Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989

 Political power in Cameroon is concentrated in the Presidency
and a single party, the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement
(CPDM) . President Paul Biya is Head of State and head of the
CPDM. The President makes all major decisions and appoints
all government and party officials, although key
parliamentarians have some behind-the-scenes influence. The
National Assembly generally approves measures proposed by the
Government. Although the Assembly has the right to propose
legislation, it does so rarely. Cameroon's political system
is influenced by its ethnic and linguistic diversity, which
includes 230 languages and 3 separate European colonial
traditions (German, French, and British). French and English
are official languages. A careful balancing act among the
various groups within the Government and party is required to
maintain political cohesion, and this acts as a check on
government power.
Internal security responsibilities are shared by the National
Police (Surete Nationale), the National Intelligence Service
(CENER) , the Ministry of Territorial Administration, Military
Intelligence, and, to a lesser extent, the Presidential
Security Service. The Ministry of Territorial Administration
is in charge of prisons, and the National Police has the
dominant role in enforcing internal security laws.
Cameroon's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of about
$970 in 1987 placed it among the middle-income developing
countries. However, the declining prices of Cameroon's key
commodities, including coffee, cocoa, and petroleum, and the
rigors of structural adjustment are likely to reduce 1989 per
capita gross domestic product to an estimated $850.
Cameroon's diversified agricultural base, food
self-sufficiency, and government policies aimed at promoting
private-sector growth help mitigate the effects of declining
terms of trade and other external difficulties.
Human rights remained restricted in Cameroon in 1989.
Positive developments included the release of dissident author
Albert Mukong and more openness in addressing human rights
issues. In March a senior official responded publicly to
Amnesty International's (AI) concerns about political
prisoners, admitting that some persons remained in detention
despite the expiration of their sentences. President Biya has
officially advocated greater democratization, and modest steps
have been taken to expand popular political participation.
Major human rights concerns in 1989 included the abuse of
detainees, use of arbitrary arrest and detention powers, harsh
prison conditions, and restrictions on freedoms of speech,
press, assembly, women's rights, worker rights, and the right
of citizens to change their government through democratic
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of such killings in 1989.
      b. Disappearance
There were no reports of disappearance.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the penal code proscribes torture, renders
inadmissible in court evidence obtained thereby, and prohibits
public servants from using force against any person, there
were credible reports of severe beatings of suspects while in
custody in 1989. On one occasion, witnesses observed security
officers publicly punching and beating a man. Inside prisons,
poor conditions are common. Prisoners suffer from serious
malnutrition unless provided food by friends or family.
Brutal treatment of inmates may have led to violent uprisings
in at least two Cameroonian prisons in 1989. Persons under
"administrative detention" (e.g., political detainees) are
kept in special camps or prisons to which access by families
and friends is severely restricted.
AI • s 1989 Report stresses the harsh conditions in Nkondengui
Prison in Yaounde and New Bell Prison in Douala.
Overcrowding, the lack of medical care, and malnutrition may
have contributed to a high death rate in both prisons in 1988,
according to AI.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Under Cameroonian law, a person arrested on suspicion of
having committed a nonpolitical offense may be held in custody
up to 24 hours before being charged. The period of custody
may be renewed up to three times with the express agreement of
the Attorney-General. However, after an investigating
magistrate has determined the case should be brought to trial
and has issued a warrant to that effect, there is no
limitation on how long the detainee may be held in "preventive
detention" pending trial.
Accused persons awaiting trial constitute the majority of
persons in the prisons at Yaounde and Douala. Release on bail
is permitted by law only in the Anglophone provinces, whose
legal system retains features of British common law. Even
there, bail is granted infrequently. There have been cases of
local or provincial authorities ordering the continued
detention of persons even after a court ordered their
release. CENER and Military Security do not implement fully
the penal code requirement that detainees be brought before a
magistrate for investigation of possible offenses. They have
held detainees incommunicado.
Persons may also be held in "administrative detention" under
legislation pertaining to subversion. The penal code defines
administrative detention as "the loss of liberty for a
political felony or misdemeanor." Such detention by regional
authorities is initially for 1 month, renewable twice, and may
be extended up to an additional 6 months by the Minister of
Territorial Administration. Those arrested and placed in
administrative detention do not disappear. Their families are
told where they are, though not always promptly. They are
released eventually, though the detention may be lengthy, in
some cases exceeding the theoretical maximum of 9 months.
