Cameroonian forces have been torturing suspects in their campaign against the militant Muslim group Boko Haram, with much of the torture happening at a base that has also been used by US and French troops, Amnesty International said yesterday.
Amnesty’s report documented 101 cases of arbitrary arrest and torture by Cameroonian troops charged with fighting the insurgents between 2013 and this year. Some of the victims were tortured to death, it said.
The Nigerian militant group has been fighting for the past eight years to create a medieval Muslim caliphate around Lake Chad, where Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad meet.
Boko Haram attacks have killed more than 20,000 people and displaced 2.7 million in the region, according to aid agency figures.
Atrocities such as the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the Nigerian village of Chibok in 2014 persuaded Western countries, especially the US and France, to provide counterinsurgency assistance to some of the countries affected, including intelligence and training.
The US Africa Command said it had not received any reports of human rights abuses by Cameroonian forces at the base mentioned.
French Ministry of Defense officials did not immediately comment.
A Cameroonian Ministry of Defense spokesman accused Amnesty of “bad faith” and of trying “to transform killers into victims.”
The torture techniques, which Amnesty described as “chilling,” include a “stress position described as ‘the goat’: the detainee’s arms and legs are tied together behind his back and he is left on the ground and beaten.”
“In a common suspension technique known as ‘the swing,’ the victim’s arms and legs are again tied behind his back, before he is lifted and suspended on a bar fitted between two poles ... and further beaten,” Amnesty said.
Other torture documented included being tied standing up in stress positions for 24 hours, being subject to simulated drowning, being deprived of food, forced to drink urine, given electric shocks and burned.
Victims included women, the disabled and the mentally ill, the report said.
“Our army is professional and disciplined,” Cameroonian Army spokesman Colonel Didier Badjeck said, reacting to questions from reporters. “It has better things to do than to spend time justifying itself against people who have preconceived ideas.”
Eighty of the 101 cases of torture took place at the elite Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) headquarters at Salak, in Cameroon’s Far North Region, the heart of the insurgency, Amnesty reported.
Amnesty said its delegates had observed French troops at the base in May 2015. It also said it had still and video images “clearly showing the regular presence of US personnel in numerous locations across the base, including making use of a makeshift gym and a trailer converted into an office.
It urged the US and France to investigate whether their military personnel knew that torture was taking place on the site, and whether or not their assistance “has contributed to the commission of these crimes and violations.”
“To date, US Africa Command has not received any reports of human rights abuses by Cameroonian forces at either of these locations,” Robyn Mack, a spokeswoman at the US military’s Africa Command, said in a statement. “Any foreign military unit that receives security assistance receives training on the law of armed conflict and human rights law.”
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