“The Government’s Human Rights Record Remained Poor”
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices–2004
Department of State, February 28, 2005
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and
Cameroon is a republic dominated by a strong presidency.
Despite the country’s multiparty system of government, the Cameroon
People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) has remained in power since the early
years of independence. In October, CPDM leader Paul Biya won re-election as
President. The primary opposition parties fielded candidates; however, the
election was flawed by irregularities, particularly in the voter registration
process. The President retains the power to control legislation or to rule by
decree. He has used his legislative control to change the Constitution and
extend the term lengths of the presidency. The judiciary was subject to
significant executive influence and suffered from corruption and inefficiency.
The national police (DGSN), the National Intelligence
Service (DGRE), the Gendarmerie, the Ministry of Territorial Administration,
Military Security, the army, the civilian Minister of Defense, the civilian
head of police, and, to a lesser extent, the Presidential Guard are
responsible for internal security; the DGSN and Gendarmerie have primary
responsibility for law enforcement. The Ministry of Defense, including the
Gendarmerie, DGSN, and DRGE, are under an office of the Presidency, resulting
in strong presidential control of internal security forces. Although civilian
authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces,
there were frequent instances in which elements of the security forces acted
independently of government authority. Members of the security forces
continued to commit numerous serious human rights abuses.
The majority of the population of approximately 16.3
million resided in rural areas; agriculture accounted for 24 percent of gross
domestic product. Real gross domestic product growth has averaged 4 to 5
percent annually with approximately 2 percent inflation. However, a rather
large parastatal sector, excessive public-sector employment, and the
Government’s inability to deregulate the economy inhibited private
investment and further economic recovery. Widespread corruption within the
business sector and the Government also impeded growth. Members of the Beti
ethnic group, including the Bulu subgroup, figured prominently in the
Government, civil service, and the management of state-owned businesses.
The Government’s human rights record remained poor, and
the Government continued to commit numerous serious human rights abuses.
Citizens’ ability to change their government remained severely limited.
Security forces committed numerous unlawful killings and were responsible for
regular torture, beatings, and other abuses of persons, particularly detainees
and prisoners. Impunity remained a serious problem. Prison conditions remained
harsh and life threatening. Security forces continued to arrest and detain
arbitrarily various opposition politicians, local human rights monitors, and
other citizens, often holding them for prolonged periods without charges or
trials, and, at times, incommunicado. The Government regularly infringed on
citizens’ privacy. The Government continued to restrict freedoms of speech
and press and harassed and threatened journalists. The Government restricted
freedom of assembly and limited freedom of association. Security forces
limited freedom of movement. Corruption was a serious problem. Violence and
discrimination against women remained serious problems. There were reports of
trafficking in persons, primarily children, for the purposes of forced labor.
Societal discrimination against indigenous Pygmies and ethnic minorities
continued. The Government continued to infringe on worker rights and
restricted the activities of independent labor organizations. Child labor
remained a serious problem. There were reported incidents of slavery and
forced labor, including forced child labor.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person,
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were reports of one politically motivated killing
by government agents; and security forces continued to commit unlawful
killings, including killings resulting from excessive force. Unlike in the
previous year, there were no reports that security forces summarily executed
On August 20, the private guards of Member of Parliament
(M.P.) Gah Gwanyin Doh III, who was also the Fon (traditional ruler) of
Balikumbat, a locality of the North West Province, reportedly beat to death
John Kohntem, the District Chairman of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the
country’s leading opposition party. The guards killed Kohntem when he was
returning from a meeting about presidential election preparations, in which he
accused the M.P. of committing pre-electoral fraud. Reports from regional
political leaders, human rights advocates, journalists, and others indicated
that Kohntem was killed because he challenged the Fon’s traditional
authority. There were no indications of involvement in the killing by the
executive branch of the Government. In early September, police reportedly
arrested and detained 11 suspects; however, the M.P., who had parliamentary
immunity from prosecution, was not arrested. At year’s end, a police
investigation was ongoing, and the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHRF)
was also investigating this case.
Prisoners died in custody during the year, due to abuse
by security forces, harsh prison conditions, and inadequate medical treatment.
For example, on January 30, prison wardens at the New-Bell prison in Douala
beat to death Emmanuel Song Bahanag, whom the wardens had accused of assisting
four convicts to escape. On February 7, the Director of Penitentiary
Administration visited the prison, but by year’s end, there was no record of
any official investigation.
In April, police arrested and detained Laurent Gougang
for 2 days on charges of robbery before transferring him to the Douala
Judiciary Police headquarters, where he died. After his death, the Douala
Prosecutor ordered an investigation and an autopsy, the latter of which
confirmed that Gougang died from severe, continuous torture. At year’s end,
the investigation was ongoing, and no arrests had been made.
By year’s end, there were no developments in the July
2003 death of Emmanuel Banye in police custody.
During the year, police used excessive force. There were
numerous incidents where police beat and shot suspects, many of whom were
fleeing the police. The police used deadly excessive force on a number of
occasions. For example, on February 16, Christophe Ndi, a police officer in
plainclothes, shot and killed security guard Justin Abena Ngono. According to
a subsequent investigation, Ndi was beating a girl on a street in Mbandjock in
the Center Province when Abena Ngono attempted to intervene. By year’s end,
Ndi was transferred to a different police precinct, and an investigation was
On March 30, Samuel Mpacko Dikoume, an officer of the
Douala anti-gang police unit, shot and killed Abel Ngosso in the Douala
neighborhood of Bonadibong. Ngosso reportedly began to run from an unmarked
car following him, and Officer Dikoume shot and killed him. By year’s end,
Officer Dikoume was under investigative detention, awaiting trial.
On May 12, police and gendarmes—including Police
Inspectors Stephen Nguh and John Kunde, Second Grade Police Inspector Tonye,
the Marshal of the Legion Tokoto, and Gendarme Major Lekunze—reportedly beat
and severely burned Afuh Bernard Weriwo, who later died of his injuries.
Police said they believed Weriwo had stolen a bicycle. The officers handcuffed
Weriwo, beat him severely, and repeatedly burned him on his arms and legs
while interrogating him at a roadside checkpoint near Kumba. Inspector Nguh
allegedly forced Weriwo to drink Kerosene and set him on fire. In late July,
Police Inspector Nguh was incarcerated. At year’s end, an investigation by
police and the NCHRF continued; however, no action had been taken against the
other officers involved.
On June 28, Gendarme Nohote Messina shot and killed
Desire Etoundi during a dispute at a bar in the Mvog-Mbi neighborhood of
Yaounde. Authorities arrested Messina, and on July 6, he was transferred to
the Yaounde Military Tribunal for preliminary hearings. At year’s end, the
case was ongoing.
In late March, the Douala Military Tribunal sentenced a
gendarme officer to a prison term for the 2003 death of army soldier Benangui.
There were no new developments in the July 2003 killing
of David Nesoe by an anti-gang police unit; the July 2003 killing by police of
taxi driver Yeyena Ayouba and four persons protesting that killing; the August
2003 killing of Juvenile Mbanzamihigo; or the 2003 sentencing of Barthelemy
There were no new developments in the 2003 appeal of the
acquittal of six army officers charged with the execution of nine youths in
Mob violence and summary justice against those suspected
of theft and the practice of witchcraft continued to result in deaths and
serious injuries. Such incidents were reportedly the result of the long period
of time it often took for law enforcement to respond to requests for
assistance and the fact that many individuals arrested for serious crimes were
released without charge hours after their arrests (see Section 1.d.).
On March 16, a mob burned to death Ngambi Evaristus, who
reportedly had mental disabilities, after he allegedly killed Mama Assanah
Chuyi in the North West. There were no reports that this case was under
investigation at year’s end.
On July 20, an angry crowd lynched Serge Ngogang in the
Carrefour Tif neighborhood of Douala after he reportedly was caught stealing
construction materials. By year’s end, there were no reports that this case
was under investigation.
On August 9, a mob beat to death two suspected thieves in
Kumba in the South West Province. Their bodies were reportedly left on a
street corner for days to serve as an example to others. In July and August,
there were also credible reports of suspected thieves being stoned and burned
to death near the North West town of Bamenda. There were no reports that any
of these incidents were under investigation at year’s end.
In September, a mob beat and killed Desire Sinzeu and
Philegon Silatchom in the Banengo I neighborhood of Bafoussam in the West
Province. The two were reportedly members of a local gang of thieves
responsible for a number of area robberies. Security forces attempted to
intervene to protect the individuals but were too late. By year’s end, the
Provincial Office of Judicial Police ordered an investigation, and 10 suspects
had been arrested.
There were no developments in any of the 2003 mob
There were no reports of politically motivated
disappearances during the year.
Some disappearances of persons who were in the custody of
security forces in past years may be attributed to summary executions by
security forces either in Douala or the northern regions; in these instances,
bodies rarely were found, but the suspects were presumed dead.
There were no developments in the March 2002
disappearance of nine youths detained in the Bafoussam Gendarmerie brigade.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices; however, there were
credible reports that security forces continued to regularly torture, beat,
and otherwise abuse prisoners and detainees. In the majority of cases of
torture or abuse, the Government rarely investigated or punished any of the
officials involved. There were reports that security forces detained persons
at specific sites where they tortured and beat detainees (see Section 1.a.).
Security forces also reportedly subjected women, children, and elderly persons
to abuse. Numerous international human rights organizations and some prison
personnel reported that torture was widespread; however, most reports did not
identify the victim because of fear of government retaliation against either
the victim or the victim’s family. Most victims did not report torture for
fear of government reprisal, or because of ignorance of or lack of confidence
in the judicial system.