State of emergency provisions, invoked following the 1984 coup
attempt, were allowed to lapse in 1989. There is, therefore,
no longer a legal rationale for unlimited administrative
detention. Government of Cameroon authorities state that they
are working to ensure that officials who have had delegated
authority to order such detention are made aware of the
changed circumstances.
Albert Mukong, a well-known critic of the Government who had
been held for nearly a year, was released on May 5 after the
Government dropped charges against him. It is widely believed
that Mukong was arrested for having condemned, during a
British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast, frequent
constitutional changes and attributing Cameroon's economic
difficulties to embezzlement of state funds by senior public
officials. The legal justification for his detention remains
unclear but was apparently an old ordinance which proscribes
conduct "likely to bring to contempt or ridicule any public
authority or (which) incites hatred against the government."
Frederic Batoum and Samuel Zeze remained in prison without
charge at the end of 1989, apparently for supporting the
banned opposition party, the Union of Cameroonian People
(UPC). They had first been arrested in 1985, released in
1986, and then detained again shortly afterwards. Abdoulaye
Mazou, a former senior official of the Ministry of Education,
was sentenced to 5 years for having assisted his brother to
escape after the 1984 coup attempt. Although his sentence has
expired, he remains in prison and is reportedly ill.
An estimated 40 political detainees, including Moussa Mahmonde
and Mohamadou Djidji, who were not released in 1986 at the end
of their sentence, reportedly remained in detention at the end
of 1989. Most of these were apprehended around the time of
the 1984 coup attempt.
Cameroon does not engage in the practice of forced exile.
Early in his first term. President Biya publicly encouraged
all those living abroad for political reasons to return to
Cameroon without fear of reprisal.
With regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Trial by a presiding magistrate is provided for in law, and
this practice is followed except in the case of persons held
under administrative detention or state of emergency
regulations. Public trials are also guaranteed by law,
although exceptions are allowed for the public good or for
national security reasons. Trials which involve prominent
persons or which are controversial have sometimes been held in
Magistrates in Cameroon are career civil servants responsible
to the Minister of Justice and are required to have law
degrees. Their decisions are not usually subject to
government interference, and they generally are considered to
conduct fair trials. The Minister of Justice has publicly
cautioned magistrates against awarding "excessive" damages
against the State, and there have been reported cases of the
Government refusing to pay damages where a court has found
against it. Defendants in felony cases are provided attorneys
if they cannot afford to engage their own.
Crimes involving subversion or illegal use of weapons, as well
as crimes involving the military, are tried by military
tribunals. Each tribunal has three members, and its presiding
officer must be a magistrate. In some cases, the magistrate
is a civilian, in others a military officer. As in felony
cases tried in the regular court system, defendants are
entitled to counsel.
In a March 1989 press conference, Cameroon's Ambassador to
France answered publicly a question from AI about political
prisoners held in Cameroon. According to AI, he indicated
that most of them are military officers implicated in the 1984
coup attempt. Some of them were never brought to trial, and
others have been held past the end of their sentences. Those
trials were conducted in secret by military tribunals and did
not conform to internationally recognized standards of
fairness. Lawyers were given little time to prepare a
defense, and defendants had no right of appeal. The
Ambassador admitted that coup-plotters were still held under
administrative internment and asserted that their continued
detention was necessary in view of the danger they pose to
public safety. This is the first time in years that a
government official has publicly addressed the issue of
political prisoners/detainees held without trial in Cameroon.
Traditional courts continue to play an important role in
Cameroon, particularly in rural areas. Their authority varies
by region and by ethnic group, but they are often the arbiters
of property and domestic disputes and may serve a probate
function as well. Most systems permit appeal of firstinstance
decisions to traditional authorities of higher rank.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Both invasions of the home and tampering with correspondence
are violations of Cameroonian law. There have been frequent
reports of police harassing citizens and entering homes
without warrants during periodic searches for criminals.
