- Cameroon's disturbing human rights record is again a severe concern in two of the world's most credible rights organisations' 2004 reports. Amnesty International says the country political system still remains in chaos and human rights abuses are on the rise. Freedom House described the Paul Biya regime as one of the most repressive in the world.
Amnesty in its report expressed regrets that the activities of opposition parties continue to be repressed by Cameroonian government and security officials during the upcoming 2004 presidential election. The government banned opposition meetings and detained government critics, including political activists and journalists.
Freedom House in its report described the Biya regime as one of the most repressive in the world, rating Cameroon as one amongst the 17 nations of sub Sahara Africa "not free". In it annual rating of human rights performance, each participating country was assigned a grade for political rights and a rating for civil liberties based on a scale of 1 to 7, with one representing the highest degree of freedom present and seven the lowest level of freedom.
The combined average of each country's political rights and civil liberties ratings determines an overall status of "Free, Partly Free, or Not Free". Cameroon was ranked 6 for political rights and 6 for civil rights in 2004. In other words, Cameroon scored 2 out of 14.
In the Freedom House analysis, Cameroon is shockingly on equal footing with Zimbabwe, Liberia, Haiti, Congo Kinshasa, Iraq, North Korea and Afghanistan with regards to their dismal record on human rights.
The report raises serious questions as to the credibility of presidential elections expected in Cameroon this year, vindicating fears of massive rigging raised by observers. Little has improved in the way elections are conducted in Cameroon since the forced return to multiparty politics in 1990.
According to Amnesty International, Cameroonian human rights defenders and their organisations continue to face threats and harassment from the security forces and the press is further subjected to severe government monitoring and censorship.
The Amnesty report revealed that; "In November, 2003 the authorities harassed and threatened human rights defenders suspected of helping the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights to compile a report on torture in Cameroon which was published in October. Franka Nzounkekang, director of the Human Rights Defence Group, was followed by security agents and received an anonymous telephone call threatening her assassination.
- Security agents without a warrant searched the home of Alh Wakil of the Movement for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms. Two armed gendarmes told his colleague, Bouba Dirva, that he was to be arrested and was then forced to pay them a large sum of money. The offices of the Douala-based Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture and the Death Penalty were under surveillance and its director, Madeleine Afité, received anonymous telephone calls ..."
Amnesty added that the authorities repeatedly prevented opposition political parties and political activists from holding public or private meetings. Those targeted included the Front of Alternative Forces, some of whose leaders were briefly detained in October; the Alliance of Progressive Forces; and the Social Democratic Front.
The report denounced continues harassment, arrest detentions and imprisonment of SCNC activist, noting that Anglophone southern Cameroon's independence issue is that of self-determination. Some of these activists are in detention without trial while others are serving undeserved prison sentences or kept under inhuman or degrading prison conditions.
In November the UN Committee against Torture expressed grave concern about systematic torture by police and gendarmes after the arrest of suspects, with perpetrators almost always enjoying impunity. It highlighted reports of severe overcrowding in prisons with life-threatening conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
As many as 72 prisoners were reported to have died in Douala central prison alone. Detainees were obliged to pay for their medical care and women and men were often not separated in custody. Officials of the judiciary and the National Human Rights Committee are allowed to visit only on rare cases.
In the light of this and other parlous situation of Cameroon's democracy, large public outcry and questioning is already voiced amid earlier publication on Cameroon human rights by the US State Department, describing the situation as deplorable. Urging immediate action to bring the Biya regime to order, the report reminded Cameroonian authorities of their commitments to respect human rights and the rule of law as stipulated in international human rights treaties, to which Cameroon is a signatory.
The most degrading of these human rights sagas is pointed out by the international press watchdogs, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), based in Paris. The group strongly decried the high level of press censorship and the harsh situation that journalist in Cameroon face in their professional pursuit; reiterating that Cameroon risked becoming the most repressive country in Central Africa in terms of freedom of expression.
The RSF report remarked that many privately owned radio stations and newspapers especially in the southern part of the country have being closed to prevent criticism of the Head of State, President Biya, or his ruling party and to regulate the dissemination of information during the run-up to the 2004 presidential election.
- Although Cameroon's constitution provides for a multiparty republic, citizens have not been allowed to choose their government or local leaders by democratic means, the Freedom House report states. "Presidential elections have been devalued by rampant intimidation, manipulation and fraud."
Thus, the democratic confidence placed on the electoral collage is greatly devalued. This has since nurtured great discontent among Cameroonians - at home and in the Diaspora - as well as from the international community.
The human rights violations perpetrated by the Biya regime have only contributed to create more enemies in the political arenas and beyond, it has equally sown heavy discord and deprived citizens from initiating and mobilising their efforts to enhance their well-being.
Indeed, the aspirations of Cameroonian citizens continue to be frustrated and undermined, and their entire contribution in the nation-building process is put asunder. Rampant and poor human rights policies deter foreign and domestic investments; they hamper tourism, weaken an individual's initiative to progress, and only help in ravaging Cameroon's dangling economy and render our country and people to wallowing in poverty.
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