Amnesty International recently released its annual report, which documents the state of human rights in 155 countries and territories in 2011. As a Cameroonian, it is natural that as soon as I had access to the report, I immediately turned to the section that shines light on the state of human rights in Cameroon. The 2012 annual report raised the same concerns documented in previous reports - an indication that Cameroon is, at best, stagnating in the field of human rights.
Amnesty International Report 2012 contains a pinch of good news related to the death penalty in Cameroon. However, bad news in the report outweighs the good and shows that the government of Cameroon failed in 2011 to fulfill its obligations under international human rights law. Concerns raised in the annual report 2012 (see p. 97-99) include: impunity, violations of the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, and violations suffered by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
According to Amnesty International, security forces who ordered or committed human rights violations, including killings, during demonstrations in 2008 continued to enjoy impunity. Journalists and critics of the government were detained in 2011 and cases of violations of the right to free expression abound in the report: Bertrand Zepherin Teyou, a writer arrested while trying to launch his book about the wife of the president. He was arrested in November 2010 and released on 29 April; Paul Eric Kingue - imprisoned in connection with the 2008 demonstrations, Pierre Roger Lambo Sandjo - imprisoned for 3 years after what many believed to be a political trial for composing a song criticizing a controversial Constitutional amendment that eliminated presidential term limits and Reinnier Kaze, a press correspondent arrested on 23 February 2011while covering an opposition demonstration in Douala, the economic capital.
The report reveals that political and human rights groups were routinely denied the right to organize peaceful demonstrations and activities. Eight activists were arrested in Yaounde, the nation's capital, when they met to organize a demonstration in memory of victims of human rights violations during the 2008 demonstrations. Mboua Massock, a political activist, was arrested for trying to organize a demonstration against the October 2011 presidential election. Farmers were arrested for trying to demonstrate against bad roads and inadequate government support for agriculture. The farmers were later released without charge. In February 2011, the chairman of the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), chief Ayamba Ette Ottun, and several other people were arrested. On 1 October 2011, security forces interrupted a meeting of the SCNC and arrested 50 people. They were reportedly released without charge several days later.
LGBT people continued to be imprisoned for up to 5 years in relation to sexual orientation. The government reportedly proposed to increase punishment for same-sex relations to up to 15 years imprisonment.
As mentioned earlier, the report contained a pinch of good news. A presidential decree issued on 3 November 2011 commuted death penalty sentences to life imprisonment. For supporters of the death penalty, this is not good news, but for human rights defenders and activists who believe that the right to life is non-derogable and that governments should not kill their citizens, the presidential decree is welcomed. The decree, however, according to Amnesty International, did not commute the sentences of people convicted of murder and aggravated robbery and did not specify how many death penalties were commuted.
A presidential decree commuting death sentences does not mean human rights are respected in Cameroon. The state of human rights in Cameroon is nothing to write home about. Selectively commuting a few death sentences is not enough to propel Cameroon to the ranks of states that respect human rights. The presidential decree that commuted death penalties is welcomed, but there is still a lot of work to be done to make respect for human rights a reality in Cameroon. A catalogue of human rights abuses, including impunity for unlawful killings, repeatedly highlighted over the years by Amnesty International in numerous reports add weight to this assertion.
*Photo: Paul Biya, president of Cameroon. He has been in power since November 1982.
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Born and raised in a middle class family with strong Christian values in Cameroon, Central Africa, I learned quickly that all natural persons are born free and equal in rights. I graduated from the University of Buea with a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree, and received a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in International Human Rights Law and International Labour Rights from Lund University, Sweden. My passion is in promoting human rights and the rule of law. I'm a married proud daddy of two.