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Traumatic Detention Conditions in the Cameroon Kondengui Prison

Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture defines torture as: 

"…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."i 

Going by the above definition, and taking into consideration the reality of arbitrary pretrial detention in Cameroon which does not amount to ‘lawful sanctions’, we are inclined to hold that the conditions in some prisons and detention cells in Cameroon, characterised by overcrowding, sleep deprivation, poor  sanitation and nutrition, etc, which inflict physical and mental suffering on detainees, tantamount to torture. Such treatment may cause detainees to suffer mental breakdown and even permanent psychological trauma. According to an Amnesty International Report on Cameroon 2016/17, the Kondengui prison currently houses 4000 inmates despite having a maximum capacity of 2000.ii 

A protester (name withheld), released in February from the Yaounde Kondengui prisons after being arrested in Bamenda and detained for over a month, narrated his ordeal to one of Contra Nocendi Cameroon’s Advocacy Associates. He counted himself lucky and lamented the fate of those who were still being detained. He stated that though he didn’t experience any severe physical mistreatment, the conditions under which he was detained alone are worse than any form of physical punishment like chaining and beating. He stated that the detention was meant to instill fear in him so that he will abstain from exercising his right to peaceful protest. In response to Contra Nocendi's enquiries as to  if he would protest again, he said no, that it is now impossible for him to do so, especially as  his family members have warned him never to find himself near any public protests ever again. 

A second released detainee complained of horrible conditions characterised by massive overcrowding, poor feeding, bad hygiene with a permanent pungent smell, as a result of which he became sick. He complained of a water shortage crisis that caused inmates to go for days without bathing. And that as a result there was a scare of the possible spread of diseases. He described the area where less privileged prisoners were kept as ‘Hell on Earth’.  

Another issue decried by the released detainees was the presence of some sort of 'government structure' in the Kondengui prisons, run by a number of prisoners who can decide the conditions under which the others stay there,  depending on their financial situation. "If you can’t afford to pay them, you might not be able to get sleeping space and your movement within the prison premises could be restricted, a sort of prison within the prison," he said. 

Contra Nocendi sees such deplorable, inhumane detention conditions and the fear and trauma it inflicts on detainees as a form of torture. Persons detained for the sake of exercising their rights to freedoms of speech, assembly and association, and living under such inhumane conditions are indirectly coerced to give up their rights. We are strongly of the view that detention especially pending trial shouldn’t be used as a tool to weaken accused persons and render them helpless in the face of charges brought against them. We also believe it is costlier for the state and community if a person returns from custody physically and psychologically traumatized, and unable to contribute positively to society. 

We re-iterate our call to all relevant authorities to respect international and regional standards and fight to eradicate torture in all its forms. On the occasion of this International Day for the Support for Victims of Torture, we  at Contra Nocendi raise our voices strongly in #Support of #Victims. They must #Recover and #Thrive again! 

 

 

 

 

i Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, 10 December 1984. United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1465, p. 85 

ii Amnesty International Report on Cameroon 2016/17 https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/cameroon/report-cameroon/  

Official Statement on World Refugee Day 2017

On World Refugee Day, we salute the efforts of  states that receive refugees, such as Cameroon. The fight against Boko Haram in the north of the country, and the conflict in Central Africa Republic (CAR) have led hundreds of thousands of displaced persons to flee to neighbouring Cameroon. According to statistics from UNHCR, about 100,000 refugees from Nigeria and more than 250,000 from CAR were registered in Cameroon as of 2016. About 30% of these numbers were housed in designated sites while 70% were accommodated by host communities. We commend the efforts of the government and host communities for the humanitarian gesture. We however call on the government to ensure better treatment of refugees.

 

In early 2017, reports emerged of forced return of more than 2,000 Nigerian refugees in inhumane conditions (packed behind trucks) by Cameroonian troops. Reports have equally emerged of the detention of refugees in inhumane conditions in the north, on the suspicion of being Boko Haram insurgents even without proper screening. We call on the government to continue upholding its international and domestic law obligations on refugee protection. We also commend the efforts of the UNHCR, other humanitarian organisations and donors for supporting the government of Cameroon in ensuring the protection and the assistance provided to refugees. We urge them to do more to provide adequate living conditions including food, water, health, proper hygiene and sanitation for refugees. Contra Nocendi remains committed to raising awareness of these issues, which are critical to the protection of human rights for all persons.

Standing Firmly Against Torture in all Forms and in Full Support of Victims

TORTURE is more common than you may think – and it’s not just limited to prisoners of war – ordinary citizens in detention also suffer from this atrocity. The infliction of severe physical or psychological pain upon individuals to extract information or confessions or an illicit extra judicial punishment is prohibited by international law and is illegal in most countries. However, the practice of torture is still very common in many countries including Cameroon and Burundi. The use of torture annihilates the victims sense of personality and renders them helpless. The UN estimates that hundreds of persons are tortured each year, and many of these persons have their lives permanently destroyed, unable to fully recover. 

In its fight against Boko Haram in the Far Northern region, the Cameroon security forces have been accused of using torture against persons suspected of being involved with the Boko Haram or against citizens to extract information about Boko Haram supporters and their activities. It is our understanding that in order to keep away from prying eyes, torture has been carried out in unofficial places of detention such as BIR (Brigade d'InterventionRapide) bases. 

Since the 2015 presidential elections in Burundi, the country has been going through a political and human rights crisis, which led to unprecedented abuses and attempts on the lives of many citizens including human rights defenders.  In its attempt to silence the opposition and risings of the population, the Intelligence Services multiplied the use of torture and secret detention, all while the Ruling Party Youth League members continued to commit unspeakable atrocities. In 2016 alone, the UN identified more than 345 cases of torture in the country where people have been, among other things, beaten with iron rods and burned.  

