An Analysis of the Human Rights

Background to the Research Area

In recent years, and largely since the enactment of the new Criminal Procedure Code, in 2007, human rights’ violations across Cameroon have continued to gain a great deal of attention from a variety of organisations, including Amnesty International. However, although there are concerns relating to human rights’ violation in every aspect of Cameroon activity and not simply within the prison system, the focus here is on the national and international protection which is offered to prisoners in Cameroon.

Despite ratifying a large number of international and more regional treaties which place obligations on the Cameroon government to thoroughly investigate any allegations of human rights’ violations and to bring those responsible to justice, there is still some concern that Cameroon does not provide the basic level of human rights to its inmates. In particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that every human has a right to live and that this right should be protected (Article 6) and all humans shall not be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 7). As a party to the International Covenant, Cameroon is obliged to investigate any allegations of human rights’ violations within the prison system. Yet, there are seemingly several examples of human rights’ violations ongoing, thus raising the question as to whether or not Cameroon has fully complied with its obligations and what needs to be done to bring the prison system in Cameroon up to the required standard.

Unsurprisingly, government and judicial officials have not been quick to accept that these human rights’ violations are taking place, which makes this area of research particularly difficult, due to the fact that it is not clear as to what role the government is playing, and whether it is simply turning a blind eye to human rights’ violations, or whether it is actually ordering these violations, in the first place.

In 2007 and 2008 alone, the National Committee on Human Rights and Freedoms received a total of 992 complaints, 20% of which were in relation to violation of the rights to a fair trial; 7% were in relation to arbitrary arrest and detention; and 12% were in relation to a violation of the rights to physical and moral integrity. The new Criminal Procedure Code which was established in 2007 offered rules and regulations that were aimed at managing the whole process of police custody and detention, in such a way that would potentially reduce the instances of human rights’ violations. However, there have still been a large number of complaints associated with violations, since 2007, indicating that the rules have not been applied rigorously throughout.

Aims, Objectives and Research Rationale

The overall aim of research here is to establish recommendations for use by both the Cameroon government and third party bodies involved in the protection of human rights, such as Amnesty International, enabling the parties to work together to end human rights’ violations within the prison system. In order to achieve this, several objectives been identified as relevant and leading into the ultimate aim.

The first objective is to gain an understanding of the rules and regulations which exist within Cameroon, both in terms of its national legislation and any international arrangements that it has made, as briefly discussed in the background section of this proposal.

The second objective will then be to look at the various published incidence of human rights’ violations, in order to ascertain the nature of the violations, as well as how frequently they are occurring and whether there is any particular type of problem area that is identified and can then be targeted by the research.

Thirdly, individuals’ opinions and thoughts will need to be understood, in order to ascertain the most likely form of gaining success through the recommendations. It is recognised that political, social and economic situations are different in Cameroon from the UK and therefore gaining an understanding of thought patterns will be just as critical when it comes to making recommendations which are likely to be useful and, more importantly, applied in the future.

The underlying rationale for this research is that, despite the seemingly relatively robust set of national and international laws and regulations that are in place to prevent human rights’ violations, such violations are still occurring. There is a clear breakdown, therefore, between the codes and requirements and the actual reality of treatment within prisons. Despite research into instances of human rights’ violations, there is relatively little literature present in terms of identifying why these violations are still taking place and what is their root cause. For example, it is not clear whether it is simply the case that the government is not enforcing the rules, or whether there is a tendency on the part of the government itself to violate the rules regarding instructions to officers.

Existing Literature

The issue in Cameroon has been relatively widely discussed, particularly by organisations such as Amnesty International which has highlighted the problems being experienced in the region.

The US Department of State issued a detailed human rights report on the region, in 2008, and it offers a relatively strong background document which can be used to look at the key themes and trends associated with human rights in Cameroon prisons. The US research indicated that the general ethos was poor within the judiciary and that there was a high level of acceptance of violations within the prison service and, in general, lack of awareness of human rights. Interestingly, the board indicated that the judiciary was on the whole impartial and very positive, but the processes within are often extremely slow, with many defendants finding themselves incarcerated for unnecessarily long periods of time. Non-government organisations often intervened with this particularly where the defendant is a foreign national or child. An independent judiciary is provided as part of the constitution, although the report indicated that there were some influences from the executive, which will impact on the independence of the judiciary. In particular, there is a lack of understanding of the human rights which individuals have, especially in the rural areas, with several reported incidents of police bribery. Furthermore, it was identified that there are no specific structures in place to ensure that legal advice is provided to individuals who cannot afford private funded legal guidance.

