Committee against Torture
9 November 2017
The Committee against Torture this afternoon completed its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Cameroon on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Presenting the report, Anatole Fabien Nkou, Permanent Representative of Cameroon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presented an overview of measures taken by Cameroon to fight torture and ill-treatment and to implement the Committee’s previous recommendations. The fight against torture and ill-treatment was one of the main priorities of the Government in the context of its fight against Boko Haram, the serious humanitarian situation, and social tensions linked to the situation in the north-west and south-west of the country. In that respect, of particular importance was the adoption of the National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 2015-2019, which focused on the protection of the life and physical and moral integrity of persons.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts welcomed Cameroon’s acceptance of the simplified reporting procedure, and its commitment to combat prolonged pre-trial detention, to increase the number of courts and legal personnel, to address prison overcrowding, and to improve detention conditions. However, Experts raised concern about allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances that had taken place in the context of the fight against Boko Haram, and the use of excessive force when dealing with the crisis in the English-speaking regions of the country. They also voiced concern about delayed ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, lenient sentences for the crime of torture, the independence of the special division for the monitoring of the police force, the use of secret detention centres and military courts as part of the anti-terrorist struggle, detainees’ access to legal aid and independent medical examinations, payment of bribes to avoid long pre-trial detention, forcible refoulement of Nigerian refugees on the pretext that they were members of Boko Haram, and harassment of journalists and human rights defenders. Other issues raised were female genital mutilation and other traditional harmful practices, the rivalry between the executive and judicial branches, domestic violence, prison overcrowding, juveniles in detention, and mechanisms for compensation of victims of torture or ill-treatment.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Nkou commended Committee Experts for the quality of the dialogue. He expressed hope that the links forged with the Committee would be maintained.
Jens Modvig, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation of the 48 hour-deadline to submit written replies to questions that were not answered.
The delegation of Cameroon included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Police, and the Permanent Mission of Cameroon to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 10 November, at 10 a.m., to consider the sixth periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CAT/C/BIH/6).
The fifth periodic report of Cameroon can be read here: CAT/C/CMR/5.
Presentation of the Report
ANATOLE FABIEN NKOU, Permanent Representative of Cameroon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presented an overview of measures taken by Cameroon to fight torture and ill-treatment and to implement the Committee’s previous recommendations. The fifth periodic report covered the period between 2010 and 2015, and it had been elaborated in a participatory manner, with contributions from different units of the public administration and civil society. The fight against torture and ill-treatment was one of the main priorities of the Government in the context of its fight against Boko Haram, the serious humanitarian situation, and social tensions linked to the situation in the north-west and south-west of the country. In that respect, of particular importance was the adoption in 2015 of the National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights 2015-2019, which focused on the protection of life and the physical and moral integrity of persons. In order to translate the action plan into reality, the Government had undertaken legislative, institutional, judicial and regulatory reforms.
At the legislative level, in 2013 Cameroon had ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. In December 2014 it had ratified the African Union Convention on the Prevention and Fight against Terrorism, and it had acceded to the African Union Convention on the Protection of and Assistance to Displaced Persons in Africa. On 12 July 2016, amendments to the Penal Code had reinforced the protection and physical and moral integrity of persons, particularly of women and children, through the criminalization of female genital mutilation, breast ironing, sexual harassment, forced and early marriages, trafficking in persons, and torture. The Government had also adopted the law No. 012 on 12 July 2017 which had given competence to military courts to try cases of serious war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. At the institutional level, in February 2016 a commission for compensation had been set up as part of the Supreme Court. Other institutions included the Ad Hoc Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Management of Urgent Refugee Situations in Cameroon, which was tasked with dealing with massive population displacements due to the activities of Boko Haram. At the judicial level, the Government had made numerous decisions to sanction attacks on the physical integrity of persons.
