In early March, the world community
observes International Women's Day. It's part of a whole month of activities
recognizing the work of women in all spheres of life. Among those being honored
this year is Madeleine Afite of Cameroon. International human rights groups are critical of Cameroon's record.
Last January, Amnesty International
issued a report denouncing what it called the deteriorating situation there. It
warned that security forces increasingly use excessive force, killing civilians
to stifle anti-government resentment.
One of those fighting for human rights
in Cameroon is Madeleine Afite, head the national arm of the Christian Action
for the Abolition of Torture, ACAT. She also heads a group called the House of
She agrees with Amnesty, which has raised fears that the situation could worsen
ahead of elections in 2011. President Paul Biya has served 27 years, and last
year he was behind a movement to lift term limits in the constitution.
That move, combined with public anger
over price increases, led to riots that killed scores of people. The government
put the death toll at 40, but ACAT said government troops killed more than one
hundred protesters, "Cameroon is retreating instead of advancing in terms of
its human rights record. People are killed every day and the slightest dissent
has been advocating human rights for the past two decades, beginning as a
student, she says. "I started by writing
letters to Amnesty International and that's how I got interested. That's more
than 20 years ago and I was especially motivated by what was happening in my
says activists frequently face intimidation, harassment and threats of
lawsuits. Recently, the government accused her of feeding Amnesty International
what it called false and sensationalist information.
says she is constantly under surveillance. Over the years, her telephone has
been bugged and her organization infiltrated by government agents. She has even
been summoned by military courts and grilled on her sources and methods:
set ablaze our office and send spies to follow us with some disguised as
victims of rights abuses. They tail me everywhere I go and destroy our property
including vehicles and so on. I am no
longer scared because it's been a long time. If I was scared, I should have abandoned this
thing a long time ago from all the threats."
says rights defenders have made some progress. The government has created a
department for human rights and a national human rights commission. In 2007,
the government also enacted a new penal code rule which stipulates that accused
persons are innocent until found guilty.
Afite says the measures are cosmetic. She is calling on the United Nations and
the European Union to pressure the government to respect treaties it has
ratified to protect the rights of Cameroonians.
says her biggest problem at the moment is financing. She gets assistance from
donors but says the amount is far too small for her needs. She says she is
forced to trim fact-finding missions and efforts to fight human rights
says she has no time for herself. Over 20 years ago, she decided to put her
work above all else. She stopped going to the movies and nightclubs and rarely
visits with family and friends. She says nothing can stop her, and she is
determined to fight to the end.