On Monday, 30 September, the government of Cameroon launched a national dialogue aimed at ending ongoing armed conflict in the Anglophone north-west and south-west regions. Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute is leading the talks in the capital, Yaoundé. During the days leading up to the dialogue, some armed separatist groups rejected the process and intensified their attacks in the disputed Anglophone regions, killing a number of people and damaging electrical infrastructure.
President Paul Biya announced the national dialogue on 10 September amidst growing pressure from the international community. Following her visit to Cameroon in May, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged “all sides, including the Government, to make a strenuous effort to end the fighting and begin peace talks.” In June the government of Switzerland also offered to mediate the conflict.
The government of Cameroon has consistently denied the gravity of the crisis and President Biya has dismissed the grievances of Anglophone protesters. Meanwhile, a number of separatist leaders have refused to attend the dialogue, emphasizing that they would only work with those willing to formally recognize the independence of the Anglophone regions.
The launch of the national dialogue coincides with the second anniversary of the separatists’ declaration of an independent state of “Ambazonia” on 1 October 2017. Since then there has been mounting evidence of the security forces perpetrating widespread extrajudicial killings, as well as of armed separatists committing numerous human rights abuses and violations. At least 650 civilians, 235 members of the security forces, and an estimated 1,000 alleged separatists have reportedly been killed as a result of ongoing conflict. More than 530,000 people have been displaced and more than 170 Anglophone villages have been burned or destroyed by government forces.
All parties in Cameroon should work towards a negotiated political solution to the armed conflict in the north-west and south-west regions. The government of Cameroon should release political prisoners, ensure all its military operations are undertaken in strict compliance with international law, and initiate credible and inclusive peace talks, without preconditions. Armed separatists should immediately call a ceasefire and negotiate with the government. The international community, including the African Union and Economic Community of Central African States, must help mediate an end to the conflict and ensure accountability for potential mass atrocity crimes.