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Pre-trial detention poses serious a problem in the world. Approximately one-quarter of the people incarcerated in Africa have not had a trial to establish their guilt or innocence. This research is concerned with pre-trial detention in Anglophone Cameroon. It discusses the concept of pre-trial detention by giving a comprehensible definition and the causes of the overuse of pre-trial detention.

National laws in Anglophone Cameroon such as the Cameroon Constitution and the Cameroon Penal Code aptly accord protection to pre-trial detainees. Nevertheless, there are many instances of violation of the rights of pre-trial detainees in Anglophone Cameroon, thus casting doubt on Cameroon’s commitment to international human rights treaties. This research adopts the doctrinal research method which is suitable in law.

This research finds out that pre-trial detainees are often inhumanely treated as evidenced by poor medical care and torture. The recommendation is that the government should take measures to improve the treatment of pre-trial detainees.

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From the appellation, pre-trial detention is a legal process where in a person is held by the State for an offence committed against the laws of the State before trial.[1] Pre-trial detention is a serious concern in the world. Approximately one-quarter of the people incarcerated in the Europe Union (hereafter referred to as the 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, pre‐trial 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 pre-trial detainees.[5] In 2006, an estimated 7.4 million people around the world were held in pre-trial detention.[6]

The number of pre-trial detainees on the 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 a judge in as many as seven years.[9]In Nigeria, the average period of pre-trial 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 pretrial detainees often swells. In Liberia, for instance, almost 97 per cent of all those in prison are pre-trial detainees.[11]

The League of Nations made efforts to protect prisoners’ rights by the establishment of the International Penal and Penitentiary Commission 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 (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 Rights 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), and 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.

Because 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 Rights (hereafter referred to as ICCPR) and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Political Rights (hereafter referred to as ICESCR), are referred to as the international ‘Bill of Rights’ came into existence. These Conventions contain provisions relating to the protection of pre-trial detainees.[12] 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 with the Convention on the Rights of the Child,[13] the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of  Racial Discrimination[14]  and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.[15]

 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.[16] The phenomenon of pre-trial detention in Anglophone Cameroon dates back to the colonial era when indigenous delinquents and recalcitrant persons were detained for failing to undertake construction work for the administration.[17]


Cameroon has a good legal framework for pre-trial detention.  However, violations of the rights of pre-trial detainees in the country are a common phenomenon. [18] To start with, pre-trial 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 the right to release.[19] In Cameroon, police investigators keep arrested persons for more than 48 hours in violation of the period provided in the CPC.[20]

Also, in African countries and Anglophone Cameroon, in particular, humane treatment of pre-trial detainees is a luxury. Pre-trial 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, coco yams and other foodstuffs thrown away by others, and then cooking their findings. This often leads to health hazards which results in a high death toll,[21]  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.[22]

Overcrowding and inadequate medical care in detention centres in Anglophone Cameroon also cast doubts on Cameroon’s commitment to protecting detainees. For instance, it was 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.[23] 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.[24]

Arbitral detention[25] is a serious violation of the rights of pre-trial 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.[26] 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, for 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:

  • What is the state of pre-trial detention in Anglophone Cameroon?

  • How does the judiciary control pre-trial detention in Anglophone Cameroon?

  • What are the effects of pre-trial detention in Anglophone Cameroon?

  • What needs to be done to control the phenomenon?


General   Objective

The main objective of this research is to expound (discuss﴿ on pre-trial detention in Anglophone Cameroon paying particular attention to its causes and its impacts on civil liberties.

Specific Objectives

Specifically, this research seeks:

  • Examine the nature of pre-trial detention.
  • Examine the judicial control of pre-trial detention in Anglophone Cameroon.
  • Analyze the impact (violation﴿ of pre-trial detainees in Anglophone Cameroon.
  • To make policy recommendations.

Further reading: Law project topics with Materials

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