Populations at Risk Imminent Risk

Cameroon

There is an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes due to increasing violence between government security forces and armed separatists in Cameroon's Anglophone regions.
BACKGROUND:
Populations in Cameroon are at imminent risk of potential atrocity crimes due to the ongoing crisis in the Anglophone regions and military operations against the armed extremist group, Boko Haram. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), eight out of ten regions in Cameroon are currently affected by political violence.

Political tensions over cultural rights and identity have been growing in Cameroon's Anglophone regions since 2016 when English-speaking lawyers, students and teachers began protesting against their under-representation and cultural marginalization by the Francophone-dominated government. Violent repression by the security forces resulted in arbitrary arrests, sexual violence and the killing of protesters in the north-west and south-west regions. The crisis deepened after October 2017 when Anglophone separatists symbolically proclaimed independence, declaring a new state of "Ambazonia."

As the conflict has intensified, there has been growing evidence of government security forces perpetrating extrajudicial killings and torture, as well as burning Anglophone villages. Armed separatist forces have also perpetrated abuses, including kidnappings and killings.

On 12-13 November 2018 at least 30 people were killed and hundreds displaced as result of military raids on separatist strongholds. Since 5 February at least 47 armed separatists, 6 military personnel and 16 civilians have reportedly been killed in armed violence in Beua, the capital of the south-west region. According to OCHA, 435,000 people are currently displaced in the Anglophone regions, while the UN Refugee Agency estimates that as of 10 November 2018 more than 32,600 people have sought refuge across the border in Nigeria.

Political tensions across Cameroon have also increased since January when the main opposition party, the Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon, organized demonstrations in Douala, Yaoundé, Dschang, Bafoussam and Bafang to protest alleged irregularities during the October 2018 elections. Cameroonian security forces used tear gas and live ammunition against protesters. On 5 February the Cameroonian National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms expressed deep concern regarding growing political violence and the use of deadly force by the security forces.

Military operations against the armed extremist group Boko Haram also continue in the north of Cameroon, where there have been widespread allegations of security forces perpetrating extrajudicial killings.

ANALYSIS:
The Anglophone and Francophone areas of Cameroon were unified in 1961, but there have been long-term disputes over the extent to which access to government resources is controlled by the French-speaking majority. Although the Anglophone minority constitutes 20 percent of the population of Cameroon, they are a majority in the north-west and south-west regions.

The targeting of individuals based upon their cultural identity poses a direct threat to both Anglophone and Francophone civilians. Any further escalation of violence could result in greater internal displacement and further refugee flows. The government has consistently failed to address the root causes of the Anglophone conflict and provide a political means for peacefully resolving it.

Cameroonian security forces appear to be committing systematic or widespread attacks on civilians, potentially amounting to crimes against humanity. Widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings have been bolstered by leaked video evidence of security forces summarily executing unarmed civilians.

The government of Cameroon is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect the Anglophone minority and requires international assistance to mediate and end the armed conflict in the north-west and south-west regions.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:
During 2017 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for the government of Cameroon to conduct impartial investigations into violence in the Anglophone regions. On 17 November 2017 six UN Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement urging the government to engage in meaningful dialogue and halt violence in the north-west and south-west.

Despite the government's failure to protect populations from violations and abuses of human rights or to hold security forces accountable, on 12 October 2018 Cameroon was elected to the Human Rights Council for the 2019-2021 term.

On 21 November the UN Resident Coordinator for Cameroon called for dialogue between the government and Anglophone separatists.

NECESSARY ACTION:
The security forces must cease the use of disproportionate and deadly force against unarmed civilians and ensure that the human rights of all Cameroonians are protected, regardless of language, cultural identity or political affiliation.

All persons responsible for extrajudicial killings must be held accountable. The government of Cameroon should grant the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights access to the north-west and south-west regions to investigate potential human rights violations and abuses. Individual governments and regional organizations should suspend all military aid and training programs with Cameroon.

The government of Cameroon should also immediately initiate a dialogue with Anglophone community leaders and constructively address the historic grievances of the English-speaking minority. The African Union and Economic Community of Central African States should engage with Cameroon's government in order to prevent any further deterioration of the conflict in the Anglophone regions.

Last Updated: 15 March 2019


The most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. Cameroon has been featured in R2P Monitor since the July 2018 issue.