Three United States (U.S.) members of Congress – Ilhan Omar, Karen Bass and Sara Jacobs – have raised an alarm over alleged ongoing campaign of state-sponsored violence and rights violation by Cameroonian security forces in the country’s Anglophone region.
In an oversight letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, the three lawmakers were particularly concerned about whether U.S. security assistance to Cameroonian security agencies might have been used to commit “serious human rights abuses” in the East African country.
In the letter made available to The Nation by diplomatic sources, the lawmakers expressed concerns over U.S. support for the Cameroon’s Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) – some elements of which have been accused by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, as having been directly implicated in atrocities in the Anglophone region.
The American lawmakers’ alarm is coming few hours after Community Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also expressed concern over reported genocide in Southern Cameroon by President Paul Biya’s security forces.
Reacting to a document titled, “Genocide Alert in Ambazonia, Southern Cameroon”, from a group, “United Support for Peace”, Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Mohamed Tunis, said the letter made him deeply concerned about conflicts and the human rights situation in Cameroon’s minority Anglophone region.
But, the American lawmakers’ oversight letter reads: “As you are aware, the State Department has reprogrammed some security assistance since 2019, but our understanding is that other assistance – including to the BIR – continues.
“We also have serious questions about the efficacy of existing laws in preventing U.S. security assistance from reaching human rights violators. In 2020, the State Department Inspector General found that nearly 80% of Leahy vetting requests submitted by Embassy Yaoundé between late 2018 and late 2019 ‘were submitted to Washington too late to allow for sufficient processing time’ and that ‘as a result, Washington had an average of four days to process the requests, instead of the 10 working days stipulated in the Department’s 2017 Leahy Vetting Guide’.”
The lawmakers stated that they shared the President Joe Biden’s administration’s desire to put human rights at the centre of the country’s foreign policy. The lawmakers noted that they also recognised the need for a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to combating transnational terrorist threats that includes a security component.
“Our concern in Cameroon and elsewhere is with the potential diversion of U.S. security assistance and, more broadly, that support for security forces that commit human rights violations — apart from being incompatible with American values and illegal under U.S. law — is counterproductive to the very aims of counterterrorism,” the oversight letter stated.
The lawmakers quoted a United Nations Development Programme, which found in a 2017 report that 71% people who joined extremist groups in Africa, including Boko Haram, were triggered to join by state violence and human rights violations.
Source: The Nation