Research Key

An assessment of the legal framework for the protection of the rights of detainees in Anglophone Cameroon

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1.0 Introduction

Criminal law refers to that branch of the law that seeks to identify and punish deviant behaviours in society. It varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but however has a unanimous purpose of either maintaining order, by providing a predictable framework of what is expected of individuals in the society. It further provides a rationalized and peaceful method of resolving disputes, likewise protecting individuals and property by safeguarding civil liberties.

It involves loss of liberty or fines of individuals suspected of haven committed a crime. This, therefore, leads us to the substance of this long essay which is detention that principally involves detaining a suspect or accused person before trial and sentencing take place. Detention is particularly common where there is doubt as to whether the suspect or accused person would appear at trial and also in instances where remanding the accused person would be necessary where he constitutes a danger to his or her community.

The following paragraphs provide the context and rationale for the selection of this topic. In this chapter, the research problem, the objectives of the study, the significance, the justification of the study shall be our focal point.


From the appellation, detention is a legal process wherein a person is held by the State for an offence committed against the laws of the State prior to trial[1]. Detention is a serious concern in the world. Approximately one-quarter of the people incarcerated in the European Union (hereafter referred to as EU) have not had a trial to establish their guilt or innocence.[2]

EU Member States’ criminal justice systems unnecessarily subject too many citizens to pre-trial detention, without giving sufficient regard to the harm prison can cause to individuals, families, and the wider society. The length of pre-trial detention ‘is usually many months, but it can stretch to years. Whilst conditions vary, detainees often spend almost all of their day locked up in a cell with little access to support services.[3]

It is estimated that more than three million people are held in pre-trial detention at any given time[4]. For instance, E.U alone has an approximate number of 140,000 pretrial detainees.[5]In in2006; an estimated 7.4 million people around the world were held in pre-trial detention.[6]

The number of detainees on 1st of September 2008 amounted to 22% of the EU’s total prison population of approximately 625,000 prisoners.[7] In 2007, one out of every five detainees was acquitted in England and Whales while 40% of all pre-trial detainees received a non-custodial sentence in 2009[8]. This finding illustrates that the number of persons who did not serve a prison sentence but were nevertheless confined is large. Often, prisoners are held for years without any hope or opportunity for trial. In South Africa’s Johannesburg Prison, some inmates have not seen ajudge in as many as seven years[9].In Nigeria, the average period of detention while awaiting trial is 3 years[10]. In countries with the most broken criminal justice systems, cases may take long periods to resolve. As a result, the population of pre-trial detainees often swells. In Liberia, for instance, almost 97 percent of all those in prison are pre-trial detainees[11].

The League of Nations made efforts to protect detainees rights by the establishment of the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission[12] which set forth standards for decent treatment of prisoners. After the Second World War, the United, Nations (hereafter referred to as the UN) succeeded the League of Nations. The UN has also made great strides in protecting the rights of pre-trial detainees. This is seen in various legal instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[13] (hereafter referred to as UDHR) and the UN Rule of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (hereafter referred to as SMRs) 1955. The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Right stresses the recognition of the ‘inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family’, which is affirmed in article 1. Many of the UDHR’s provisions are directly relevant to the issue of detention. In this respect, articles 2 and 7 (prescribing equal treatment and prohibiting discrimination on any status), article 3 (protecting the right to life, liberty and security of person), article 5 (prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment), article 8 (the right to an effective remedy) and article 9 (prohibiting arbitrary arrest, detention or exile) are of particular significance.

Owing to the fact that the UDHR is soft law (not binding), it was therefore imperative to put its provisions in legally binding instruments. As a result, two major Covenants, the International Convention on Civil and Political Right(December1966)(hereafter referred to as ICCPR) and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Political Rights(December 1966) (hereafter referred to as ICESCR),which are referred to as an international ‘Bill of Rights’ came into existence. These Conventions contain provisions relating to the protection of pre-trial detainees[14]. This will be discussed in the subsequent chapter.

Besides the international ‘Bill of Rights’ different Conventions have also contributed to the advancement of detainees’ rights to wit: the Convention on the Rights of the Child(1989)[15], the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination(1965)[16] and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women(1979)[17].

Cameroon is among the countries with the highest proportion of the total prison population in pre-trial detention with a rate of 70% as of 2014[18]. The phenomenon of pre-trial detention in Anglophone Cameroon dates back to the colonial era where indigenous delinquents and recalcitrant persons were detained for failing to undertake construction work for the administration[19]. The Anglophone crisis has worsened the situation due to the fact that there’s now a significant rise in the number of detainees in the various prisons in Cameroon. This has led to overcrowding in prison facilities and has exposed detainees to various diseases like chickenpox, rashes etc.


Cameroon has a good legal framework for the protection of detainees. However, violations of the rights of detainees in the country are a common phenomenon.[20] To start with, detainees are held in custody for more than the period stated by law. Specifically, this is a violation of Article 9(3) of the ICCPR which guarantees a right to trial within a reasonable time, or alternatively the right to release[21]. In Cameroon, police investigators keep arrested persons for more than 48 hours in violation of the period provided in the CPC[22].

Also, in African countries and Anglophone Cameroon, in particular, humane treatment of detainees is far-fetched. Detainees in Cameroon suffer from food shortages. In consequence, they resort to digging in the dustbins in the prison to pick up the peelings “of vegetables, cocoyams and other foodstuffs thrown away by others, and cook them. This often leads to health hazards which results in the high death toll[23], contrary to the UN Rule 57 of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs) 1955 and international human rights instruments which require that no suspicion of a criminal offence should be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment[24].

Overcrowding and inadequate medical care in detention centres in Anglophone Cameroon also cast doubts on Cameroon’s commitment to protecting detainees. For instance, it’s been reported that the New Bell prison in Douala was meant to hold 800 inmates but holds 3,100 including pre-trial detainees. There is also overcrowding in detention centres in Kumba[25]which exposes detainees to various diseases like chickenpox, rashes etc.

The International Centre for Prison Studies estimates that Cameroon has the second-highest occupancy rate in the world after Barbados with approximately half awaiting trial[26].

Arbitral detention[27] is a serious violation of the rights of detainees in Anglophone Cameroon. Critics and opponents of the government are frequently held without charge for a long time, thus, violating international instruments which condemn arbitrary arrests such as the ICCPR (Article 9) and UDHR (article 9). Under Cameroon law. Detainees cannot be held beyond 72 hours without being brought before a judicial authority to be either charged or released[28]. Yet in practice that is not always the case.

A related problem is that arbitrary detention is justified by Law No.90/054 of 19 December 1990 relating to the Maintenance of Law and Order. This law gives the authorities unlimited powers of administrative detention for an indefinite period without any legal safeguards, of people suspected of “banditry” (bandits). It, therefore, means that the aforementioned law conflicts with international conventions as well as the CPC.


This research seeks to answer the following questions:

  • Who is a detainee and what are the rights accorded to them?
  • What is any legal framework for the protection of the rights of detainees in Cameroon?
  • What is the state of detainees in Anglophone Cameroon?
  • What is the effectiveness of the protection of the rights of detainees in Anglophone Cameroon?
  • What policy recommendations can be made to address the problem?
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