Mar 17, 2005

Southern Cameroons: Visit by the Special Rapporteur to Cameroon

Report of the Special Rapporteur, Sir Nigel Rodley, submitted pursuant. To Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/38
United Nations

Commission on Human Rights
Fifty-sixth session


Report of the Special Rapporteur, Sir Nigel Rodley, submitted pursuant
To Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/38

Visit by the Special Rapporteur to Cameroon



1. As a result of information received by him in previous years, the Special Rapporteur on Torture of the Commission on Human Rights requested the Government of Cameroonin 1998 to authorize him to conduct a fact-finding mission under his mandate. The mission which finally took place from 12 to 20 May 1999, enabled him to collect first-hand information a large number of sources, either orally or in writing. He was thus able to evaluate the situation regarding torture and other ill-treatment in Cameroon and can therefore recommend to the Government a number of measures to be adopted in order to comply with his commitments with a view to putting an end to torture and ill-treatment.

2.During his visit, the Special Rapporteur met in Yaounde Mr. Augustin Kontchou-Kouomegni, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Alexix Dipanda-Mouelle, President of the Supreme Court, and Mr. Samson Ename Ename, Minister for Territorial Administration, and also spoke to Mr. Antar Gassagay, Secretary of State for Prison Administration, Mr. Emile-Zephyrin Nsoga, Director for Penel affairs at the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Andre Belombe, Director of Military Justice, and other officials of the Ministry. He also met Mr. Luc-Rene bell, Delegate-General for National Security, Mr. Emmanuel Edou, Secretary of State for National defence with responsibility for the gendarmerie and Mr. Jean-Marie Pongmoni, Governor of the Kondengui prison, and likewise Mr. Solomom Nfor Gwei, Chairman of the National Committee on Human Rights and Freedoms, and some other members of the Committee.

At Bamenda, the Special Rapporteur met Mr. Robert Ngambi Dikoume, Secretary-General of the Office of the Governor of the Nortd-Ouest Region, Mr. Moise Elanga Ambela, Prefect of Bamenda, Mr. Francis Melone Mbe, Provincial Delegate for National Security of the Nord-Ouest Region, and and General Camille Nkoa-Atenga, Commander of the military region.

At Douala, he met General Philippe Mpay, Commander of the military region, Colonel Bobo Ousmanou, Commander of the corps of gendarmes, Mr. Rogobert Medzogo Mendzana, Provincial Delegate for National Security of the Littoral region, Mr. Michel Angouind, Government Procurator, and Mr. Daniel Njeng, Governor of New Bell prison.

Lastly, at Maroua, he met Mr. Victor Yene Ossomba, Governor of the Extreme- Nord Province.

In all those places, and also in Bafoussam, the Special Rapporteur visited various places of detention, such as gendarmerie and police stations, and in particular in Yaounde and Douala central prisons, and met with people claiming to be victims of torture and other ill-treatment and with representatives of some non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in particular the League of Human Rights and freedoms, Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture, the Movement for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms, International Prison watch (Cameroon section), Service Humanus, the Human Rights defence Group, Volunteers for Prison Inmates and Human Rights Clinic and Education center,

3. The Special Rapporteur thanks the Government of Cameroon for having invited him and extended full cooperation during his mission, thus making his task much easier. Thanks also go to the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme and his staff for their logistic support.



4.In recent years, the Special Rapporteur has received information indicating that a number of people arrested by the forces of law and order, in other words the police or gendarmerie, have been ill-treated and tortured. They were allegedly beaten and struck, often with machetes or wooden or plastic truncheons, and in particular were subjected to “swing” or “spit” torture , which consists in tying the victim’s hands and feet to a wooden or metal rod, suspending the rod and beating the person, particularly on the soles of the feet. The Special Rapporteur has drawn the Cameroonian Government’s attention in particular to allegations received by him about arrest and il-treatment of a number of members of opposition parties during the presidential elections in October 1992 and 1997 and the general elections of March 1992 and May 1997 which brought the Rassemblement Democratique du Peuple Camerounaise (RDPC) to power. Followers of the two main opposition parties in the two English-speaking provinces of the Nord-Ouest and Sud-Ouest and the Extreme –Nord province, namely the Social Democratic Front (SDF) and the Union nationale pour la democratie et le progress (UNDP) are said to have been particularly targeted by the mass arrests and ill-treatment (see E/CN.4/1994/31, pars. 71 et seq. and E/CN.4/1998/38/Add.1, pars.47 – 48). In addition, the Special Rapporteur transmitted to the Government information about poor detention conditions in most Cameroon’s prisons, endangering the health and even the lives of the detainees. The various detention centers were also reported to be overcrowded, with non-existent or inadequate sanitary and medical facilities and insufficient food provided by the authorities (see E/CN.4/1999/61, pars. 101 et seq.).

5.During his mission, the Special Rapporteur received information from non-governmental sources and a very large number of accounts by witnesses, of which a selection is reproduced in the annex ti this report, indicating that torture is widespread and used indiscriminately against many people under arrest. Women, children and elderly people are also reported to be subjected to ill-treatment. However, it appears that most cases are not reported to the relevant authorities because of ignorance, lack of confidence or fear of reprisals on the part of the victims and their families. According to this information, members of the forces of law and order, in other words the gendarmerie, and the police and a third category of forces, the military, when they are involved in upholding law and order, use various types of torture and ill-treatment. Besides the “swing” torture and the various types of blows inflicted on victims, it was reported that detainees had received gunshot wounds, particularly in the legs, and had burns inflicted on them. The purpose of those acts was allegedly to extract confessions or to punish or intimidate individuals suspected of having committed crimes or of belonging to opposition parties or other social categories such as journalists or human rights defenders. A number of deaths resulting from torture were also reported. On the subject of levels of responsibility, many non-governmental sources indicated that some of those incriminated act out of ignorance and others and others out of pure habit, for they have regularly acted that way for a long time without fear of any consequencies. However, they recognized the government’s recent resolve to end those practices, even if the steps taken are still greeted with caution.

