government: republic; multiparty presidential regime
state of civil and political rights: Not free
constitution: 20 May 1972 revised in 1996 amended April 2008
legal system: mixed legal system of English common law, French civil law, and customary law
legislative system: unicameral National Assembly (Assemblee Nationale)
judicial system: Supreme Court, judges are appointed by the president. High Court of Justice
religion: indigenous beliefs 40%, Christian 40%, Muslim 20%
death row: more than 800 (Cameroonian investigative journalist, Chief Bisong Etahoben via Twitter on 25 August 2016)
year of last executions: 0-0-1988
death sentences: 0
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1st Optional Protocol to the Covenant
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty) (only signed)
Cameroon applies the death penalty for treason. The Criminal Code also prescribes the death penalty for serious crimes including murder committed with premeditation, acts of violence or physical assaults against a government employee, with the intention of killing him, and aggravated theft. Following criticism that the definition of aggravated theft was extremely vague, in December 1990 Parliament adopted an amendment to the Criminal Code, stating that a crime can be considered aggravated theft only if the violence has led to death or serious injury. Traffic in toxic or dangerous wastes was made a capital offence in December 1989.
Any final death sentence handed down by the national courts is automatically the subject of a mercy petition to the President of the Republic, who may decide to exercise clemency by virtue of discretionary powers. The sentence cannot be carried out until the President has rejected the petition.
The Head of State has signed decrees to commute and remit the sentences of death row inmates on several occasions, including a 1991 amnesty law releasing the still-jailed perpetrators of a failed 1984 coup d’etat. Some of the conspirators had been put to death on 6 April 1984.
On 20 May 2008, on the anniversary of the independence of Cameroon, President Paul Biya issued another decree commuting all death sentences to life imprisonment. Prisoners whose death sentences had been commuted to life imprisonment in previous years had their sentences reduced to 20 years’ imprisonment.
On his 3 November 2011 inauguration for another term as President, Paul Biya commuted some death sentences to life imprisonment. Sentences of life imprisonment were commuted to 20 years' imprisonment, and 10-year sentences were reduced by eight years. On 19 February 2014, Cameroon President Paul Biya commuted the sentences of death row inmates to life jail terms.
Cameroon’s most recent judicial execution was carried out in Mokolo Prison in January 1997. Until 1997 no executions have taken place in Cameroon since 1988.
The last death sentence was in 2011.
On 21 November 2012, the government funded National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms released a report in which it called for the abolition of the death penalty.
The war on terror
In December 2014, President Paul Biya promulgated the new anti-terrorism law, which provides for the death penalty for the perpetrators of terrorism acts. The law specifies that terrorist crimes are the taking of action likely to cause death; to endanger or damage the physical integrity of an-other; or to do damage to the nation’s natural resources, environment, or cultural heritage. Even those who finance terrorism, engage in money laundering, recruit in the name of terrorism or ac-claim terrorist activities will face the death penalty. The new anti-terrorism law was criticised by the opposition, civil society groupings and human rights organisations as severely curtailing basic freedoms.
In 2016, miitray courts in the northern city of Maroua issued 160 death sentences according to Amnesty International. Some have been commuted in appeal.
On 16 March 2016, a military court sentenced 89 members of the Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram to death on terror charges. They were convicted for their roles in several attacks in Cameroon’s northern region which borders Nigeria – the area has often been targeted by the insurgents. These people are part of the 850 in detention over alleged involvement in Boko Haram insurgency in the country. This is the first time that people have been sentenced to death since a new anti-terror law was passed in 2014.
Of about 800 persons held in Cameroon on suspicion of links to Boko Haram, 109 have been sentenced to death and awaiting execution. This was disclosed by Cameroonian investigative journalist, Chief Bisong Etahoben via Twitter on 25 August 2016.
The death penalty on women
Under Section 22(3) of the Penal Code, a pregnant woman can be executed only after she has given birth to herchild. Additionally, Cameroon is party to the ICCPR, which prohibits the execution of pregnant women and to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which prohibits the imposition of a death sentence on mothers of infants and young children.
On 1 May 2013, Cameroon was reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. The Government rejected recommendations to establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty on the grounds of its perceived deterrent nature, and because public opinion remains strongly in favour of capital punishment. Foreign Minister Pierre Moukoko Mbonjo said that Cameroon needs "more time" to make progress on the matter. The law is expression of the general will and the Government must take account of the electorate and the evolution of society... The death penalty is not applied de facto, and its abolition “will happen one day”, the Minister told States parties to the UN Human Rights Council.
On 19 December 2016, Cameroon abstained from the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly, as in the previous years.