Hundreds of people accused of supporting Boko Haram in Cameroon are being brutally tortured, often without any evidence, leading to dozens of death, by security forces fighting the jihadists, Amnesty International said.
The London-based rights group, in a new report released Thursday, said it has documented 101 cases of arbitrary arrests and torture by Cameroonian forces between 2013 and 2017 at more than 20 different sites.
Boko Haram launched its insurgency in 2009 aiming to create an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria, but has spread its mutiny to other countries of the Lake Chad Basin - Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
A regional multinational joint task force comprising troops from the four countries has been fighting to bring the terrorist group to its knees since 2015.
According to Amnesty, the insurgents have killed more than 1,500 civilians in Cameroon and abducted many others especially in Far North region since 2014.
“We have repeatedly and unequivocally condemned the atrocities and war crimes committed by Boko Haram in Cameroon,” said Mr Alioune Tine, Amnesty’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“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,” he added, calling for an independent investigation.
Many of those detained for allegedly supporting Boko Haram, Amnesty said, are men aged 18 and 45 years in the northern region. Women, children and people with disabilities are also targeted.
The victims are held in illegal detention sites in four military bases, two facilities run by intelligence services, a private residence and a school, the rights group said.
“Most victims were tortured in two unofficial detention sites – the headquarters of the Rapid Intervention Batallion (BIR) in Salak, near the northern city of Maroua; and a facility in the capital, Yaoundé, run by Cameroon’s intelligence services, the General Directorate of External Research (DGRE), situated close to the country’s parliament,” the report said.
Several detainees told Amnesty they were subjected to at least 24 torture methods in order to secure confessions including beatings with sharp wooden sticks while their limbs are tied together behind their backs, use of excruciating stress positions, deprivation of food, water and medical treatment.
Others included beatings with an electric cable while having water thrown on them.
Some 32 of the 101 victims told Amnesty that they had seen people die due to the torture.
The government is yet to respond to the new report titled ‘Cameroon’s secret torture chambers: human rights violations and war crimes in the fight against Boko Haram'.
The allegations are however not the first against Cameroon, which dismissed similar reports as “exaggerated and ungrounded.”
The report also said French and US troops were at one of the torture sites.
Detainees at the BIR base in Salak reported that they saw and heard white, English-speaking men including some in military uniform.
Amnesty called on the two governments to investigate whether they were aware that illegal detention and torture was taking place on site.