Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Cameroon received an upward trend arrow due to an easing of repression of the media.
The ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) dominated legislative and municipal elections in 2002 that were no more free and fair than previous polls, despite the creation of the National Observatory of Elections. Although there were fewer incidents of harassment of the press in 2002, Cameroon's overall record for human rights failed to improve substantially and members of the security forces continued to commit abuses with impunity, according to local and international human rights groups.
Cameroon was seized during World War I, in 1916, and divided between Britain and France after having been a German colony from 1884. Distinct Anglophone and Francophone areas were reunited as an independent country in 1961. Approximately one-fourth of Cameroonians are Anglophone. The administration of President Paul Biya remains largely Francophone, and the country's main opposition is from Anglophone Cameroonians. The linguistic distinction constitutes the country's most potent political division. Cameroon's population comprises nearly 200 ethnic groups. For three decades after independence, Cameroon was ruled under a repressive one-party system. As prime minister, Biya succeeded President Ahmadou Ahidjou in 1982.
The International Court of Justice at The Hague in October 2002 ruled in favor of Cameroon in its long-running dispute with Nigeria over ownership of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula. Nigeria said that the ruling would have no effect on its claim to oil and natural gas reserves there. Cameroon and Nigeria have occasionally clashed militarily over the region. Most Bakassi residents consider themselves Nigerian. Privatization and economic growth in Cameroon have progressed, but graft and the absence of independent courts inhibit business development.
Although Cameroon's constitution provides for a multiparty republic, citizens have not been allowed to choose their government or local leaders by democratic means. Presidential elections have been devalued by rampant intimidation, manipulation, and fraud. In 1996, the constitution extended the presidential term to seven years and allowed President Paul Biya to run for a fourth term. His reelection in 1997, with 93 percent of the vote, was marred by serious procedural flaws, and a boycott by the three major opposition parties.
Legislative elections have also been fraudulent. In the June 2002 elections, the ruling CPDM increased the number of its seats in the 180member National Assembly from 116 to 149. The main opposition, the Social Democratic Front, won 22 seats, down from 43 it had held previously. Smaller parties won the remainder. Municipal elections, which had been postponed from January 2001, were also dominated by the CPDM.
Cameroon's courts remain highly subject to political influence and corruption. The executive controls the judiciary and appoints provincial and local administrators. Military tribunals may exercise jurisdiction over civilians in cases involving civil unrest or organized armed violence. In the north, powerful traditional chiefs known as lamibee run their own private militias, courts, and prisons, which are used against the regime's political opponents. Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and detainees are routine. Indefinite pretrial detention under extremely harsh conditions is permitted either after a warrant is issued or in order to "combat banditry." Inmates routinely die in prison.
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International called for an investigation into reports that dozens of extrajudicial executions were carried out in 2002 as part of an anticrime campaign. A military court in July 2002 acquitted six of eight gendarmes accused of killing nine young men who disappeared in January 2001 after being detained by an anticrime squad called the Operational Command. Two other gendarmes were given suspended sentences.
Numerous nongovernmental organizations generally operate without hindrance. Various intelligence agencies operate with impunity, and opposition activists are often held without charges or disappear while in custody. Security forces routinely impede domestic travel, repress demonstrations, and disrupt meetings. Steps have been taken in Belgium by political and civil society groups to institute legal proceedings against Biya for crimes against humanity.
The constitution provides for freedom of the press, but criminal libel law has often been used to silence regime critics. There are at least 20 private newspapers that publish regularly. Eleven years after the National Assembly passed a bill liberalizing the audio and visual media, Biya signed the legislation into force in 2001. A handful of private radio stations were already operating without a license, but they only broadcast religious or music programs locally. Repression of the press eased somewhat in 2002. Fewer arrests and convictions were reported.
Freedom of religion is generally respected. Slavery reportedly persists in parts of the north, and discrimination exists against indigenous Pygmies and other ethnic minorities while the Beti and Bula dominate the civil service and state-run businesses. Violence against women is reportedly widespread. Women are often denied inheritance and landownership rights, even when these are codified, and many other laws contain unequal gender-based provisions and penalties. Cameroon is a transit center and market for child labor and traffickers.
Trade union formation is permitted, but is subject to numerous restrictions. Workers have the right to strike but only after arbitration, the final decisions of which the government can overturn.