Police authorities in Cameroon should immediately launch a criminal investigation into the recent break-in and theft of equipment at the offices of leading human rights organisation, Le Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC), said the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (PAHRDN) today.
At approximately 3am on June 14th 2014, unidentified armed intruders entered REDHAC’s office premises in Douala. The office’s security guard was threatened at gunpoint, before being bound. The intruders then stole a wide array of expensive office equipment, including three laptops, two televisions, two cameras, and cash. In addition, the intruders searched through the organisation’s files, and stole a number of important confidential documents relating to ongoing human rights cases and the account statement of 3 years of work, and used check booklets.
REDHAC, formed in 2007, is a leading human rights organisation in Cameroon and is the central African focal point for PAHRDN.
The recent break-in at REDHAC’s offices forms part of a growing pattern of similar attacks, targeting REDHAC and other human rights organisations in Cameroon. On May 18th 2014, unidentified intruders attempted, unsuccessfully, to break through the iron gates of REDHAC’s premises. On June 2nd 2013, following a high level civil society meeting with the United States ambassador, REDHAC’s office was broken into, and office equipment and confidential information was stolen. In all cases, police authorities have failed to undertake adequate investigations.
Other rights based organisations in Cameroon have faced similar recent threats. In April 2014, the offices of civil society organisation ‘Un Monde Avenir’ were broken into, immediately following a national human rights seminar. Several months prior, in September 2013, the same organisation’s offices were targeted, immediately following critical public statements about recent legislative elections.
“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that human rights organisations are being specifically targeted on the basis of their work or public statements in an attempt to disrupt their operations,” said REDHAC’s executive director Maximilienne Ngo Mbe. “Police authorities in Cameroon have consistently failed to investigate these targeted attacks, creating de facto impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes”.
Human rights defenders and civil society organisations working on sexual orientation and gender identity issues continue to face extreme threats and acts of violence in Cameroon. In July 2013, human rights defender Eric Ohena Lemembe was murdered at his home in Yaoundé, following public statements critical of the government of Cameroon. On June 16th 2013, the offices of lawyer and human rights defender Michel Togue were broken into, and confidential information stolen.
“Human rights defenders in Cameroon operate in a hostile and restrictive legislative environment, and are frequently subject to attacks, intimidation, and worse by both state and non-state actors,” said Hassan Shire, Chairperson of PAHRDN. “In this context, it is incumbent upon police and other state authorities to conduct credible investigations into all reported attacks against human rights defenders”.
The Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network calls for police authorities in Cameroon to immediately undertake a thorough, impartial, and credible investigation into the circumstances surrounding the recent break-in and theft at REDHAC’s offices, and to similarly investigate all other reported attacks against human rights defenders and civil society organisations.
For more information, please contact:
John Foley, Advocacy & Research Officer, Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network on: [email protected] or +256 789 650 996