GENEVA (12 October 2020) – UN human rights experts* today demanded that Cameroon release the main opposition leader and others arrested during country-wide peaceful demonstrations, and stop intimidating political activists.
They also demanded that Cameroon impartially investigate all human rights violations, including allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of protesters, and bring perpetrators to justice.
“We are extremely worried about mass arrests of peaceful protesters and political activists who express dissent,” the experts said. More than 500 people reportedly were arrested after opposition-led protests on 22 September, with some 200 still said to be in detention. They could face terrorism and national security charges and trial in a military court for exercising their fundamental freedoms.
“We are disturbed by the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators by the Cameroonian security forces,” the experts said. “The violence against protesters was indiscriminate, with tear gas and water cannon used to violently disperse them.”
Demonstrators turned out across the country in response to an appeal by opposition party Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC) to call for national dialogue, electoral system reforms and the return of peace to Anglophone regions of the country. Authorities banned demonstrations in some parts of the country, and branded any attempt to assemble illegal. The Government also heavily deployed security forces to prevent the peaceful demonstrations.
The experts also expressed alarm at reports of torture of peaceful protesters and journalists in detention. “This is truly unacceptable,” they said. “The prohibition against torture and any form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment is absolute under international human rights law, and cannot be justified.”
They called on Cameroon to release MRC president Maurice Kamto, who has been under house arrest with his family since the night of 22 September. Security forces prevented him from communicating with his party members and lawyers, and from taking part in the demonstrations.
“Kamto's house arrest could amount to a deprivation of liberty, in violation of his rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, as well as liberty and security of person,” the experts said.
“We have already communicated our concerns to the State, and we remind Cameroon that under international law every individual has the right to organise and participate in peaceful assemblies, associate with others, and take part in the conduct of public life. None of these acts is a crime, and Cameroon should celebrate and accept dissent, for a true democracy takes into account public demands instead of suppressing them.”
With regional elections scheduled to take place across the country later this year, the experts called on Cameroonian authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure an environment conducive to peaceful and transparent elections.
“Any action which may fuel further social tension must be avoided, and the voices of people and their representatives must be fully taken into account,” they said.
* The experts: Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), José Guevara Bermúdez, Seong-Phil Hong, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Henrikas Mickevičius (Vice Chair), Mr. Bernard Duhaime, Ms. Houria Es-Slami, and Mr. Luciano Hazan;
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, Country Page — Cameroon
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