YAOUNDE - Cameroonians have been expressing mixed opinions over the credibility of investigations carried out by the rights organization Amnesty International after a recent report accused the central African state of gross human rights violations in its fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram.
Twenty-six-year-old university student Haja Awah lost three members of her family to Boko Haram fighters in Mora on Cameroon's northern border with Nigeria two years ago.
She says as a victim of the insurgency, she was surprised by Amnesty International's accusations of gross human rights violations by the Cameroon military in the fight against Boko Haram, a group, she says, that is only interested in killing, raping, maiming and stealing.
She says she has an impression Amnesty International has evil plans to destroy Cameroon because Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger are both fighting Boko Haram. But Amnesty is only interested in publishing reports about abuses in Cameroon. She says Amnesty should be explaining to the world that people are suffering and dying at the hands of Boko Haram fighters and Cameroon soldiers are struggling to save their lives.
Enenezer Akanga, Cameroon's state television journalist specialized in reporting the Boko Haram insurgency, says such reports are destabilizing and may discourage a military fighting to bring peace in a country that has suffered enormous human and material loses to terrorism.
"A country like Cameroon can not be in war against a terrorist group and Amnesty International thinks what it can do is to write reports saying that government is torturing Boko Haram militants. No. This is total rubbish. Has Amnesty International ever written a report to condemn the fact that Boko Haram is also killing Cameroonians? Does Boko Haram have the right to kill Cameroonians? Why is it that they don't make noise when Boko Haram kills Cameroonians, they only make noise when Cameroonian soldiers kill Boko Haram militants. No. We in Cameroon we fully support our soldiers, we support our government. Amnesty International should get away with this nonsense."
The report entitled "Right Cause, Wrong Means" published July 14 states that more than 1,000 people accused of supporting Boko Haram and arrested arbitrarily are held in horrific conditions and some are tortured to death, while some are dying from disease and malnutrition. It adds that Cameroon arbitrarily arrested hundreds of individuals accused of supporting Boko Haram, often with little or no evidence, and detained them in inhumane, often life-threatening conditions.
Pressure for accountability
Sociologist Emmanuel Ossomba says Amnesty International was simply doing its job to help protect innocent people who may be suffering in jail.
"They are merely doing their job. They talked about Cameroon respecting international laws," he said. "Amnesty says detention conditions are inhumane. It is true, some of the prisons were made for about 300 persons but they actually contain more than they are supposed to contain. Maybe [Cameroon should] look for alternatives to see how they could better handle the situation."
Cameroon Minister of Communication Issa Tchiroma has decried the report as done in bad faith, saying Amnesty's methodology followed no scientific norms. He accused Amnesty International of being biased and of intervening in security issues in a sovereign state without soliciting the government's point of view.
"I have never seen them here coming to me to say mister minister, we are here, members of Amnesty International and this is a study that we would like to carry and this is the result. I have never received them in my office with an application because they want to go to the field and do their investigation," said Tchiroma.
Alleged lack of cooperation
Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International's research officer for central Africa, says they respected research methodology, but says the Cameroon government failed to collaborate with them at the time the research was carried out.
She says after documenting the abuses, they informed Cameroon authorities, but unfortunately they did provide explanations before the publication of the report and as such the point of view of the government of Cameroon was not taken into consideration in the report. She says they have already explained to the government of Cameroon their worries and they are happy that on July 7, the minister of defense created an investigative commission on human rights violations in the fight against Boko Haram.
Amnesty has suggested that Cameroon should release people detained illegally to reduce the pressure on prisons and stop the abuses that it says intensified in 2016.