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Boko Haram

'They beat me with an electric cable, while throwing water on me at the same time'

People accused of supporting Boko Haram are being brutally tortured in Cameroon.

The Baka people in Cameroon Group of Baka people in the village of Mayos, Cameroon. Ngala Chimto Ngala Chimto

Warning: Some people may find details in this article distressing

A REPORT RELEASED today documents the atrocities being carried out in Cameroon.

Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group, based in Nigeria, whose aim is to institute Sharia (Islamic law).

Hundreds of people in the country accused of supporting Boko Haram, often without evidence, are being brutally tortured by security forces, according to a new Amnesty International report.

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.

Boko Haram believes in a version of Islam which forbids Muslims to take part in any political or social activities associated with Western society.

Abductions and assaults

Researchers estimate that Boko Haram has killed over 1,500 civilians in Cameroon since 2014, and abducted many others.

“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,” Samou, who was arrested in March 2016, told Amnesty.

Victims described at least 24 torture methods they were subjected to.

In one common method – described as ‘the goat’ – detainees had their limbs tied together behind their back before they were beaten.

The majority of victims were tortured in two unofficial detention sites, the headquarters of the Rapid Intervention Batallion (BIR) in Salak, and a facility in the capital Yanoundé, run by the General Directorate of External Research (DGRE), Cameroon’s intelligence services.

Refugees in Nigeria Female Nigerian refugees and their children at a refugee camp in Cameroon. Ngala Killian Chimtom Ngala Killian Chimtom

In Salek, there are two main cells measuring just 9 by 5 metres – each containing up to 70 people.

Detainees were usually tortured in an interrogation room they called ‘the DGRE room’, located near the office of a senior officer. 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”.

Mohamed, another detainee, spent six months in incommunicado detention. He was interrogated and tortured several times in Salek.

“The soldiers asked us to confess. They told us that if we did not confess, they would bring us to Yaoundé to kill us,” Mohamed told Amnesty.

“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.”

Beating blindfolded men

Researchers interviewed six men held and tortured at a school in the northern town of Fotokol, used as a military base by the BIR since 2014, and analysed a video showing uniformed soldiers torturing detainees.

In one scene, several soldiers are dragging a man for about 50 metres and beating other blindfolded men with sharp wooden sticks.

The school reopened for classes in late 2016, but as of June 2017 it was still being partially used by the BIR, and at least nine detainees were still there.

Refugee camp in Nigeria The Bakassi refugee camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria Sam Olukoya Sam Olukoya

US and French military awareness

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said they 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.

“These horrific violations amount to war crimes.”

Amnesty noted the presence of US and French military personnel at the BIR base in Salek, and is calling on the governments to investigate the extent to which their personnel stationed at Salek may have been aware that illegal detention and torture was taking place.

“Given the frequent and possibly prolonged presence of their military personnel, the US government and other international partners should investigate the degree to which their personnel were aware of illegal detention and torture at the Salak base, and whether they took any measures to report it to their superiors and the Cameroonian authorities,” said O’Gorman.

Amnesty International wrote to the Cameroonian authorities in April 2017 to share the report’s findings, but no response was provided and all following requests for meetings were refused.

Read: Girls freed from Boko Haram will be cared for – Nigerian president

More: 82 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 have been released

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