Police officials also sometimes enter homes and demand to see
receipts for household property as a customs law enforcement
measure. Surveillance of suspected dissidents and the
monitoring of their mail and telephone conversations are
common practices.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution of 1972 provides for freedom of expression
and of the press, but Cameroonian law and practice restrict
these freedoms. While there is no evidence anyone is punished
for privately criticizing the Government, there are definite
limits to public speech.
The Government's official position is that it "supervises" but
does not "control" the press. However, officials working with
the media have referred to television, radio, and the press as
instruments of national policy to be used by the State in
furtherance of its aims. The Government publishes two
official newspapers, the English and French editions of the
Cameroon Tribune, and controls radio (the most important
medium) and television. Most official journalists are civil
servants who may be transferred to less desirable positions if
they do not practice self-censorship.
Media criticism of the Government invites detention. There
have been several cases of print or broadcast journalists
being detained after pursuing stories critical of the
Government in recent years. Early in 1989, for example, two
journalists from the independent press were detained after
publishing a story recounting the reasons for a local town
council's vote of no-confidence in its Mayor. AI noted in its
1989 Report that there seems to be a pattern in the official
use of detention powers as a means of intimidating
journalists. Despite this, the number and frequency of
private publications rebounded somewhat in late 1989. No
written ground rules for publication exist. The independent
press enjoys greater latitude in covering issues than the
government-owned press, but all publications are still subject
to official censorship.
Although many periodicals carrying articles critical of
Cameroon's Government circulated in 1989, toward the end of
the year the Government seized one edition of a foreign
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of assembly and association are provided for in the
Constitution but are restricted in law and practice. The
penal code prohibits public meetings, demonstrations, or
processions without prior government approval. While there
have been no reports that such permits have been denied, large
public meetings in which the Government plays no role are
virtually unknown. On short notice, authorities canceled this
year's traditional May Day parade because they were concerned
that the unemployed might demonstrate. Organizations must
register with the Government; any form of opposition political
organization is effectively prohibited.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Cameroon is a secular state. There is no established
religion. Roughly 20 percent of Cameroonians are Muslims, 30
percent are Christians, and the rest follow traditional
beliefs. Officials of the Government and the CPDM include
members of all three groups. Freedom of religion is provided
for in the Constitution, but for a religious group to exist
and to function legally, it must be approved and registered
with the Ministry of Territorial Administration. There have
been cases in the past of a small group's application being
rejected on the grounds that it was too nearly identical to an
existing group. The Jehovah's Witnesses were banned in 1970
and have been periodic targets of harassment since that time.
The Government does not discourage the practice of traditional
religions. Acts of witchcraft, divination, or magic "liable
to disrupt public order or tranquility, or to harm persons or
property" are outlawed, with potential penalties of up to 10
years' imprisonment.
Missionaries played a major role in the development of
Cameroon and continue to be active. Foreign clergy suffer no
ill-treatment. There are no particular restrictions on places
of worship, training of clergy, conversion, religious
education, or religious participation in charitable
activities. The literacy and Bible translation organization,
SIL, operates freely and plans to expand. Independent
Christian and Muslim publications exist in Cameroon, and there
is no evidence they are more heavily censored than is the
secular press.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Freedom of movement within the country is not restricted by
law. Police continue to stop travelers to check
identification documents, vehicle registrations, and tax
receipts as a security and immigration control measure, though
use of the practice declined sharply in 1989.
Exit visas are required to leave the country and are sometimes
obtained only after long delays. The Government has been
known to refuse issuance of a passport or to confiscate a
passport in order to control someone it considers a real or
potential threat. Married women must obtain written consent
from their husbands before the Government will issue an exit
visa. There are no restrictions on voluntary repatriation,
and there is no forced resettlement.
Over the years, Cameroon has served as a safe haven for
thousands of dispaced persons and refugees. Approximately
35,000 refugees remain in Cameroon, the majority of them
Chadian. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) recognizes about 4,100, most of them Chadian or
Namibian. With the Chadian conflict largely over, many
Chadians have returned. As of September 30, 1989, there were
3,622 Chadian refugees at the Poli-Faro camp, down from 6,346
at the beginning of the year. Many of the Chadians living
outside Poli-Faro have integrated into the Cameroonian economy
and do not receive government or international assistance.
