The United States will withhold military assistance to Cameroon over allegations of gross human rights violations by its security forces in the northwest, southwest and far north regions, a state department official said on Wednesday.
According to the official, the US had terminated a C-130 aircraft training program, and halted deliveries of four defender boats, nine armored vehicles and an upgrade of a Cessna aircraft for Cameroon’s rapid intervention battalion.
Furthermore, the United States had withdrawn its offer for Cameroon to be part of the State Partnership Program, a military cooperation program, the official said.
We do not take these measures lightly, but we will not shirk from reducing assistance further if evolving conditions require it.
“We do not take these measures lightly, but we will not shirk from reducing assistance further if evolving conditions require it,” the official said. “For the time being, other programs will continue.”
Cameroon has cooperated closely with the United States in the fight against Islamist militant group Boko Haram in West and central Africa. But rights groups have accused authorities of using the fight against Boko Haram to crack down on political opponents, and make arbitrary arrests and torture people.
Cameroon’s ongoing political crisis
Authorities arrested opposition leader Maurice Kamto in January, accusing him of mobilizing dissent against President Paul Biya, who has ruled the country since 1982.
Biya has been accused by the opposition and rights groups of cracking down in the Anglophone Southwest region to root out armed separatists trying to end his grip on power.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon during Boko Haram’s campaign to carve out an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria.
“We emphasize that it is in Cameroon’s interest to show greater transparency in investigating credible allegations of gross violations of human rights security forces,” the State Department official said.
The Central African country of Cameroon—whose tourist slogan for years was “all of Africa in one country”—presents itself as a unifier of diverse environments, languages, and culture in this nation located in the middle of the continent. The last weeks in Cameroon, however, suggest the worst of conflict, corruption, and colonialism, primarily relating to the country’s intensifying repression against the English-speaking minority in the region of Ambazonia, little-known even to Africanists and anti-colonial academics from the Global North. Despite the efforts of Ambazonian scholars based in the U.S., and a trickle of not-always-helpful information from Amnesty International and the BBC, the escalation of military violence over the past few months, and especially a new “scorched earth” burning of entire villages since last May and several massacres in the first half of July, have gone largely unnoticed even by human rights experts.
On the evening of July 11, 2018, five students were separated during a round-up by government military forces at the University Center in the town of Bambilli, allegedly for not having identification cards. Bambilli is a college town north in the Ambazonian territory. Though BBC reported on the incident, they did not make the connection to the pattern of attacks on Ambazonian students, activists, and community leaders which have worsened over the past year. Three days later, ten more unarmed Ambazonians and one Ghanaian pastor who was working with them were slaughtered in the town of Batibo.
Though this news may never have surfaced if not for the connection to clergy in Ghana, organizations such as the Network for Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa have begun to analyze, document, and report on these incidents. Several Pan-African groups, including affiliates of the prominent Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (which share a collegial relationship with the Pan African Nonviolence and Peace-building Network), have raised growing concerns about military-perpetrated, government-instigated violence in the area which makes up the southern border of Cameroon and Nigeria.
Nonviolence has always been the strategy and philosophy of choice there, with the decades-long freedom slogan focusing on the logic of Ambazonia freedom, by “the force of argument, not the argument of force.” In1961, the United Nations Trust Territory of Southern Cameroons voted for full independence from colonial Great Britain, and neighboring Francophone Cameroon quickly incorporated the territory into its own “United Republic” of Cameroon. Since that time, a mass, unarmed civil resistance movement has declared its desire for full independence, given its distinct languages (English and Indigenous African), culture, history, and geographic base. In 1984, when Cameroon President Paul Biya removed the “United” from the official name of the country, an even more intense crisis ensued. “All this time, however, from the 1960s until 2017,” noted Eben, U.S. facilitator of the Ambazonian Prisoners of Conscience Support Network, “barely a single stone was thrown as part of our resistance. Armed resistance was never a tactic we engaged in.