6. All officials interviewed admitted that case of torture and other ill-treatment might have been common in the past, as was noted by the Human Rights Committee in 1994(1). Everyone, particularly the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, also emphasized that Cameroon was in the midst of changes which were supported not only by the President and Government but also by the Cameroonian people. The Minister explained, however, that, while the legislation in force in Cameroon since what was generally known as the “freedoms session” of the National Assembly (1990) guaranteed the basic rights and freedoms enshrined in various international and regional instruments, the task of creating a genuine human rights culture, not only among the forces of law and order but also among the public, still lay ahead. The Special Rapporteur noted the desire of most officials whom he met to improve the human rights situation in Cameroon, particularly in the area of his mandate.

A. The police forces

7. During his mission, the Special Rapporteur visited several detention centers under police authority. In almost all the cells visited the inmates were dressed only in their underwear, which according to the authorities was justified by the need to prevent detainees committing suicide. In the men’s cell at the Bamenda criminal investigation service unit, the Special Rapporteur noticed that the windows had no glass; a shivering prisoner who had arrived recently complained of the cold during the recent nights. Many accounts also seem to indicate that the practice of keeping prisoners half- naked throughout their detention, including during questioning, had the additional purpose of humiliating them; some detainees were left in police station corridors in their underwear for all to see (see especially annex 11). The Delegate-General for National Security confirmed the practice of removing prisoners’ clothes dated from the colonial era, but said that measures had been taken to put a stop to it.

8. None of the cells visited contained furniture, except for the occasional straw mattress provided by the prisoners themselves, as was the case at the criminal investigations department unit in Yaounde; hence, detainees slept mostly on the bare concrete floor. The absence of mattresses was justified by some, including the Douala Provincial Delegate for National Security, by the factthat people were held at police stations for only a short time, during questioning and preliminary inquiries. It should be noted here that most of the cells visited were relatively clean. However, with rare exceptions, one of which was the public security authority unit in Bamenda, the Special Rapporteur found the sanitary facilities to bt unhygienic, consisting mainly of latrines and a tap. These were generally separated from the cells, but according to the detainees they were accessible either directly or on demand. At the Bamanda criminal investigation service unit, the latrine area was also used for showers. At the service’s Yaounde center, the Special Rapporteur’s team saw a young detainee, his hands protected by plastic bags, emptying excrement from the latrines through a hole at the top of the outside wall.

9. As to custody conditions, the Special Rapporteur can only agree with a division superintendent who said at the seminar on improvement of arrest and custody conditions organized by the National Committee on Human Rights and Freedoms in December 1998 that the cells used are universally appalling; they are cramped, dirty, poorly lit and inadequately ventilated (2). The superintendent also emphasized the urgent need to provide the police with resources to in order to provide food and medical care for people in custody, particularly street children and individuals without relatives I the town of detention.

10. According to the various authorities encountered during visits to police statios, minors are separated from adults and women from men. At the Bamenda criminal investigation service unit, a very young-looking detainee among the adults said that he was 14 years old; the officer in charge of the center denied this, but was unable to prove his claim. At the Yaounde criminal investigation service unit, the authorities at first claimed that the two women currently in custody were held in a separate cell from the men; however, the Special Rapporteur’s team noticed that one of the two women was being held with the men at the time of the visit, and she confirmed that she had always shared a cell with the men. The second woman slept with her nine-month-old child on a straw mattress in the entrance lobby of the police station (see annex II). The guards, when questioned, eventually said that the women could choose between sharing a cell with the men or sleeping in the hall. As to the fact that an infant was being held with its mother, the guards said that the child had been with her when she was arrested and she had been unable to arrange for its care.

11. During the visit to the Douala tenth district police station, the Special Rapporteur asked to see the register of persons in custody. The Douala government procurator had stated that he regularly receives custody lists for the various places of detention in order to be able to verify the lawfulness of detentions at a distance, since resources did not permit him or his assessors to visit the facilities. The Special Rapporteur saw that the register began on the day of his visit, 15 May 1999, and indicated that four people were in custody; however, a few minutes earlier, a member of his team had noticed that the register contained only three names. The Special Rapporteur then asked to see the previous register; the deputy superintendent, visibly very nervous, was unable to produce it because it was locked in the office of the superintendent, who had been away since 11 may. Thus, no custody record appeared to have kept since that date. One of the people in custody said that he had been arrested for receiving stolen goods on 11 may, which matched the register. Hence, his five days of detention could not have been reported to the procurator, who could therefore not have ordered extension of his custody. Despite the insistence of the Special Rapporteur and the Provincial Delegate for National Security, who was present at the time, it was not possible to consult the previous register. The Provincial delegate assured the Special Rapporteur that he would take the requisite measures. The Special Rapporteur also noticed that no activity took place in that police station, in a busy district, throughout his visit on a Saturday evening. Finally, on Monday 17 may, the Provincial Delegate presented the Special Rapporteur with a previous custody register, to which pages had clumsily been addedcontaining an account of custody from 11 to 14 May. Concerning that incident, the Special Rapporteur is firmly convinced that the refusal to show him the real custody register was an attempt to hide something.

