Concerned Cameroonian pro-democracy activists met at three venues in the world earlier this week, to launch a global initiative meant to advocate for international intervention to halt ongoing human rights violations in the country.
The activists thronged venues in Johannesburg (South Africa), Geneva (Switzerland) and New York (USA) to launch the Global Initiative, a multi-pronged approach meant to pressure President Paul Biya’s administration to end the military brutality.
International human rights watchdogs that include Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have over the past few weeks published harrowing details of events in which the Cameroonian military fired indiscriminately at civilians. Many have reportedly been killed, while more than 200,000 are said to have been displaced during the last few months, during clashes between Biya’s government and members of the English-speaking part of the country, who are fighting for the separate state of Ambazonia.
The United States government said earlier this week it was scaling back on its security assistance with Biya’s government, emphasizing the need to for the ruling elite to show greater transparency in investigating credible allegations of gross violations of human rights by the security forces, particularly in the Northwest, Southwest, and Far North Regions.
Last summer, Amnesty International released an analysis of two videos that appeared to show Cameroonian security forces executing unarmed people, including children, in the country’s far northern region.
Patrick Ayuk, Director of Sam Soya Center for Democracy and Human Rights (SSCDHR), told Southern Express News Friday that the press conferences, held Thursday, marked the launch of the Global Initiative by faith leaders and non-governmental organisations and peace and human rights groups.
“The press conferences were held to call on the UN Human Rights Council to immediately send a high-level fact-finding delegation to stop the ongoing military brutality and other forms of violence in Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia),” said Mr Ayuk.
“The Johannesburg conference took place at Christ the King Cathedral in Berea. The coalition remains a non-partisan force focusing on an immediate end to violence and ultimately lead to a peaceful exercise of self-determination of Human Rights, consistent with international declaration of human rights.”
He said the coalition would be submitting a petition during the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that will be held in Geneva on February 25.
The much talked about Ambazonia lockdown went into full force today across some cities and villages in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon, sources have confirmed.
As usual, the day has been characterised by exchange of fire between security forces and Ambazonia fighters, local sources report.
In Tiko, at the entrance to the South West region of Cameroon, activities were very timid with very few bikes and taxis moving in the early hours of the morning but picked up steam as the day wore through.
Further at Mutengene, it was rather a mixed atmosphere with a timid pace of activities while a few gunshots were heard around the “quarter rubber” neighbourhood.
In Buea, the entrance of the town was swept in a complete lockdown from Mile 14 through to Molyko as shops remained closed as while the streets remained deserted. However, there was a lease of life further up town as shops were open around Bongo Square right up to Buea Town.
Driving out of Buea, precisely around Muea, there wereexchange of fire between security forces and Ambazonia fighters in Liongo village as well as the Wokaka new layout, sources said.
Muyuka was equally on lockdown as gunshots were heard throughout the morning and equally resumed later in the day, our sources said.
Further in Kumba, sources say most parts of the city are locked down compounded by the fact that the town has been in total black out.
In Bamenda, the lockdown was effective in most parts of the city with gunshots heard around Ntaruru though no cit has been quiet for the rest of the day.
In Ndu, sources talk of a dead town following a military operation last night aborted by heavy rains that forced the soldiers to retreat.
In summary, the lockdown was respected in some parts of the North West and South West regions of Cameroon while others went ahead with business as usual.
A soldier was killed on Monday morning in Mokunda village Limbe by a group of about 50 Ambazonia fighters who launched an attack on the village, sources have confirmed.
Mbonde Emmanuel, a senior warrant officer at the Limbe Naval Base was killed as the armed men invaded the village in Limbe II sub division in the early hours of the morning equally burning down his vehicle.
Several persons were equally abducted in the course of the raid carried out by the armed men but were later released though it is still not clear if all abducted persons have been released.
The corpse of the military officer have been preserved at the mortuary of the Limbe Regional Hospital Mortuary.
The corpses of at least nine young men were discovered in Mamfe, Manyu Division of the South West region on Monday morning, sources have confirmed.
Local sources said at least four corpses were discovered at Okoyong, three at Besongabang and one at Banya quarter while another around a primary school. Gruesome images which we got showed young men in their mid twenties lying in their own pool of blood.
Circumstances surrounding their demise are still not clear but locals say sporadic gunshots were heard last night in Mamfe while others talk of a military raid in the area.
Gunshots were equally heard in Mamfe early this morning as several residents preferred to remain indoors for their sfaety.
Last week, a boy in his twenties succumbed to a stray bullet during an exchange of fire between security forces and Ambazonia restoration fighters in Mamfe.
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.
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 Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria will pass a ruling on April 15 in the matter filed by lawyers against what the term illegal deportation of the Ambazonia leaders from Nigeria to Cameroon.
The court finally opened hearing in Abuja today which was an opportunity for lawyers to presnt their case as they insist the leaders were illegally arrested and deported to Cameroon.
The lawyers told the court that for justice to take its course, the Ambazonia leaders have to be returned to Nigeria where they were arrested given the fact that both countries don’t have any extradition treaty.
But before April, the Ambazonia leaders will have to prove their nationality at the Yaounde military tribunal on February 7.
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.”