Cameroon: International Rights Experts Fault Biya’s Gov’t for Excessive use of Force against Protesters, Demand Prof Kamto’s Freedom

Following the socio-political unrest in Cameroon, marked  by frequent ‘arrests’ of the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) party leader, United Nations human rights experts  on Monday, October 12, demanded President Paul Biya’s government release Prof. Maurice Kamto and others arrested during country-wide peaceful demonstrations. The street protests were held on September 22 amidst intimidation by political activists and police brutality. 

The rights experts also demanded that the government of Cameroon conduct impartial investigations into all alleged human rights violations, including allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and ill-treatment of protesters, and bring perpetrators to justice.

“We are extremely worried about mass arrests of peaceful protesters and political activists who express dissent,” the experts said. More than 500 people were reportedly arrested after opposition-led protests on September 22, with some 200 still said to be in detention. It is feared that they could face terrorism and national security charges and tried in a military court for exercising their fundamental freedoms, a statement they issued read.

It stated further that “We are disturbed by the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators by the Cameroonian security forces,” they noted, adding that “The violence against protesters was indiscriminate, with tear gas and water cannon used to violently disperse them.”

According to reports, demonstrators turned out across the country in response to an appeal by the opposition MRC to call for national dialogue, reform of the electoral laws and the return of peace to the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons. With firm instructions from high quarters, authorities banned demonstrations in some parts of the country and branded any attempt to assemble illegal. The government also deployed heavy security operatives to prevent the peaceful demonstrations.

The experts also expressed alarm at reports of torture of peaceful protesters and journalists in detention. “This is truly unacceptable,” they noted, insisting that “The prohibition against torture and any form of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment is absolute under international human rights law and cannot be justified.”

 

Cameroon government forces used teargas and water cannons on protesters on the streets of Douala on September 22, 2020

 

Among other things, the experts called on Cameroon to release Prof. Kamto, who has been under house arrest with his family since the night of September 22. Security forces prevented him from communicating with his party members and lawyers, and from taking part in the demonstrations.

“Kamto's house arrest could amount to a deprivation of liberty, in violation of his rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, as well as liberty and security of persons,” the experts said.

“We have already communicated our concerns to the State, and we remind Cameroon that under international law every individual has the right to organize and participate in peaceful assemblies, associate with others, and take part in the conduct of public life. None of these acts is a crime, and Cameroon should celebrate and accept dissent, for a true democracy takes into account public demands instead of suppressing them…” the release emphasized.

With regional elections scheduled to take place across the country on December 6, the experts called on Cameroonian authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure an environment conducive to peaceful and transparent elections.

“Any action which may fuel further social tension must be avoided, and the voices of people and their representatives must be fully taken into account,” they said.

In a related development, some supporters of the ruling Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement (CPDM) have multiplied personal attacks on the MRC Chairman in efforts to attract attention. In a regime that feeds more on the ability of individuals to attack and belittle the president’s opponents, Mr. Calistus Fuh Gentry who has been secretary of state for over a decade recently unleashed on Prof. Kamto.

Mr. Fuh Gentry took the opportunity of his passage on Equinox Television to cast aspersion on Prof. Kamto, claiming there was no rationality in what the opposition leader was doing, by calling on people to demonstrate against Mr. Biya. He said the only time Prof. Kamto would be justified in his action would be if he called for demonstrations to decry price hikes and not protesting to oust a duly elected president of a country. He said there is no law in the country's constitution that gives citizens the freedom to protest calling on the head of State to go.