Turning to specific policies, programmes and projects, Mr. Nkou noted that the Government had adopted the National Gender Policy, the National Plan of Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, the National Strategy for the Fight against Gender-Based Violence, the National Plan of Action for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation, and the National Action Plan for Health in the Penitentiary System. Mr. Nkou reminded that Cameroon had been fighting the terrorist group Boko Haram since 2013. That context, coupled with the worsening security situation in neighbouring countries, such as the Central African Republic and Nigeria, had led to a massive influx of refugees to Cameroon. In order to respond to those challenges, Cameroon had joined the Global Strategy on the Fight against Terrorism. The Government had taken judicial, administrative and disciplinary action against members of defence forces who had committed human rights abuses. Proceedings against persons under terrorism charges respected due process. The fight against Boko Haram had led to new challenges in the management of the prison population. Cameroon hosted 626,681 refugees and 237,966 internally displaced persons as of 31 August 2017. As for the social crisis in the English-speaking parts of the country, it had taken a violent turn with secessionist claims. The demonstrations of 22 November 2016 and 8 December 2016 had led to acts of vandalism and violence, whereas armed bands had attacked State institutions and forces of law and order on 1 October 2017. The Government had, thus, deemed it necessary to resort to the use of force in order to preserve territorial unity and to maintain peace and order. Investigations had been opened in order to clarify those events.
Questions by Country Co-Rapporteurs
ABDELWAHAB HANI, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Cameroon, hailed the acceptance by Cameroon of the simplified reporting procedure, and its commitment to combat prolonged pre-trial detention, to increase the number of courts and legal personnel, to address prison overcrowding, and to improve detention conditions.
Turning to the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Mr. Hani reminded that almost seven years had elapsed since Cameroon had signed it and that the Government had still not deposited the ratification instrument. When would that happen?
On the definition of torture and sanctions, despite of the heavy penalties for torture, most sanctions handed down were of an administrative nature. There was a gap in the law criminalizing torture with quite lenient sentences. What were the legitimate sanctions that the State party excluded from the scope of the definition of torture?
Cameroon had a special division for the monitoring of the police force. But there were concerns about the independence of that body and about the very low number of complaints followed up by it. What measures had been taken to increase the independence of that investigative body?
What were the reasons for the absence of a lawyer during the first hours of the procedure? What were the causes leading to the lack of harmonization of laws and actual reality? Experts also raised the issue of the use of secret detention centres as part of the anti-terrorist struggle.
There were very few medical doctors available in prisons, and there were also concerns about their independence. What measures did the Government plan to take to implement that important safeguard? What resources were available to inmates who could not afford medical care?
As for the right to be informed about charges, was that safeguard fully respected and upheld in practice? What were the possibilities for appeal for those arrested without warrant? What was the number of persons arrested on terrorism charges? The right to be brought in front of a judge in reasonable time had not been upheld. Had any improvements been made in maintaining the registry of cases?
Turning to corruption, Mr. Hani stated that it seemed that some people paid bribes in order not to stay in pre-trial detention for a long time. What was the number of law enforcement officers who had violated the regulations with respect to the length of pre-trial detention?
With respect to the fight against Boko Haram, there were reports of the systematic use of torture, secret detention and torture chambers. Many arrests did not lead to convictions. What measures had the State party taken to investigate the allegations of secret detention centres. Had any inquiries been launched into alleged mass graves? Did the State party draw a distinction between terrorist combatants and civilians?
How did the State party explain the low acceptance of requests for legal aid? What was the number of appeals lodged to question the legality of detention?
What was the number of asylum applications and the numbers of those granted asylum or rejected? There were some 100,000 Nigerians whose asylum applications had been rejected and who had been forcibly sent back to Nigeria. There were allegations of ill-treatment and sexual harassment of asylum seekers in the north of the country by the military. What was the number of extradited persons and reasons for their extradition?
As for the crisis in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, military courts tried cases in connection with that crisis. What measures did Cameroon plan to take to ensure that civilians were not tried in front of military courts and to ensure the independence of the judiciary and a clear separation of powers?
