Populations at Risk
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.
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 largely Anglophone North-West and South-West regions.
The crisis has deepened since October 2017 after Anglophone separatists symbolically proclaimed independence from Cameroon, establishing a state of "Ambazonia." As the conflict has continued to intensify, there has been growing evidence of government security forces perpetrating extrajudicial killings and torture. There are also widespread reports of security forces using excessive force against unarmed demonstrators and civilians, as well as burning homes and property in over 20 villages.
Separatist forces have also perpetrated abuses, including killings and kidnappings. At least 40 schools in the Anglophone region have been destroyed. Some armed separatist groups have also attacked state officials and security forces as part of an effort to render the Anglophone areas ungovernable.
On 7 October 2018 Cameroon held presidential elections. President Paul Biya won a seventh term, with 71 percent of the vote. Threats and ongoing violence in Anglophone regions resulted in voter turnout below 15 percent in the South-West and North-West regions.
The Anglophone and Francophone areas of Cameroon were unified in 1961, but there have been long-term disputes over the extent to which government resources and access to employment are controlled by the French-speaking majority. Although the Anglophone minority constitutes 20 percent of the population of Cameroon, they are mainly concentrated in the North-West and South-West.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 351,000 people have been internally displaced in the North-West and South-West regions since December 2017. As of 10 November 2018 the UN Refugee Agency estimates that more than 30,000 people have also sought refuge across the border in Nigeria.
In addition to the Anglophone conflict, 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.
The targeting of individuals based upon their cultural identity and perceived political allegiances poses a direct threat to both Anglophone and Francophone civilians. Any further escalation of identity-based violence could result in greater internal displacement and further refugee flows. The government has 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, particularly in North-West and South-West Cameroon as well as in their response to Boko Haram in the far north. Widespread allegations of the military perpetrating extrajudicial killings have been bolstered by leaked video evidence of security forces summarily executing groups of unarmed civilians.
Despite the government's failure to protect populations from violations and abuses of human rights, or to hold security forces accountable, on 12 October Cameroon was elected to the Human Rights Council for the 2019-2021 term.
The government of Cameroon is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect the Anglophone minority and requires international assistance to mediate and end the developing armed conflict in the North-West and South-West regions.
During 2017 former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, 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.
On 20 June the European Union called upon the government to allow UN bodies access to the Anglophone regions.
On 10 August the UN Security Council adopted a Presidential Statement on the situation in the Central African region. The statement highlighted the "worrying increase in violence in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon."
The security forces must cease the use of disproportionate and deadly force against civilians and ensure that the human rights of all Cameroonians are protected, regardless of language or cultural identity.
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.
The government of Cameroon should immediately initiate a dialogue with Anglophone community leaders and constructively address the historic grievances of the English-speaking minority. The African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States should engage with Cameroon's government in order to end any further deterioration of the conflict in the Anglophone regions.
Last Updated: 15 November 2018
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