Populations at Risk
There is an imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes due to widespread violence between government forces and armed separatists in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. The armed extremist group Boko Haram also poses an ongoing threat.
Political conflict over cultural rights and identity have escalated 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 civilians 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 of civilians, and are increasingly attacking hospitals, schools and humanitarian convoys. At least 650 civilians, 235 members of the security forces and nearly 1,000 alleged separatists have been killed as a result of the fighting since October 2017. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 530,000 people have been displaced as a result of the conflict.
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 armed extremist group Boko Haram is also active in the Lake Chad Basin region that includes Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. The group continues to commit atrocities in the far north of Cameroon, including the abduction and killing of civilians. On 9 June at least 16 Cameroonian soldiers and 8 civilians were killed when suspected Boko Haram fighters attacked eight military posts on an island in Lake Chad. During military operations against Boko Haram there have been widespread allegations of the security forces perpetrating extrajudicial killings. As of June 2019, there are 240,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the far north region, bringing the total number of IDPs in the country to more than 770,500.
The targeting of individuals based upon their cultural identity poses a direct threat to both Anglophone and Francophone civilians. The government has consistently failed to address the root causes of the Anglophone conflict and provide a political means for resolving it. According to the UN Children's Fund, 1.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in the north-west and south-west. Due to a ban on government education by armed separatists, 80 percent of the schools in the two regions were forced to close and at least 74 have been destroyed.
The deteriorating situation in Cameroon has received little international attention despite evidence of systematic and widespread attacks on civilians, potentially amounting to crimes against humanity. Jan Egeland, Head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, noted during April 2019 that "there is no mediation, no large relief programme, no media interest and little pressure on the parties to stop attacking 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.
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 for extrajudicial killings, on 12 October 2018 Cameroon was elected to the Human Rights Council for the 2019-2021 term.
On 17 April 2019 the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the Anglophone crisis to be considered by the UN Security Council (UNSC). On 13 May the UNSC held its first Arria Formula meeting on the humanitarian and human rights situation in Cameroon.
Following a visit to Cameroon, on 6 May 2019 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the government to hold accountable members of the security forces who commit serious human rights abuses.
On 27 June Switzerland offered to mediate between the government of Cameroon and armed separatists.
The security forces and armed separatists must cease using disproportionate and deadly force against unarmed civilians and ensure that the human rights of all Cameroonians are equally protected, regardless of language, cultural identity or political affiliation. Armed separatist groups must immediately stop attacking schools, hospitals and humanitarian convoys.
All persons responsible for extrajudicial killings must be held accountable. The government of Cameroon should immediately grant 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. Foreign governments and regional organizations should suspend all military aid to Cameroon until it has made demonstrable progress in upholding the human rights of vulnerable populations.
Separatists and the government should engage with the mediation process proposed by Switzerland and work to-wards a negotiated political solution to the crisis in the north-west and south-west regions. The African Union and Economic Community of Central African States should work with Cameroon's government to prevent any further deterioration of the armed conflict.
Last Updated: 15 July 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.