In New Bell and other non-maximum security penal
detention centers, prison guards inflicted beatings, and prisoners were
reportedly chained or at times flogged in their cells. Authorities often
administered beatings in temporary holding cells within a police or gendarme
facility. Two forms of physical abuse commonly reported by male detainees were
the “bastonnade,” where authorities beat the victim on the soles of the
feet, and the “balancoire,” during which authorities hung victims from a
rod with their hands tied behind their backs and beat them, often on the
genitals. There were reports that some nonviolent political activists have
experienced this abuse during brief detentions that followed participation in
opposition party activities (see Section 2.b.).
Security forces continued to subject prisoners and
detainees to degrading treatment, including stripping, confinement in severely
overcrowded cells, and denial of access to toilets or other sanitation
facilities. Police and gendarmes often beat detainees to extract confessions
or information on alleged criminals. Pretrial detainees were sometimes
required, under threat of abuse, to pay “cell fees,” a bribe paid to
prison guards to prevent further abuse.
During the year, there were reports that persons in
police custody died as a result of torture (see Section 1.a.).
In early January, 11 police officers from the Douala 11
police precinct arrested and beat a man named Bikele after reportedly
receiving a bribe from the man’s girlfriend, who said he had stolen chairs
from her house. Bikele claimed that he owned the furniture. By year’s end,
the police commissioner ordered Bikele’s release; however, there were no
reports of any sanctions against the perpetrators of the beating.
On May 16, Officer Abo of the Bafang police in West
Province and another officer beat a barrister named Saga after Saga refused to
produce his identification papers. Saga fell into a coma, from which he later
recovered. Saga and the Cameroon Bar Association subsequently filed a lawsuit
against the two officers, who remained on active duty at year’s end.
On June 15, the Senior Divisional Officer of the Meme
Division (a local government official), Joseph Otto Wilson, reportedly
assaulted and arrested barrister Epie Nzounkwelle after the taxi cab
Nzounkwelle was in almost collided with Wilson’s car. Nzounkwelle was
released 24 hours later, after the intervention of the Senior State Counsel.
The Cameroon Bar Association sued Officer Wilson and the gendarmes who
arrested Nzuonkwelle, and the case was ongoing at year’s end.
Security forces beat and harassed journalists during the
year (see Section 2.a.).
On January 15, officers from the gendarmerie Mobile Unit
in the Melen neighborhood of Yaounde sexually abused Biloa Ndongo while she
was in custody. At year’s end, Biloa had a medical report documenting the
sexual abuse, but she had not obtained the names of the officers involved and
had not filed a complaint.
In late February, the Abong-Mbang First Instance Court
sentenced a police officer to a 3-year prison term and ordered the officer to
pay $400 (200,000 CFA) for the rape of a teenager girl during police detention
There were no further developments in the January 2003
shooting of Jules Temeze Nsangou; the August 2003 shooting of Desire Mbeng;
the 2002 beating of Narcisse Kouokam; the 2002 beating of men and women in
Noun Division, West Province; and the 2002 arrest and severe torture of Jean
Some illegal immigrants were subjected to harsh treatment
and imprisonment. Police and gendarme often targeted Nigerian and Chadian
communities when seeking to identify illegal immigrants. During raids, members
of the security forces extorted money from those who did not have regular
residence permits or those who did not have valid receipts for store
Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening.
Prisons were seriously overcrowded, unsanitary, and inadequate, especially
outside major urban areas. Due to a lack of funds, serious deficiencies in
food, health care, and sanitation were common in almost all prisons, including
“private prisons” in the north operated by traditional rulers. Prisoners
were kept in dilapidated colonial-era prisons, where the number of detainees
was four to five times the intended capacity. According to a report by the
International Center for Prison Studies, published in late July by the
Catholic newspaper La Croix, there were 67 detention centers for the
country’s approximately 20,000 detainees. Overcrowding was exacerbated by
the large number of long pretrial detentions and the practice of “Friday
arrests” (see Section 1.d.). In May, a senior official in Bafoussam
estimated that out of the 1,800 inmates in his prison, 1,600 were awaiting
trial. To relieve the worst of the overcrowding, prisoners were being
transferred to less crowded prisons. On July 11, the Penitentiary
Administration launched a program to decongest the New-Bell prison in Douala,
and 74 inmates were transferred to the Mantum detention center in the North
Health and medical care were almost nonexistent, and
prisoners’ families were expected to provide food for their relatives in
prison. Douala’s New Bell Prison contained 7 water taps for a reported 3,500
prisoners, contributing to poor hygiene, illness, and death.
Prison officials regularly tortured, beat, and otherwise
abused prisoners with impunity. Several prisoners died due to harsh prison
conditions and inadequate medical treatment. On February 26, Ngaki Tiako, died
from untreated tuberculosis in the chambers of the Douala Military Tribunal,
where he had been in custody since 2002 on charges of banditry. Corruption
among prison personnel was widespread. Prisoners sometimes could bribe wardens
for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom.
In May, the Secretary of State in Charge of Penitentiary
Affairs at the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Emmanuel Oteh, visited
prisons around the country. As a result of his tour, the refurbishment of a
Yaounde detention center formerly used for political prisoners was underway at
year’s end. Also in May, an additional 800 individuals were recruited to
work in the prison system. They were in training at year’s end.
There were few detention centers for women, who routinely
were held in prison complexes with men, occasionally in the same cells. In
July, the Center for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy, a human rights
organization based in Bamenda in the North West Province, criticized this
practice. Mothers sometimes were incarcerated with their children or babies.
Juvenile prisoners often were incarcerated with adults, occasionally in the
same cells or wards. There were credible reports that adult inmates sexually
abused juvenile prisoners. Pretrial detainees routinely were held in cells
with convicted criminals. Some high-profile prisoners were separated from
other prisoners and enjoyed relatively lenient treatment.
In the north, the Government continued to permit
traditional Lamibe (chiefs) to detain persons outside the government
penitentiary system, in effect creating private prisons. Private prisons
within the palaces of traditional chiefs Rey Bouba, Gashiga, Bibemi, and
Tcheboa had a reputation for serious abuse. In Garoua, in the North Province,
palace staff estimated that 50 prisoners were being held in the palace prison
annually, normally between 1 and 2 weeks. Individuals who were found guilty
were also often beaten or subject to other forms of physical abuse. According
to the palace staff, in serious cases, such as murder, the accused individuals
were turned over to local police.
The Government has granted international humanitarian
organizations access to prisoners. Both the local Red Cross and the NCHRF made
infrequent, unannounced prison visits during the year. The Government
continued to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to
visit prisons. During the year, the ICRC stated that the Government allowed
international NGOs to have increased access to prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and
requires an arrest warrant except when a person is caught in the act of
committing a crime; however, security forces continued to arrest and detain
The DGSN includes the public security force, judicial
police, territorial security forces, and frontier police. In rural areas,
where there is little or no police presence, the primary law enforcement body
is the gendarmerie. Citizens viewed police as ineffective, which resulted in
mob violence (see Section 1.a.). It was widely believed that such individuals
paid bribes to law enforcement and the judiciary to secure their freedom.
Police officers and members of the Gendarmerie were widely viewed as corrupt
and frequently arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens. Police demanded
bribes at checkpoints, and influential citizens reportedly paid police to make
arrests in personal disputes. Impunity was a serious problem. Insufficient
funding and inadequate training contributed to a lack of professionalism in
During the year, the Government investigated and
prosecuted a few cases of security personnel accused of violating the law
between the fall of 2003 and January. For example, on February 24, the Douala
Military Tribunal sentenced Luc Raymond Kamlo, a navy soldier, to an 8-year
prison term, on banditry charges.
Police legally may detain a person in connection with a
common crime for up to 24 hours and may renew the detention three times before
bringing charges. The law provides for the right to judicial review of the
legality of detention only in the two Anglophone provinces. Otherwise, the
French 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, he may hold the detainee in administrative or pretrial
detention indefinitely, pending court action. Such detention often was
prolonged, due to the understaffed and mismanaged court system. The law
permits detention without charge by administrative authorities such as
governors and senior divisional officers for renewable periods of 15 days
ostensibly to combat banditry and maintain public order. Persons taken into
detention frequently were denied access to both legal counsel and family
members. The law permits release on bail only in the Anglophone provinces;
however, in practice, bail was granted infrequently.
Police and gendarmes often arrested persons on spurious
charges on Fridays at mid-day or in the afternoon. While the law in the
Anglophone provinces provides for a judicial review of an arrest within 24
hours, the courts did not convene sessions on the weekend, so the detainee
remained in detention until at least Monday. Police and gendarmes accepted
bribes to make such “Friday arrests” from persons who had private
grievances. There were no known cases of policemen or gendarmes that were
sanctioned or punished for this practice.
Security forces and government authorities continued to
arrest and arbitrarily detain various opposition politicians, local human
rights monitors, journalists, and other critics of the Government, often
holding them for prolonged periods without charges or trials and, at times,
incommunicado (see Sections 2.a. and 4). Police also arrested persons during
unauthorized demonstrations (see Section 2.b.).
On May 19, the Minister of State for Culture reportedly
ordered the arrest and detention of Clement Tjomb, the Chairman of the Board
of the Copyright Association of Professional Photographers and Audiovisual
Workers. Earlier that same day, a court had determined that Tjomb had been
elected president of the association, and media reports suggested that the
Minister supported one of the defeated candidates. On July 30, Tjomb was
released from custody without being charged.
