Civilians in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon continue to face atrocity crimes due to widespread violence between government forces and armed separatists.
In 2016 English-speaking lawyers, students and teachers in Cameroon began protesting their cultural marginalization by the Francophone-dominated government, leading to a violent crackdown by security forces. In October 2017 Anglophone separatists proclaimed independence and declared a new state of “Ambazonia” in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon. Since then, armed separatists and Cameroonian security forces have continued to clash, resulting in widespread abuses against the civilian population by both sides to the conflict.
Security forces have perpetrated extrajudicial killings and widespread sexual and gender-based violence, burned Anglophone villages, and subjected individuals with suspected separatist ties to arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment. Armed separatists have also perpetrated abuses, including kidnapping and killing civilians. Since 2016 more than 4,000 civilians and hundreds of members of the security forces have been killed in the Anglophone regions. Separatists have banned government education and frequently attack, threaten and abduct students and teachers, as well as burn, destroy and loot schools. Eighty percent of schools in the Anglophone regions are closed or destroyed, denying at least 700,000 children an education.
Targeted attacks on health facilities and humanitarian workers have restricted the delivery of vital aid. Approximately 30 percent of health facilities are unable to operate. During March 2022 Médecins Sans Frontières suspended its activities in south-west Cameroon due to the dangerous operating environment and increased risk of being arrested or persecuted for providing humanitarian assistance.
The Anglophone and Francophone areas of Cameroon have been unified since 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.
Inter-communal violence has also escalated elsewhere in Cameroon. In the Far North region, at least 44 people were killed, 100,000 displaced and 112 villages burned down in December 2021 during a series of violent clashes between Arab Shoa cattle herders and Massa farmers and Mousgoum fishermen in Kousseri, Logone and Chari. In the north-west, tensions between the Muslim Mbororo/Fulani herders and Christian farming communities, particularly in the Bamenda Grassfields area, have led to violent clashes.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that at least 573,900 people have been internally displaced by violence in the north-west and south-west regions, while more than 74,400 have fled to Nigeria. According to OCHA, more than 3.9 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance across the country.
What began as a political dispute in the Anglophone regions is now a complex armed conflict and a major humanitarian crisis. The targeting of individuals based upon their cultural identity poses a direct threat to Anglophone and Francophone civilians and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Limited attempts have been made to find a solution to the conflict. The government continues to deny the severity of the crisis and has failed to address the root causes of the conflict or provide a political means for resolving it.
With more than 200 different ethnic communities living in Cameroon, there is also a history of inter-communal tensions in parts of the country. In the Far North region such tensions have been exacerbated by the climate crisis. In the last few decades, growing desertification has led to water scarcity and limited access to grazing land, fueling clashes and tensions between cattle herders, farmers and fishermen.
The government of Cameroon is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect and requires international assistance to mediate an end to the armed conflict.
Despite the government’s failure to protect populations from violations and abuses of human rights, or to hold security forces accountable for extrajudicial killings, during October 2021 Cameroon was re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the 2022-2024 term.
On 13 May 2019 the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an Arria-formula meeting on the crisis in Cameroon, its first and only meeting on the situation.
On 5 December 2021 the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a resolution on Cameroon, calling upon the government to work toward a peaceful solution to the crises in the Anglophone regions and to authorize a fact-finding mission.
On 21 March 2022 the Council of the European Union approved conclusions on Cameroon, expressing serious concern about the ongoing crisis in the north-west and south-west regions and appealing for an immediate end to the violence as well as for respect of human rights and humanitarian principles.
On 29 April the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) issued findings on Cameroon, expressing deep concern about widespread violent attacks and clashes between security forces and armed separatist groups. CERD urged the government to prioritize national reconciliation and transitional justice, as well as ensure accountability.
Security forces must end all extrajudicial killings of unarmed civilians and ensure that the human rights of all Cameroonians are equally protected, regardless of cultural identity. Security forces implicated in violations of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) should be investigated and held accountable. Armed separatist groups must also halt attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.
The government should hold an inclusive dialogue with parties to the Anglophone crisis, mediated by a neutral player on neutral territory. The government must also invest in programs that meaningfully address the root causes of inter-communal violence.
The government of Cameroon should grant the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights immediate and unfettered access to the Anglophone regions to investigate potential violations and abuses of IHRL. Foreign governments and regional organizations should suspend all military assistance to Cameroon until its security forces have made demonstrable progress toward upholding the human rights of all Cameroonians. The African Union and Economic Community of Central African States should work with the government to prevent any further deterioration of the armed conflict. The UNSC should add Cameroon to its formal agenda.