The international day of the victims of enforced Disappearances, 30th August is a day created to draw attention to the fate of individuals imprisoned at places and under poor conditions unknown to their relatives. Enforced disappearance is used as a strategy to spread terror within society. It occurs when people are being arrested, detained or abducted against their will and when governments refuse to disclose the whereabouts of these people.
Relatives have a right, as victims themselves, to know the truth about the circumstances of any enforced disappearance, the whereabouts of their loved ones, the progress and results of investigation, and ultimately the fate of the disappeared person.
Enforced disappearance remains a heinous crime under international law, as it is strongly condemned by the Rome statute labelling it a crime against humanity as well as the UN Convention and the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons Against Enforced Disappearance.
The state of Cameroon is party to this convention since 2007, and it is under obligation to search for persons who have disappeared. Unfortunately, since the outbreak of violence in the North West and South West regions and the militarisation of towns and villages, several persons have disappeared as the government battles against armed separatist groups. In the localities of Belo and Wum in the North West Region, Relatives have been able to retrieve corpses of identified victims of enforced disappearances (family members) in Rivers and streams, said to have been arrested by the state militia. Mass graves have also been identified in the localities of Batibo and Bali since 2018, and several other individuals have disappeared since the 22nd of September when thousands of southern Cameroonians match with peace plants across the two regions, and the 1st of October when others hoisted flags in public places, announcing the birth of a new country called ‘Ambazonia’.
Most recently, the riots in the prisons of Kondengui and Buea on the 23rd and 24th July respectively lead to the destruction of the prisons by wild fires, prompting the government forces to respond with live bullets to keep calm in the prisons. Several inmates were moved to other detention centres and there are allegations that a couple of inmates died. Lawyers and family members have raised allegation that the whereabouts of their clients and relatives previously detained at the Buea central prison cannot be ascertained.
On this occasion of the international day of the victims of enforced disappearances, 30 August 2019, CHRDA calls on the state of Cameroon to take measures to immediately search for any individual alleged to have disappeared in compliance with its obligation under international law.
Independent commissions should be put in place with sufficient financial and human resources to conduct the search for the disappeared persons. They should properly coordinate the search and should have unrestricted access to all information relevant to locate the disappeared person. Such authorities should also allow for the full participation of the relatives or representatives of the disappeared and should be regularly informed about the progress and protected from any security risk. In the words of António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, he said “I call on States to do more to prevent enforced disappearances and bring to justice those responsible. To this end, I call on countries to cooperate fully with UN mechanisms. I also urge all States that have not yet done so to sign, ratify or accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.”