Following a series of lawyer-led uprisings which began on October 1, 2016, escalating nonviolent civil resistance, and a massive general strike in September 2017—met with gunfire from Cameroon government helicopter gunships—some Ambazonians did initiate an armed struggle on October 1, 2017, declaring independence and setting up a government in exile. Cooperation between the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon might play a negative role in the aspirations of Ambazonians, as Nigeria handed over some who were taking refuge there, and who now make up a growing political-prisoner population in Cameroon.
Nigeria’s inability to resolve their “Boko Haram problem”—the Islamist fundamentalist-military movement with close ties to Iraq—also plays a role. Nigeria can push Boko Haram forces across the border into Cameroon, and Cameroon in turn attacks both Boko Haram military units and Ambazonian independence activists as if they represented the same “nuisance” to the common people. It is the ordinary civilian, however, who is most caught between governments, militaries, and borders. A horrifying video of Cameroon soldiers murdering two women, a young child, and a baby—apparently in mid-July and because their families allegedly had ties to Boko Haram—has begun to go viral and gain the condemnation of Amnesty International. In an eerie flash-back to words uttered fifty years ago in Vietnam at the heinous My Lai massacre, one soldier can be heard asking his commanding officer: “Are we going to kill the children too?”
Ironically, Amnesty—widely seen as the unquestioned expert on human rights in the region—has been slow and significantly misguided in reporting the facts of events in the region. An incredibly detailed and well-documented critique of the June 2018 Amnesty International report on “Anglophone Cameroon” spotlights ways in which the respected organization has misunderstood and distorted the reality of Ambazonian life and struggle. The popular refrain that there “is violence on both sides” not only gives too much emphasis to a very limited armed struggle, dismissing the decades of previous history, it also ignores the fact that the last two years have seen a sharp increase in the breadth and scope of nonviolent civic engagement on the part of Ambazonians, both in the territory and in diaspora. An entire network of home-front media producers has congealed around a Southern Cameroon TV project, dozens of diaspora organizations have formed and successfully pressed for attention from local and national politicians, the Southern Cameroons Congress of the People was formed as a political party, and a veritable social media army has begun to link refugees, political prisoners and their supporters, home front organizers, and those living abroad.
Independent internationalists might be especially confused by the July 19, 2018 briefings and commentaries issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW). On the one hand, their poignant report “These Killings Can Be Stopped” recounts in 59 detailed pages how the area “is slipping into a protracted human rights crisis in the largely Anglophone North-West and South-West regions that border Nigeria.” It documents how, for the past two years or so, the Cameroon government has responded to demonstrations, legal challenges, and unarmed protests with “heavy clamp-downs,” “repression and arrest,” and “abuse” which likely caused a radicalization on the part of the Ambazonian freedom movement.
On the other hand, in HRW’s summary press release sent out the same day, “Cameroon: Killings, Destruction in Anglophone Region,” they misleadingly and inaccurately assert that “in response to protests and violence by armed separatists, government forces have killed civilians, used excessive force against demonstrators, tortured and mistreated suspected separatists and detainees, and burned hundreds of homes in several villages.” Want to find evidence that the HRW summary press release is inaccurate? Read the HRW full report! The poor attempt to be “even-handed” tragically dilutes HRW’s basic good point: these killings can and must be stopped—by support for justice-seeking nonviolent campaigners and a condemnation of government-based military violence and oppression.
The crisis in Ambazonia—like so many anti-colonial crises that seem to be escalating in this age of neocolonialism—cannot easily be resolved, especially by traditional military or diplomatic means. As grassroots women’s and social groups inside the country and supporters or allies in the Diaspora continue to put pressure on the colonial regime, unarmed civil resistance is the best hope for lasting change. But change cannot take place without clear, pro-justice, international attention and support—which so far has been sadly lacking.
The European Union has issued a statement calling on the Cameroon Government to take appropriate steps in solving the political crisis that erupted a few days ago in the French-speaking Regions of the country.
According to a communiqué the European Union through its spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations has enjoined the Cameroon Government.
