Hundreds of Boko Haram suspects in Cameroon are being brutally tortured by security forces, Amnesty International said in a new report published Thursday.
The human rights group alleged “horrific and widespread torture at 20 sites, including four military bases, two facilities run by intelligence services, a private residence and a school.”
Using dozens of testimonies, corroborated with satellite imagery, photographic and video evidence, the report ‘Cameroon’s secret torture chambers: human rights violations and war crimes in the fight against Boko Haram’ documents 101 cases of incommunicado detention and torture between 2013 and 2017, at over 20 different sites.
“We have repeatedly and unequivocally condemned the atrocities and war crimes committed by Boko Haram in Cameroon. But, nothing could justify the callous and widespread practice of torture committed by the security forces against ordinary Cameroonians, who are often arrested without any evidence and forced to endure unimaginable pain,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“These horrific violations amount to war crimes. Given the weight of the evidence we have uncovered, the authorities must initiate independent investigations into these practices of incommunicado detention and torture, including potential individual and command responsibility.”
In a statement by Isa Sanusi, head of media of Amnesty International’s Nigeria office, the organisation said it had written to the Cameroonian authorities in April 2017 to share the report’s findings, but no response was provided and all subsequent requests for meetings were refused.
Amnesty International estimates that Boko Haram has killed over 1,500 civilians in Cameroon since 2014, and abducted many others.
The group has killed more than ten times that number in neighbouring Nigeria where its insurgency began in 2009, according to official figures.
VICTIMS REVEAL HORROR
Victims described at least 24 torture methods they were subjected to, according to the report.
“In one common stress position, described by detainees as ‘the goat’, their limbs were tied together behind their back before they were beaten. In another technique, described by detainees as ‘the swing’, victims were suspended in the air with their limbs tied behind their back and beaten.
“The overwhelming majority of victims were tortured in two unofficial detention sites; the headquarters of the Rapid Intervention Batallion (BIR) in Salak, near the northern city of Maroua, and a facility in the capital, Yaoundé run by the General Directorate of External Research (DGRE), Cameroon’s intelligence services, situated close to the country’s Parliament,” the report stated.
In Salak, there are two main cells measuring approximately 9 by 5 metres, each containing up to 70 people. Detainees were usually tortured in an interrogation room they called “the DGRE Room”, which is located near the office of a senior officer, Amnesty said. The officer was described by victims as providing orders to interrogators, and by one victim as being able to “decide the life and death of each detainee”.
Samou (not his real name), who was arrested in March 2016, told Amnesty International about his interrogation in Salak a few days after his arrest:
“They asked me to tell them if I knew members of Boko Haram. That’s when the guard tied my hands and feet behind my back and started to beat me with an electric cable, while throwing water on me at the same time. They beat me half to death.”
Mohamed (not his real name) spent six months in incommunicado detention and was interrogated and tortured several times in Salak. He told Amnesty International:
“The soldiers asked us to confess. They told us that if we did not confess, they would bring us to Yaoundé to kill us. We replied that we preferred to be killed rather than to confess something that we didn’t know about. They beat us like this for four days.”
The report said both France and U.S. have military presence in Salak and are likely to be aware of Cameroonian authorities’ treatment of detainees.
The report therefore called for “US and other international partners to investigate their military personnel’s possible knowledge of torture at one base”.