12. On visiting the Yaounde criminal investigation service unit, the Special Rapporteur’s team noted that the vast majority of those in detention had been tortured and, in particular, struck with machetes. They still bore the marks, often fresh, of such ill-treatment, particularly on their feet, legs, arms,and back: some also had open wounds, apparently caused by machetes. Some detainees said that, upon being transferred to the Yaounde unit, they had complained of their treatment in the police stations where they had been held prior to that, and had received the reply that torture was no longer practiced in Cameroon. They stated that none of them had received any medical care, with the exception of one (whose name is known to the Special Rapporteur) who said that he had been struck with a machete o the shoulders and with the butt of a firearm on the head, causing heavy bleeding. He had been taken to his parents, who had been allowed to bring him, escorted by a police officer, to a clinic; there he had received stitches, which were still visible when he was interviewed. Additionally, one of the detainees had very recently had all his toe nails ripped out, and another, who had been shot in the foot and the knee two months earlier, had still received no attention. Almost all the detainees at the center were unwilling for the Special Rapporteur to publicise their accounts because they were afraid of reprisals. They said that the purpose of the ill-treatment was to extract confessions. Some said that they had given statements against their will.

13. When, at his meeting with police chiefs, the Special Rapporteur asked whether they were aware of abuses by their subordinates, all replied initially that the police force assist the procurators and were therefore under their supervision; thus, the procurators were presumed to be guarantors of police officers’ good conduct. The Bamenda provincial delegate for national security said that, since his appointment eight months earlier, no cases of abuse by his subordinates had come to his attention. However, he assured the Special Rapporteur that, should
such cases arise, the guilty parties would be punished immediately. He also explained to the Special Rapporteur that he had a number of assistants responsible for monitoring the various detention units under his jurisdiction and that everything possible was done to ensure the comfort of detainees. The Douala provincial delegate for national security said that, since his appointment in September 1998, that had been few cases of misconduct by his subordinates; those cases had been investigated and disciplinary action taken. There had been one report of ill-treatment, but it had not been corroborated by the subsequent inquiry. He concluded that such cases must not have occurred in his jurisdiction since the Cameroonian public knew perfectly well to whom it could complain, that is, to the divisional superintendent or to his fourth bassistant responsible for civil security and investigation of police officers, and that he was not aware of any such complaint lodged.

14.The Delegate-General for National Security told the Special Rapporteur that he was aware of the work that remained to be done in terms of educating the police in human rights and changing mentalities shaped in the previous era (1966-1990) and the transitional period, when the use of force had been widespread. He explained that the police institute’s training courses had now been altered to include a human rights dimension; police officers’ working conditions were also going to be improved. He also said that financial and material efforts were being made to renovate some cells, which he agreed were stifling. Besides ventilation, running water and mattresses were on the list of priorities. He emphasized that the police needed to demonstrate probity and that there could be no condoning lapses by the forces of law and order, hence, any misconduct was punished. If the offence was liable to criminal proceedings, a superintendent of the criminal investigation service was placed in charge of the investigation and, where appropriate, the individual in question was referred to the prosecution service. The police force also had a disciplinary board whose ultimate sanction was dismissal of the officer concerned. The Special Rapporteur was not provided with any statistics on disciplinary action against police officers, despite his request. Finally, he was told that the civil population also needed to be educated not only in its rights but also in the remedies available should those rights be violated.

B. The gendarmerie

The Special Repporteur also visited places of detention under the authority of the gendarmrie. The previous general comments concerning detention conditions in police facilities also hold good for the gendamerie. At Douala, the Special Rapporteur visited the investigation squad. Six people, deemed not to be dangerous, were in the office of the superintendent. Two people had been in detention in the cellin the center of the courtyard since the previous day. The cell was small (approximately 1.5 m by 2.), with a wooden floor under which cockroaches, ants and other insects swarmed. It was lit at all times by an electric bulb and was very poorly ventilated, with light entering only by a small hole above the door. The temperature was stifling on the day of the visit. The adjoining cell was identical in all respects but belonged to the :ittoral squad and contained two detainees who had been there for five and four days respectively. They said that they had still not been broughtbefore the procecution service, even though their questioning appeared to be over, and they did not know under whay arrest warrant they had been held. They informed the Special Rapporteur that, since they had arrived, there had been an occasion when seven people had been held together in that small cell, making it extremely hard to breathe and impossible to lie down.The Special Rapporteur heard later, while he was in the superintendent’s office at the beginning of the visit, detainees had been removed from the two cells in question, though he was not able to verify that information.

16. The Special Tapporteur also visited “anti-gang” cells of the Yaounde gendarmerie, known as the “Lake Squad”: it was approximately 4 m by 1.5 m in size and very dark, with only a small amount of lighting entering through a tiny opening above the door. Ye people were inside at the time of the visit, but they said that there had been 16 the previous night. The authorities confirmed that six other detainees were carrying out public work outside. Hence, the detainees had taken it in turns try and sleep either standing, or sitting down. The detainee who had been in the cell the longest – over a month – said that on one occasion 23 people had been held there at once. When the door was shut, the Special Repporteur experienced the heat, literally suffocating, of the cell. The detainees said that they were not allowed to leave the cell for personal hygiene and had to relieve themselves in plastic bottles and bags which they threw outside: the Special Rapporteur was able to see that this was true.

17. Most of the detainees had recent serious bruises and marks from machete and lash blows. They claimed that they were regularly beaten and subjected to the”swing” torture to force them to confess. In one of the interrogation rooms, the Special Rapporteur found machetes casually hidden under a bag, and he found a large number of belts in another room. The gendarmes, when asked, said that they were items of evidence, but none of them carried an identifying label such as to convince the Special Rapporteur that this was true.

