Detention cells shouldn't be death chambers!.

29/08/2023

Holding suspects, presumed innocence until proven guilty in detention cells, is a process of justice. But it should not be abused by interrogators whose role is to seek justice.

 

But some unscrupulous investigators have been suspected of using duress to get evidence and in the process torturing their suspects even to death. The current pitch in the national and international media on Cameroon is about the death of a fellow compatriot, Ndongo Bilogo Olivier.

There are reports that the 41-year-old man was arrested and detained at a Gendarmerie Brigade in Yaounde on June 1 this year, in circumstances said to be controversial.

When his health deteriorated, allegedly due to torture, he was transferred to hospital where he died four days later on July 29, after being diagnosed with serious trauma. According to two human rights groups, the man, said to be an electrician by profession, was in good health before his arrest.

The Mandela Centre for International and New Human Rights Cameroon has called on the Cameroon government to investigate the matter. 

Their appeal has been picked up by the European Union, EU, whose representative in Cameroon, H.E Philippe Van Damme, last week called "for a serious investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the acts of torture, which allegedly cost the life of Ndongo Bilogo Olivier".

The European Union diplomat referred to what appears to be a “dramatic violation of the constitutional principle of habeas corpus and respect for the integrity of the human body. Let's hope that a serious investigation will be carried out quickly and prosecutions opened against those responsible”.

The Guardian Post takes sides with the diplomat and human rights groups. It is not the first time a Cameroonian has died under identical circumstances in security detention.

The sad memory of the death of Samuel Wazizi, a Buea-based journalist, who was arrested in Buea, moved from one detention facility to the other and finally passed on in Yaounde, remains in the aura of public debate.

The former French Ambassador to Cameroon, after an audience with President Paul Biya, had announced that the Head of State had assured him an investigation would be carried out on the death of Wazizi. 

To this day, nothing has been heard of Wazizi’s death!

In September last year, the death of a fuel vendor, who hailed from Bafmeng in Wum, Menchum Division of the North West Region, was announced to the family, days after he was arrested and detained in a gendarmerie custody in Loum, Moungo Division of the Littoral Region.

The 18-year-old was reportedly arrested on allegation of stealing fuel. Family sources told reporters that while in detention, he was “injected with a substance that took away his life.”

It was alleged that after his demise, security forces attempted to create a ploy that he committed suicide. His sister told reporters that “...they tore his clothes and tied on his neck to make us believe that he committed suicide”.

Similar gory sagas have been rampant in the country and although numerous calls for investigations have been made, the outcome are often cloaked in mystery. 

Like the case of Wazizi, for instance, it was alleged that he died of a disease but circumstances where he was kept in detention without access to family members or his lawyers gave that explanation no legs.

Yesterday, it was Wazizi, the other day it was a fuel vendor in the Littoral Region and now it is the case of an electrician in Yaounde. Who knows the next victim? 

Being a legalist, President Biya's commitment, determination and dedication to compliance with the Convention Against Torture and other cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment of suspects, have been clear.

His regime has enacted laws against torture and some defence and security operatives are known to have been convicted or are standing trial.

But it would appear there are still rotten eggs in the security apparatus who use torture to extract statements and unjustifiably punish suspects.

A cell is not a death chamber.  It is often described as "protective custody" where suspects are protected from being administered kangaroo justice by an irate public mob.

It is the duty of the government, especially gendarmes and police officials, to ensure that no suspect, presumed innocence, dies in a detention facility. And when that occurs, even if by accident or negligence, security operatives implicated should be held accountable and made to face justice. 

Deterrent penalties for those found guilty would set an example for others in the demonic spirits and save the country the ignominy of violating human rights, which is a global issue of concern.

 

 

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