Cameroon + 4 more

IRIN Update 666 of events in West Africa

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UNITED NATIONS
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network for West Africa
Tel: +225 20 21 73 54
Fax: +225 20 21 63 35
e-mail: irin-wa@irin.ci

CAMEROON: UN expert reports widespread and systematic torture

The use of torture by Cameroonian law enforcement officials is "widespread and systematic" according to an expert of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

In a report just released ahead of the next session of the commission in March Nigel Rodley, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, said he reached his conclusion after meeting last May "people who still showed signs of what could only have been recent physical torture, as well as many others whose testimonies convincingly alleged torture at the time of the first
arrest".

"Torture is condoned if not encouraged at the level of the heads of the places of detention where it takes place," Rodley said. He added that if the political leadership were unaware of the use of torture in prisons "it can only be because of a lack of will to know".

Young and old people were subjected to torture, Rodley said. He also criticised "appalling overcrowding" in detention centres.

However, Rodley said that the authorities appeared to be trying to address the problem, following the recent adoption of penal measures criminalising torture and the granting of permission to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit detention centres.

Amnesty International (AI), which has repeatedly called for allegations of torture in Cameroon to be investigated, said Rodley's visit was a "major initiative in further highlighting the extent and frequency of torture and ill-treatment in Cameroon", in a news release issued on Wednesday.

"The shocking information provided in the Special Rapporteur's report cannot be ignored or dismissed by the Cameroon government," AI said. "It must respond by taking decisive and immediate action to end torture."

News release available at
http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/45ee90b46a08ca5a802565fd004e2473/

NIGERIA: Sharia suspended in northern states

The National Council of State (NCS) decided on Tuesday at a meeting in Abuja that the implementation of the Sharia law in the northern states should be suspended, Radio Nigeria-Kaduna reported.

At a news conference after the meeting Nigerian Vice-President Atiku Abubakar said that the decision was taken in the best interest of national security. The NCS appealed to all religious leaders to try to keep their followers in check and minimise the present tension in the country, state radio said.

Also attending the meeting were the governors of Zamfara, Niger, Bauchi, Kaduna, Ogun, Plateau, Anambra and Rivers states. They were directed by the NCS to return immediately to their various states to tighten security there, it said.

Violent protests have taken place between Muslims and Christians in Kaduna in the north and in towns in Abia State in the southeast following the proposed introduction of Islamic Sharia law.

A spokeswoman for the Nigerian NGO, Baobab for Women's Human Rights, told IRIN on Wednesday that it welcomed the move by the government. "We hope the decision will lead to more progressive developments and discussions and we hope, with the issue put on hold, there won't be any more violence."

Igbo leaders of a group known as the Ohaneze Ndigbo, said in a statement sent to AFP on Wednesday that the withdrawal was a "very, very happy event because we believe it will bring the crisis created by the promulgation of Sharia laws to an end".

Ahmad Sani, governor of northern Zamfara State, was present at the NCS meeting and said afterwards that the decision to reverse this was now "in the best interests of peace", although other Muslim leaders said it was too late for a retreat, the 'Financial Times' reported on Wednesday.

Islamic law formally took effect in Zamfara in January when Sani signed into law two bills proclaiming the legal system and swore in judges for newly created Sharia courts. The governors of two other states, Niger and Sokoto, recently signed bills under which Sharia was expected to come into effect later this year.

NIGERIA: President to address the nation

President Olusegun Obasanjo will make a broadcast to the nation at 9:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Wednesday on the withdrawal of Islamic Sharia law. The broadcast will be shown on all national television channels and carried on the radio, news organisations reported the president's office as saying.

Some Nigerians are complaining that Obasanjo, a Christian, reacted belatedly to the Sharia crisis hoping that it would resolve itself without intervention from the federal government, the BBC reported on Wednesday. Controversy over the proposed introduction of Sharia law has been building up for several months, it added.

