Thursday, January 29, 2009

Human Rights: Cameroon using murder and torture to repress political dissent.

The human rights group Amnesty International says the government in Cameroon is using murder and torture to repress political dissent.

The human rights group says President Paul Biya's government has ordered, condoned or perpetrated extrajudicial execution, arbitrary arrest, torture, and unlawful detention to repress dissent for more than ten years.

In a report released Thursday, Amnesty International said one of the most serious manifestations of a government strategy to stifle criticism was last year's attack on demonstrators protesting price rises and a change in the constitution allowing Mr. Biya to extend his 26 years in power.

"Amnesty International's concern has been for many years the fact that the security forces appear to resort to violence and indeed to the use of lethal force including guns and grenades to attack demonstrators even when those demonstrators are not violent or are not being armed," said
Godfrey Byaruhanga, who wrote the human rights report.

As many as 100 people were killed in last February's violence. Despite protests from Amnesty International and human rights groups in Cameroon, Byaruhanga says the Biya administration has done nothing to hold security forces responsible for the bloodshed.

"None of the security forces that carried out these killings and wounded many others have been brought to justice. There has not been an inquiry of any sort," he said.

The report says the promotion and protection of human rights is likely to be crucial in the run-up to Cameroon's 2011 general election. Byaruhanga says the government is doing nothing to protect rights of assembly or expression. "Political opposition is extremely difficult and not only difficult but also dangerous, and indeed we are concerned that as Cameroon approaches the next elections that this may escalate and many more people may be killed or injured," he said.

The Amnesty International report says the silencing of media is particularly worrying as critical radio and television stations are shut down. The Committee to Protect Journalists says Cameroon is now Africa's second-worst jailer of journalists. "If you are a journalist in Cameroon, you are working under considerable political and financial pressures," he said.

Mohamed Keita is a researcher for Africa at the Committee to Protect Journalists. He says Cameroon's government uses criminal prosecutions and police intimidation to deter coverage of corruption and mismanagement of public funds. "We've had many cases where journalists have been arrested or questioned by the police for essentially doing their jobs of looking into these critical issues that the Cameroonian public has the right to know," he said.

Keita says reporters must be held accountable for their work but through the right of response or civil defamation cases, not prison.

In his end of the year address last month, President Biya acknowledged the economic conditions behind the February violence but said such discontent was exploited politically. He said the riots could have been avoided as there are political parties and trade unions in Cameroon whose role is to transmit the grievances of their constituents.

Mr. Biya assured the nation that he will always lend a keen ear to those claims if they are well founded and people are really willing to negotiate. As for changes to the constitution allowing him to run again in 2011, the president said those revisions removed a hurdle which was looming over Cameroon's political future.

He said neither the February violence nor the global financial crisis nor incidents caused by armed groups will make him stray off course.

Amnesty International says there is an urgent need for the president to build a culture of respect for human rights and to end the impunity enjoyed by government officials and security forces.

Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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