The information provided by the US Department is helpful in gaining a background understanding of the level of fairness within the judiciary system, in general, which is likely to be applicable when looking in more detail at the treatment of prisoners. Amnesty International has also provided a detailed report on human rights’ violations in prisons in Cameroon, with particular reference to the incarceration of three journalists in Kondengui prison. The arrest of these three individuals is particularly interesting for the purposes of this research, as the arrest of journalists is indicative of the wider government agenda to prevent freedom of expression on any substantial level. Although the government denies any attempt to dictate freedom of expression, three journalists were arrested in 2010, all of whom had complained in their interview with Amnesty International that they had been treated poorly and subjected to torture and beatings, on a regular basis. Two of the journalists were detained without charge for over eight months, although all were ultimately accused of handling and attempting to publish articles that were banned, due to the alleged use of forged documents.

This type of existing literature provides useful first-hand information, in terms of the problems being faced within the Cameroon prison system. However, there is a gap in the literature in terms of identifying precisely why Cameroon is failing to live up to its human rights’ obligations and what can be done, at a structural level, to improve the position. Analysing and identifying individual instances of violations are clearly helpful; however, the research will need to take a broader view, looking at the underlying legal and governmental infrastructure that would potentially change the situation, in the future.

Methodology and Chapter Lay Out

The research approach adopted here involves both primary and secondary research, with an underlying inductive approach being taken. The inductive approach will involve drawing on a wide variety of observations from the existing literature and the findings from the secondary research, as well as surveys and interviews with key individuals as part of the primary research, in order to create an overall understanding and structure which can be applied in the future.

Both surveys and interviews will be used in order to gather the primary research. Crucially, care needs to be taken to ensure that anonymity is provided, at all times, due to be potentially politically sensitive nature of the research. It is also potentially problematic that individuals may be biased in their view, or may have very single-minded opinions based on personal experience. In order to mitigate this, it is proposed that at least 20 surveys will be conducted and four individual interviews, ideally from individuals with different backgrounds.

The following chapters are proposed for this research:

  • Chapter 1, Introduction and Background to look at the facts and figures, as well as identifying key pieces of legislation and key provisions;
  • Chapter 2, Aims, Objectives and Methodology which will focus entirely on the main aim of the research and how this aim will be achieved;
  • Chapter 3, Literature Review, which will be a detailed analysis of the existing literature in this area;
  • Chapter 4, Primary Research which will include surveys and interviews conducted specifically for this research and will identify any key themes which have emerged;
  • Chapter 5, Findings and Analysis, which will look in more detail at the primary research results and apply them in the context of the existing literature;
  • Chapter 6, Recommendations for the Future which will provide the recommendations that can be applied by the government and by non-government organisations, in the future, in order to improve the human rights situation in Cameroon;
  • Chapter 7, Summary and Conclusions which will draw together the research and also identify any weaknesses in the research, so that those relying on the research can apply the results appropriately and with the necessary degree of caution.

Expected Results and Conclusions

It is anticipated that the research will identify fundamental problems within the infrastructure of the judiciary system and, in particular, in terms of prison administration which have created difficulties when it comes to preventing and detecting human rights’ violations. It is unclear as to the precise role of the government in this and whether or not the government is actively encouraging breaches of human rights, or whether it is simply not doing enough to prevent instances within individual jails. It is also anticipated that certain jails have a worse record than others and this may provide valuable information when establishing the framework, going forwards. The main recommendations are likely to be focused on the interaction between non-government organisations, such as Amnesty International, and the Cameroon government, as there is seemingly a breakdown in communication, due to the fact that the Cameroon government has indeed signed up to multiple different protections, but simply does not apply them. This research will aim to identify that the government has shown a willingness to comply with human rights rules, but this has failed at the application point.

It is also anticipated that the research here will suggest much greater interaction is necessary between the various different parties, from the point of initial detention, right through to reintegration into society, so that the general ethos within the prisons can change and that prisoners will no longer be viewed as second-class citizens. This is largely a social change, as well as a political change and, with this expectation in mind, care will be taken to pay particular attention to the thoughts and feelings of the interviewees during the primary research, as this may be fundamentally important to the likelihood of any changes in law actually being applied on the ground.

Indicative / Starting References

  1. Amnesty International (2013) Avaiale at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR17/001/2013/en/384e1431-5fbb-4946-875e-78078329ee16/afr170012013en.pdf
  2. Committee against Torture, Forty-fourth session, Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under Article 19 of the Convention (CAT/C/CMR/CO/4), paragraph 15
  3. FIACAT (2008) Available at: http://www.upr-info.org/IMG/pdf/ACAT_FIACAT_CMR_UPR_S4_2009_ACATCameroon_InternationalFederationofActionbyChristiansfortheAbolitionofTorture_ENG_JOINT.pdf
  4. Noeske, J. Ndi,N and S. Mbondi, (2011) “Controlling tuberculosis in prisons against confinement conditions: a lost caseExperience from Cameroon”, International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease 15(2):223-7, 2011.
  5. Republic of Cameroon : Amnesty International’s memorandum to the government (AI Index: AFR 17/001/2012), September 2012
  6. U.S. Human Rights 2008 Country Reports, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/af/118990.htm

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