In October, gendarmes arbitrarily arrested Bernard Fosso,
Secretary General of the African Movement for Total Liberation (Molita) and
refused to disclose his location to his family members. Fosso, who said he was
arrested because he had criticized the Government, was released several days
later without having been charged with a crime.
In November, Fon Chafah XI, a local chief of the
Northwest Province, arrested and detained Gabriel Ambo, Promotion Officer for
the Human Rights Defense Group, for allegedly stealing from the Fon. Ambo said
he was arrested because the Fon believed that he tried to start an affair with
the Fon’s wife. At year’s end, he had been released and his trial was
Police frequently arrested persons without identification
during sweeps (see Section 1.f.).
Albert Mukong, who was awaiting trial after having been
arrested in 2002 and subsequently released, died on July 12. At year’s end,
the 19 other Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) activists arrested
with Mukong continued to await trial.
The law stipulates that detainees must be brought
promptly before a magistrate; however, arbitrary prolonged pretrial detention
remained a serious problem, and sometimes persons were held incommunicado for
months or even years (see Section 1.c.). For example, in mid-September,
attorney William Ndieng said his client Benoit Bilongo had been detained
without trial for 7 years at the Yaounde Central Prison. During the year, the
NCHRF and Ndieng filed a complaint calling for Bilongo’s immediate release.
By year’s end, the case had not been heard by a court. Some persons were
detained for several months simply because they were unable to present
identification to authorities.
In September, the newspaper Mutations ran a story about
Barnabe Atangana, who was arrested in 1984 for theft and whose case has never
been brought to trial. According to Atangana’s lawyer, the case has been
delayed because the court was unable to locate Atangana’s file. Atangana was
still in custody at year’s end.
The law specifies that, after an investigation has
concluded, juveniles should not be detained without trial for longer than 3
months; however, in practice, the Government detained juveniles for longer
periods of time. Michel Sighanou, a juvenile who was transferred from the
Yabassi prison in 1996, has been awaiting trial for more than 7 years.
In recent years, there have been reports that some
prisoners remained in prison after completing their sentences or having been
released under a court ruling. In late August, the media reported that more
than 100 prisoners in Douala were being held after the completion of their
terms, and that many of them were being held because they had been unable to
pay court fees. During the year, lawyers representing these individuals filed
suit for their release and also filed a complaint at the European Court of
Human Rights seeking the prisoners’ immediate release. By year’s end,
there were no further developments.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary;
however, the judiciary remained highly subject to executive influence, and
corruption and inefficiency remained serious problems. The court system was
subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, which was part of the Presidency. The
Constitution specifies that the President is the guarantor of the legal
system’s independence. He also appoints all judges with the advice of the
Supreme Council of the Magistrature. Some politically sensitive cases were
never heard by the courts. However, the judiciary has shown some modest signs
of growing independence. During the year, the courts found the Government
liable for damages in a few human rights cases involving abuses by security
The court system includes the Supreme Court, a Court of
Appeals in each of the 10 provinces, and courts of first instance in each of
the country’s 58 divisions.
Customary courts served as a primary means for settling
civil disputes in rural areas, primarily in family-related civil cases, such
as in matters of succession, inheritance, and child custody. Divorce cases can
be brought to customary courts only if the Government has not sanctioned the
marriage through an official license. Customary courts may exercise
jurisdiction in a civil case only with the consent of both parties. Either
party has the right to have the case heard by a statutory court and to appeal
an adverse decision in a customary court to the statutory courts. Most
traditional courts also permitted appeal of their decisions to traditional
authorities of higher rank.
The legal system includes both national law and customary
law, and many criminal and civil cases can be tried using either one; however,
criminal cases are generally tried in statutory courts, and customary court
convictions involving witchcraft automatically are transferred to the
statutory courts, which act as the court of first instance. Customary law,
which is used most frequently in rural areas, is based upon the traditions of
the ethnic group predominant in the region and is adjudicated by traditional
authorities of that group. Customary law is deemed valid only when it is not
“repugnant to natural justice, equity, and good conscience.” However, many
citizens in rural areas remained unaware of their rights under civil law and
were taught that they must abide by customary laws. Customary law ostensibly
provides for equal rights and status; however, men may limit women’s right
to inheritance and employment, and some traditional legal systems classify
wives as the legal property of their husbands (see Section 5).
The legal structure is influenced strongly by the French
legal system, although in the two Anglophone provinces certain aspects of the
Anglo-Saxon tradition apply. In the past, this mixed legal tradition has led
to conflicting court action in cases handled in both Francophone and
Anglophone jurisdictions. In June 2003, the International Bar Association
began to assess ways to harmonize the criminal legal system; however, by
year’s end, no reforms had been undertaken.
The Constitution provides for a fair public hearing in
which the defendant is presumed innocent. Defendants generally were allowed to
question witnesses and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf.
Because appointed attorneys received little compensation, the quality of legal
representation for indigent clients often was poor. The Bar Association and
some voluntary organizations, such as the Cameroonian Association of Female
Jurists, offered free assistance in some cases. The Project for the
Improvement of Conditions of Detention to engage lawyers to work on prison
cases continued. Trials normally were public, except in cases with political
overtones and cases judged disruptive to social peace.
On July 2, the Yaounde High Instance Court ruled in favor
of Innocent Belinga, who had been held without formal charge since his arrest
in 2000. The court ordered the state treasury to pay Belinga’s legal fees.
Political bias often stopped trials or resulted in an
extremely long process, with extended court recesses. Powerful political or
business interests enjoyed virtual immunity from prosecution; some politically
sensitive cases were settled with a payoff.
Military tribunals may exercise jurisdiction over
civilians when the President declares martial law and in cases involving civil
unrest or organized armed violence. Military tribunals also have jurisdiction
over gang crimes, banditry, and highway robbery. The Government interpreted
these guidelines broadly and sometimes used military courts to try matters
concerning dissident groups and political opponents. Military trials often
were subject to irregularities and political influence.
The Government held political prisoners, including SCNC
activists and other Anglophones; however, there was no reliable estimate of
the number being held at year’s end. The Government permitted international
humanitarian organizations to access political prisoners; during the year, the
International Federation of Human Rights visited political prisoners in
In October 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the 1999 ruling
of a lower court that convicted Titus Edzoa, former Minister of Health and
long-time presidential aide who opposed President Biya in the 1997 election,
on charges of embezzlement of public funds with Michel Thierry Atangana, his
campaign manager, and sentenced Edzoa to a prison term. He was ordered to pay
a substantial fine and incarcerated at the maximum-security Gendarmerie
headquarters, with very limited access to visitors; Edzoa and Atangana were
arrested prior to the 1997 election.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Constitution prohibits such actions; however, these
rights were subject to the “higher interests of the State,” and there were
numerous, credible reports that police and gendarmes harassed citizens,
conducted searches without warrants, and opened or seized mail. The Government
continued to keep some opposition activists and dissidents under surveillance.
Police sometimes punished family members and neighbors of criminal suspects.
The law permits a police officer to enter a private home
during daylight hours without a warrant if he is pursuing an inquiry and has
reason to suspect that a crime has been committed. The officer must have a
warrant to make such a search after dark; however, a police officer may enter
a private home at any time in pursuit of a criminal observed committing a
An administrative authority may authorize police to
conduct neighborhood sweeps without warrants, at times involving forced entry
into homes in search of suspected criminals or stolen or illegal goods.
Although there were fewer sweeps during the year than in the previous year,
these sweeps continued to occur in Yaounde and Douala. Typically, security
forces sealed off a neighborhood, systematically searched homes, arrested
persons arbitrarily, and seized suspicious or illegal articles. There were
credible reports that security forces used such sweeps as a pretext to loot
homes and arbitrarily arrest persons for minor offenses, such as not
possessing identity cards (see Section 1.c.). For example, on January 14, the
Douala police conducted sweeps in the Douala neighborhoods of Nkomondo, Bata-Cogo,
and Bonibong. During this operation, police reportedly arrested 50
individuals, including 6 undocumented foreigners; by year’s end, all those
arrested were released after paying fines. Police also reportedly seized
motorcycles and electronics during the sweeps. The Douala police conducted
another series of sweeps in late September in Ndokoti, Akwa, Deido, and
Bonaberi, all neighborhoods in and around Douala.
During the year, the Ministry of Towns indicated that the
houses the Government destroyed prior to the 2001 France-Africa Summit were
illegally built on state land and that their owners were not entitled to
compensation. The Government continued to prevent persons from reoccupying the
site from which they were removed.
There continued to be accusations, particularly in the
North and Far North Provinces, that traditional chiefs arbitrarily evicted
persons from their land.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of
the press; however, the Government continued to restrict these rights in
practice. The Government sometimes invoked strong libel laws to silence
criticism of the Government and officials. Journalists, particularly broadcast
journalists, often practiced self-censorship as a result of significant
government intimidation and harassment.
The Government published one of the country’s few daily
newspapers, the Cameroon Tribune. It did not report extensively on protests or
political parties critical of the Government, overtly criticize the ruling
party, or portray government programs in an unfavorable light.
During the year, approximately 200 privately owned
newspapers were published; however, only an estimated 20, including Mutations,
a privately owned daily newspaper, were published on a regular basis.