18. According to the military regional commander and the gendarmerie commander at Douala, there had been no case of torture or custody exceeding statutory period since their appointment seven months earlier. The procurators monitored the lawfulness of detentions and extended them where necessary; registers were updated daily for that purpose. The Douala gendarmerie’s fight against crime was also claimed to have the purpose of referring suspects to the prosecution service as quickly as possible. The only complaints recorded against the gendarmes were said to concern cases of corruption. Once again, the two commanders stressed the need to educate their staff in human rights following the advent of democracy. They also indicated that, since the media were ready to report and even exaggerate the slightest incident, the forces of law and order needed to avoid any questionable situation and ensure that their conduct was blameless. It was again emphsised that the gendarmes, assisted the procurators, who supervised and monitored them.

19. The Secretary of State for National defence with responsibility for the gendarmerie told the Special Rapporteur that certain units under his authority were located in regions very far from the capital, and consequently the reforms of recent years had perhaps been difficult toimplement in those areas. He also said that the ultimate sanction for misconduct by subordinates, namely dismissal, was not always an option for the authorities. The recruitment freeze which had been in force for some years and the current staff shortages within the gendarmerie could make it difficult to be rid of troublesome officers. The Secretary of State also emphasized that in his opinion the procurators did not make enough visits to places of detention in order to verify the lawfulness of custody.

20. It should be noted here that the overwhelming majority of people detained by the police and gendarmerie and interviewed by the Special Rapporteur did not know either why they were in custody or what authority had ordered it to be extended. Almost none was familiar with his rights, particularly related to defence by a lawyer, or judicial procedures; all had been questioned and had signed confessions or statements, with the wording of which they did always agree, and this had taken place without the presence of a lawyer. Very few had been brought before the presence of a procurator. Some remained in detention without referral to the prosecution service even though they had signed a declaration admitting the offences attributed to them. For example, a detainee at the Douala tenth district police station informed the Special Rapporteur that during his interrogation he had been told to sign a statement with whose wording he did not agree as a condition for referral to the prosecution service. Supported by many eyewitness accounts, the NGO’s claim that that victims of torture and other ill-treatment, particularly during custody or pre-trial detention, do not know the procedures for lodging a complaint. Many victims do not dare to complain or make statements, even to the NGO’s, which all emphasized the issue of education and information.

C. The Maroua “anti-gang” unit

21. Before his mission(3), and when in Maroua, the Special Rapporteur received information about a special anti-gang unit led by a Colonel Pom which is responsible for combating the armed highway robbers who attack, rob and kill travelers in the north of the country. The anti-gang unit is apparently arbitrarily detaining, torturing and summarily executing people suspected of being highway robbers or of having information about highway robbers (see especially annex II). In certain cases, there also seem to be a settling of personal scores and false denunciations, according to the information, the anti-gang units show little concern for investigations and lack of evidence. The special unit was reportedly sent to the Nord and Extreme-Nord provinces in March 1998, composed of some 40 members of the army and the gendarmerie, dressed in civilian clothing and heavily armed; it is active in the three northernmost provinces. The unit allegedly acts outside the law and with total impunity. Moreover, there appears to be a climate of fear in the region, which explains the fact that relatives of victims do not dare complain for fear of reprisals. The regional governor and the military commander of the Extreme-Nord region have reportedly stated on several occasions that they have no authority over Colonel Pom and his men. The staff of the main NGO in Maroua, which collects information about the unit’s exactions, have allegedly been subjected to threats and intimidation by the anti-gang personnel on several occasions. For example, on 7 May 1999, they learnt that an ambush had been set up on a road to prevent them from traveling to a location where the bodies of some 15 people apparently executed by the unit had been discovered. Additionally, a photographer from Maroua who had been providing this NGO with photographs of the bodies of execution victims reportedly disappeared at the beginning of 1999.

22. The Special Rapporteur, on the basis of information received from a number of sources, visited a private house on the outskirts of Maroua, surrounded by a perimeter wall covered with shards of grass. The information had indicated that it served as a detention centre for people arrested and interrogated by the anti-gang unit. The Special Rapporteur’s delegation, which included a divisional superintendent, asked to be admitted to the building. Two men, dressed in civilian clothing and armed with submachine guns, replied that they could not admit the delegation without express authorization by Colonel Pom. At no stage did they deny that they were members of the anti-gang unit or that people were detained in the house. They appeared very calm and sure of themselves and of their right to refuse access to the Special Rapporteur. While part of the delegation waited outside the house, the other members went to see Colonel Pom, led by a four-wheel drive vehicle of the anti-gang unit. Colonel Pom, though aware of the Special Rapporteur’s mission, refused to come and meet him in front of the building. He also refused to have the house opened, claiming that he had first to check with his superiors in Yaounde and that he was unable to contact them immediately. That was later officially denied. The divisional superintendent accompanying the Special Rapporteur’s delegation showed him a letter from the Secretary of the Office of the President asking all authorities to grant the mission all necessary aid, including access to places of detention. The director of the international organisation’s department, the contact at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said when telephoned by a member of the Special Rapporteur’s delegation that the Special Rapporteur could only note Colonel Pom’s refusal.

