Cameroon: Torture, death and abuse of civilians in Boko Haram crackdown in Far North
- Up to eight people die each month in overcrowded prison
- Death sentences handed down in unfair military trials
- People tortured to death and disappeared: one man watched his son being tortured for ten days
Report available on request
More than 1,000 people, many arrested arbitrarily, are being held in horrific conditions and dozens are dying from disease and malnutrition or have been tortured to death, as the authorities in Cameroon step up operations against Boko Haram in the north of the country, Amnesty International revealed in a new report published today.
Amnesty’s 52-page report Right cause, wrong means: Human rights violated and justice denied in Cameroon’s fight against Boko Haram details how the military offensive against Boko Haram has resulted in widespread human rights violations against civilians in the Far North region of the country.
Amnesty’s West and Central Africa Director Alioune Tine said:
“In seeking to protect its population from the brutality of Boko Haram, Cameroon is pursuing the right objective; but are using the wrong means in arbitrarily arresting, torturing and subjecting people to enforced disappearances.
“With hundreds of people arrested without reasonable suspicion that they have committed any crime, and people dying on a weekly basis in its overcrowded prisons, Cameroon’s government should take urgent action to keep its promise to respect human rights while fighting Boko Haram.”
Amnesty’s findings are published weeks after a suicide attack by Boko Haram in Djakana, near Limani killed 11 people. Boko Haram attacks have claimed 480 civilian lives this year. Approximately half of Boko Haram’s 46 suicide attacks were carried out by children.
Up to eight people die each month in Maroua Prison
More than 1,000 people accused of supporting Boko Haram are currently detained in overcrowded prisons with insanitary conditions where malnutrition is extensive.
In Maroua prison, located in the capital of the Far North, between six to eight people die each month. Nearly 1,500 people are being held in a building built for 350 people.
Tortured to death while detained incommunicado
Amnesty documented 29 cases of people being tortured by members of the security forces, including six who subsequently died. Most cases of torture were committed while people were held incommunicado at illegal detention sites in military bases run by the Rapid Intervention Brigade (BIR) in Salak, near Maroua, and Mora – also in the Far North – before being transferred to the official prisons. Victims described being beaten for long periods with sticks, whips and machetes, sometimes until they lost consciousness.
One 70-year-old man detained at Salak told Amnesty how he had watched BIR soldiers torture his son for 10 days, and beat two men to death:
“We were all interrogated in the same room, one by one, by a man dressed with the BIR uniform. Two other men in plain clothes carried out the beatings and other torture. That day, two prisoners were beaten up so badly that they died in front of us. The men in plain clothes kicked them and slapped them violently, and hit them with wooden sticks.”
“I was not beaten because I am old, so I was the one to help carrying the two dead bodies from the interrogation room to the cell. That night we slept in the cell with two dead bodies, and the day after the BIR came, threw plastic bags towards us, asked us to put the bodies inside and then came to collect them. I don’t know where the bodies were taken and whether they were ever buried.”
Amnesty has also documented the cases of 17 victims of enforced disappearances whose whereabouts remain unknown following their arrest almost two years ago.
Death sentences handed down in unfair military trials
In cases where detainees suspected of supporting Boko Haram are brought to trial, the accused face military courts in which the death penalty is by far the most likely outcome. More than 100 people, including women, have been sentenced to death in Maroua’s military court since last July. None have as yet been executed.
Defendants are often convicted on the basis of limited evidence, including the testimonies of anonymous informants who cannot be cross-examined, or circumstantial evidence.
Amnesty observed the trial of four women who were convicted and sentenced to death this April solely on the basis of a statement made by a member of a local vigilante committee after they returned from Nigeria where they were working as domestic servants. Their only contact with a lawyer in the whole process was during a short break in the court proceeding.
Draconian anti-terror laws
Most defendants are charged under an anti-terrorism law introduced in December 2014. This law provides ambiguous definitions of terrorism that threaten freedom of expression.
The law has been used against a 27-year-old man, Fomusoh Ivo Feh, who, in December 2014, was arrested after having sent a sarcastic text message to his friends, joking about Boko Haram recruiting young graduates. The text reads: “Boko Haram recruits young people from 14 years-old and above. Conditions for recruitment: 4 subjects at GCE, including religion.”
Fomusoh Ivo Feh is being tried by the military court in Yaoundé and could be given the death penalty if found guilty.
Alioune Tine said:
“If a student can face the death penalty for sending a sarcastic text message, it is clear that there is a serious problem with the design and use of Cameroon’s anti-terrorist legislation. The authorities should reform the law and ensure it provides a framework for protecting the population without stripping away their rights.”
Amnesty is calling on the government to urgently implement a range of measures to prevent human rights violations in its fight against Boko Haram. These include ending mass and arbitrary arrests, bringing suspects directly to official detention sites, stopping torture, ensuring detainees’ access to families and lawyers, establishing a central register of detainees, improving prison conditions, reforming the anti-terrorism law and investigating all allegations of human rights violations.
Between October 2015 and July 2016, Amnesty interviewed more than 200 people in the Far North region of Cameroon, documenting incidents in which hundreds of people were arrested, visiting prisons, observing trials, and collecting detailed information on 82 individual cases of human rights violations by the Cameroonian authorities and security forces.
Amnesty also analysed satellite images of one village in which houses were burnt by security forces. The main findings of the report were sent in writing to the Cameroon authorities on 7 May 2016, but has received no response.
As a result of Boko Haram’s abuses, over 170,000 people from Cameroon, mostly women and children, have fled their homes and are now internally displaced across the Far North region. Cameroon also hosts over 65,000 refugees who have fled the armed group’s attacks in Nigeria.