Cameroon: Five years of agony for families of 130 disappeared

  • New Amnesty Campaign to break the deafening silence surrounding this case
  • A top army officer under investigation but appointed ministry advisor

Amnesty International is launching a new campaign urging Cameroon’s authorities to investigate the enforced disappearance of more than 130 men and boys, who were rounded up from their villages more than five years ago and have not been heard from since.

On 27 December 2014, Cameroonian security forces arbitrarily arrested over 200 men and boys in Magdémé and Doublé, two villages in the Far-North region, during a violent raid in which eight people were killed including a child and more than 70 buildings burned down. At least 130 of them are still missing.

The campaign, “Where are they? Accountability for victims of human rights violations in the villages of Magdémé and Doublé in Cameroon’s Far-North is launched on 10 March 2020. It aims to urge the authorities to provide answers for the families of those who are missing and hold accountable the security forces responsible for the human rights violations committed during the raid and the subsequent enforced disappearances.

For five years, life has been on hold for the relatives of the men and boys who disappeared on that terrible day in 2014. We want to show them that they have not been forgotten, and that we will continue to pressure the Cameroonian authorities until the truth is uncovered for each one of the 130 men and boys.
Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Regional Director.

“For five years, life has been on hold for the relatives of the men and boys who disappeared on that terrible day in 2014. We want to show them that they have not been forgotten, and that we will continue to pressure the Cameroonian authorities until the truth is uncovered for each one of the 130 men and boys,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Regional Director.

“President Paul Biya’s government must break the deafening silence surrounding these enforced disappearances, give answers to the families of victims and allow justice to be served.”

On 27 December 2014, security forces sealed off the villages of Magdémé and Doublé, in the Mayo Sava department in the Far-North of Cameroon, to conduct a cordon and search operation following repeated attacks by Boko Haram in the area. Eight people, including a child, were killed, and homes were burned and looted.

Cameroon’s authorities have stated that only 70 men were arrested during the roundup. They acknowledge that 25 died on their first night in custody, but have not disclosed the location of the bodies, or even identified the victims. They have denied that more than 200 were arrested that day and that 130 forcibly disappeared since.

The authorities have also confirmed that 45 people were transferred to Maroua prison the day after their arrest. Of those 45 people, three died due to dire detention conditions and the 42 others were released in July 2017.

In 2015, a presidential decree dismissed a top army official, Colonel Zé Onguéné Charles, who was the head of the gendarmerie in the Far-North at the time of the raid. An investigation was opened into his responsibility in the events of the 27 December 2014 and he was charged with negligence and breach of custody law, which are infractions of ‘correctional nature’ – offenses of less gravity than criminal ones-. To date, the outcome of this judicial proceeding against him remains unknown. In March 2019 he was named Advisor at the Ministry of Defense.

“The suffering of the victims’ families is exacerbated by the authorities’ refusal to tell the truth or even acknowledge that their loved ones are missing,” said Samira Daoud.

“We are calling for an immediate investigation into these disappearances and other human rights violations which took place in Magdémé and Doublé. The perpetrators must be brought to justice.”


Background

The people of Cameroon’s Far-North have been caught in the middle of fighting between Boko Haram and the security forces for more than five years now.
There was a clear resurgence of attacks by Boko Haram in 2019. This was largely overshadowed in the media and authorities’ attention by the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, leaving people in the Far-North feeling abandoned.
The Cameroon military has the right and duty to protect people against human rights abuses committed by Boko Haram, but in doing so they must not violate human rights themselves.