Certain journalists had been convicted of attacks on national security and some had been subjected to torture during their detention. The Counter-Terrorism Act had been utilized against journalists and human rights defenders in an abusive manner.
What safeguards were in place to ensure the independence of the National Commission of Human Rights and Freedoms, and what resources were available to it to complete its mission? The Commission had been prevented from visiting certain detention centres, as well as secret detention places.
Were members of the military trained about the provisions of the Convention? Were there enough forensic experts in the country to investigate the cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings?
What was the number of persons with disabilities held in detention and what measures had been taken to protect them? What measures had been taken to eliminate the practice of collective rape of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women?
What actual measures had the Government been taking to combat traditional harmful practices?
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Cameroon, inquired about the relationship between the executive and judicial branches, which was not clear cut. The rule of law was not always very well anchored. Were there other bodies that made proposals for the appointment and dismissal of judges? There were reports about a certain control of the judiciary, such as the Attorney-General of the Supreme Court being detained. What was the explanation of that case?
There seemed to be a certain rivalry between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior, and not all areas of the justice system fell under the purview of the Ministry of Justice. Had the current security climate delayed the transfer of the management of detention centres to the Ministry of Justice?
As for military courts, they had the authority to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. However, military justice should be only applied to crimes committed by military forces. Why had Cameroon chosen that structure? Was there consistency between military judges and prosecutors, and police forces that managed detention facilities? How did they coordinate their functions?
What was considered to be lawful punishment in Cameroon? To what extent was lawful punishment incorporated into the Criminal Code? How did the State party ensure that torture was prevented? It was reported that police custody could often be prolonged in order to obtain bribes. Legal aid was only available for the trial, and access to a lawyer was not guaranteed for those who could not afford one.
On disciplinary proceedings in cases of torture, there were very few decisions that resulted in a prison sentence; most of them were of an administrative nature. What was being done to handle those cases? Ms. Belmir suggested more training and workshops for members of the police force on human rights, international humanitarian law, and identifying cases of torture. What was the state of play for the establishment of a national torture prevention mechanism? Detention facilities were often run by the police force, and there had been allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
Under the Counter-Terrorism Act, minors were treated as adults and some detention facilities were deemed to be illegal. Those fleeing their villages could be arrested and tried because they had some sort of relationship with terrorism.
Ms. Belmir noted a problem in lodging complaints by victims of torture; very often they did not lodge them in fear of reprisals. Efforts had been made to tackle that issue, but often inquiries were not completed and did not lead to charges being brought. Did compensation cover the content of article 14 of the Convention?
As for confessions extracted under torture, what provisions were in place to ensure they were not used in courts? To what extent did women play a role in the judiciary?
Deaths in detention occurred because of overcrowding and lack of medical treatment, but there were also those that occurred due to torture.
Very often Nigerian refugees fleeing the violence committed by Boko Haram were expelled by the Cameroonian military and accused of supporting Boko Haram. Did they have access to the United Nations Refugee Agency?
Questions by Committee Experts
Experts raised the issue of the use of excessive force during the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon, including terrorism charges and enforced disappearances. How many demonstrators were still held in detention? Had inquiries into excessive use of force been launched?
As for the fight against Boko Haram, what measures had been taken by the State party to address the alleged cases of torture and ill-treatment, and killings in raids by Cameroonian defence forces? Had there been any inquiries into enforced disappearances?
On the amendment of the criminal legislation regarding rape, what progress had been made to put an end to the provision that if the victim agreed to marry the perpetrator, charges would be lifted? What was the State party’s comment on reports that very few cases of rape were investigated, and on the high incidents of domestic violence and incest rape? Was marital rape criminalized?
Economic arguments could be accepted to justify the poor detention conditions in the country, but the same could not be accepted in case of torture taking place in the prison system. There was a severe problem of prison overcrowding, leading to riots. Had any effective measures been taken to resolve that problem? Were female prisoners guarded by women?