The government's failure to take a stand until now on Sharia has been cited by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria as the cause of the riot last week in Kaduna, 'The Guardian' newspaper reported on Tuesday. "It is our strong conviction that the present tragedy could have been avoided if government had heeded our warning as contained in our memo to it as early as October 1999," Archbishop John Onaiyekan, the vice-president of the conference, said.

NIGERIA: Curfew lifted in Abia State

The curfew imposed in Abia State following violent disturbances in the southeastern towns of Aba and Umuahi has been lifted, Nigerian radio reported on Wednesday. The governor made the announcement after assessing the security situation in the two cities and said that the chaotic situation witnessed in the past two days had been brought under control, it reported.

Meanwhile the death toll from religious riots since Monday in Aba is greater than 400, Reuters quoted police sources as saying on Wednesday. The victims in Aba appear to be northern Hausas, who are almost all Muslim, killed by mainly Christian Igbos from the southeast in reprisal for the deaths of scores of Igbos in the northern city of Kaduna last week. Unofficial reports said several people were reported to have been killed in Umuhai, according to AFP.

SIERRA LEONE: Zambia to provide battalion to UNAMSIL

Zambia has accepted a request for a battalion of its troops to serve in the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), a UN official told IRIN.

The soldiers, which the official 'Times of Zambia' reported on Wednesday would number 800, are expected to deploy by May. Other countries with soldiers already on the ground are Guinea, Ghana, India, Kenya and Nigeria. The UN also has 22 military observers of various nationalities in Sierra Leone.

The Zambian announcement follows recent protests that Revolutionary United Front (RUF) fighters were impeding UNAMSIL's work. UNAMSIL's Chief Information Officer, Philip Winslow, told IRIN on Wednesday that the RUF had been shifting troops from the north to the southeast, in a "fairly coordinated" manner over the last two weeks to block UNAMSIL's deployment.

RUF troops have stopped UNAMSIL from entering the diamond mining area of Koidu in eastern Sierra Leone. The 6,000-strong UN force has been criticised for its soft response to RUF pressure but says as a strictly peacekeeping unit it has had to rely on persuasion to get around these obstacles.

"Basically we try to explain to the RUF that UNAMSIL has a right to free passage," Winslow said.

That right was effectively granted under the Lome accord, between the government and the RUF, which allows for the creation of UNAMSIL. The UN Security Council has approved the deployment of a 11,000-strong force.

"We will eventually deploy throughout the country," Winslow said.

GUINEA-BISSAU: Water and sanitation activities continue

Twenty pit latrines have been installed in four villages in the Tite sector in the southern region of Quinara, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its most recent situation report.

The project was supported by WHO but implemented by a local NGO, OCHA said. The WFP provided food for work assistance. Another 40 latrines will be constructed following a WHO evaluation on 17 February.

A humanitarian source in Bissau told IRIN that parts of the Tite sector had been hit by the war and that the pit latrine project had been suspended during this period.

"The level of community involvement is a key element in determining the areas in which the pit latrines will be built," the source said.

Meanwhile, WHO has made arrangements with local partners to construct 50 latrines in Bra Bairro and 100 latrines in Bairro Militar, two districts in Bissau which were badly affected during the war.

In the Simao Mendes Hospital, Bissau's main hospital which was partially destroyed during the war, UNICEF is supporting the repair of the operating theatre, maternity and paediatric wards and out-patient area, OCHA said. UNICEF continues to provide drinking water to the hospital and other needy areas of Bissau, OCHA added.

WESTERN SAHARA: Security Council approves MINURSO extension

The UN Security Council extended for three months on Tuesday the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) and backed the efforts of the UN Secretary-General's envoy to find a solution to the dispute, the UN reported.

MINURSO was first established in 1991 to assist in implementing a settlement plan that would conclude with a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara would choose between independence and integration with Morocco. In the nine years since, the parties have continued to have divergent views on some of the plan's key elements, including the issue of voter eligibility.

MINURSO's extended mandate expires on 31 May.

Abidjan, 1 March, 17:00 GMT

[ENDS]

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