23. According to the Secretary of State for National Defence with responsibility for the gendarmerie, the activities of the Maroua ant-gang unit, which belongs to the so-called “ministerial reserve” or the multi-disciplinary gendarmerie intervention group (GPIG) is, although under his administrative authority, supervised directly by the Minister of Defence and the President of Cameroon. This “ministerial reserve”, based in Yaounde, has the role of reinforcing forces of law and order when public disturbances outstrip local capacity, as is the case in the north of the country because of the presence of highway robbers. He said that he was not aware of Colonel Pom’s refusal to open the house. He also appeared surprised that the Special Rapporteur had received information about the Maroua anti-gang squad detaining people, since they had only an operational capacity, i.e. reinforcing the forces of law and order in the three northern provinces. The Secretary of State said that the unit therefore did not have the power to conduct investigations or detain people; he admitted that Colonel Pom’s anti-gang forces did have inordinate powers, but said that if appropriate he could take disciplinary action against them and that the government procurator had the powers to institute criminal proceedings against them. In connection with a case of extortion of money relating to stolen cars, a number of members of the unit had been disciplined and were the subject of ongoing criminal proceedings. He confirmed that orders had been given to all units to let nothing interfere with the course of the Special Rapporteur’s mission and that Colonel Pom had the authority to let him into the house concerned. The Special Rapporteur firmly believes that he was not allowed into the building to prevent his seeing evidence corroborating the allegations which he had received concerning the treatment of the people reportedly detained there.

D. Prisons

24.It is not within the mandate of the Special Rapporteur to describe and analyse detention conditions exhaustively. In the case of Cameroon, where the International Committee of the Red Cross has recently signed an agreement the Government allowing it to make regular visits to all places of detention, the Special Rapporteur did not consider the situation in the prisons to be one of his priorities. However, as with his visits to other countries, he took the opportunity while in Cameroon to visit the central prisons at Douala and Yaounde, mainly in order to meet people who could testify to the treatment which they had received before being transferred to prison.

25. Already in 1994, the Human Rights Committee noted that detention conditions in Cameroon were often unsalubrious and that cases of torture existed(4). According to the information received before the mission, prisoners, most of them unconvicted, are held in conditions endangering their health and even their lives and representing inhuman and degrading treatment. Overcrowding, unhygienic sanitation, lack of health care and shortage of food are reportedly the main failures in the Cameroonian prison system. Those conditions cannot be blamed only on lack of financial or material resources, but also result from deliberate policies or serious neglect on the part of the relevant authorities(5). According to NGOs, minors held in those prisons are subjected are subjected to sexual abuse by guards and other prisoners and are forced to carry out other prisoners’ chores under threat of a beating. Article 29 of the Cameroonian Penal Code provides, however, minors aged under 18 should serve custodial sentences in special establishments.

26. The Special Rapporteur visited the New Bell central prison at Douala on 16 May 1999. According to the latest census, carried out on 14 May, there were 2,393 people, including 1,604 in pre-trial detention, being held in the prison, 1 hectare in area and designed to hold 800. While it is officially divided into several sections for different categories of prisoner (to house convicted and unconvicted prisoners, as well as minors and adults, separately), in reality it is an open space within which the prisoners are free to pass from one section to another, though the prison governor claims that prisoners sentenced to death, women and minors remain within their own sections. Additionally, most detainees, especially those serving long sentences, live in makeshift shelters, named “kitos”, built with the guards’ help in the middle of the central courtyard. The governor claimed that it was the only prison in Cameroon where the lack of facilities had led to this solution involving “kitos”. While a roll-call takes place every evening in each section, it is physically impossible during the day to separate convicted from unconvicted prisoners. There are 65 full-time guards, responsible for supervision and discipline. The showers and toilets seemed insalubrious to the Special Rapporteur and allow for no privacy as the toilets have no doors and the showers are in the open air. The detainees said that, until a recent visit by the International Committee of the Red Cross, they had to pay to use the toilets. The governor stated that the detainees received one meal a day, consisting of beans, maize, and palm oil; women, minors and condemned prisoners also received rice.

27. The Special Rapporteur visited a cell containing about 10 wooden bunks with straw mattresses, in which, according to the detainees held there, some 140 people were housed every night. Only 90 people could fit on the bunks, and the rest hade to sleep on the bare floor or in the adjoining yard when the weather was fine. They said that it was very difficult to breathe at night; air entered only through the cell door, which was left open. The Special Rapporteur noticed other cells were the same in that respect.

28. The Special Rapporteur noted that the sick bay, with an observation room containing four beds, was very basic. The nurse told him that the supply of medicines was totally inadequate, and also emphasized that it was difficult to transfer serious cases to the hospital, since it only accepted patients willing to pay for their treatment and made it a condition that a guard should be posted to the hospital to mind sick prisoners. The governor confirmed that the prison only had a budget for medicine, not for sending prisoners to hospital. The lack of care was such that a child thought by the governor to be suffering from tuberculosis had died that morning. The Special Rapporteur then visited the section housing sick prisoners, particularly those with tuberculosis, and noted that the conditions were intolerable and insalubrious. Since the beginning of the year, according to figures supplied by the governor, 30 prisoners have die at New Bell (see especially annex II).

29. The Special Rapporteur visited the minors section, which contained 42 children to 22 beds: the youngest child said that he was 12 years old and had been hit on the head with a machete at the police station where he had been questioned: it was a fact that he had a recent scar on the top of his head. Most of the minors interviewed had been arrested for theft and said that they had signed statements after being hit with machetes or lashes or being threatened.

30. The women’s section contained 27 prisoners, including 6 minors, to 25 beds. Their material situation seemed much better than that of the men. Most had been in pre-trial detention for many months. They did not complain of ill-treatment while in custody or pre-trial detention in the police or gendarmerie stations where they had been arrested.

31. Several prisoners complained of ill-treatment by the guards, especially following an attempted escape (see annex II). They said that the ill-treatment had been inflicted on the order, or at least with consent, of the governor. The governor admitted having ordered a beating in at least one case. In order, he claimed, to save the detainee from retribution by the guards (see annex II).