Newspapers were distributed primarily in urban areas, and most continued to
criticize the Government and report on controversial issues, including
corruption, human rights abuses, and economic policies. However, the
Government used criminal libel laws to inhibit the press, and during the year,
laws concerning the propagation of false information were also criminalized.
The publication, distribution, and sale of La Tribune de
l’Est, a private newspaper highly critical of the Government, was no longer
banned. During the year, the newspaper faced no harassment by the Government.
Despite the large number of private newspapers in the
country, the influence of print media was minimal. Distribution was
problematic outside of major towns, and prices of independent newspapers were
high, due largely to high government taxes on newsprint; however, during the
year, the Government established a special fund to support the development of
the press, particularly newspapers, and funds were dispersed to some private
newspapers and radio stations during the year. According to media reports,
funding was awarded very selectively, and some media outfits, such as
Mutations and Radio Reine, refused to apply for funds because of the lack of
accountability measures for the disbursement of funds. In addition, government
control of newspaper warehouses allowed the seizure of controversial editions
of certain newspapers prior to distribution. For example, the Government
seized two editions of Mutations and one edition of Insight magazine because
of controversial articles.
The Government tightly controlled the broadcast media.
Radio remained the most important medium reaching most citizens. There were
approximately 20 privately owned radio stations operating in the country. The
state-owned Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) broadcast on both television and
radio and was the only officially recognized and fully licensed broadcaster in
the country. The Government levied taxes on all registered taxpaying citizens
to finance CRTV programming, which allowed CRTV a distinct advantage over
Non-profit rural radio stations were required to submit
an application to broadcast but were exempt from paying licensing fees.
Potential commercial radio and television broadcasters must submit a licensing
application and pay an application fee when the application is submitted. Once
the license is issued, stations must then pay a licensing fee. The annual
licensing fees potentially were prohibitive. Between 1999 and year’s end,
the Ministry of Communication received more than 100 applications from
potential broadcasters; however, no licenses had been issued to any private
radio or TV stations by year’s end. In many cases, the Government allowed
stations to operate while their licensing applications were pending, although
the legal status of stations established before 2000 was not well defined and
appeared to be illegal.
Although the Communications Ministry had not responded to
station requests for licenses since 2000, the Government issued a December
2003 ultimatum to the many stations that were operating illegally, stating
that they would have to submit the proper paperwork or close down by December
31, 2003. Between December 2003 and January, 12 stations stopped broadcasting
during a 3-week period to bring their licensing applications up to date. Most
of these stations, including some that were critical of the Government,
resumed broadcasting in January and continued to broadcast at year’s end.
Although the Government did not forcibly close any stations, it refused to
register several stations that did not submit what the Government deemed to be
appropriate applications, and those stations closed on their own initiative.
There were several low-power, rural community radio
stations with extremely limited broadcast range that were funded by the U.N.
Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and foreign
countries. These stations, which broadcast programs on education, health, the
environment, and development to small audiences, were not allowed to discuss
politics. The law permits broadcasting of foreign news services but requires
the foreigners to partner with a national station. The British Broadcasting
Company (BBC), Radio France International, and Voice of America broadcast in
partnership with state-owned CRTV. During the year, the Government continued
to allow the reception of international cable and satellite television
Television was less pervasive but more influential than
print media. The five independent television stations largely avoided
criticizing the Government and generally relayed government information to the
public. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that the Government
controlled private television stations Canal 2 or RTA by monitoring content to
ensure compliance with an approved format; in addition, the stations were no
longer under a suspension that had been imposed by the Center Province
Government in 2003.
Like the Cameroon Tribune, CRTV provided broad reporting
of CPDM activities, while giving relatively little attention to the political
opposition. During the year, CRTV management continued to repeatedly instruct
CRTV staff to ensure that government views prevailed at all times. Prior to
and following the campaign period, CRTV television and radio programming
included a weekly program, Direct Expression, which ostensibly fulfilled the
Government’s legal obligation to provide an opportunity for all political
parties represented in the National Assembly to present their views. However,
during the program, CRTV continued to restrict the freedom of speech of the
opposition party, the SDF, by occasionally censoring and significantly
shortening proposed SDF programming.
During the presidential campaign period, the Ministry of
Communications made some efforts to provide equal airtime on CRTV for
presidential candidates to discuss their positions. Most candidates took
advantage of this offer; however, three candidates failed to submit material
for broadcast. The evening news and other reports continued to focus on the
incumbent and the ruling political party. As a result, the incumbent received
considerably more coverage than any other candidate.
Security forces continued to restrict press freedom by
arresting, detaining, physically abusing, threatening, and otherwise harassing
print-media journalists. On May 18, the Mobile Intervention Unit of the Douala
police prevented Jean Celestin Edjangue, a press photographer with Le Messager
newspaper, from shooting pictures of a protest near the French consulate. The
police injured Edjangue’s wrist as he resisted their attempts to seize his
On July 11, police arrested a BBC journalist and a local
journalist working temporarily for the BBC in the Bakassi peninsula for
alleged espionage. The journalists were moved to the coastal town of Limbe
where they were held for 6 days under police guard in a local hotel. They were
subsequently released without charge.
On August 31, police arrested Richard Nde, a reporter of
the Guardian Post, for libel in the town of Bamenda in Northwest Province
after he wrote an article in which he claimed that the mayor of Kumbo in the
Northwest Province had embezzled funds. However, many journalists said that he
was arrested because his newspaper published a number of articles prior to the
presidential election that were critical of the incumbent. By year’s end,
Nde had paid $1060 (530 CFA francs) to be released from prison, and he
continued to report for the Guardian Post.
There was no action against those responsible for the
2003 abuse of two employees of Mutations.
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that
the Government forcibly shut down radio stations; however, during the year,
the Government forcibly took control of one station and continued to refuse
registration to another.
On January 26, the Douala Court of First Instance
declared itself incompetent to rule on the case of Freedom FM, a Douala-based
private radio station, which the Government had prohibited from going
operational in May 2003 on the grounds that the owner had not submitted to the
Ministry of Communication an application for operation, the name of the
station, or the types of programs the station would broadcast. Freedom FM
owner Pius Njawe, who has previously been jailed for criticizing the
President, claimed he had submitted an application to the Ministry under a
different station name in 2003 but had subsequently informed the Ministry of
the name change. In October 2003, the Ministry of Communications filed a
lawsuit against Njawe for having illegally created a radio station. In July,
the Government rejected an application to broadcast submitted by Freedom FM,
and seized the station’s broadcasting equipment. According to the Ministry
of Communications, the radio equipment had been donated by a foreign
government to establish a community radio station, not a private one. By
year’s end, this case was pending in another court while the Government
continued to prevent the station from broadcasting and refused to return the
confiscated equipment. In addition, in April Njawe filed a case with the
African Commission of Human Rights and Freedom, which was investigating the
case at year’s end.
Radio Oku, which was closed in December 2003 by a
Divisional Officer (local government official), resumed broadcasting in
February. In April, the Bui High Court found that the Divisional Officer had
acted illegally when he closed Radio Oku, temporarily detained four members of
Radio Oku’s board of directors, and placed three other members under
temporary house arrest. The court ordered the Divisional Officer to relinquish
Radio Oku equipment and to pay the station manager approximately $1,400
(750,000 CFA francs). The Divisional Officer appealed the judgment, and on
April 16, he reportedly arrested the station manager and board chairman. The
individuals said they were abused during their 2-day detention. On May 30, the
Divisional Officer’s agents reportedly took control of the station, stopped
its normal programming, and began broadcasting. The Ministry of Communications
refused to become involved in the case because it concerned ongoing
litigation. At year’s end, the Divisional Officer remained in control of the
station, and the Divisional Officer’s legal appeal remained pending.
During the year, the Government indirectly censored the
media and candidates for political office by controlling campaign advertising.
On August 25, in anticipation of the October presidential election, the
Minister of Communication granted itself extensive control over the content
and format of all campaign material. The restrictions on campaign material
significantly impeded the amount of advertising and advertising revenues that
the print media was able to obtain during the campaign. In addition, the
ruling CPDM party used its influence in CRTV radio and television to broadcast
special programs, which gave the party additional time to campaign.
Requirements that all political advertising be directed to media authorized by
the Ministry of Communication meant that most advertising and advertising
revenues were obtained by CRTV, the only fully authorized TV or radio network
in the country.
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that
the Government seized print runs of private newspapers or interfered with
private newspaper distribution.
The Government prosecuted its critics in the print media
through criminal libel laws. These laws authorized the Government, at its
discretion and the request of the plaintiff, to criminalize a civil libel suit
or to initiate a criminal libel suit in cases of alleged libel against the
President and other high government officials; such crimes are punishable by
prison terms and heavy fines. Criminal penalties for speech-related offenses
resulted in the practice of self-censorship by some journalists.
For example, in July, a court convicted Eric Wirkwa Tayu,
the publisher of the small private newspaper Nso Voice based in Kumbo, of
defaming Kumbo’s mayor, Donatus Njong Fonyuy. The defamation charge
reportedly resulted from articles in Nso Voice alleging that the mayor was
guilty of corruption. The court sentenced Tayu to 5 months in prison and
ordered him to pay a fine of $600 (300,000 CFA francs). It was not known
whether Tayu was able to pay the fine or if he had been released by year’s
During the year, the Ministry of Communication
established a number of new organizations related to the media. On April 30,
the Minister of Communication created the Central Office for Press Relations (BCRP)
to facilitate the press’ access to certain government information (see
On September 22, the President appointed members to the
long-dormant National Communication Council, which was designed to serve as an
advisory body on government regulation of the communications sector. The
Council began operating during the year, and in its post-presidential election
report, it criticized the imbalance of CRTV’s coverage of the campaign,
which it said discriminated against opposition parties.
