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Cameroon and Nigeria blasted

5 February 2009 at 04:26 | 1486 views

Amnesty International January 29 released a report on the alarming human rights situation in Cameroon, accusing the government of gross violations spanning more than ten years - including killings and torture.

The catalogue of abuses revealed in the report mainly involves repression of political dissent.

“Political opposition is not tolerated in Cameroon,” said Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International’s Africa Deputy Programme Director. “Any dissent is suppressed through either violence or abuse of the legal system to silence critics.”

Amnesty International said that Cameroonian security forces habitually use excessive and unnecessary force - and the perpetrators have almost always enjoyed impunity.

In late February 2008, security forces killed as many as 100 civilians during demonstrations against the escalating cost of living. Amnesty International has seen photographs and received testimonies suggesting that some of the victims were shot at point blank range, with no effort made to arrest them instead.

“Unfair trials, intimidation and harassment, including death threats, are routinely used by the authorities to quash criticism from politicians, human rights defenders and journalists,” said Tawanda Hondora.

“The silencing of the media is particularly worrying. If a journalist is deemed too critical of the government they are silenced — and radio and TV stations are shut down.”

Journalist Michel Mombio was arrested in September 2008 and spent 10 days in custody. He was then transferred to the central prison in the capital, Yaoundé, and charged with fraud and blackmail. He was still in custody without trial in January 2009.

Journalists covering street protests in February 2008 were assaulted by members of the security forces. The victims included a cameraman from Canal 2 International television, who was beaten and arrested and had his camera destroyed. He was only freed after soldiers forced him to pay them.

According to the Amnesty International report, prison conditions in Cameroon are characterised by inadequate food and medical care as well as overcrowding. All too often minors are held together with adults and there is inadequate separation of males from females, which has led to sexual and other forms of violence and exploitation.

Prisons are reportedly infested with rats and cockroaches and some inmates have resorted to sleeping in the toilets for lack of another place to rest.

Meanwhile, as the Nigerian government prepares to be quizzed over its human rights record by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Amnesty International called on the government to take its human rights responsibilities seriously and implement any recommendations coming from the Council as quickly as possible.

A Nigerian government delegation will be examined at 14.30 on Monday, 9 February in a three-hour session in Geneva. The Nigerian representatives will be asked to explain their record in areas such torture, illegal killings by security agents, the death penalty and prison conditions.

Amnesty International has provided the UN Human Rights Council with an alternative report to the one being presented by the Nigerian delegation, in which the organization highlights some of the major areas of human rights concern in the country, with recommendations on how to tackle them.

“We hope that the Nigerian government will use this unique opportunity to focus on the key human rights challenges facing the country and take seriously any recommendations as to how they can improve shortfalls,” said Aster van Kregten, Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher.

In its report to the Human Rights Council, the Nigerian government claims that the death penalty is rarely applied, and that this is “tantamount to the adoption of self-imposed moratorium”. The reality is that at least 22 executions have been carried out in the country in the last ten years — including at least seven in 2006. At least 40 child offenders remain on death row, in contravention of international human rights standards.

Amnesty International has serious concerns that many of those on death row may be innocent, due to problems linked to unfair trials, inadequate investigations and claims of torture being used to extract confessions. Amnesty International urged the government to make this moratorium on the death penalty official, by adopting legislation calling for an immediate halt to all executions.

The Nigerian government claims in its report to the Human Rights Council that torture is not widespread in Nigeria. Information from Amnesty International and Nigerian human rights organizations indicates that this is far from true: Amnesty International has documented many cases of suspects who were tortured by the police and seen numerous cases of scars, bruises, and dried blood, indicating beatings serious enough to require medical care. Prisoners also told Amnesty International that they had witnessed suspects being tortured to death or executed by the police.

“There is an absolute and unconditional prohibition of torture and ill-treatment in international law and accepted moral standards. It degrades victims and dehumanizes the torturer. It is imperative that Nigeria stamps out this practice immediately.”

Over the years, the government has itself come up with recommendations on how to improve human rights in the areas of torture, access to justice and the death penalty. Unfortunately, few of these recommendations have been implemented. Legislation drafted to address these concerns has been on hold for years in the National Assembly.

“A country’s engagement with international review mechanisms such as the UN Human Rights Council is always positive,” acknowledged Aster van Kregten. “However, for this engagement to truly have a positive outcome, the Nigerian government has to look at the human rights problems facing Nigeria with a critical eye, with a view to making real improvements for the people of Nigeria.”

Background

The Universal Periodic Review — or UPR — is the first-ever UN mechanism to look at the human rights records of all countries. During the current session, scheduled to run until 13 February, the UN Human Rights Council will examine the governments of 16 countries on their human rights records.

Countries scheduled for examination this month include China, the Russian Federation, Cuba, Mexico and Nigeria.

To see a copy of Amnesty International’s submission to the UN Human Rights Council with recommendations on how to improve the human rights situation, please click here.

Please click on the following links to see recent, detailed Amnesty International reports regarding Nigeria’s criminal justice system and the death penalty.

Photo: President Paul Biya of Cameroon.

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