Human Rights Watch, the global human rights watchdog has once more slammed the government of Cameroon for its appalling human rights record, accusing the Biya regime of gross violations which should attract targeted sanctions against government officials.
The report highlights that Cameroon, a country previously known for its stability, faced violence and serious human rights abuses in 2018, stressing that the country endured abusive military operations against a secessionist insurgency in the country’s two Anglophone regions.
“In the South West and North West, government security forces have committed extrajudicial executions, burned property, carried out arbitrary arrests, and tortured detainees. A Human Rights Watch report documented a range of abuses by both sides in the Anglophone regions, including arson attacks on homes and schools. According to the International Crisis Group, government forces and armed separatists killed over 420 civilians in the regions since the crisis escalated in 2017,” the report said
The report stressed that the absence of a genuine political process to address decades-old grievances against the Biya government contributed to the radicalization of the discourse and tactics of Anglophone activists. Since mid-2017, Anglophone separatists have attacked government institutions and threatened, kidnapped, and killed civilians perceived to side with the government.
The report underscores that in 2016 and 2017, government security forces used excessive force against largely peaceful demonstrations organized by members of the country’s Anglophone minority who were calling for increased autonomy for their region. During demonstrations in late 2017, government forces used live ammunition, including from helicopters, against demonstrators and bystanders, killing at least a dozen people and injuring scores. Some individuals detained in the context of the demonstrations were subjected to torture and ill-treatment.
“In October 2017, separatist leaders unilaterally declared independence of the North West and South West regions, and the formation of a new nation, Ambazonia. The following month, President Biya announced that Cameroon was under attack from terrorists and vowed to “eradicate these criminals.” The pace and scale of separatists’ attacks against security forces, government workers, and state institutions increased, especially following the arrest and deportation of 47 suspected secessionist activists from Nigeria in January 2018,” the report said.
The report also stressed that government forces responded to the growing separatist insurgency by carrying out abusive security operations against communities suspected of supporting secessionist groups. Security forces committed extrajudicial executions, used excessive force against civilians, tortured and abused suspected separatists and other detainees, and burned homes and other property in scores of villages.
During attacks documented by Human Rights Watch, security forces allegedly shot and killed over a dozen civilians, including at least seven people whom witnesses said had intellectual, psychosocial or physical disabilities who did not flee because they were unable or refused to. At least four older women died, burned alive, after security forces set their homes on fire, the report said.
The report documents three cases where security forces detained people suspected of supporting the secessionist cause, and then tortured and killed them in detention. In a fourth case, Human Rights Watch analyzed evidence of torture filmed by perpetrators, who appear to be gendarmes. On September 24 and 27, a total of nine men were allegedly executed by security forces in the town of Buea, according to videos reviewed by Human Rights Watch and a report by the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO).
However, the separatists were also taken to task by the Human Rights Watch for their role in the crisis that has devastated the Southern Cameroons economy and caused many children to stay away from school.
To enforce boycotts of schools following protests by Anglophone teachers against perceived discrimination by the Francophone-dominated national government, separatist groups attacked and burned dozens of schools, threatened teachers, students and parents, kidnapped principals and violently attacked teachers and students. In March, people believed to be armed separatists attacked a high school dormitory in Widikum, North West region, and shot dead Emmanuel Galega, a student, the report said.
The pressure tactics forced the majority of schools to close during the 2016-2017 academic year, and as of May 2018 an estimated 42,500 children were still out of school, according to UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Most schools did not re-open in 2018, the report pointed out.
On April 30, Father William Neba, principal of St. Bede’s College, in Ashing near Belo, North West region, was reported abducted while celebrating mass with students. He was released two days later. The school suspended classes on the day of the abduction. In September, unidentified gunmen attacked a girl’s school in Bafut, North West region, kidnapping five pupils and severely wounding the principal, the report highlighted.
In September, the government endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an international political agreement to protect education during armed conflict. On November 5, up to 78 school-children were reportedly kidnapped in Bamenda, North West region, by unknown gunmen. They were released two days later.
Though the government has, on many occasions, promised justice and accountability, its actions leave much to be desired. While the government has repeatedly promised to investigate crimes committed by security forces, it has not done so transparently or systematically.
Government officials told Human Rights Watch in June that while they conducted investigations, they did not want to make them public to avoid undermining the morale of government troops. However, the visible lack of accountability appears to have fueled abuses, like arson and torture, rather than ending them, the report pointed out.
In July, the government finally granted access to ten Anglophone leaders who had been detained and deported from Nigeria to Cameroon in January. The individuals, held incommunicado for over six months, were permitted to meet their lawyers and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The international community has not really been playing a significant role in the crisis that might bring down the entire Central Africa. France, the United States, and the United Kingdom are Cameroon’s principal partners, primarily in the context of the counter Boko Haram operations in the country’s Far North region. Both France and the U.S. provide Cameroon with military and security assistance and training.
The US and the UK are the only close allies of Cameroon to have voiced public concern regarding the ongoing situation in the Anglophone regions. The US has continued to provide military aid to Cameroon.
In February, the European Union called for proportionate use of force and accountability for abuses in the Anglophone region.
In September 2018, as the pace and scope of abuses continued to escalate in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, the U.N. and African Union issued a joint communiqué calling on the government to facilitate access to humanitarian and human rights organizations and engage in an inclusive dialogue to address the root causes of the crisis.
Despite all the evidence against the brutal regime, the violence in the two English-speaking regions has continued unabated and there is no end in sight. The abuses have worsen following the holding of a Major National Dialogue that has not produced any meaningful results.
Compiled by Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai in the UK & Joyce Ekinde in Paris