With respect to extended policy custody, what punishments could be imposed on police officers who had wrongfully held persons? What happened when a person who had no means to hire a lawyer was taken to court? Did the authorities do something to ensure that the most disadvantaged had access to legal aid?
The majority of refugees came from neighbouring countries, in conjunction with the activities of the Boko Haram terrorist group. Was special protection provided to those fleeing Boko Haram? Experts also inquired about the refugee status determination, and about the State party’s efforts to fight against all forms of violence against refugees, especially women, and against human trafficking. Refugees were also at risk of becoming stateless.
Turning to female genital mutilation, Experts reminded that the prevalence stood at 1.4 per cent nationally, and around 20 per cent in the most affected communities. They noted the State party’s efforts and good practices in order to eradicate that harmful practice. What were the details of the latest action plan? What was the number of criminal prosecutions?
As for juveniles in detention, children were not treated with dignity when incarcerated. A large majority (88 per cent) of them were awaiting trial, and could spend eight to 12 months in pre-trial detention. Another problem was the lack of educational and rehabilitation programmes for children in detention. There was also a lack of food, running water and legal assistance. Were there any alternatives to detention for children?
There were reports that cases of trafficking in persons had been settled out of court and that they had been treated as administrative matters. What procedures were used to treat cases of trafficking in persons? It seemed that anti-trafficking committees were not getting enough funds. How many people had actually been tried for trafficking in persons?
On violence against persons because of their perceived sexual orientation, what specific data was available on that phenomenon? What actual investigations had been undertaken of actual cases?
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, noted that claims for compensation could not be lodged in civil proceedings before criminal proceedings had been finalized, which made it difficult to gain compensation due to the lack of prosecution of alleged cases of torture. Was the State party taking action to establish effective mechanisms for compensation which did not depend on lengthy criminal proceedings?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation explained that the crisis in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon had begun with requests for the use of English and the incorporation of common law into the national legislation by the associations of teachers and lawyers in October 2016. However, due to violent demonstrations in November and December 2016, the Government had deployed security forces. New demonstrations in September 2017 had called into question the constitutional order of the country and demanded secession of parts of Cameroon. There had been dozens of injured security forces and destruction of public property, including the use of hand-made grenades by demonstrators. Several days ago, several policemen had been killed in the north-west of the country. The Government had begun investigations to shed light on various deaths that had taken place, and 98 persons had been prosecuted. The use of force had been necessary because of the violent acts perpetrated by the demonstrators. Some persons had been brought in front of the military court in Yaoundé on charges of terrorism.
The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms held an A status in line with the Paris Principles and it had a staff of 107. Members were appointed by their respective administrations, whereas the head was appointed by a presidential order. The Commission’s budget was steadily increasing. The Government supported the Commission and facilitated its work and visits to places of detention.
As for the harassment of journalists and human rights defenders, freedoms of the press, expression, opinion and assembly were guaranteed. Administrative censorship was punished. The Government ensured the protection of journalists when they performed their job. It was studying the case of Maximilienne Ngo Mbe, the executive director of the Réseau des défenseurs des droits humains en Afrique Centrale. The delegation assured the Committee that the Government would spare no effort to preserve the physical integrity of human rights defenders in Cameroon.
Cameroon’s definition of torture in the Criminal Code had been brought into line with the Convention provisions. No exceptional circumstances could be invoked as justification for torture. The statistics gathered since 2012 demonstrated Cameroon’s will to prosecute all those responsible for carrying out torture and ill-treatment. The Government continued to train judges, lawyers, and law enforcement and security forces on torture. Those subjected to wrongful arrest or custody could refer their case to the relevant authorities. Furthermore, compensation funds had been set aside. As for confessions extracted under torture, judges could annul those.