Torture in its various forms is equally still being practiced in police, and gendarmerie cells prison cells in both these countries, most often through very subtle and unsuspecting means. The inhumane detention conditions characterized by extreme overcrowding and sometimes very unhygienic conditions can amount to an unsuspecting way of putting the detainees through extreme hardship in order to force confessions from them. 

Victims of torture are often scarred with both physical and psychological injuries that haunt them for a very long time. In Cameroon, the Radio France Internationale (RFI) journalist Ahmed Aba now sentenced to 10 years in prison for failing to report acts of terrorism to authorities was reportedly tortured upon his arrest in late 2015. His torture and later conviction raised questions on fair trial and fair treatment of detainees under the jurisdiction of the Military Court in Cameroon. Also in March 2017, shocking reports and images emerged of Ibrahim Moussa Bello reportedly being tortured and electrocuted by a policeman in the Ombessa police station in Yaoundé. His feet evidenced large lacerations possibly as a result of being held in chains and in deplorable health and inhumane conditions.  

In the absence of treatment, care and a support system, the physical and psychological injuries can remain with the victims for a lifetime. Each year Contra Nocendi joins the UN to mark the international day in support for victims of torture. We raise our voices in #SUPPORT: #VICTIMS of torture must live and thrive again!  

Contra Nocendi calls on all countries to respect international and regional standards and fight to eradicate torture in all its forms.

 

Contra Nocendi Expresses Deep Concern About the Barring of Amnesty International Press Conference

Today, in the Cameroonian capital of Yaounde, representatives of Amnesty International were prevented by security forces from holding a scheduled press conference, where they were to denounce the sentencing of three students to a decade in prison over a Boko Haram joke. We are deeply concerned about this action taken by the Cameroonian security forces.

 

The ability to hold a press conference should be seen as a necessary of part of the protection of free speech. This is a right enshrined in international human rights law, and the Constitution of Cameroon. This action also raises serious concerns about the infringement of the freedom of association – another right similarly protected under international human rights law and the Constitution of Cameroon.

 

We have received reports that the rationale for the banning of the press conference was not communicated in writing. Any derogation from fufilling the requirements of a human right should be communicated in writing. Failure to do so could restrict the right to judicial review of such an action and raises understandable questions about the permissibility of such an action.

 

The government of Cameroon must not see civil society as a threat. Indeed, many members of civil society have rallied in support of the government’s efforts to combat Boko Haram. Open criticism of government behavior and policies is a positive reflection on a society and re-enforces the legitimacy of any government. This press conference should be seen as a badge of honor for the government in that it is an example of what the government protects for its citizens. We strongly urge the government of Cameroon to investigate those responsible for this possible human rights violation, and ensure that the rights steps are taken to prevent such violation in the future.

 

 

Contra Nocendi Submits Views in Support of Decriminalization of Petty Offenses in Africa

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have submitted their collective views on the decriminalization of petty offenses in Africa, to the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions in Detention and Policing in Africa. The views were in response to the Special Rapporteur’s Zero Draft of the Guidelines, which is to be presented to the African Commission for approval. Overall, we were impressed with what we found to be a progressive and courageous stance of the Zero Draft.

 

Hence, our letter to the Special Rapporteur was generally supportive of the Zero Draft. We praised the recognition of LGBTIQ persons as vulnerable persons that can be marginalized by petty offenses. We further agreed with calls to decriminalize sexual conduct between partners of the same sex, and re-asserted our view that such criminalization is absurd and contrary to international human rights law, and as such our continuing support for SOGIE rights.

 

Our views expressed support for States to seek alternatives to arrest and detention of children, and that appropriate considerations should be undertaken prior to arrest and detention whenever possible. This includes making sure that the best interest of the child is a primary consideration. We also urged States to recognize that acknowledging and respecting the rights of children in situations of potential arrest and detention, can help combat juvenile recidivism and foster an atmosphere of deeper respect and cooperation between juveniles and law enforcement agencies.

 

We wish to thank the Special Rapporteur for making the Zero Draft available and the opportunity to express our views, and those of our partners and the people we support in Cameroon and Burundi. Contra Nocendi stands firmly in support of the decriminalization of petty offenses in Africa.

Tunisia’s African Court declaration sets example for Burundi and Cameroon

Recently the government of Tunisia deposited an Article 34(6) declaration, which grants the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights access to individual cases. Tunisia should be applauded for its bold move in taking such a crucial step in the promotion of human rights in the country. Burundi and Cameroon should follow this example and solidify their commitment to advancing human rights protections in their respective countries, by depositing similar Article 34(6) declarations.

An Article 34(6) declaration is a binding statement on the part of a State Party to Protocol on the establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which grants the Court jurisdiction to hear individual complaints against the declaring state. Article 34(6) refers to the provision of the Protocol regarding the Court’s jurisdiction over individual cases brought against a State Party. To their credit, the governments of Burundi and Cameroon have signed and ratified the Protocol. We do commend both governments for this important step. However, going further with an Article 34(6) declaration would very clearly illustrate their intent and commitment to promoting the respect for the human rights protections, accorded to their respective citizens.

Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon look forward to the day where every person on the African continent will have the right to bring a complaint to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for redress. That day is certainly on the horizon. When States embrace the Court as an important tool in their arsenal to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of their people, these states show that they take their human rights obligations seriously. Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon call on the governments of Burundi and Cameroon to deposit Article 34(6) declarations and show that the human rights of their people matter.  

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