Though Cameroon occasionally returns illegal Chadian
immigrants, there were no confirmed reports of forced
repatriation of recognized Chadian refugees in 1989. Cameroon
is also host to 67 Namibian students and 400 other refugees of
various nationalities.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Because Cameroon continues to be a one-party state with
political power and administrative responsibility concentrated
in the Presidency, citizens do not have the right to change
the Government through the electoral process. The President
appoints all cabinet ministers, governors, and prefects.
President Biya succeeded constitutionally to the office of
President upon the resignation of former President Ahidjo, and
was elected unopposed in 1984 and 1988.
While the Constitution does not explicitly exclude the
existence of other political parties, in fact only the CPDM is
permitted to operate. Membership in the CPDM is open to all
religious and ethnic groups and is strongly encouraged. No
one attempted to gain legal recognition for a second political
party in 1989. The UPC was rebuffed in 1985 when it sought
such legal recognition. Opposition groups, including the UPC
and the Cameroon Democratic Party, periodically send letters
or pamphlets into the country (usually seized by customs
officials) or are heard on foreign radio broadcasts. A number
of former UPC members are now active in the CPDM.
Some within the CPDM have begun to advocate greater pluralism,
but it is unclear whether they wish to make room for other
parties or are merely seeking opportunities for broader debate
or greater influence within the CPDM.
All members of the 180-seat National Assembly must be members
Of the CPDM. National Assembly elections with multiple
candidacies were held for the first time in 1988, but the CPDM
limited the number of candidates per constituency to two. The
next elections are due in 1993. Voting is by universal
suffrage and secret ballot. The 1988 elections took place
with few irregularities and no allegations of fraud.
Debate in the National Assembly usually remains within fairly
narrow parameters. The National Assembly has not formally
rejected a major government initiative in recent years.
However, the behind-the-scenes power of key National Assembly
representatives limits the Government's freedom of action.
Some government proposals are shelved before reaching the
stage where they are subject to formal rejection.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government does not usually respond publicly or privately
to inquiries from any human rights organization. However, in
1989 a government official responded publicly to AI ' s charge
that Cameroon holds political prisoners (see Section I.e.).
The Constitution affirms support for the freedoms guaranteed
in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United
Nations Charter. Under President Biya, the Government has
devoted increased attention to human rights in such
international forums as the United Nations and the Non-Aligned
Movement. Also, Cameroon has submitted reports on the status
of human rights in the country to two United Nations
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Access to the Government's social programs is open to all
Cameroonian citizens on a nondiscriminatory basis. President
Biya has repeatedly stressed publicly the dangers of
tribalism, but there remains deep-seated suspicion among
ethnic groups. Cameroon is officially bilingual, but
Anglophones are a distinct minority (20 percent) and often
charge that the majority Francophones discriminate against
them by denying them economic opportunity and a share of real
political power commensurate with their numbers. The
Bamileke, the country's largest single ethnic group (between
15 and 20 percent of the population), level similar charges
against the rest of the body politic.
Women are granted equal rights under the Constitution, and
some are politically active in the party and the sole labor
federation. The women's wing of the CPDM has developed
programs to encourage the economic and social productivity of
Cameroonian women. Women are increasingly well represented in
the modern wage sector. They make up less than 1 percent of
the army and do not serve in the navy or air force. They may
join the police and the gendarmerie but make up a very small
percentage of these forces.
Significant cultural pressure is brought to bear on women to
remain subservient to men. In late 1989, for example, a
columnist for a government-owned newspaper admonished a reader
to remember "your husband is the direct authority the lord has
placed on you." Also, the Government requires a husband's
consent before his wife may obtain an exit visa (see Section
2.d.), a policy the Government asserts is intended solely to
preserve and strengthen the stability of family life.
Polygamy is permitted by law and tradition, but polyandry is
Hospital reports of admissions of battered women indicate
declining violence against women, at least in urban areas. A
government-owned newspaper in late 1989 featured a readers'
debate on the pros and cons of wife beating, stating in its
introduction that it took no position in the debate. There
are no reliable statistics on the extent to which violence
occurs. In crimes of passion, men are sometimes treated
lightly by the courts. Violence directed against women in
other than a domestic context is not a major problem. Female
circumcision is not common in Cameroon. It is practiced by a
limited number of traditional Muslim families and is almost
unheard of in other groups.
