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. The armed extremist group Boko Haram also poses an ongoing threat to civilians.
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 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. At least 650 civilians, 235 members of the security forces and nearly 1,000 separatists have been killed as a result of the fighting in the Anglophone region since October 2017. During early February at least 47 armed separatists, 6 military personnel and 16 civilians were reportedly killed in armed violence in Beua, the capital of the south-west region. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 530,000 people have also been displaced as a result of the conflict. Violence against medical facilities and health workers by Cameroonian security forces and armed separatists has also been reported.
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 also remains 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 abduction and killing of civilians. On 12 April at least 13 civilians were killed by Boko Haram militants and the village of Tchakarmari was destroyed.
Military operations against Boko Haram also continue in the north of Cameroon, where there have been widespread allegations of the security forces perpetrating extrajudicial killings. More than 245,000 Cameroonians are currently internally displaced as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency in the far north, and Cameroon also hosts 100,000 refugees from Nigeria.
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 peacefully resolving it.
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 that "there is no mediation, no large relief programme, no media interest and little pressure on the parties to stop attacking civilians" and warned of the risk of atrocities if urgent action is not taken.
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.
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 UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for the 2019-2021 term.
On 17 April 2019 the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the 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.
The security forces 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.
All persons responsible for extrajudicial killings must be held accountable. The government of Cameroon should immediately 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. 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.
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 Economic Community of Central African States should engage with Cameroon's government in order to prevent any further deterioration of the armed conflict in the Anglophone regions.
Last Updated: 15 May 2019
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