Authorities in Cameroon must provide answers about the whereabouts of 130 men and boys still unaccounted for 20 months after they were arrested in a crackdown on suspected Boko Haram members, Amnesty International said today on the International Day of the Disappeared.
“The Cameroonian authorities must come clean about the fate of these 130 missing men and boys. The government’s continued failure to reveal their whereabouts adds insult to injury to the families who have already waited a long time for news of their loved ones,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Regional Director.
“The country must stop using its fight against Boko Haram to justify its blatant violations of human rights.”
The missing people were among more than 200 arrested during a cordon-and-search operation in the villages of Magdeme and Doublé – Far North region – on 27 December 2014. Of those arrested, at least 25 died in custody on the night of the arrests, with another 45 transferred to Maroua prison the day after. Three have died since due to dire conditions in detention.
In the same operation, the security forces also unlawfully killed at least nine civilians, including a child, and destroyed more than 70 homes and other buildings.
Amnesty International considers the 130 people who were arrested and are still missing to be victims of enforced disappearance, a crime under international law. The organization is calling on Cameroon to immediately disclose their whereabouts, ensure independent, thorough and effective investigations into these disappearances and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.
Amnesty International has communicated a complete list of the names of all those who disappeared to Cameroon’s Minister of Defense, Minister of Justice and the Head of military operations in the north. However, their families have still received no information from officials.
One woman whose husband and two sons are missing told Amnesty International:
“We really don’t know what to do… I have been to Maroua prison eight times… we are asking for help. We want the authorities to tell us where our loved ones are.”
Another man described the security forces’ operation that led to the arrests:
“We heard shots being fired all around… Everyone wondered what was happening. There were soldiers everywhere. Then, they [soldiers] took some of the men, stripped them and beat them before going to look for those who were hiding in their houses. Then they [soldiers] rounded them up and loaded them into their trucks. We searched for them everywhere after that but couldn’t find them.”
According to the authorities, the 25 men and boys who died in detention were held in a makeshift cell at the Gendarmerie’s headquarters of Maroua, the main city in the Far North region. They have never revealed the identity of the victims, the cause and circumstances of their deaths, or their place of burial to their families.
In March 2015, the authorities announced that an internal inquiry within the Ministry of Defense was being undertaken to investigate the deaths. The results of this inquiry were not communicated publicly and only one person — Colonel Zé Onguéné Charles, Head of the Gendarmerie in the Far North region when the incident occurred — is facing trial. The charges against him, however, are limited to “negligence and breach of custody rules”.
Amnesty International has also documented an additional 17 cases of suspected enforced disappearances of people accused of supporting Boko Haram in the Far North region between June 2014 and June 2016.
“The authorities must conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into what happened in Magdeme and Doublé, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. They must also provide full and effective reparation to the families of the victims,” said Alioune Tine.
The Far North region of Cameroon has suffered repeated attacks from Boko Haram since late 2013. Between July 2015 and August 2016 Boko Haram conducted more than 200 attacks, including nearly 40 suicide bombings in the Far North region, killing at least 500 people.
In order to combat Boko Haram, Cameroon has deployed at least 2000 troops of the BIR (Rapid Intervention Battalion) alongside forces from the BIM (Mobile Intervention Battalion) in the Far North region.
While the security forces play a crucial role in protecting the population from Boko Haram’s attacks, they have also committed human rights violations on a significant scale including arbitrary arrest, excessive use of force, extra-judicial executions, illegal and incommunicado detention, torture and enforced disappearances.
Amnesty International’s Protect Our Rights campaign will run from 30 August 2016 until December 2017. The campaign will seek to protect the human rights of those caught between abuses committed by Boko Haram and human rights violations committed by the Cameroonian authorities and security forces in their fight against Boko Haram.