32. The Special Rapporteur also visited Kondengui central prison at Yaounde on 19 May 1999. At the time, 2,700 people were being held there, including 2.550 in pre-trial detention; the prison’s official capacity is 800. While stressing the recent improvement in detention conditions, the governor said that the main problem was overcrowding. This is exemplified by the fact that the prison has only 16 toilets and showers. The governor said that part of the overcrowding problem could be resolved by transferring inmates to prisons elsewhere in the country; he could not do that, however, while the individuals were under investigation by the Yaounde prosecution service. The governor also said that the procedure involved often took too long and that the length of pre-trial detention made it difficult for him to house detainees in acceptable conditions.

33. Unlike New Bell, Kondengui prison strictly separates the different categories of prisoners. The Special Rapporteur noticed that women prisoners, held separately from the men, are accompanied by female warders when attending men’s sporting activities in the central courtyard. Each section is administered by certain detainees, who act as go- betweens for communication between the detainees and the guards; in particular, the minors are looked after by adults, who, according to the governor, apply on his instructions quite strict discipline in order to re-educate them. Regarding this system of self-surveillance, some detainees told the Special Rapporteur that there were prisoner “squads” who lay down the law in the governor’s name and were not afraid to use strong- arm methods, but none of the prisoners was willing to speak openly about the system for fear of reprisals. The governor flatly denied that such disciplinary prisoner teams existed and said that the system involved giving responsibility to prisoners by appointing a head of cell and a head of section who worked directly with him. He also stated that when they used violence or overstepped their authority, they were stripped of their positions.

34. The governor also emphasized that, as a result of disciplinary action and training, his staff had been made aware of its responsibilities and that cases of abuse of authority had declined sharply. He explained to the Special Rapporteur the system which he had set up for the disciplining of prisoners, whereby he listened to the versions of events of the officer responsible for discipline and of the prisoner and himself decided on the punishment, which could range from banning visits for a few days to sending the prisoner to the punishment cell (for a maximum of 15 days) or assigning him to the most unpleasant tasks, such as those involving the sanitation. The governor stressed that his staff were thus authorized only to note and report prisoners’ misdeeds. He told the Special Rapporteur that he had established a large number of social, cultural and sporting activities, and had set up educational discussion sessions at which the detainees could criticize their environment and supervision. He showed the Special Rapporteur his projects, including a “prisoner week” designed to raise public awareness of the problems of prison life.

35. The Special Rapporteur visited several cells. The first was in very good condition and contained 12 beds – for 12 prisoners; the rules established by the prisoners of that cell themselves were very strict, according to the governor, which explained why there were so few prisoners. The next cells contained respectively 42 prisoners to 15 beds and 40 prisoners to 14 beds; the inmates explained that most slept on the bare floor and that the beds were reserved for those who had been there the longest. The governor said that there were approximately 400 beds for 2,700 prisoners. The Special Rapporteur then visited death row and the women’s section. The material situation there appeared much better than the previous sections: in particular, there was no problem of overcrowding. Information from a non-governmental source states that the prison is divided into several sections according to social category and in reality according to detainees’ financial resources. Detention in a special section requires payment of a sum which depends on the section’s salubriousness and organization(6). The prisoners themselves said that everything was up for negotiation inside the prison.

36. The Special Rapporteur visited the two so-called “screening cells” temporarily housing new arrivals: they devoid of furniture, a fact the governor justified by saying that the prisoners stayed there for one night only. When questioned, some of the inhabitants said, however, that they had been there for two or three days. The second cell, almost pitch dark, contained three totally naked men, huddled up in a clear state of shock: they were accused of the killing of a member of the forces of law and order and had just arrived at Kondengui after two weeks interrogation by the gendarmes. The governor, on being questioned by the Special Rapporteur, who did not conceal his consternation at the sight in that cell, said that he had not been aware that the three men were there in that state; he added that the order to undress them must have come from a guard, and immediately gave instructions for clothes to be issued to them. He told the Special Rapporteur that he would take steps to punish the guards responsible. He admitted that there were sometimes problems of hierarchical communication and that consequently he was not always aware of what was happening in the various cells. He claimed nevertheless to carry out a daily round when he had the time.

37. The punishment cell, which was very dark and stifling, contained 23 detainees and was obviously overcrowded. The prisoners said that, since being brought there, they had never left the cell, and had to relieve themselves in plastic bags and bottles. Two or three who were obviously weak and in poor health remained lying on the floor throughout the Special Rapporteur’s visit. Several of the prisoners said that they had been in the cell for more than 15 days, which the governor had claimed was the maximum stay. Additionally, most did not know how many days their punishment was supposed to last. One said that the punishment for fighting was 30 days in the punishment cell. On return to the governor’s office, it proved impossible to consult the punishment register indicating the grounds and length of punishments because the head of the discipline office was absent. The governor admitted forgetting one prisoner who should have been released from the punishment cell three days earlier. The prisoner, who was condemned to death and had recently been transferred from the Tchollire prison to Kondengui, had been punished for sawing his foot-shackles without the governor’s permission. Indeed, as the NGOs have emphasized, condemned prisoners are chained by the feet in most prisons, Kondengui being one of the exceptions.

38. During his mission, the Special Rapporteur also received information concerning Garoua central prison. Reportedly it consists of six cells covering approximately 72 km2, each containing 100 to 150 prisoners, who take it in turns to sleep on the beds, and some prisoners have die there of suffocation, exhaustion or hunger. An alleged punishment consists of making prisoners enter the pit latrines, causing dermatosis which is fatal if not treated. According to certain sources, from 1997 to 1998 three to seven prisoners died every day. However, the same sources said that the situation had improved since the appointment of a new governor in 1998. No-governmental sources stated that some prisons, including Kumba and Messamena, had no toilets, but only pit latrines.

