A global human rights organisation said on Thursday that at least 170 civilians have been killed since October in fighting in English-speaking western Cameroon between separatists and government forces.
“Government forces in Cameroon’s anglophone regions have killed scores of civilians, used indiscriminate force, and torched hundreds of homes over the past six months,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.
The group based its findings on interviews with 140 victims, family members and witnesses between December and March, it said.
Government forces in Cameroon’s anglophone regions have killed scores of civilians.
“Since October, at least 170 civilians have been killed in over 220 incidents… according to media reports and Human Rights Watch research,” it said.
Security forces killed
Another 31 members of the security forces were killed in operations between October and February, it said.
“Given the ongoing clashes and the difficulty of collecting information from remote areas, the number of civilian deaths is most likely higher,” it added.
Who is to blame?
HRW did not explicitly blame government forces for all 170 civilian deaths.
It said armed separatists assaulted and kidnapped dozens of people during the same period, executing at least two men.
The government sent a letter to HRW denying “extortion” by the army described in the report, the group said.
The International Crisis Group has said the death toll since the start of the fighting has topped 500 for civilians and more than 200 for members of the security forces.
The conflict broke out in October 2017 when the anglophone separatists launched an armed campaign.
English speakers, who account for about a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 24 million, have complained for years at perceived discrimination in education, law and economic opportunities at the hands of the francophone majority.
The anglophone movement radicalised in 2017 as the authorities refused demands for greater autonomy for the Northwest and Southwest Regions.
On October 1 that year, separatists declared the creation of the “Republic of Ambazonia” in the two regions, named after the local Ambas Bay. The declaration has not been recognised internationally.
“Cameroon’s authorities have an obligation to respond lawfully and to protect people’s rights during periods of violence,” said Lewis Mudge, HRW’s Central Africa director. “The government’s heavy-handed response targeting civilians is counterproductive and risks igniting more violence.”
Some 437,000 people have fled the fighting, according to the United Nations, which called Tuesday for $184 million to help the displaced.
The Human Rights Report card on Cameroon by the US State Department could be the same smooking gun the US could use to “refer the separatist conflict in Cameroon to an international forum”, (ie the International Criminal Court or UN Security Council).
You can read damning excerpts of the US State Department Report on Cameroon for 2018 here.
“Government security forces were widely believed to be responsible for disappearances of suspected Anglophone separatists, with reports of bodies dumped far from the site of killings to make identification difficult.
According to credible nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the government did not readily account for some of the activists arrested in connection with the Anglophone crisis.
Family members and friends of the detainees were frequently unaware of the missing individuals’ location in detention for a month or more. For example, authorities held incommunicado Ayuk Sisiku Tabe, the “interim president” of the so-called Republic of Ambazonia, along with 46 other Anglophone separatists, from January 29 until late June when they were allowed to meet with their lawyers and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“There were credible reports that members of government forces physically abused and killed prisoners in their custody. In its July report, Human Rights Watch highlighted the case of Samuel Chiabah, popularly known as Sam Soya, whom members of government forces interrogated under harsh conditions and killed, following the killing of two gendarmes by armed separatists at a checkpoint between Bamenda and Belo in the Northwest Region. A video widely circulated on social media featured Sam Soya sitting on the floor and being questioned about the killings, along with one other suspect. In the video Sam Soya could be heard crying in agony and denying participation in the killings. Photographs were released on social media that showed members of security forces in uniform using a bladed weapon to slice open Sam Soya’s neck and the leg of the other man, both of whom were lying face down on the floor and in handcuffs.”
The top United States diplomat to Africa says perhaps it’s time to take the deadly separatist crisis in Cameroon to an “international forum.”
An exasperated Tibor Nagy told reporters on Tuesday that “my heart breaks for Cameroon … I just don’t understand why this crisis goes on and on and on.”
Some half a million people have been displaced as Cameroon’s government battles an Anglophone separatist movement in the largely French-speaking country. Weary residents in the middle have pleaded for peace.
Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, called for “open, unlimited national dialogue.”
Cameroon’s government in a strongly worded statement last week criticized Nagy’s earlier comments on the Anglophone crisis, accusing him of misunderstanding the situation and interfering in the West African country’s internal affairs.
This year’s edition of the Cameroon Film Festival, Camiff has been cancelled due to the growing insecurity in the Anglophone regions.
The festival was initially take place in Buea from the 22 – 27 April but the security situation in city has now forced organisers to cancel the event.
The founder of Camiff said the event was cancelled after proper consultation with local Government authorities, the police and Embassies and it became clear the crisis affecting the Anglophone regions will make it difficult for participants to access Buea.
“Our International celebrities have been advised by their governments and security teams to avoid visiting Cameroon at this time,”Agbor Gilbert Ebot said.
“We did attempt to come up with an alternative date but sadly we were advised that this would be too impractical for both sponsors and partners as we cannot foresee a break or an end to this ongoing saga in 2019.
The event has thus been postponed to April 20-25, 2020 with all submissins for this year carried forward to next year.
The European Union has called on the government of Cameroon in engage in an inclusive dialogue with all parties as the only solution to the current political and security impasse in the country.
In a statement released by Federica Mogherini on behalf of the EU, the body tasked the government of Cameroon to free all the supporters of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement arrested and detained over a month ago.
“The arrest and prolonged detention of several leaders of an opposition party, including its leader Maurice Kamto, and a large number of protesters and supporters, as well as the opening of disproportionate proceedings against them military justice, increases the political malaise in Cameroon. The rule of requires fair justice and the release of detainees against whom (incriminating) evidence can not be presented , ” Federica Mogherini said.
The EU representative also touched on the violence in the North West and South West regions of the country describing the situation as unacceptable.
” The persistence of violence and human rights violations in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon has resulted in an unacceptable number of casualties and a heavy impact in humanitarian and economic terms.
” The emergence of ethnic-based hate speech by some media and political actors, most recently a member of the government, is an additional factor of concern.
” The response to the important challenges facing the country can only be achieved through an inclusive political dialogue and in a context of respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. This is also the foundation for the partnership between Cameroon and the EU, for the benefit of all Cameroonians. The EU will support any initiative in this direction.
The Vatican has offered its services to help mediate in the conflict that has been ravaging the North West and South West regions of Cameroon since 2016.
The offer was made on Monday by the Secretary in charge of Relations with State at the Vatican Mgr Paul Richard Gallagher during an audience granted him by the Minister of External Relations Lejeune Mbella Mbella on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The Vatican said it was deeply concerned with the situation in Cameroon and is ready to help the country seek a lasting solution to the crisis.
The audience that lasted for 45 minutes also saw both men discuss the relations between the two states as the Vatican promised to continue to help Cameroon in the sector of education.
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.