During the year, there were reports that the Government
attempted to monitor the Internet. In June, following rumors published on the
Internet that President Biya had died, the Minister of Communication
established an Internet regulatory taskforce to identify sources of
information on the Internet. There were no reports that the taskforce was
active during the year. There were no reports that the Government restricted
access to the Internet.
Although there were no legal restrictions on academic
freedom, state security informants operated on university campuses. Professors
said that participation in opposition political parties could affect adversely
their professional opportunities and advancement. During the year, free
political discussion at Yaounde’s universities was hindered by armed
government security forces who harassed some students.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly; however, the
Government restricted this right in practice. The law requires organizers of
public meetings, demonstrations, or processions to notify officials in advance
but does not require prior government approval of public assemblies and does
not authorize the Government to suppress public assemblies that it has not
approved in advance. However, officials routinely have asserted that the law
implicitly authorized the Government to grant or deny permission for public
assembly. Consequently, the Government often did not grant permits for
assemblies organized by persons or groups critical of the Government and
repeatedly used force to suppress public assemblies for which it had not
On numerous occasions throughout the year, authorities
refused to grant permission to political groups seeking to hold rallies and
meetings. For example, on October 22, the Prefect of the Wouri Division in
Douala announced that he would not authorize any political rallies because he
feared social unrest following the October 11 presidential election. He lifted
the ban on October 25, shortly after President Biya was officially declared to
have won the election.
Security forces forcibly disrupted the meetings and
rallies of trade unions and opposition parties throughout the year; however,
unlike in the previous year, no deaths resulted from the police’s use of
excessive force to disperse demonstrations. For example, on January 12,
authorities prevented members of the Front of Alternative Forces (FFA), an
opposition coalition, from holding a rally in the Douala neighborhood of
Bonanjo and arrested and detained for 6 hours 11 FFA members. On April 2, a
gendarmes detachment was deployed in Douala to prevent a political rally
organized by the Movement for Democracy and Independence, an opposition
political group, despite the fact that the group had received authorization to
hold the rally.
On May 22, security forces prevented members of the
National Coalition for Reconciliation and Reconstruction (CNRR), an opposition
group, from entering the municipal stadium in Ebolowa in the South Province,
where an opposition political rally had been scheduled to take place.
In July, members of the CNRR tried to hold weekly rallies
in Yaounde to call for the computerization of the voter registration process.
Although the Government refused to provide permits for these rallies, the
protestors continued to march. On July 6, gendarmes injured some protesters,
including an SDF Parliamentarian, when they used excessive force to detain a
group of protestors on the street for several hours. On August 3, a similar
event occurred and lasted for more than 3 hours, although no injuries were
On August 19, Douala security forces prevented
Jean-Jacques Ekindi and members of the FFA from holding a rally in the Douala
neighborhood, Akwa. Police arrested and briefly detained five members of the
On October 21, authorities in Yaounde prevented a press
conference at the opposition SDF headquarters from taking place by denying
journalists entry to the site.
A few days prior to October 1, a traditional day of
protest for Anglophones, there were reports that police in Bamenda arrested
four SCNC activists. The individuals were reportedly held for a few days and
released without charge.
During the year, the Prefect of Mfoundi lifted a ban he
had invoked in 2003 to prevent the National Alliance for Democracy, an
opposition party, from holding meetings.
During the year, authorities released five protesters
arrested during a protest in September 2003.
No action reportedly was taken against the members of the
security forces who forcibly dispersed demonstrations in 2003 or 2002.
The law provides for freedom of association, and the
Government limited this right in practice. The 2002 ban on the SCNC remained
in effect. At year’s end, the Prefect of Douala’s Wouri Division continued
to maintain a June 2003 ban on all activities of the FFA; the Prefect said
that the group was disorderly and had not applied for legal status.
The conditions for government recognition of a political
party, a prerequisite for many political activities, were not onerous. More
than 180 political parties operated legally, together with a large and growing
number of civic associations.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and
the Government generally respected this right in practice; however, there were
a few exceptions.
Religious groups must be approved and registered with the
Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization to function
legally; there were no reports that the Government refused to register any
group. The approval process usually took several years, due primarily to
administrative delays. The Government did not register traditional religious
groups on the grounds that the practice of traditional religion was a private
concern observed by members of a particular ethnic or kinship group or the
residents of a particular locality.
On January 7, the Judicial Police arrested Michel Atanga
Effa and Gervais Balla as suspects in the 2003 killing of Brother Anton Probst,
a German missionary working in the Center Province. The two men remained in
custody awaiting formal charges at year’s end.
In May, a traditional village ruler, or Fon, beat and
fined Pastor Alombah Godlove for providing a Christian burial for a village
elder in accordance with the deceased’s will. The Fon said that the elder,
who was also a member of a traditional religious secret society, should have
been buried with traditional rites. At year’s end, no legal action had been
brought in this case; however, the case was being investigated by the NCHRF.
The practice of witchcraft is a criminal offense under
the law; however, individuals generally were prosecuted for this offense only
in conjunction with another offense, such as murder. Witchcraft traditionally
has been a common explanation for diseases of unknown cause.
Discrimination in the northern provinces, especially in
rural areas, by Muslims against Christians and persons who practiced
traditional indigenous religions remained strong and widespread.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004
International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights; however, in practice
security forces routinely impeded domestic travel.
Roadblocks and checkpoints manned by security forces
proliferated in cities and most highways, making road travel both
time-consuming and costly. Extortion of small bribes was commonplace at these
checkpoints. Police frequently stopped travelers to check identification
documents, vehicle registrations, and tax receipts as security and immigration
control measures. During the year, security forces killed at least one person
they thought was evading a checkpoint (see Section 1.a.).
There were credible reports that police arrested and beat
individuals who failed to carry their identification cards (see Sections 1.c.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the Government did
not use it; however, some human rights monitors or political opponents who
considered themselves threatened by the Government left the country
voluntarily and declared themselves to be in political exile. For example, on
July 17, Anna Ndep Takem, an activist for the SCNC reportedly fled the country
after learning that authorities were planning to arrest her for providing food
and assistance to detained SCNC activists in the Yaounde Central Prison.
The law provides for the granting of asylum and refugee
status in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of
Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, and the Government has established a system of
providing protection to refugees. In practice, the Government provided
protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they
feared persecution, and granted refugee status or asylum. The Government
cooperated with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. At year’s end,
the UNHCR estimated that the country provided temporary protection to
approximately 60,000 refugees, the majority of whom were Chadian and Nigerian,
in addition to 6,000 asylum seekers.
The Government also provided protection to certain
individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Convention or its
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of
Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides that citizens have the right to
change their government; however, dominance of the political process by the
President and his party and electoral intimidation, manipulation, and fraud
severely limited the ability of citizens to exercise this right.
On October 11, President Biya, who has controlled the
Government since 1982, was re-elected with approximately 70 percent of the
vote in an election widely viewed as freer and fairer than previous elections;
however, the election was poorly managed and marred by irregularities. Some
observers said progress had been made and called the election transparent;
others, such as the Commonwealth Observer Group, stated that the election
lacked credibility. One domestic group described the election as a masquerade.
Opposition candidates participated in the electoral
process, and the election environment was largely calm and peaceful. However,
domestic and international observers witnessed a number of electoral
irregularities, particularly with regard to the registration process, methods
of identifying voters, the distribution of sufficient ballot papers, and the
poor quality of the ink used to identify persons who had already voted. Such
irregularities appeared to have led to high levels of voter confusion and
apathy. There were also widespread allegations of multiple voting by
individuals close to President Biya’s party. Following the election,
opposition candidates accused the Government of massive vote rigging and
appealed (unsuccessfully) to the Constitutional Council for the election to be
annulled. The Council ruled against the opposition candidates, either because
they had insufficient evidence to sustain their appeals, or because they had
filed their complaints incorrectly.
During the year, the Government continued to gradually
implement a revised constitution enacted in 1996; the 1972 Constitution
remained in force in areas where the 1996 revisions had not yet been
implemented. For example, the 1996 Constitution’s provision extending the
presidential term from 5 to 7 years and permitting President Biya to run for
another term was in effect; however, the composition of the National Assembly,
an elected body, still was being determined by the 1972 Constitution. Since
1991, only government bills proposed by the Presidency have been enacted by
the National Assembly; however, in April, the National Assembly agreed to
consider a bill submitted by the leading opposition party. Only parties with
representatives in the National Assembly can submit bills for consideration.
The President’s control over the country’s
administrative apparatus was extensive. The President appoints all Ministers,
including the Prime Minister, and on December 8, the President appointed a new
Cabinet. The President also directly appoints the governors of each of the 10
provinces. The governors, in turn, have considerable power in the electoral
process to interpret and implement laws. The President also has the power to
appoint important lower level members of the 58 provincial administrative
structures, including the senior divisional officers, the divisional officers,
and the district chiefs. The governors and senior divisional officers have
considerable authority within the areas under their jurisdiction, including
the authority to ban political meetings that they deem likely to threaten
public order (see Section 2.b.). They also may order the detention of persons
for renewable periods of 15 days to combat banditry and other security threats
(see Section 1.d.).