39. On the subject of prison overcrowding, the Special Rapporteur was informed that the Chancellery of the Ministry of Justice had issued circulars instructing that detention should be carried out during investigation only where absolutely necessary. Pre-trial detention is thus intended to be an exception, though it was recognized that conditional release was still badly received by the public, largely because of the problem of corruption. Greater attention to the question of whether an individual needs to be detained pending trial should therefore reduce the prison population substantially. In addition, the NGOs interviewed stated that a large number of detainees were being held for civil offences. Another circular had been sent to government prosecutors to ask them not to keep suspects in pre-trial detention for longer than one year, or six months at Yaounde and Douala: all suspects were to be brought before a judge during that time. Procurators were also recommended to visit prisons regularly in order to monitor the pre-trial detention situation, according to the information received, that is not the case. The officials who met the Special Rapporteur at the Ministry of Justice said that certain prisons in the provinces were empty, even though the prison-building programme had not kept pace with recent demographic trends and the accompanying increase in crime. It should also be noted that two condemned prisoners at New Bell (whose names are known to the Special Rapporteur) had suppurating wounds: the first had received burns five years earlier when in detention at the Douala military engineers’ facilities and the second had been shot in the leg while being arrested by a police officer at Douala.

42. Some of the prisoners interviewed had been condemned to death at the end of the 1970s or the beginning of the 1980s, but had never had their sentences commuted to imprisonment for life or 20 years. Others had been convicted of aggravated theft without violence and did not understand why their sentences had not been commuted since the amendment of the Penal Code, although they knew that the 1990 Act was not retroactive, The Special Rapporteur would emphasize, however, that article 15 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cameroon is a party, provides that “If, subsequent to the commission of the offence, provision is made by law for the imposition of the lighter penalty, the offender shall benefit thereby”. The condemned prisoners at New Bell also did not understand why Decree No. 92/254 of 28 December 1992 provided for the death penalty to be commuted to a 20-year sentence had been interpreted by the prison authorities and the Douala prosecution service as meaning that the balance of the sentence was reckoned as beginning from the date on which the decree was signed and not the date of the warrant committing them to prison. Hence, the number of years already spent in prison is not taken into account in calculating the 20-year sentence. The uncertainty of their fate appeared to worry some, while others said that hey were resigned to awaiting execution or spending their lives in prison. Their conditions, especially as regards overcrowding, seemed relatively good as compared with those of other prisoners. Many condemned prisoners complained about the slowness of judicial processes, particularly appeal procedures, and the non-existence of cassation in reality, some even complained that their file had been lost on appeal.

43. On 13 May 1999, the Special Rapporteur visited Bafoussam provincial hospital, where, according to information, some prisoners were receiving medical care. The first ward which he visited contained six prisoners, who said that they were suffering from tuberculosis: they were chained in pairs to their bed by the feet, leaving them very little freedom to move. Two of them had apparently been held in those conditions for four months, two others for two months, one for one month and the last for one week. They said that their tuberculosis treatment would last for six months. A guard was supposed to come and unchain them at 7 o’clock every morning to allow them to go to the toilet, but, according to them, he did not come every day. Otherwise they had to relieve themselves in plastic bags or bottles, which could be seen by the Special Rapporteur. The small amount of food available to them had been brought by the families of those who lived locally. The second ward contained six more prisoners, including a child of 16, each chained to his own bed, and a seventh, unchained prisoner responsible for buying food for the others; he had been in the hospital for 22 months, waiting for funds to allow his transfer to Yaounde for an operation on his obviously swollen cheek. Most had been given no medicines and did not know exactly what was wrong with them. On returning to the hospital reception area, the Special Rapporteur asked to speak to the doctor in charge of the wards or to any other responsible person in the hospital and was told that nobody was present. The Special Rapporteur found the state of health of all these prisoners to be very worrying and urgently requiring appropriate care.

E. Traditional chiefs

44. The Special Rapporteur received much information to indicate that traditional chiefs, known as lamida or sultans according to the area, were the instigators of arbitrary detentions and ill-treatment, particularly with respect to their political opponents (see in particular annex II ). This was said to occur above all in the north of the country, where these chiefs’ traditional power continued to play an important role in the society. A good deal of information concerned the lamido of the Rey-Bouba in Mayo-Rey region. The government authorities stated, however, that there were no places of detention in Mayo-Rey under the authority of that lamido. Non-governmental sources nevertheless indicated that certain people, especially political opponents, had been arrested and detained in private prisons within the palace compound. Other lamida were said to act similarly (see especially annex II). Additionally, it was reported that the forces of law and order acted on the instructions of certain traditional chiefs, arresting and ill-treating people indicated by the chiefs, often political opponents (see especially annex II ). The Minister of Territorial Administration explained that the lamida were only supposed to act as a link between government and the public, and certainly did not have the authority to arrest, detain or try people; the Minister told the Special Rapporteur that if such cases arose, he would intervene immediately. The Minister of Foreign Affairs also confirmed that the central government exercised its authority throughout the territory of Cameroon, contrary to some suggestions, and the areas under the authority of lamida were therefore not enclaves beyond the rule of law. The Minister of Territorial Administration emphasized the importance of education, which not only reduced the lamida’s influence on the local people, but also led the lamida themselves to behave in a manner more appropriate to the rule of law. Nevertheless, when they overstepped their authority, the Minister, to whom they were subordinate, could summon them to call them to order; while the chiefs were appointed according to local tradition, their appointment had to be approved by the Ministry of Territorial Administration.