Maja Kocijancic condemned, Thursday, January 31, 2019, in Brussels, Belgium the political situation unfolding in Cameroon where rallies occurred leading to use of disproportionate force by the police and to arrests, including leaders of the main opposition party.
The Spokesperson states that EU has also observed violence against Cameroon’s Embassies abroad, adding that only dialogue in an atmosphere of inclusivity and serenity, where fundamental right and state of law are respected will solve a problem.
Prof Maurice Kamto, Chair of Cameroon’s main opposition political party, Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM) was officially charged on eight (8) counts including facing a death penalty, the party’s third Vice President, who’s also the party’s Advocate, Barrister Emmanuel Simh told National Telegraph late Thursday, January 31, 2019.
Kamto was transferred from the Judicial Police Headquarters in Elig-Essono in the nation’s capital, Yaoundé where he was initially held to the Special Operation Unit of the Police, GSO at Carrefour Mvan still in Yaoundé, before he was interrogated and charged on eight (8) counts, Wednesday, January 30, 2019.
Maurice Kamto has been charged with Rebellion, Sedition, Insurrection, Inciting Violence, Disruption of Public Peace, Complicity, Association with wrongdoers and Hostility against the nation, Simh told National Telegraph’s Eric Tataw on phone from the country’s capital, Yaoundé, adding that the charge on Hostility against the Nation is tantamount to Death Sentence.
On Saturday, January 26, 2019, at the behest of Kamto, Cameroonians observed peaceful demonstrations in Douala, Yaoundé, Bafoussam and in other cities. A mammoth crowd attended the protest, denouncing what they term Electoral Holdup. Abroad, many Cameroonians who were protesting invaded Cameroon Embassies in France, Belgium, Britain, and Germany causing material damages.
In Cameroon, several protesters were reportedly shot by police, including Michele Ndoki, a famous female lawyer. Kamto had challenged the results at the country’s Constitutional Council where the Council’s ruling was considered by many Cameroonians as jaundiced.
Kamto believes the Electoral Commission imputed figures to favour the incumbent especially as elections were boycotted in the North West and South West Regions buried in an armed conflict. Others have accused Biya 85, in power since 1982 for desperately holding to power.
As a result, Prof Maurice Kamato, his closest party aides and allies, Christian Penda Ekoka, Albert Dzongang and, several other party activists were arrested at about 9:30 PM, Monday, January 28, 2019, at Albert Dzongang’s Residence situated at Mobile Guinness neighborhood, of Douala III Sub-division, Wouri Division in Cameroon’s Littoral Region.
They were later ferried to Yaoundé where they’ve been charged and expected to stand trial. Amnesty International had earlier called for their unconditional release. The accusations have however also been condemned by Kamto’s college of lawyers amongst whom are Barristers Silvain Soup and Emmanuel Simh, who say an arreste cannot be charged before his court appearance.
Ongoing violence in the Southwest and Northwest Regions of Cameroon continues. A refugee crisis threatens. The United Nations (UN) refugee agency reported more than 32 000 Cameroonians crossed into Nigeria as refugees. The Daily Vox team takes a closer look.
Cameroon Refugee Crisis
The United Nations and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have reported that intensified violence has led displacement. There has been a displacement of more than 437 500 people within Cameroon. More people fled into Nigeria where they are staying in refugee camps in Cross River State.
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) built a refugee settlement in August 2018. By December 2018 it held more than 6 400 refugees.
In a report compiled by MSF, they spoke to refugees in the camp. Lydia Ochin from Akwaya, Cameroon said: “I escaped from my country in October 2017. I have lived with my family, my husband, and my children, in Adagom refugee camp since August 2018. Life in the camp is not easy. I live here with my husband, who is sick with tuberculosis, and my children. Eight people living inside a small tent. Now that my health is getting better, the biggest challenge is food. We do not have money to buy food on our own and all we eat is the rice that is given to us.”
