An Amnesty International report have accused Cameroon’s security forces of torturing hundreds of people in secret chambers.
Dozens of testimonies, as well as satellite imagery, photographs and videos add up to a pattern of terrible violence against people accused of supporting the Islamist group Boko Haram, which Amnesty says amounts to war crimes.
Photographs showed American military personnel visiting one notorious site, raising the possibility that they were there while torture was being carried out. Videos also showed them playing football in night-vision goggles just metres from where prisoners were being held in horrific conditions.
Men and women described being beaten with electrical cables, chains, batons, planks of wood studded with nails, being permanently chained up, hit on the soles of their feet with machetes and, in the case of one Muslim, being forced to eat pork.
More than 100 cases of detention and torture were documented at more than 20 sites, including military bases and a school. Victims included children and people with disabilities, and witnesses described 24 different torture techniques. These include the “goat”, whereby a person’s hands and feet are tied together behind the back, and the “swing’, whereby the victim is tied by their limbs to a wooden structure before being beaten.
Many of the victims were tortured in the headquarters of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) in Salak, in the country’s north.
“We were ordered to lie down, face to the ground, in a row,” one prisoner said. “The BIR [soldiers] blindfolded us with pieces of white fabric and tied our hands and feet behind our back with the same fabric. We remained in this position from about 1pm to 4pm with soldiers beating us continuously.
“They kicked me in the head, face and mouth with their boots, pushing their boots into my head several times, and beat me with sticks and with a machete, especially on the soles of my feet. This torture was extremely painful and when I could finally stand up, I could barely walk.”
Most of the victims were men, but one woman described her ordeal. “[The soldiers] beat me for three days all over my body, especially on the soles of my feet, with all sorts of objects, in order to make me admit things I knew nothing about. By the end of the third day, my soles were going to explode. I was in a lot of pain. It was the same for the two [other] women, who were beaten and who by the end of the third day had large painful wounds on their buttocks. The women were tortured in front of me,” she said.
“While they tortured the woman, they asked the address of a Boko Haram member. Each time the BIR and other officers asked the women questions, they told them what to say in response. On the fourth day, the two women were taken to hospital in Kousseri [on the border with Chad] because their wounds were too serious.”
The Cameroonian government was presented with the Amnesty report several months ago but has yet to respond or agreed to any meetings to discuss the accusations.
Amnesty’s Alioune Tine called for an investigation into detention and torture, which he said should look at individual and command responsibility.
“We have repeatedly and unequivocally condemned the atrocities and war crimes committed by Boko Haram in Cameroon,” he said. “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. These horrific violations amount to war crimes.”
He also called for the US government to investigate whether their personnel were aware of torture and detention taking place on the Salak base, after many former detainees said they saw and heard white, English-speaking men there, some wearing uniform.
Boko Haram has waged a bloody conflict across the Lake Chad region since its rise in 2009, and although Nigeria has borne the brunt of the group’s attacks, at least 1,500 Cameroonians have been killed by militants in the past three years and many more abducted.