Over 1000 people accused of supporting Boko Haram are being held in unsanitary, overcrowded prisons in Cameroon, according to a report released by Amnesty International.
In its report, titled “Right Cause, Wrong Means: Human Rights Violated and Justice Denied in Cameroon’s Fight Against Boko Haram,” Amnesty International details the ways in which Cameroon has violated the basic human rights of its citizens in its efforts to defeat Boko Haram.
The report describes the prisons in which the detainees are held as “desperately overcrowded,” “unsanitary,” and conducive to illness and malnutrition. In Maroua prison, between six and eight people die each month, and nearly 1500 detainees are packed into the prison built to hold 350.
The majority of inmates were arrested arbitrarily and on the basis of little evidence. The report points to an instance in Kossa in February 2015 in which 32 men were arrested based on an accusation that they were providing food to Boko Haram. While most were later released, one inmate died in detention.
The report also highlights the excessive use of force employed by the military in its counterterrorist operations. In November 2014, for example, troops from the Rapid Intervention Brigade killed seven unarmed men in Bornori, arrested 15 others, and burned down villagers’ homes.
Amnesty International documented 29 cases of torture committed by security agencies between November 2014 and October 2015 that have left six people dead. Military troops and other security agents have been torturing people in illegal detention sites in military bases in Salek and Mora, according to the report. The report contains victims’ accounts of torture and abuse.
“We were all interrogated in the same room, one by one, by a man dressed with the BIR [Rapid Intervention Brigade] uniform. Two other men in plain cloths carried out the beatings and other torture,” a 70-year-old detainee told Amnesty International.
“That day, two prisoners were beaten up so badly that they died in front of us. The men in plain clothes kicked them and slapped them violently, and hit them with wooden sticks.”
The victim then explained how he was not beaten due to his age, but he was forced to collect the two dead bodies for the BIR officers.
Of the 1000 prisoners in detention, over 100 have been sentenced to death since July 2015, although none have been executed at the time of publishing the report. The majority are charged with violating the country’s December 2014 anti-terrorism law, which, “provides ambiguous definitions of terrorism that threaten freedom of expression.” In a similar manner to the military’s sweeping arrests, convictions are often made on the basis of limited evidence. In one instance, four women were sentenced to death after one vigilante group reported that they had traveled to and from Nigeria.
In light of its findings, Amnesty International is calling on the government of Cameroon to prevent such gross violations of human rights in its fight against Boko Haram. Specifically, the group urges the government to end its mass and arbitrary arrests and convictions, stop holding prisoners in unofficial, illegal detention centers, stop torture, grant detainees’ access to lawyers and their families, establish a register of detainees, improve prison conditions, reform the 2014 anti-terrorism law, and investigate all allegations of human rights abuses.
It would be recalled that since August 2014, Boko Haram militants have carried out at least 336 attacks in Cameroon, primarily in the regions bordering Nigeria, Chad, and Niger. An estimated 480 people were killed in Cameroon in 2015 alone, while over 170,000 citizens have been displaced.