Turning to the fight against terrorism, the delegation reminded that Cameroon had been fighting attacks by Boko Haram since 2013. In order to fight that threat, Cameroon had aligned itself with the Global Strategy to Fight Terrorism. The Government had reiterated its will to use proportionate force when fighting terrorism, and it had respected its international commitments under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Allegations of the existence of secret detention places were surprising, and one of the alleged torture chambers was, in fact, a bakery. The Government was fighting terrorism; it was not trying to systematically destroy perpetrators. The capacities of the Maroua central prison had been extended in order to accommodate prisoners belonging to Boko Haram. The 2017 amendments to the Military Justice Code excluded the possibility of juveniles being tried in military courts. Cameroon had drawn up a protocol on dealing with children linked with Boko Haram, in cooperation with UNICEF.
The Counter-Terrorism Act had no intention to restrict freedom of expression, but it did criminalize the defence of terrorist acts. The Government would continue to provide training to journalists so that they were aware of their responsibilities during times of war.
The Government faced challenges with respect to prison overcrowding, and it was addressing the problem of prolonged detention. It was undertaking the refurbishment of prison units in order to increase capacity and improve detention conditions. The National Prison Health Plan had been adopted in 2017. The separation of prisoners was almost always the rule.
Turning to the issue of trying civilians in military courts, the delegation noted that juveniles under the age of 18 could not be tried in front of those courts. Military courts used ordinary legal procedures, ensuring the right to a fair trial and appeal. Legal guarantees were available in all courts.
As for the relationship between the executive and judicial branches, the separation of powers was respected. It was rather a question of the President’s instruction to cease certain judicial pursuits with respect to the crisis in the English-speaking regions.
On women’s rights, the delegation reminded of the National Strategy on the Fight against Gender-Based Violence of 2011, which had been updated in 2016. In that respect, awareness raising campaigns had been conducted in 2016, involving more than 50,000 persons, including religious and traditional leaders. The Criminal Code penalized female genital mutilation, breast ironing, and early and forced marriage. The definition of rape allowed for the punishment of all forms of rape, including marital rape. To optimize the care provided to victims, 18 call centres and gender desks had been developed.
With respect to the participation of women in public life, in 2017 women accounted for 15.38 per cent of Government members. As for trafficking in persons, training had been organized for magistrates, law enforcement forces and civil society in Yaoundé in 2015. In addition, the Government had set up regional task forces to fight trafficking.
At the end of 2016, Cameroon hosted more than 80,000 Nigerian refugees fleeing the violence of Boko Haram, and more than 200,000 refugees fleeing the crisis in the Central African Republic. Various plans for the management of refugees and internally displaced persons had been drafted since 2013, even though the Government had found it difficult to gather the necessary financial means for their implementation. In March 2017 Cameroon had signed an agreement with Nigeria for the voluntary return of Nigerians displaced in Cameroon. Police officers had been trained in preventing violence against refugees, especially against women and children. With respect to birth registration for refugees, any child born in Cameroon could receive a birth certificate.
Follow-up Questions by Country Co-Rapporteurs
ABDELWAHAB HANI, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Cameroon, asked for clarification about sentences for the crime of torture, noting that the minimum sentence of two years in prison was very lenient. There was no mention of the statute of limitations for the crime of torture.
As for the issue of impunity, members of the military could not be prosecuted for the crimes committed in military barracks. The Law on the State of Emergency of 1999 allowed for the renewal of two-month custody for another two months. Was that law being applied in the English-speaking regions?
The cited root of the crisis in the English-speaking regions was surprising, and it was striking that military courts had been used with respect to the crisis, Mr. Hani observed.
Why had no inquiry been launched into secret detention facilities? There was a concern that the Counter-Terrorism Act was indeed being used against journalists. Were there any rehabilitation programmes for child soldiers?
Prison overcrowding opened the door to all kinds of violence. What was the number of deaths in prisons?