The right of citizens to choose their local governments
remained circumscribed. The Government has increased greatly the number of
municipalities run by presidentially appointed delegates, who have authority
over elected mayors. Delegate-run cities included most of the provincial
capitals and some division capitals in pro-opposition provinces; however, this
practice was nonexistent in the southern provinces, which tended to support
the CPDM. In municipalities with elected mayors, local autonomy was limited
since elected local governments relied on the central Government for most of
their revenue and administrative personnel.
In April, the National Assembly passed legislation that
is expected to give popularly elected local councils control over many local
government issues. The first election for these decentralized bodies is not
scheduled to take place until 2007.
On April 21, the President signed a law establishing the
Constitutional Council, which will rule on laws, ensure the fairness of
elections, and proclaim the results of elections. The Supreme Court acted as
the Constitutional Council during the October 11 presidential election, and by
year’s end, the members of the Council had not yet been appointed by the
On June 13, municipal by-elections were held in five of
the six districts where the Supreme Court had annulled the 2002 election
results. Observers reported that the election was free but not completely
fair; limited improvements were made in comparison to the 2002 election, but
many witnessed irregularities including multiple voting, candidates working at
polling stations, and extensive campaigning on election day at polling
stations. The CPDM won in five of the six districts and maintained its strong
majority in the National Assembly. During the campaign, there were some
hostile encounters between members of the ruling CPDM party and the opposition
SDF party, and security forces took action to prevent violence.
The 2002 legislative and municipal elections, which were
dominated by the CPDM, largely reflected the will of the people; however,
there were widespread irregularities.
There were more than 180 registered political parties in
the country; however, less than 10 were significant, and only 5 had seats in
the National Assembly. The ruling CPDM held an absolute majority in the
National Assembly; opposition parties included the SDF, based in the
Anglophone provinces and the largest of the opposition parties, the National
Union for Democracy and Progress, the Cameroon Democratic Union, and the Union
of the Peoples of Cameroon.
Corruption remained a serious problem in all branches of
Government. The public perception was that judicial and administrative
officials were open to bribes in almost all situations. According to a
corruption survey taken by Transparency International during the year, more
than 50 percent of persons surveyed in the country reported that they or
members in their household had paid a bribe in the past 12 months.
During the year, local and international activists
continued to criticize the Government’s lack of transparency in managing
revenues from an international oil pipeline.
During the year, the Government took a few steps to fight
corruption. For example, on September 24, President Biya established a code
for awarding public contracts in a more transparent manner. The code specifies
rules for the awarding, execution, and oversight of public contracts; by
year’s end, the code had taken effect and authorities reportedly were
enforcing it. There was a National Corruption Observatory to combat corruption
within the Government at all levels; however, it was severely under-funded,
and there were no publicized prosecutions of corrupt government officials
during the year. In addition, in December, the Government announced new rules
intended to make civil servants more accountable, including a disciplinary
process that allows for termination of corrupt employees.
There were no laws providing citizens with access to
government information, and in practice, such access was difficult to obtain.
Most government documents were not available to the public, including the
media. However, on April 30, the Minister of Communication created the Central
Office for Press Relations (BCRP), which is charged with indiscriminately
providing all press organs with official government information; however, the
Government selects the information that is disseminated, and the BCRP was not
intended to handle requests for information from the general public. By
year’s end, the Office had begun operating administratively.
Women held 18 of 180 seats in the National Assembly, 6 of
61 cabinet posts, and a few of the higher offices within the major political
parties, including the CPDM.
Many of the key members of the Government were drawn from
the President’s own Beti/Bulu ethnic group, as were disproportionately large
numbers of military officers and CPDM officials.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights
groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and
publishing findings on human rights cases; however, government officials
repeatedly impeded the effectiveness of local human rights NGOs during the
year by limiting access to prisoners, refusing to share information, and
threatening and using violence against personnel. Between mid-May and
mid-November, police harassed Philip Njaru, a human rights activist and
Executive Director of the Kumba-based Friends of the Press Network, a human
rights organization in Southwest Province. Njaru had been investigating and
disseminating information on the case of Bernard Afuh, whom the police burned
to death (see Section 1.a.). Access by international NGOs to prisons
reportedly improved during the year (see Section 1.c.). The activities of
virtually all of these groups were limited by a shortage of funds and trained
personnel. Observers have criticized the country’s NGO laws for giving the
Government the opportunity to deny authorization to operate or eliminate NGOs
Numerous domestic human rights NGOs operated in the
country, including, among others, the National League for Human Rights, the
Organization for Human Rights and Freedoms, the Association of Women Against
Violence, and the Cameroonian Association of Female Jurists.
The Government harassed and arrested NGO members during
the year. For example, on July 21, gendarmes arrested and detained Joseph
Chongsi of the Center for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy under false
pretenses; they alleged that he had not paid a debt. He was released on July
23 and received an official apology from the Prison Administrator in Bamenda.
There have been no further developments in the 2003
arrest of Abdoulaye Math, who was awaiting trial at year’s end.
During its June/July session, the National Assembly
greatly expanded the role and powers of the NCHRF. The Commission was granted
the authority to summon witnesses and to publish their reports and the
findings of their investigations. While the NCHRF remained hampered by a
shortage of funds, it conducted a number of investigations into human rights
abuses, visited prisons, and organized several human rights seminars aimed at
judicial officials, security personnel, and other government officers. In
July, the NCHRF organized a 2-day seminar for NGOs and government officials to
develop a training curriculum on human rights for law enforcement, members of
the judiciary, and other citizens. Although the Commission infrequently
criticized the Government’s human rights abuses publicly, its staff
intervened with government officials in specific cases of human rights abuses
by security forces, attempted to stop Friday arrests (see Section 1.d.), and
sought to obtain medical attention for jailed suspects in specific cases.
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and
Trafficking in Persons
The Constitution does not explicitly forbid
discrimination based on race, language, or social status. The Constitution
prohibits discrimination based on sex and mandates that “everyone has equal
rights and obligations”; however, the Government did not enforce these
The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence,
but assault is prohibited and was punishable by prison terms and fines; and in
practice, domestic violence against women was common. While there were no
reliable statistics on violence against women, a large number of newspaper
reports indicated that the phenomenon was widespread. Women’s rights
advocates reported that the law does not impose effective penalties against
men who commit acts of domestic violence. There were no gender-specific
assault laws, despite the fact that women were the predominant victims of
domestic violence. Spousal abuse was not a legal ground for divorce. In cases
of sexual assault, a victim’s family or village often imposed direct,
summary punishment on the suspected perpetrator through extralegal means,
ranging from destruction of property to beating.
The law prohibits rape, and although rape occurred,
police and the courts investigated and prosecuted cases of rape, which
resulted in some convictions during the year. Official and private media
regularly covered rape cases handled by the courts during the year.
The law does not prohibit female genital mutilation (FGM),
and FGM was not practiced widely; however, it continued to be practiced in
isolated areas in 3 of the 10 provinces, including some areas of Far North,
Eastern, and Southwest Provinces. Internal migration contributed to the spread
of FGM to different parts of the country. The majority of FGM procedures were
clitorectomies; however, the severest form of FGM, infibulation, was performed
in the Kajifu region of the Southwest Province. FGM usually was practiced on
infants and pre-adolescent girls. During the year, the Government did not
conduct programs to educate the population about the harmful consequences of
FGM or prosecute any persons who allegedly performed FGM; however, the
Association of Women Against Violence continued to conduct a program in Maroua
to assist victims of FGM and their families and to educate local populations.
Despite constitutional provisions recognizing women’s
rights, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Some points
of civil law were prejudicial to women. The law allows a husband to oppose his
wife’s right to work in a separate profession if the protest is made in the
interest of the household and the family; a husband also may end his wife’s
commercial activity by notifying the clerk of commerce tribunal of his
opposition based upon the family’s interest. Partly for this reason, some
employers required a husband’s permission before hiring female employees.
Customary law was far more discriminatory against women,
since in many regions a woman customarily was regarded as the property of her
husband. Because of the importance attached to customs and traditions, laws
protecting women often were not respected. In the customary law of some ethnic
groups, husbands not only maintained complete control over family property,
but also could divorce their wives in a traditional court without being
required to provide either verifiable justification or alimony. Polygyny was
permitted by law and tradition. In cases of divorce, the husband’s wishes
determined the custody of children over the age of 6. While a man may be
convicted of adultery only if the sexual act takes place in his home, a female
may be convicted without respect to venue.
Traditional law normally governed the extent to which a
woman may inherit from her husband in the absence of a will, and traditions
varied from group to group. In many traditional societies, custom grants
greater authority and benefit to male heirs than to female heirs. Women also
faced the issue of forced marriage; in some regions, girls’ parents could
and did give girls away in marriage without the bride’s consent. Often the
husband, who could be many years older than his bride, paid his wife’s
parents a “bride price.” Since a price had been paid, the girl was
considered the property of the husband. When a married man died, his widow
often was unable to collect any inheritance, since she herself was considered
part of the man’s property. Often the widow was forced to marry one of the
deceased husband’s brothers. If she refused, she had to repay the bride
price in full and leave the family compound. In the Northern provinces, some
Lamibe (traditional rulers) reportedly prevented their wives and concubines
from leaving the palace. The lack of a national legal code covering such
family issues often left women defenseless against these male-oriented
On May 24, religious leaders, including Catholics,
Protestants, and Muslims, launched a nation-wide program to fight violence
During the year, the Government made some efforts to
protect children’s rights and welfare, including participation in seminars
on children’s rights. The Constitution provides for a child’s right to
education, and schooling was mandatory through the age of 14 years. Since
parents had to pay uniform and book fees for primary school, and because
tuition and other fees for secondary education remained costly, education
largely was unaffordable for many children. The Government took measures
during the year to improve access to schools. On April 19, the Minister of
National Education launched “Education-For All Week” to prioritize
education for girls.
