Four years ago, a violent conflict began in the Southern regions of Cameroon, termed as the Anglophone Crisis, or the Ambazonia War. It began with protests by lawyers and teachers in Buea and Bamenda concerning the domination of the French language in these Anglophone regions. They saw this as an escalation of the already prominent marginalisation of Anglophones in Cameroon. The protests were an immensely popular movement; and on November 21, the so-called ‘coffin revolution’ occurred in Bamenda, demanding economic and political reforms. On October 1, 2017, military secessionist groups proclaimed the independence of a new nation, including these two regions, called Ambazonia. The conflict and political protests have further escalated following the Cameroon parliamentary election earlier this year, with both separatists and the government deploying additional and often excessive forces. Over the course of the conflict, an estimated 5000 people have been killed, and 680,000 displaced.
Numerous human rights violations have been carried out by both the Cameroon military forces and separatist fighters throughout the conflict. For instance, both factions allegedly targeted and carried out attacks on hospital and medical staff. On July 6, separatists killed a Doctors Without Borders health worker in the southwest region, while on June 30, security forces damaged a health facility in the northwest region. There have also been numerous accusations of killings, assaults and kidnappings of people with disabilities on both sides.
Furthermore, armed separatists have allegedly killed, assaulted and tortured several civilians from various groups, including students, teachers, clergy, women and children. On one occasion a group of separatists kidnapped around 40 people, beat and robbed them in Bafut, in the northwest region. Throughout the clash, separatists have used schools as their base, by enforcing boycotts of education, holding people hostage in them and deploying fighters and weapons from them. On February 16, separatists abducted a teacher, two guards and 170 students under the age of 18 from a boarding school in Kumbo in the northwest region, only releasing them the following day.
Security forces have since cracked down on all instances of political opposition, whether evident or suspected. However, they have done so by killing civilians, torching villages, and using torture and incommunicado detentions. It thus comes as no surprise that this year has seen a widespread of reports of killings, property destruction and use of torture by authorities. One example of this being a brutal attack on the village of Meluf in the Northwest region where Cameroonian soldiers, gendarmes and soldiers belonging to BIR (Rapid Intervention Battalion) forcefully entered 80 homes and burned down 7. The government has also responded with violence towards those suspected of having ties to separatist groups. Reports have emerged of severe beatings and near-drownings committed against suspects at the State Defence Secretariat prison in the capital, Yaounde.
President Paul Biya faces increasing backlash and unrest in response to the bloodshed in Anglophone regions since the beginning of the crisis. Civilians and political parties, spearheaded by Maurice Kamto ( who leads the Cameroon Renaissance Movement party), have been publicly calling for president Biya’s ouster, citing his 38-year tenure as head of state and lack of sufficient response to the crisis. On September 22, hundreds of people gathered in protests in Douala and Yaounde, calling for electoral reform and an end to the conflict, shouting slogans like ‘Paul Biya must go.’ Authorities responded with similar violence, breaking up peaceful protests, and arresting opposition party leaders and supporters.Tear gas and water cannons were also used to break up the protests, while hundreds of people, including 8 journalists, were unnecessarily arrested and detained. Authorities have since vowed to prosecute those arrested in the protests, and pursue those fleeing, while Mr Kamto remains under house arrest. The Human Rights Defenders Network in Central Africa has described this clampdown as “serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Dishearteningly, the government appears to have failed to take accountability by preventing efforts to document human rights violations in the Anglophone regions. In April, a Human Rights Watch researcher was denied access to the country with no reason being provided for this decision. Following this, an investigation was due to be carried out into the alleged burning of 70 homes by security forces in Mankon, Bamenda – the corresponding report was expected by May 24 but has still yet to be seen.
Although France and member states of the African Union have either sided with the government or taken a neutral stance, the overall international response has been a mounting increase of pressure on Cameroon to call a ceasefire. In February, the United States announced that it was reducing its security assistance to Cameroon after allegations of human rights violations committed by the Cameroonian military emerged. In March, the UK called on Cameroon to engage with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, after expressing concern about the situation and lack of accountability in the Anglophone regions. Germany similarly announced an end of its military cooperation with Cameroon in July. Additionally, peace talks have taken place between the government and jailed leaders of the Ambazonia Interim Government (IG) in an attempt to find some common ground and progress towards a solution, however, despite this, the violence continues. Since January, at least 285 civilians have been killed in the northwest and southwest regions, while tens of thousands of people found themselves displaced over the past two months. The UN High Commissioner has expressed concerns over the allegations of human rights violations and the Cameroonian government’s efforts to prevent their coverage. Their most recent response has been to urge the government to carry out transparent investigations, going forward.
Human Rights Watch World Report 2020 (Cameroon): https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/world_report_download/hrw_world_report_2020_0.pdf
Cameroon’s escalating Anglophone crisis shows little sign of abating: https://www.dw.com/en/cameroons-escalating-anglophone-crisis-shows-little-sign-of-abating/a-53906409
Civilians Killed in Anglophone Regions: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/27/cameroon-civilians-killed-anglophone-regions
Protestors call for end to bloodshed from Anglophone crisis: https://www.africanews.com/2020/09/23/cameroon-protesters-call-for-end-to-bloodshed-from-anglophone-crisis/
Cameroon’s “president for life” is facing protests as the Anglophone crisis rumbles on: https://qz.com/africa/1910195/cameroon-s-biya-faces-protests-as-anglophone-carries-on/
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Author: Nikita Nandanwad
Editor: Kelsey Greeff
Editor in Chief: Zora Stanik