In the area, the MSF Cross River project operates six mobile clinics for the host and refugee community. The organisation dug boreholes and repaired handpumps to provide water for the communities.
Civil society response
In February 2019, faith and civil society organisations like the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Denis Hurley Peace Institute will deliver a letter to the 40th session of the UNHCR. The letter demands UN members states investigate allegations of human rights violations in Ambazonia. At the same when the letter is delivered to the UN, press briefings are to be held in Geneva, New York, and Johannesburg.
There are daily reports on social media about alleged violence in the region. “The UN HRC has the power to cultivate the conditions for peace,” said the Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. “We strongly believe that a UN HRC-mandated fact-finding mission would have the immediate effect of quelling violence and saving lives.”
What has been happening
Conflict in Cameroon stemming from the calls for independence in South Cameroons began in 2016. The people of Southern Cameroon (Ambazonia) have demanded the right to determine whether they want to remain in a union with Cameroon or restore the independence of Southern Cameroons as a sovereign state.
Those calls led to a violent crackdown by President Paul Biya’s Francophone government on the Anglophone population of Southern Cameroon. In 2017 there was an internet shutdown to prevent mass mobilisations against the government and many people were killed by the security forces during protests. There were arbitrary arrests with people detained in already overflowing jails.
Biya won his seventh term in October 2018. The elections were marred by low turnout, especially in the Anglophone zones. He has been in power since 1982. The constitution was changed in 2008 which removed term limits which would allow him to rule for even longer.
During a 2017 march by the Southern Cameroons community living in South Africa, Milton Taka, a spokesperson for the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front said: “Only the Ambazonian flag will fly all over our land. Our people are taking their power back. From today we declare self-rule. Self-determination is an inalienable right and nobody will take that from us.”
Increased humanitarian crisis
There have been all around calls for an increase in attention for Cameroon. Both the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to Cameroon, Ms. Allegra Baiocchi, and Cameroon’s Civil Protection Director, Ms. Yap Mariatou warned about the increased need for humanitarian assistance due to the Francophone-Anglophone conflict.
“Cameroon today can no longer be a forgotten crisis; it needs to be high on the United Nations agenda” Mariatou said. The UN estimates that around 4.3 million people in Cameroon requires lifesaving assistance. This is one in six people and mostly women and children.
Refugee crisis: Nigeria
There has been a cross fleeing of people. Nigerian people fleeing to Cameroon from the northern Borno state it’s been reported in January 2019. They are fleeing increasing Boko Haram militant attacks. Reportedly there was a displacement of 30 000 people after a deadly attack that happened on January 14. There have been calls for the Cameroonian government to accept the refugees into the country. This all happens against the backdrop of the violence the Cameroonian government in enacting against its Anglophone-speaking citizens.
Banana exports from Cameroon, which have been on a downward spiral for the last ten months, have plummeted further in December 2018, APA said Tuesday.
The drop is estimated at about 2000 in the space of a month, in the total absence of the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), the second largest exporter of the country which is suffering from the socio-political crisis prevailing in the English-speaking regions of the North-West and South-West over the last two years.
According to statistics published Tuesday by the Cameroon Banana Association (ASSOBACAM), 15,605 tonnes were exported last month compared to 17,137 tonnes a month earlier.
The leader of the local market, Plantations de Haut Penja (PHP), a subsidiary of the French group Compagnie Fruitière de Marseille exported 90 percent of the produce during this period.
A policeman was on Monday, January 28 killed in Bamenda, Northern zone of Ambazonia by unidentified gunmen, sources have said.
Police Inspector Joseph Ngunde Itabi, body guard of the President of the Bamenda Court of First Instance was killed in Bamenda in a day which was marked by heavy fighting between security forces and Restoration Forces in the city.
The shootings in Bamenda have raged on into Tuesday as most residents have remained indoors since morning with several trucks of soldiers arriving for back up.
Heavy shooting has equally been reported in Bafut for the second consecutive day as French Cameroun soldiers battle Ambazonia restoration forces in the locality.