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Cameroon, noted that disciplinary measures in detention facilities were imposed on the basis of the Disciplinary Code in the given prison. What was the situation of the use of chains on prisoners? Sentences imposed were not proportionate to the seriousness of the crime.
As for police custody under the Counter-Terrorism Act, there was almost universal consensus that civilians should not be tried in military courts. The State party had to ensure the right to a fair trial in all circumstances. The Ministry of Justice did not have adequate jurisdiction over suspects. There was a need to ensure that all the elements necessary for a fair trial were in place, instead of blurring various stages of proceedings.
Questions by Committee Experts
Experts reiterated questions about the number of demonstrators still held in detention, and about excessive use of force against demonstrators during the crisis in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.
What follow-up had been conducted by the State party regarding the alleged cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in raids against Boko Haram conducted by the Cameroonian defence forces?
Experts also raised the issue of the unjustified prolongation of police custody in pre-trial detention. What penalties had been imposed upon those responsible? It seemed that legal aid was not provided to all those who lacked financial means to afford a lawyer. Were there any remaining obstacles to the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment?
As for the death of Éric Ohena Lembembe, executive director of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, what kind of investigation had taken place and had there been any signs of torture? Had photographs and fingerprints had been taken? It was not clear why that case had been dismissed.
What was the number of suspended sentences for trafficking in persons? What was the number of persons serving full sentences? What was the Government doing to provide assistance to Cameroonian victims of trafficking abroad?
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, reiterated his question about the rehabilitation of victims of torture. Had the State party taken actions to establish effective mechanisms for compensation which did not depend on lengthy criminal proceedings?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation stated that claims by certain professional groups had spilled into the political front. There was an armed insurrection in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon. The Government was trying to find appropriate solutions. There had been calls for secession, acts of violence against the military, destruction of national symbols, and instrumentalization of young people. Certain local people had rallied to that cause and had intimidated others around them. The Government’s response was proportionate and within the law. There were no exact figures of persons remaining in custody, nor of the deaths taking place during the demonstrations. No state of emergency had been declared in the two English-speaking provinces.
The penalties foreseen for the acts of torture varied according to the gravity of the crimes. Judges should not automatically hand down sentences, but had to assess the actions and personality of the perpetrator. As for the alleged extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances committed by the defence forces, they were subject to the Military Justice Code. The delegation reiterated that defendants in military courts enjoyed all legal safeguards. Most cases were handled by civilian judges. There were no separate rules for military courts with respect to criminal procedures.
On prison overcrowding, the Government was aware of its management problems, but it had made regular efforts to limit that problem. Those were legal and structural measures. As for chaining of prisoners, this was a disciplinary measure.
The reform of the Military Justice Code allowed for limiting the duration of pre-trial police custody. It lasted 48 hours and it could be renewed once. A number of measures had been taken at the national level to promote women’s rights, namely protection from violence, discrimination and harmful practices.
Turning to the fight against terrorism and allegations of mass graves, the Government of Cameroon was surprised of those allegations. Amnesty International had never provided the identity of victims of alleged extrajudicial killings. Without that step, the Government could not start an investigation.
As for Nigerian refugees, the Government denied that it had forcibly expelled 100,000 of them. In fact, there were 80,000 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon at the moment.
The Government provided compensation to victims of wrongful arrest and custody. Legal aid for the most disadvantaged was available through a committee for legal aid in each jurisdiction.
The death of Éric Ohena Lembembe was considered a suspicious one, but the case had been dropped due to the lack of information about the perpetrator. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons were not discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, and they enjoyed their social rights fully.
ANATOLE FABIEN NKOU, Permanent Representative of Cameroon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, commended Committee Experts for the quality of the dialogue. He expressed hope that the links forged with the Committee would be maintained.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation of the 48 hour-deadline to submit written replies to questions that were not answered.
For use of the information media; not an official record
Follow UNIS Geneva on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr