The death penalty is in effect. There has not been an execution since 1997.
More than 91 people, including one woman, were sentenced to death in 2015; 89 of them received the sentence for crimes related to terrorism. Amnesty International reports that, “at least 160 death sentences were imposed by military courts in the northern city of Maroua during 2016”1, for crimes related to terrorism.
The death penalty may be imposed in cases involving:
Breaches of national security
Murder, or aiding and abetting murder
Terrorist attack (since passage of the 2014 Antiterrorism Act 2).
Law No. 2014/028, 23 December 2014 for the Suppression of Acts of Terrorism. ↩
The Criminal Code allows for life imprisonment.
People who have been sentenced to life may appeal to shorten the length of the sentence. However, this is rare, because most prisoners do not have sufficient financial means to appeal. The process is long and expensive. Privileged inmates may use bribery to speed up the processing of their case.
Deaths in detention
The Department of Justice reports that 184 deaths in custody were recorded in 2015: 36 from undetected diseases and the others “caused by infectious syndromes, anemia, heart failure, pulmonary infections, among others”. [^death]
The prison administration has not been implicated in these deaths.
Deaths are most often due to poor detention conditions (overcrowding, lack of care, spread of disease and malnutrition (in French)).
The central prison in Maroua (in the far North of the country) has a high occupancy rate (230% in 2015). There have been many deaths in custody at Maroua prison.
More than 200 people were taken into custody in December 2014 in the villages of Magdémé and Doublé during a mass arrest. Some of these detainees were held in an improvised cell due to lack of space.
The extreme living conditions in Tcholliré Prison lead to many deaths. Célestin Yandal, president of the Touboro Youth Collective and former prison inmate, witnessed the deaths of fellow prisoners:
“Cameroonian prisons, especially those at Garoua and Tcholliré, are veritable mortuaries […] It is difficult to understand why prisons built to receive less than 1000 prisoners now house thousands? In Tcholliré, where I had been imprisoned since April 2015, no less than five inmates died per week because of poor living conditions. Before I left this 21 September 2015, an inmate died.”
At least 29 people were tortured in a secret detention facility between 2014 and 2015.
At least six people have died as a result of torture.
Torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment are prohibited by the Constitution of Cameroon.
In 1996, Cameroon signed the United Nations Convention against Torture.
Abuse is punishable by disciplinary measures. In practice, very few staff are subject to disciplinary sanctions.
Prison staff use physical torture. In a 2015 report, Amnesty International states that prison guards routinely engage in violence that constitutes inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners.
Sexual Abuse is common and is committed by both supervisors and inmates.
As of October 2015, Aristus Beba had been imprisoned in Yaoundé Central Prison for five years. He claims to have been beaten, forced to clean toilets and had his food rations stolen.
A large number of inmates have been chained in solitary confinement for days or months in inhumane and degrading conditions. In 2015, 33 prisoners were held in chains after being transferred to Maroua Prison, in the far north of the country.
Hamadou Nassourou was subjected to cruel and degrading treatment by guards. In April 2015, while awaiting a decision from the Court of Appeal in Maroua Prison, she was locked and chained in a disciplinary cell. She was shaven as psychological torture.
Torture and ill-treatment are practiced in secret detention facilities, according to Amnesty International:
“After the torture session, they threw me in a cell with 40 to 50 other people. There were blood stains on the walls, as tortured people returned to their cells extremely tired and slumped against them”.1
Between November 2014 and October 2015, 29 people were tortured with sticks, whips and machetes. Most of the acts were carried out in illegal places of detention in Maroua, Mora, and the military bases of the Rapid Response Battalion (Bataillon d’intervention rapide, BIR) 2.
An inmate at Salak Prison told Amnesty International that he witnessed his son being tortured for 10 days and two other people being beaten to death. “We were all interrogated in the same room, one after another, by a man wearing the BIR uniform. Two other men in plain clothes oversaw beatings and other torture. That day, two inmates were so badly beaten that they died in front of us. The plain clothed men kicked and slapped them hard, then beat them with wooden sticks”.3
The Criminal Code prohibits arrests without a warrant of detention.
Arbitrary detention occurs often in police stations, especially in major cities.
Arbitrary detention occurs for extortion purposes. In what are commonly known as “Friday Arrests”, law enforcement officers demand a sum of money from those arrested in exchange for release before the following Monday. In some cases, detention may be extended.
More than 50% of the prison population is awaiting trial. The law provides for a maximum detention period of 18 months. In practice, inmates may be held for up to 10 years, due to shortcomings in the justice system.
Cases of arbitrary detention have increased during the fight against the armed group Boko Haram, especially in the north of the country. In 2015, Amnesty International documented more than 20,000 arbitrary arrests and 17 cases of forced disappearance.
Cases of secret detention (in French) have been reported. At least 20 secret detention sites have been identified by Amnesty International, including those of the BIR in Salak, near Maroua, and two facilities in Yaoundé, a private residence and a school in Fotokol, belonging to the Director General of Foreign Research (Direction générale de la recherche extérieure, DGRE).
Minors are also arbitrarily detained. Eighty-four children were arrested on 20 December 2014, after a raid by police of Koranic schools in the city of Guirvidig. Forty-seven of the children were under the age of 10. Only three were older than 15. They were held in a juvenile detention center in Maroua (in the far north) for six months. Forty-three men—many of them teachers—were also arrested during the raid. The authorities claimed that the schools in question served as cover for “Boko Haram training camps”.