One of the goals of the sixth 5-year plan for economic,
social, and cultural development is to improve educational
opportunities for women. The percentage of female secondary
school students increased 45 percent between 1970 and 1986.
Girls made up 45.7 percent of primary school pupils in 1986,
but their percentage drops to 38.3 percent at the secondary
level. Women are also disadvantaged in access to higher
education (14 percent of students) and professional
opportunities. Regional differences in access to education
also exist.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
The labor code recognizes the right of workers to establish
trade unions without prior authorization and to join trade
unions of their choosing. In practice, there is but one
umbrella organization in the country, the Organization of
United Cameroonian Workers (OCWU) , which operates parallel to
the CPDM, and trade unions in the country are subordinate to
the OCWU. The top union leadership is nominated by the
Government. The OCWU permitted multiple candidates to run in
worker delegate elections in late 1987 and early 1988, but it
retains the right to approve candidacies, thus assuring
political orthodoxy. The OCWU does not play a major role in
Cameroonian politics, although it has a membership of
approximately 450,000 in a working population of more than 3
million. It pursues worker grievances and seeks improvements
in government programs for worker safety and training.
Strikes are illegal, and political activity by trade unions,
excepting action designed to protect economic and other
interests, is prohibited. The OCWU is a member of the
Organization of African Trade Union Unity. The OCWU maintains
contact with foreign trade union organizations, including the
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial
Organizations, but such contact requires government
The International Labor Organization's (ILO) Committee of
Experts (COE) observed in 1989 that various legislative
provisions, which regulate the right of public servants to
organize, restrict their right to strike, and ban foreign
workers from trade union office, are inconsistent with ILO
Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. It has expressed the
hope that the Government will amend the legislation in the
near future.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The labor code recognizes the right of trade unions or trade
union federations to engage in collective bargaining with
employers or groups of employers. In practice, true
collective bargaining between employers and workers is rare,
owing to the small size of the modern industrial sector, the
small number of large employers, and the involvement of the
Government in the process. Under the law, all employers of
more than 10 workers must permit the election of a worker
representative from among the employees. This individual has
a statutory right to discuss labor conditions with the
employer on behalf of the employees and enjoys special
protection from arbitrary dismissal. Candidates for these
positions must be approved by the OCV«/U.
There are no export processing zones in Cameroon, but one is
in the planning stage.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
While forced or compulsory labor is prohibited by law, the COE
has noted that provisions of the labor code, the law
establishing the National Civic Service for participation in
development, legislation respecting prisons, and the Merchant
Shipping Code are in violation of the ILO conventions on
forced labor. The Government has stated repeatedly that
amendments to bring these laws into compliance with ILO
conventions are being processed or are under study. There
have been reports of levies of communal labor being employed
in some traditional societies.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The labor code sets the minimum working age at 14, a rule
which appears to be respected in the modern wage sector.
Labor inspectors are empowered to enforce provisions of
Cameroon's labor code, as are labor courts. In rural areas
where farming occupies 80 percent of Cameroon's citizens,
children participate at early ages in agricultural work
alongside adults. Street vendors in urban areas are
occasionally under age 14, more frequently during school
vacations than at other times.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Under the labor code, the minimum annual paid vacation is 18
days, and the legal workweek is 40 hours for nonagr icultural
employees and up to 48 hours per week for agricultural
workers. In order to make room for younger workers, civil
servants are encouraged to retire upon reaching the minimum
retirement age of 55. Minimum monthly wages are set by the
Government for all public and private sector jobs. Minimum
wage rates, which range from $62 to $103 per month, are based
on geographic zones, types of industry, and worker seniority
and qualifications. The lowest wages are insufficient to
support a family, but usually are supplemented by a second job
or another family member's earnings. Workers with
middle-range wages also are likely to need second incomes to
support a family, especially in Yaounde and Douala.
Occupational safety and health is mandated by law, based on
ILO standards. In theory, these standards are enforced by
Ministry of Labor inspectors and labor courts, but they lack
the means for effective enforcement.