According to statistics from the Ministry, 72.2 percent
of girls between the ages of 6 and 14 were enrolled in school, compared with
81.3 percent for boys of the same age group. The low education rate continued
to be attributed to socio-cultural prejudices, early marriage, sexual
harassment, unwanted pregnancy, and domestic chores.
On October 29, the Minister of Education and the Minister
of Youth and Sports presented the results of a study on the country’s
education system. The study revealed a large disparity between the number of
potential students and the capacity of the schools. According to the report,
pre-schools served only 16 percent of all possible students. Within the entire
school system, the northern provinces were the most underprivileged, with only
5.7 percent of all teachers working in the Adamawa, North, and Extreme North
Provinces combined. The capacity of the schools was also inadequate. The study
showed that elementary schools only had enough seats for 1.8 million students,
although 2.9 million attended school. Another government report indicated that
of 560 high schools throughout the country, only 33 schools had at least 50
percent of their students pass the baccalaureate exam.
Although illegal, in practice, girls continued to suffer
from discrimination with respect to education throughout the country. The gap
in school attendance was 14 percent nationally and 34 percent in the two most
northern provinces. This problem, which especially was acute in rural areas,
resulted in higher levels of illiteracy among women than men.
The exact degree of familial child abuse was not known;
however, children’s rights organizations targeted the problem. Newspaper
reports often cited children as victims of kidnapping, mutilation, and even
infanticide. There were several credible stories of mothers (usually young,
unemployed, and unmarried) abandoning their newborns in streets, garbage cans,
and pit toilets.
Despite the law that fixes a minimum age of 15 years for
a bride, many families facilitated the marriage of young girls by the age of
12 years. Early marriage was prevalent in the northern provinces of Adamawa
and the North, but it was especially characteristic of the remote Far North
Province, where many young women faced severe health risks from pregnancies as
early as 13 years of age.
FGM was performed primarily on young girls (see Section
There were reports of child prostitution and trafficking
in children during the year (see Section 5, Trafficking).
Child labor remained a problem (see Section 6.d.).
Although exact numbers were unavailable, the country had
a significant number of displaced or street children, most of whom resided in
urban areas such as Yaounde and Douala.
Trafficking in Persons
The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in
persons, but the law does prohibit slavery, prostitution, forced labor,
minimum age requirements for workers, and other crimes related to trafficking
in persons, and trafficking remained a problem. Courts have prosecuted
traffickers using various provisions of the Penal Code that address related
crimes. The country was a source, transit, and destination point for
internationally trafficked persons; trafficking also occurred within the
The law provides that any person who engages in crimes
often associated with trafficking in persons shall be punished by 10 to 20
years of imprisonment. In May 2003, four individuals were arrested for their
involvement in trafficking six children from the town of Obala to Yaounde. One
of these individuals was convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison. There
was no information about the other three individuals who were arrested. In
mid-2003, there were unconfirmed reports that police intervened to protect 12
victims of child trafficking in the North Province, but no traffickers were
arrested in relation to that case. On April 21, President Biya ratified three
anti-trafficking conventions, including the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and
Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing
the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.
The Ministry of Labor, Employment, and Social Insurance
was primarily responsible for fighting trafficking; however, the Ministry was
severely underfunded. It was believed that authorities prosecuted several
trafficking cases during the year, but actual rates were difficult to
determine since traffickers could be prosecuted under various sections of the
penal code and there was no system for tracking outcomes. The Government
continued to fight trafficking through the use of an interagency committee and
a program to find and return trafficked children. In addition, the Government
cooperated with Gabon, Nigeria, Togo and Benin in fighting trafficking,
through the exchange of information and preparation of common legislation on
Women and children traditionally have faced the greatest
risk of trafficking and have been trafficked most often for the purposes of
sexual exploitation and forced labor. Most trafficking in children occurred
within the country’s borders, while most trafficked women were transported
out of the country. According to anecdotal evidence by the NCHRF, women often
were “hired” into hubs of prostitution, often in Europe. The method for
trafficking women usually involved a marriage proposition by a foreign
businessman. The woman was inducted into servitude upon arrival at a foreign
destination. Girls were internally trafficked from the Adamawa, North, the Far
North provinces, and from the Northwest Province to Douala and Yaounde to work
as domestic servants, street vendors, or prostitutes. Children were also
internally trafficked to work on cocoa bean plantations. There have been
credible reports of slavery, particularly in the Rey Bouba Division of North
Province, inside the closely guarded compound of a local chieftain, where
authorities were unable to assert control. Parents sometimes offered their
young daughters to the Lamido of the North Province of the Rey Bouba as gifts.
During the year, human rights organizations in Bamenda in
the Northwest Province reported the existence of radio ads offering to take
adolescent girls between the ages of 10 and 17 to Yaounde and Douala for
domestic labor. The organization offered to pay transportation and a
finder’s fee to persons who recruited children for domestic labor.
A 2000 International Labor Organization (ILO) study
conducted in Yaounde, Douala, and Bamenda, revealed that trafficking accounted
for 84 percent of child laborers. In most cases, intermediaries presented
themselves as businessmen, approaching parents with large families or
custodians of orphans and promising to assist the child with education or
professional training. The intermediary paid parents an average of $12 (6,000
CFA francs) before transporting the child to a city where the intermediary
would subject the child to forced labor with little remuneration. In 4 out of
10 cases, the child was a foreigner transported to the country for labor. The
report also indicated that the country was a transit country for regional
traffickers, who transported children between Nigeria, Benin, Niger, Chad,
Togo, the Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic for
indentured or domestic servitude, farm labor, and sexual exploitation.
Citizens also were trafficked to South Africa.
The Institute for Socio-Anthropologic Research (IRSA) of
the Yaounde-based Catholic University of Central Africa continued an ILO-sponsored
Exploratory Study on Child Trafficking during the year.
During the year, the ILO and the Government continued to
support an awareness campaign to eradicate child trafficking in airports.
Special anti-trafficking embarkation/disembarkation cards continued to be
designed and distributed. The cards described the dangers of trafficking and
how to recognize the phenomenon.
The Government continued to work with local and
international NGOs to provide temporary shelter and assistance to victims of
trafficking. The Catholic Relief Service worked to combat corruption in local
schools that led to child prostitution.
On June 10, the Cameroon Red Cross and an Austrian NGO,
SOS Kinderdorf, signed a convention to protect impoverished children who were
at the greatest risk of being trafficked or being involved in the worst forms
of child labor. UNICEF was also actively engaged in combating girls’
prostitution throughout the year.
Persons with Disabilities
The law provides certain rights to persons with
disabilities, including access to public institutions, medical treatment, and
education, and the Government was obliged to bear part of the educational
expense of persons with disabilities, to employ them where possible, and to
provide them with public assistance when necessary; however, the Government
rarely honored these obligations. There were few facilities for persons with
disabilities and little public assistance; lack of facilities and care for
persons with mental disabilities particularly was acute. Society largely
tended to treat those with disabilities as outcasts, and many felt that
providing assistance was the responsibility of churches or foreign NGOs. The
law does not mandate special access provisions to private buildings and
facilities for persons with disabilities.
The population was divided into more than 200 ethnic
groups, among which there were frequent and credible allegations of
discrimination. Ethnic groups commonly gave preferential treatment to fellow
ethnic group members both in business and social practices.
Members of President Biya’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group from
southern parts of the country held key positions and were disproportionately
represented in government, civil service, state-owned businesses, the security
forces, and the ruling CPDM party.
The M’Bororo, a semi-nomadic Fulani people whose main
economic activity is cattle raising, were given rights over pastoral land in
the Northwest Province by the British colonial government; however, in 1986,
Alhadji Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, a prominent businessman and member of the
ruling party, established a commercial ranch in Ndawara, Northwest Province.
During the year, the M’Bororo continued to claim that over 18 years,
Danpullo has forcibly displaced them, seized their land, cattle, and women,
and used his money and influence with the Government to order the beating and
false imprisonment of members of the M’Bororo. On March 23, a Bamenda Court
of Appeals ordered the release of three of the four M’Bororo youths arrested
by Bamenda police in 2002, Adamu Issa, Yunussa Bagoji, and Haman Usmanu. The
fourth individual had unsuccessfully attempted to escape prior to the
Court’s ruling and remained in detention at year’s end. A special
government commission of inquiry had reportedly finished hearing testimony and
completed its research but had not released the results of its investigation
by year’s end.
Northern areas of the country suffered from ethnic
tensions between the Fulani (or Peuhl) and the Kirdi. The Kirdi remained
socially, educationally, and economically disadvantaged relative to the Fulani
in the three northern provinces. Traditional Fulani rulers, called Lamibe,
continued to wield great power over their subjects, often including Kirdi,
sometimes subjecting them to tithing and forced labor. During the year,
isolated cases of slavery were reported, largely Fulani enslavement of Kirdi.
Natives of the North West and South West Provinces have
tended to support the opposition party SDF and have suffered
disproportionately from human rights violations committed by the Government
and its security forces. The Anglophone community has been underrepresented in
the public sector. Anglophones generally believed that they had not received a
fair share of public sector goods and services within their two provinces.
