Cameroon’s Anti-Terrorism Law – Reversal of Human Freedoms

Legislators in Cameroon have voted in a draft law proposing the death sentence for all those guilty of carrying out, abetting or sponsoring acts of terrorism. The draft law, which is now being examined by the Cameroon Senate, call for punishment acts of terrorism committed by citizens, either individually or in complicity, with death.

The draft law also prescribes the death penalty for persons who carry out “any activity which can lead to a general revolt of the population or disturb the normal functioning of the country” and for “anyone who supplies arms, war equipment, bacteria and viruses with the intention of killing.”

The same applies for people guilty of kidnapping with terrorist intent, as well as for “anyone who directly or indirectly finances acts of terrorism” and for “anyone who recruits citizens with the aim of carrying out acts of terrorism.”

The draft law also punishes people and companies found guilty of promoting terrorism, as well as people who give false testimony to administrative and judicial authorities in matters of terrorism, with various fines and prison terms.

The anti-terrorism law has sparked a wave of criticism across the political chessboard – from opposition political leaders to civil society, church ministers and trade unions.

“This law is designed to terrorise the people and kill their freedoms,” opposition leader, John Fru Ndi told IPS.

Kah Wallah, the lone female leader of a political party in Cameroon [the Cameroon People’s Party], added that “the government is taking us back to the worst days of the most barbaric dictatorship … This law is manifestly against the fundamental liberties and rights of the Cameroonian people … In the guise of fighting terrorism, the government’s real intent is to stifle political dissent.”

For Maurice Kamto, a former cabinet minister who resigned to form the Movement for the Revival of Cameroon (MRC), President Paul Biya – now in power for 32 years – is afraid of any popular up-rising that could put his stay in power in jeopardy.

“The president has certainly learnt from the lessons coming from Burkina Faso. A similar uprising here will sweep his failed presidency under the carpet,” he said. Facing mounting pressure, President Blaise Compaoreacute of Burkina Faso was forced to resign on Oct. 31 after 27 years in office.

Various opposition political leaders and civil society exponents have vowed to fight the proposed law to its logical end. “Cameroonians must resist and say no to this other manoeuvre … We will fight this law by every means,” Ndi said, without elaborating.

However, Jean Mark Bikoko, president of the Public Service Workers’ Trade Union, already has an idea on how to proceed. In a gly-worded statement released on Dec. 3, Bikoko said that the law “is a veritable declaration of war against the people … The anti-terrorism law has provoked the ire of civil society and we will protest on December 10 – International Human Rights Day.”

But the government has said it will not falter in the fight against terrorism. Justice Minister Laurent Esso told MPs that “Cameroon will never be complicit to those whose only agenda is to cause mayhem and destabilise the normal functioning of the state.”

Counting the costs

In the north of the country, Cameroon’s military are combating cross-border raids by Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram. On May 17, President Biya along with other regional leaders and French President Franccedilois Holland said they were declaring war against Boko Haram.

Cameroon has since deployed thousands of troops in the country’s Far North Region and plans to send still more troops. Defence Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o and Delegate General for National Security Martin Mbarga Nguele have announced that some 20,000 defence and security forces will be recruited within the next two years to reinforce the fight against Boko Haram.

However, as the security crisis in the country continues to worsen, Cameroonian authorities have been counting the costs, not only in terms of human loss, but also in terms of the impacts of the crisis on the economy.

During a special parliamentary plenary session on Nov. 27, Ngo’o said that since the crisis escalated eight months ago, Cameroon has so far lost some forty soldiers, but killed about one thousand Boko Haram fighters. “Our defence forces have simply been formidable,” he said.

But the economic costs of the war are heavy. According to the Minister of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi, “the most affected sectors have been the tourism, transport, trade, agriculture and livestock sectors.”

He said that “almost all tourism enterprises have been shut down, the number of tourists visiting attraction parks like the Waza National Park and the Rhumsiki Mountains have gone down drastically, and the hotel occupation rate has dropped from 50 percent before the crisis to just 10 percent today.”

In addition, there has been a sharp drop in customs revenue. Although customs officials have not tallied the losses, they say they are aomical.

“There was a border custom post in the Far North Region that used to give us a monthly income of CFA 700 million (1.4 million dollars).That customs post has been closed down. Can you imagine what the state is losing yearly in customs revenue? It’s enormous,” said the Director-General of Customs, Lissette Libom Li-Likeng.

Government spokesman and Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary told journalists in Yaounde that in view of the human, economic and psychological losses that Cameroon has been incurring as a result of Boko Haram, a stringent law is necessary to contain the militant group.

– Edited by Phil Harris

Source : Inter Press Service

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