Cameroon Democracy and Rights
Democracy and rights
In recent years, democracy in Cameroon, which is abbreviated as CMR by Abbreviationfinder, has weakened from an already bad position. The reasons are mainly a stepped up conflict between government forces and separatists in the English-speaking areas since 2017 as well as jihadist attacks in the north. In all conflicts, all sides are guilty of human rights violations.
The Constitution provides for power sharing, multiparty systems and protection of human rights, but in practice none of this works and, according to Freedom House, the country is not to be considered free.
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The 2018 election, when President Paul Biya was re-elected for a fifth term, was marked by cheating and threats. The confidence in the electoral process was further undermined by the fact that Biya had established a national council with the right to annul the election results. The majority of the council members had links with the Biya government.
Almost all power lies with the president and anyone who criticizes the government risks being silenced. Human rights activists, opposition politicians and regime-critical journalists are routinely harassed. The opposition is weak and divided.
Freedom of assembly is limited and the scope for voluntary organizations, which is almost entirely dependent on foreign money, is limited.
Since the extreme Islamist group Boko Haram began to raid Cameroon in the 2010s, serious violations of human rights have become increasingly common. The situation has been exacerbated by the separatist insurgency in the English-speaking areas of the southwest and north-west (see Current Policy).
Human Rights Watch reported in 2019 that government forces have committed torture and extrajudicial executions in the conflict with the separatists. Civilians, including children and disabled people, have been killed when government forces set fire to their house. The government has distanced itself from the violence but failed to convict anyone of the crimes. The separatists are also guilty of serious abuse.
The protection is also weak for the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Nigeria and the Central African Republic who are in Cameroon. According to Human Rights Watch, the government soldiers use violence and torture against the refugees.
The woman’s position in politics is weak. Of the citizens who are registered to vote, only 30 percent are women. In Parliament, the proportion of female members is 31 percent. Some ethnic minorities are regularly excluded from political processes.
Corruption is a serious problem, even though the Biya government has taken a number of measures against it. Among other things, an anti-corruption authority has been set up as well as specialized courts for corruption cases. Corruption exists in all areas of society. People pay bribes to get their children into a certain school, to receive care, to avoid traffic misconduct etc.
Relatively many top officials and high politicians have been convicted of corruption crimes, but analysts suspect that political reasons may be behind many of the cases. President Biya is suspected of having used the fight against corruption to eliminate political opponents.
In 2019, Transparency International ranked Cameroon as 153rd among 180 countries in its index of corruption in the world (see full list here). That meant a downward slide with 23 placements since 2015.
Freedom of expression and media
Freedom of the press and expression in Cameroon are on a sloping level according to Reporters Without Borders, which by 2020 placed the country as 134th out of 180 countries in its freedom of press index (see the full list here).
Official censorship does not occur, but the police harass and imprison government-critical journalists, leading to self-censorship among reporters.
The law prohibits defamation, which can result in imprisonment and fines. The government is using this law to discourage journalists from reporting corruption and other illegality that politicians are not often suspected of.
There is also a National Communications Council that has the power to shut down media and prohibit individual journalists from working. In a number of cases, journalists who have written about corruption have lost their work permits since the Council considered them to be engaged in unbalanced reporting and inadequate fact checking.
The unrest in northern Cameroon, where the extreme Islamist movement Boko Haram is carrying out raids, has prompted the authorities to introduce anti-terrorist laws which can also be used to silence the media. Reports that have monitored the conflict have been prosecuted for withholding information on threats to state security.
Access to the internet and social media is sometimes blocked by the government.
Judicial system and legal security
According to the constitution, the judiciary is supposed to be independent of the authorities, but in practice the courts often go to the government’s affairs.
Both police and security forces are guilty of serious abuses such as extortion, abuse, torture and even extrajudicial executions. It is common for detainees to be denied their legal right to a defender and many who are detained may wait for trial for months or years.
The death penalty can be sentenced but is usually converted to life imprisonment.