The escalating crisis in Cameroon is fueled in part by ongoing unrest in the English-speaking regions, UN officials said Friday.
An unfolding humanitarian crisis in Cameroon, fueled in part by ongoing unrest in the English-speaking regions, is escalating, said UN officials who issued an appeal Thursday for aid from the international community.
“Hundreds of thousands of people on Cameroon’s territory need urgent assistance and protection,” said Allegra Baiocchi, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Cameroon. “Attacks against civilians have increased and many conflict-affected people are surviving in harsh conditions without humanitarian assistance due to the dramatic underfunding of the response. Cameroon today can no longer be a forgotten crisis. It needs to be high on our agenda.”
She spoke in Geneva, Switzerland, at the launch of the UN’s 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for Cameroon, a $299 million appeal designed to reach 2.3 million vulnerable people. UN officials estimate that 4.3 million people in Cameroon, or about one-sixth of the population of 24 million people, require lifesaving assistance.
Officials were particularly concerned about raising the funds since the 2018 appeal for $320 million for Cameroon yielded only 40 percent of the goal.
Baiocchi said the ongoing conflict in the country’s Southwest and Northwest regions, home to up to 5 million Anglophones, was “the main driver” behind the increase in need, adding that the unrest there had uprooted 437,000 people from their homes and forced more than 32,000 to flee west to Nigeria.
The English-speaking Northwest and Southwest areas, also known as Southern Cameroons, have exploded in violence over the past two years as the government cracked down on an emerging separatist movement among Anglophones, who have felt marginalized politically and economically for decades, UN officials and experts have said.
Cameroonian government officials have blamed separatists for some of the violence and attacks on civilians, reporting as recently as last week that armed separatists kidnapped more than 30 people on the road between Buea and Kumba in the Southwest Region by attacking buses on the highway.
The victims were released after their money and valuables were taken, officials said.
The strife in the Southwest and Northwest regions occurs as violence plagues the north where Cameroon’s military is trying to defeat Boko Haram, the Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group that has launched many violent attacks in several African countries. Additionally, conflicts in northeastern Nigeria have forced 100,000 people to flee into Cameroon.
On Friday in New York, UN officials said the situation in Cameroon was worsening.
“Well, we’ve been concerned about the periodic violence that’s been happening there,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Our special adviser there, François Louncény Fall, has, in fact, in recent days, been in Cameroon, where he spoke with several senior officials, including the prime minister of Cameroon, and made clear our various concerns. One of the things we’re hopeful for is that there will be more efforts by the government of Cameroon to have a more constructive and positive relationship with the communities, including the Anglophone communities.”
Supporters of the Anglophones, including Long Island-based Stony Brook University Professor Patrice Nganang, have said their appeals for self-determination have been ignored by President Paul Biya.
The violence has escalated as Biya’s delivered a New Year’s Day message saying that he would eliminate separatists who refuse to lay down their arms.
“I am very sensitive to [the] worries [of residents of the Northwest and Southwest regions] about their safety and their aspirations for a return to calm and normal social life,” he said in a statement. “If my appeal to warmongers to lay down their weapons remains unheeded, the Defense and Security Forces will be instructed to neutralize them. I am well aware of the distress these rebels are causing the populations of these regions. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.”
But Yap Mariatou, Cameroon’s civil protection director , said in a statement with Baiocchi that the government had played a role in quelling the violence.
“The Government of Cameroon is responsible for the protection and well-being of its people and has been at the forefront of the response with its national and international partners,” Mariatou said. “We acknowledge the scale of the different crises we face, and we encourage all the actors to work in close partnership to address the needs of Cameroonians and of the people we host.”
The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator to Cameroon, Ms. Allegra Baiocchi, and Cameroon’s Civil Protection Director, Ms. Yap Mariatou, warned that the is a drastic increase in humanitarian need across the country due to the security crisis rocking it’s two English speaking regions.
While presenting it’s 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan for the West African country, in coordination with the Government and aid partners, she said; “Cameroon today can no longer be a forgotten crisis; it needs to be high on the United Nations agenda”.
