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 in Cameroon has deepened after Anglophone separatists organized large-scale protests from 22 September to 1 October 2017 and symbolically proclaimed independence, establishing a state of "Ambazonia." The Cameroonian security forces responded with disproportionate and deadly force.
As the conflict has continued to expand and intensify, there has been growing evidence of government security forces perpetrating extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment of suspected separatists, as well as using excessive force against unarmed demonstrators and 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 burned down. Some armed separatist groups have attacked state officials as well as security forces and sought to make the Anglophone areas "ungovernable."
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 have been controlled by the French-speaking majority. Although the Anglophone minority constitutes 20 percent of the overall population of Cameroon, they are mainly concentrated in the North-West and South-West regions.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 160,000 people have been internally displaced by the Anglophone crisis since December 2017 while more than 21,000 have sought refuge across the border in Nigeria.
Military operations against the armed extremist group Boko Haram also continue in the north of the country. There have been widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings, especially following the circulation of a video showing two women and two children accused of links to Boko Haram being executed by Cameroonian soldiers.
On 7 October Cameroon will hold presidential elections, which could trigger further insecurity and violence. President Paul Biya, who has held power since 1982 and is the longest serving ruler in Africa, will run for a seventh term.
The targeting of individuals based upon their cultural identity and perceived political allegiances poses a direct threat to both Anglophone and Francophone civilians. Although the government created a Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism during 2017, it has failed to address the root causes of the conflict and provide a political means for peacefully resolving it.
There are growing concerns that the upcoming presidential elections could lead to a further militarization of the conflict. Any escalation of identity-based violence could also result in greater internal displacement and further refugee flows.
There are growing allegations of Cameroonian security forces carrying out extrajudicial killings in North-West and South-West Cameroon as well as in their response to Boko Haram in the far north. These allegations have been bolstered by recent video evidence of members of the security forces summarily executing groups of unarmed civilians. Cameroonian security forces appear to be committing systematic or widespread attacks on civilians, potentially amounting to crimes against humanity.
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 conflict.
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 also 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 North-West and South-West 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 and ensure that the human rights of all Cameroonians are protected, regardless of language or cultural identity. All persons responsible for human rights violations 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 government should permit international human rights and election monitors to observe the voting period and take proximate measures to ameliorate the risk of further conflict and identity-based violence.
Last updated: 15 September 2018
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