, as armed separatists have been torching schools across the region, damaging at least 58 since late 2016. The separatists’ violent attempts to close down schools are, the teacher told me, “a weapon” they use to disrupt normal life and force the government – whose rule the insurgents want to break away from – to see just how grave the crisis is.
The head politely explained that the school would stay open to educate the village’s children, and that this didn’t mean they were taking the government’s side in this steadily escalating conflict. But the separatists weren’t interested. Despite the threats, the school wouldn’t close its doors. The teacher I spoke to turned up at school the next day. “I felt very insecure,” she told me.
“Going to teach that day was like a nightmare to me. I was looking more outside the window and door and not concentrating on teaching, because anything could happen.” It was not until the head received a threatening letter ordering him never to return to school, that they finally closed down. That was the safe decision. When armed separatists turned up at a nearby school and a teacher asked them to leave, they shot him in the leg.
The Anglophone community has some genuine grievances with the Cameroon government. New research shows how government security forces have shot peaceful demonstrators, tortured detainees, burned villages, and killed civilians. Government forces also burned down the house of a colleague of the teacher I met, in apparent retribution for the separatists destroying a bridge.
But government attacks in no way justify the insurgents harming children. This teacher’s school once had 1,000 students. But before the school shut for good, less than ten students were attending on any day. The children had been scared away by the separatists’ threats, often spread through social media and anonymous letters left in the streets. The United Nations believes more than 30,000 children are out of school in the Anglophone region, most for almost two academic years.
The teacher worries what will happen to these students. She knows how hard it will be to get them back to school after such a long absence. And she worries what’s happened to the teenagers without the routine of school and study. “The effects are terrible,” she said. “Six of my students are pregnant.”
The strong cultural, historical, and linguistic ties between Cameroon’s English-speaking region and the UK means Britain has an important role to play here in helping calm the conflict. The UK government, which recently joined the Safe Schools Declaration as a sign of its commitment to protect education in times of conflict, can help this teacher and her students by sending a strong message to separatists that schools are strictly off limits.
After all, attacks on students, teachers, and schools are a tactic used by groups such as Boko Haram, the Taliban, and Al-Shabab. No international legitimacy will be found by following their sorry example.
The UK should also urge the Cameroon government to stop its scorched earth approach in fighting separatists by torching and terrorizing Anglophone communities. That will only lead to more bloodshed in a country which had been, until recently, one of the more stable in the region.
Source photo : actucameroun.com