Some residents of the Anglophone region sought greater freedom, equality of
opportunity, and better government by regaining regional autonomy rather than
through national political reform and have formed several quasi-political
organizations in pursuit of their goals.
At least one Anglophone group, the SCNC, advocates
secession from the country. During the year, security forces harassed and
arrested the participants of SCNC meetings (see Section 1.d.). The Government
also continued to hold some SCNC activists or suspected SCNC supporters in
temporary detention without charge. The opposition SDF party, whose base of
support resides in the Anglophone provinces, reiterated its commitment to
pursue a nonviolent political struggle toward the restoration of a federal
Some members of the country’s large community of
Nigerian immigrants complained of discrimination and abuse by government
officials (see Section 1.c.). Government officials repeatedly have announced
crackdowns on undocumented Nigerian immigrants, and illegal immigrants were
subject to harassment on some occasions.
A population of approximately 50,000 to 100,000 Baka
(Pygmies), a term that encompasses several different ethnic groups, primarily
resided (and were the earliest known inhabitants) in the forested areas of the
South and East provinces. While no legal discrimination exists, other groups
often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and
exploitative labor practices. Baka reportedly continued to complain that the
forests they inhabit were being logged without fair compensation. Some
observers believe that sustained logging was destroying the Baka’s unique,
forest-oriented belief system, forcing them to adapt their traditional social
and economic systems to a more rigid modern society similar to their Bantu
neighbors. Local Baka along the path of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline continued
to complain that they were not compensated fairly for their land. Others
alleged that they had been cheated of their compensation by persons posing as
An estimated 95 percent of Baka did not have national
identity cards; most Baka could not afford to provide the necessary
documentation to obtain national identity cards, which were required to vote
in national elections. In early May, Plan International and another NGO
launched a program to educate Bakas about their political rights, which
included the construction of a communal radio in the region of Abong-Mbang
(Upper Nyong Division, East Province). In July, the Association of Boumba and
Ngoko Divisional Councils conducted a campaign through which they were able to
issue hundreds of identification cards to Bakas in the East Province, thereby
allowing these individuals to register and vote.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Homosexuality is illegal under the penal code, with a
possible prison sentence of between 6 months and 5 years and a possible fine
ranging from approximately $38 to $380 (20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs). While
prosecution under this law was rare, homosexuals suffered from harassment and
extortion by law enforcement officials. During the year, there were
organizations that advocated for the rights of homosexuals, including the
Association of Justice and Rights for all.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law allows workers to form and join trade unions;
however, the Government imposed numerous restrictions. The law does not permit
the creation of a union that includes both public and private sector workers,
or the creation of a union that includes different, even closely related
The law requires that unions register with the
Government, permitting groups of at least 20 workers to organize a union by
submitting a constitution, internal regulations, and non-conviction
certifications for each founding member. The law provides for prison sentences
and fines for workers who form a union and carry out union activities without
registration. Government officials said that it remits certification within 1
month of union application; however, in practice, independent unions,
especially in the public sector, have found it difficult to register. In
addition, the requirement for union registration contradicts ILO Convention
87, which states that unions have the right to exist through declaration and
without government recognition or registration.
Registered unions were subject to government
interference. The Government chose the unions with which it would bargain;
some independent unions accused the Government of creating small
non-representative unions amenable to government positions and with which it
could “negotiate” more easily. Some sections of labor law have no force or
effect because the presidency had not issued implementing decrees.
The law prohibits anti-union discrimination, and
employers guilty of such discrimination were subject to fines up to
approximately $1,600 (1 million CFA francs). However, employers found guilty
were not required to compensate the workers against whom they discriminated or
to reinstate fired workers. The Ministry of Labor did not report any
complaints of such discrimination during the year, although there have been
credible press reports of union leader harassment.
Unlike in the previous year, the Government did not
arrest union leaders. There were no new developments in the 2003 arrest of
railroad union president Benoit Essiga and his six colleagues.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for collective bargaining between
workers and management as well as between labor federations and business
associations in each sector of the economy, and formal collective bargaining
negotiations took place during the year. There are no export processing zones.
When labor disputes arose, the Government chose the labor
union with which it would negotiate, selectively excluding some labor
representatives. Once agreements were negotiated, there was no mechanism to
enforce implementation; some agreements between the Government and labor
unions were then ignored by the Government.
On August 25, the Minister of Employment, Labor, and
Social Insurance signed a collective bargaining agreement with the building
constructions and public works sector. This agreement was the result of
consultations between the employers’ association, worker unions, and the
The Labor Code explicitly recognizes workers’ right to
strike but only after mandatory arbitration, and workers exercised this right
during the year. Arbitration decisions were not enforceable by law and could
be overturned or simply ignored by the Government or employers. The provision
of the law allowing persons to strike does not apply to civil servants,
employees of the penitentiary system, or workers responsible for national
security. Instead of strikes, civil servants were required to negotiate
grievances directly with the minister of the appropriate department in
addition to the Minister of Labor.
The law provides for the protection of workers engaged in
legal strikes and prohibits retribution against them, and in practice, these
elements of the law were respected.
Since May 2003, workers of the National Agency for
Support to Forestry Development began a strike, demanding salary payments 7
months in arrears. In November 2003, the strike was suspended but resumed on
March 17. The 650 workers occupied the compound of the company, and
occasionally erected roadblocks on the road leading to their working place. On
May 5, the Government paid the 7 months of salary arrears, and at the same
time terminated the contracts of all workers. An ad hoc committee was put in
place to study the modalities for the payment of workers’ severance dues.
The question of which workers, if any, would be hired back remained unresolved
at year’s end.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor; however, it
occurred in practice. Authorities continued to allow prison inmates to be
contracted out to private employers or used as communal labor for municipal
There were isolated reports that slavery continued to be
practiced in northern parts of the country (see Section 5). In the South and
East Provinces, some Baka (Pygmies), including children, continued to be
subjected to unfair and exploitative labor practices by landowners, and worked
on the landowners’ farms during harvest seasons without payment (see Section
The Government does not expressly prohibit forced and
compulsory labor by children, and there were reports that these practices
occurred (see Section 5).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for
The law generally protects children in the fields of
labor and education and specifies penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment
for infringement; however, child labor remained a problem.
The law sets a minimum age of 14 for child employment,
bans night work, and enumerates tasks that children under the age of 18 cannot
legally perform. These tasks included moving heavy objects, dangerous and
unhealthy tasks, working in confined areas, and prostitution. The law also
states that a child’s workday cannot exceed 8 hours. Employers were required
to train children between the ages of 14 and 18, and work contracts must
contain a training provision for minors. The prohibition against night work
was not enforced effectively.
Information on child labor was difficult to obtain;
however, according to a 2000 study by the ILO and Ministry of Labor, child
labor existed chiefly in urban areas and in the informal sector such as street
vending, car washing, agricultural work, and domestic service. Many urban
street vendors were less than 14 years of age. An increasing number of
children worked as household help, and some children were involved in
prostitution. In the north, there were credible reports that children from
needy homes were placed with other families to do household work for pay. In
the nation’s major cities of Yaounde, Douala, and Bamenda, the ILO estimated
in 2000 that 40 percent of employed children were girls, of whom 7 percent
were less than 12 years of age, and 60 percent had dropped out of primary
Parents viewed child labor as both a tradition and a rite
of passage. Relatives often employed rural youth, especially girls, as
domestic helpers, and these jobs seldom allowed time for the children to
attend school. In rural areas, many children began work at an early age on
family farms. The cocoa industry also employed child laborers.
The Government does not specifically prohibit forced and
compulsory labor by children, and there were reports that it occurred in
practice (see Section 5).
The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labor
were responsible for enforcing existing child labor laws through site
inspections of registered businesses; however, the Government did not allocate
sufficient resources to support an effective inspection program. Moreover, the
legal prohibitions do not include family chores, which in many instances were
beyond a child’s capacity. During the year, the Government employed 58
general labor inspectors to investigate child labor cases.
The ILO/West Africa Cocoa/Agriculture Program to
eliminate child labor was launched in the country in June 2003. The
program’s stated objective was to remove 1,000 children from hazardous work
in the cocoa sector over 2 years. According to the project coordinator, by
December, more than 850 children had been removed from forced labor
On June 12, the Government, the ILO, and other partners
organized numerous activities to mark the World Day Against Child Labor, which
specifically highlighted child domestic labor. Among the activities organized
were a national media campaign and a soccer match to raise awareness of child
labor and trafficking.
On October 22, the Minister of Labor signed an agreement
with the ILO to allow the ILO to work more effectively to eradicate child
labor. The agreement established specific contact persons in various
ministries and agencies involved in antitrafficking activities; it also gave
the ILO the possibility to freely conduct nationwide investigations and
cooperate with local organizations of its choice.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Under the law, the Ministry of Labor was responsible for
setting a single minimum wage nationally, applicable in all sectors. The
minimum wage was approximately $40 (23,514 CFA francs) per month. The wage did
not provide for a decent standard of living for an average worker and family.
The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours in
public and private nonagricultural firms and 48 hours in agricultural and
related activities. The law mandates at least 24 consecutive hours of weekly
The Government sets health and safety standards. Ministry
of Labor inspectors and occupational health physicians were responsible for
monitoring these standards; however, they lacked the resources for a
comprehensive inspection program. There was no specific legislation permitting
workers to extricate themselves from dangerous work situations without
jeopardizing continued employment. Illegal foreign workers were not able to
claim legal protections.
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