Human Rights are those basic standards without which people cannot live in dignity.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was unanimously adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations through the General Assembly Resolution 217A(111) on the 10th of December, 1948. Since its declaration, it has become fashionable for most countries in Africa, including Cameroon to entrench the catalogue of rights in their national constitutions.
Regrettably, in Cameroon and indeed in Africa, people are usually subjected to physical and mental torture. Or better still, civil society activists who take the courage to advocate for the rights of people who are subjected to discrimination, arbitrary arrests and detention, gender based violence, and Anglophone marginalization find themselves being targeted by the regime. In fact, as a human rights activist, you become an enemy to the regime and you automatically start living a life of perpetual and constant fear for imminent arrests and death threats.
The case of accidental discharges, domestic violence, and detention without trial, kidnappings, and police brutality are common occurrences. In short, the Cameroonian experience has shown the level at which peoples’ integrity and dignity are not respected and protected in the society.
People in Cameroon are being subjected to a raft of abuses including unlawful killings and torture as the authorities seek to use the criminal justice system to clamp down on political opponents, human rights defenders and journalists and as a weapon to attack lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. In fact, it is a taboo for a human rights activist to send out petitions advocating for the rights of persons with disability, advocating for consumers’ rights, increases in prices of basic needs such as food, or to even talk about the poor treatment that is being given to Anglophones who form just 20% of the population in Cameroon when it comes to the distribution of the national cake.
The government does nothing to even make it clear to security forces that human rights violations will not be tolerated – that the perpetrators will be brought to justice and reparations paid to victims. Instead, the security forces are used by the regime to brutalize anyone who dare opposes or proposes solutions to some of the challenges faced by communities and minority groups in the country.
Amnesty International has documented a series of cases where fear, intimidation and imprisonment have been used to clamp down on political opponents to the regime in power and human rights activists.
For example the case of Titus Edzoa – the former health minister who quit the government to stand as a presidential candidate on 20 April 1997. Later arrested on charges of corruption he is currently serving a 20-year jail sentence after completing a 15-year prison term.
Human rights defenders and members of their families are harassed, threatened and even killed for doing their work and the government fails to offer them protection.
Over the years, dozens of prisoners attempting to escape prisons have been shot, injured or killed by prison guards. Numerous prisoners are held in shackles and many have been detained for more than 20 months with no trial. In December 2012, there were more than 7,000 prisoners in the two prisons with a shared capacity of 1,500. Inmates in Kondengui prison only eat one meal a day and malnutrition is rife. Most of the detainees in one wing are mentally ill and researchers saw male inmates who were completely naked amidst a crowd of fellow prisoners. But each time you want to send a petition to the powers that be, to see how such conditions could be ameliorate you finally become a victim targeted for arrests and constant harassments.
The greatest difficulties faced by human rights activists in Cameroon is that they are being arrested, tortured and even killed for investigating, monitoring and writing petitions to the government about the poor conditions in prisons, the corruption in the system, the arbitrary arrests, detention and killing of journalists and the marginalization of the Anglophone community who do not benefit from economic development.
How can we address such a situation? Many civil society activists have lost their lives, while some have been imprisoned and forgotten in jail due to their work to better and improve their communities. Why should human rights activists become victims or targets of security forces of the regime for wanting to help build, transform and change societal perspectives by creating a positive impact in poor communities that have been abandoned by the powers that be? Why should the regime in power even think about organizing arbitrary arrests and constant crack down of human rights defenders working to advocate and propose solutions to better the lives of persons with disabilities living in abject poverty in communities, women and young girls who are constantly being raped and sexually abused even by the police and military in communities, and political activists who are constantly subjected to house arrests and killing?
I think it’s time that the international community intervene to put an end to such blatant violations and crack downs meted against human rights activists and journalist. The International Community should help to put an end to the difficulties and challenges faced by civil society activists in Cameroon.