45. According to some non-governmental sources and accounts, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to take legal action against traditional chiefs because of the staus and protection they enjoy, in particular, the chiefs do not respond to summonses from the prosecution service. The Secretary of State for Defence with responsibility for the gendarmerie asserted that detention warrants issued issued by a procurator were always carried out, though he recognized that for traditional reasons certain chiefs were feared and respected. According to him, a detention warrant can be executed if the necessary forces of law and order are mustered.

F. Use of force by the law and order services

46. According to the information received, the law enforcement services have on several occasins used excessive force, especially in handling demonstrations by the political opposition in the run-up to elections. Some demonstrators are reported to have been seriously injured, including by bullets, and some even to have died from their injuries. Explosive grenades were also reportedly used in some cases. The military, called in as reinforcements, are also said to have used force (see annex II). The Special Rapporteur was also told that the law enforcement services used their weapons to arrest certain individuals, even when they were not threatening police security; several people also testified that they had been shot at during arrest.


47.The Republic of Cameroon has two judicial systems, one based on common law and the other on civil law, which apply respectively in the two English-speaking and eight French-speaking provinces. However, a number of laws have also been issued which apply throughout the country. The Penal Code was the first of these, but the penal procedure codes still need to be harmonized. The English-speaking provinces currently use the Criminal Procedure Ordinance of 1958 and the French-speaking provinces the 1938 Code d’instruction criminelle (Code of Criminal Investigation). Despite certain differences, the two codes of procedure, which have been amended on various occasions, are very similar.

A. Custody

48. Article 9 of the Cameroonian Code of Criminal Investigation provides that judicial custody decided upon at the beginning of a judicial investigation for the purpose of gathering evidence for the offence or after arrest in flagrante delicto may last up to 24 hours. It can be on the order of the Attorney-General, the government procurator, the investigating magistrate, a gendarmerie senior officer or sergeant, a gendarmerie station or squad commanding officer, the Head of the Department of Security or a senior police officer. During the first 24 hours, the suspect’s case must be brought before the government procurator, who can extend the custody up to three times. According to information from non-governmental sources, the law requiring that the person in custody must be brought before the government procurator is not complied with in practice. At the conclusion of the custody period, the suspect must be either referred to the prosecution service for formal indictment or released. It should be noted that the institution of habeas corpus, the right to apply to a judicial authority for a ruling on the lawfulness of the detention, exists in the two English-speaking provinces.

49. The NGOs claim that custody limits are never complied with. When he was able to consult the custody register, the Special Rapporteur saw notes to the effect that custody had been extended on the decision of the procurator. However, a large number of people interrogated in the various police and gendarmerie stations visited said that they had been arrested more than three days previously and had not been brought before the prosecution service or the procurator. Again, almost none of the people interviewed knew exactly which authority had ordered custody or what were his rights, particularly in assistance from counsel.

50. While Cameroonian law does not appear to prohibit contact between detainees and the outside world unless the prosecution service has ordered incommunicado detention, there are no legal provisions expressly guaranteeing the right of persons in custody to speak to a lawyer, a legal adviser or members of their family in the hours immediately following an arrest. Practice suggests that this is the discretion of the head of the detention unit. Almost all detainees interviewed at police and gendarmerie stations said that they had been questioned without a lawyer or other third party being present. Consequently, there was no external presence ensuring that the interrogation was carried out in accordance with Cameroonian law. Additionally, certain detainees testified that their families or lawyers had been harassed or threatened when attempting to visit them in custody. A detainee in a police station said, for example, that a lawyer friend had been threatened by the police when she came to the station, and did not know whether she had been transferred to another station,. The Special Rapporteur was informed by a lawyer whom he met that lawyers did not visit detention units to see their clients, but instead applied directly to the detaining authority for details of the case they were handling. This was confirmed by an advocate-general of the Supreme Court, a member of the National Committee on Human Rights and Freedoms. The Decree of 26 February 1931 on preliminary investigation provides that individuals placed in custody only have the legal right of access to a lawyer when they are brought before the prosecution service. The investigating magistrate is required to inform the accused of his right to appoint counsel from among the members of the Bar. The same source states that the prosecution service takes the initiative of sending for people detained in custody or sends an assistant procurator to the detention unit. He said that in his experience, when the forces of law and order discover that a case has been brought to the attention of the prosecution service, the individual is released immediately, unless a case can really be brought against him. He said, however, that relatives generally were always allowed access to detainees, if only in order to bring them food.

B. Pre-trial detention

51. Pre-trial detention(8), which is thus within the purview of the prosecution service, can last as long as the investigation requires. There is no legal framework setting time limits for such detention. As stated above, the Chancellery of the Ministry of Justice has, however, issued guidelines designed t reduce time in pre-trial detention to a maximum of one year, or six months in the Yaounde and Douala jurisdictions. Article 53 (1) of the Penal Code provides that, in case of a custodial sentence, the time spent in pre-trial detention is, however, deducted from the sentence. Chapter VIII of the Code of Criminal Investigation states that bail may be granted at any stage of the proceedings, but it must be at the detainee’s request. The bail conditions depend on the suspect’s bond, on his character and the seriousness of the offence. Current legislation also provides the suspect with the opportunity to appeal if his bail request is refused, which can hold up the proceedings. All the authorities met by the Special Rapporteur emphasized that pre-trial detention should be the exception and bail the rule. However, the government procurator at Douala said that pre-trial detention warrants had to be issued in cases of violation of physical integrity, misappropriation of public funds, robberies (except where the damage was very minor) and breach of trust (particularly when the breach was committed from base motives and where the sum of the damage was conside