“Hundreds of thousands of people on Cameroon’s territory need urgent assistance and protection,” Ms. Baiocchi said, adding that “attacks against civilians have increased and many conflict-affected people are surviving in harsh conditions without humanitarian assistance due to the dramatic under-funding of the response.
With needs rising by 31 per cent in a year, the UN today estimates that around 4.3 million people in Cameroon – one in six people and mostly women and children – require lifesaving assistance.
The joint Humanitarian Response Plan 2019 seeks $299 million to assist 2.3 million vulnerable people, more than half of those in need. Last year, a $320 million response plan for Cameroon was only 40 per cent funded.
The aggravation of the conflict in western regions is the main driver behind the increase, with armed attacks in the far north, and new refugees coming from the Central African Republic also increasing demand for urgent aid.
Insecurity and violence in these regions have uprooted 437,000 people from their homes and forced over 32,000 to seek refuge in neighbouring Nigeria. Four million people are affected by the conflict in Cameroon’s west, says the UN.
In addition, due to the deteriorating situation in northeast Nigeria, more than 10,000 new refugees arrived in Cameroon in 2018, bringing the number of Nigerian refugees to 100,000.
Needs ‘likely to increase in coming years’
“The Government of Cameroon is responsible for the protection and wellbeing of its people and has been at the forefront of the response with its national and international partners,” added Ms. Yap Mariatou. “We acknowledge the scale of the different crises we face, and we encourage all the actors to work in close partnership to address the needs of Cameroonians and of the people we host.”
“Humanitarian needs are likely to increase in coming years,” said Ms. Baiocchi, adding that budgets had failed in increase adequately in recent years.
“Underfunding means we cannot do all we can to make a difference in the life of most vulnerable people across Cameroon, whether it is the girl who is missing school due to violence, the displaced mother struggling to feed her children, or the father who has lost his entire family.”
The leader of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement Maurice Kamto has sued the government of Cameroon to the African Union over the crisis in the North West and South West regions of the country and what he describes as “electoral fraud”.
The filing of a suit was the main reason of his trip in Addis Ababa on November 16 during the 11 extraordinary nsummit of the African Union.
During a press conference on Tuesday January 26 at the headquarters of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement at Odza, Yaounde, Maurice Kamto confirmed he was in Addis Ababa to file a petition against the Government of Cameroon during the AU summit.
He however said the AU session could not look into the question due to the limited time they had to discuss a wide range of issues but promised to put the matter on the table during the next ordinary session.
“I will inform (the press) on the outcome of the petition when the AU tables the matter, whether positive or negative,” Maurice Kamto said
During his stay in Addis Ababa, Maurice Kamto also had the opportunity to meet with several African leaders notably Paul Kagame but declined to reveal details of their conversations.
He however frowned at the African Union for ignoring happenings in Cameroon for the past years but quick to react in other countries when similar situations arise.
“I expected the African Union to send a delegation to Cameroon to investigate war crimes in the North West and South West regions but nothing has happened so far and people continue to die everyday,” Kamto said.
Kamto who was declared runner up of the October 7 Presidential election by the Constitutional Council continues to dispute the results of the elections and said he wanted the African Union to take a look at the results.
The number of internally displaced persons as a result of the crisis in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon has increased according to the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, CHRDA.
In a detailed reports released on Thursday December 20, the CHRDA said there was an upsurge of internally displaced persons as well as bunrt down settlements as a result of the persisting crisis.
About 274,908 are internally displaced in the North West region while 278,867 are displaced in the South West making it a 74% increase from the last census, the CHRDA.
The Centre also added that 113 out of the 170 settlements have beeen severely affected and called on the government to accelerate its humanitarian asssistance prrogramme to the Internally displaced persons while seeking for urgent solutions to end the crisis.
This report addds to that of the Norwegian Refugee Council which raised programme similar alarm at the start of the week and called for urgent and assistance humanitarian assistance.