Civilians in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon continue to face atrocity crimes due to widespread violence between government forces and armed separatists. The armed extremist group Boko Haram also poses an ongoing threat.
During 2016 English-speaking lawyers, students and teachers in Cameroon began protesting against their cultural marginalization by the Francophone-dominated government, leading to a violent crackdown by the 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.
Security forces have perpetrated extrajudicial killings, burned Anglophone villages and subjected individuals with alleged separatist ties to torture and ill-treatment. Security forces have also been accused of widespread sexual and gender-based violence. Armed separatists have also perpetrated abuses, including kidnapping and killing civilians. Since 2016 at least 3,500 civilians and hundreds of members of the security forces have been killed in the Anglophone regions. Separatists have also banned government education and frequently attack schools and teachers, resulting in 80 percent of schools in the two regions being closed or destroyed and 700,000 children denied an education.
The security situation has deteriorated since the beginning of 2021 due to increased fighting between government forces and armed separatist groups. Approximately 30 percent of health facilities are now unable to operate, with at least 29 reported attacks on facilities in the north-west and south-west regions between January-June 2021. A significant increase in targeted attacks on humanitarian workers over the past year has also restricted the delivery of vital aid. Meanwhile, the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and kidnappings has increased. In the first five months of 2021, separatists carried out at least 27 IED attacks in 13 towns, more than in all previous years of the crisis combined.
Several attempts have been made to find a solution to the conflict. During June 2019 Switzerland mediated peace talks which were followed by a national dialogue organized by President Paul Biya that October. During February 2021 Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Vatican, visited Cameroon and announced the readiness of the Catholic Church to facilitate a dialogue between the government and separatist groups.
With more than 200 different ethnic communities living in Cameroon, there is a history of inter-communal tensions in some parts of the country. In the Far North region violent clashes broke out between Shao Arab cattle herders and Mousgoum fishermen in Kousseri on 10 August, resulting in 36 people killed while more than 18,000 fled. In the north-west tensions between the Muslim Mbororo/Fulani herders and Christian farming communities, particularly in the Bamenda Grassfields area, has led to violent clashes. Armed separatist groups have also perpetrated attacks on Fulani communities, forcing 12,000 people to flee and killing 250 since 2016. Fulani vigilante committees, established in response to these attacks, have allegedly collaborated with the government’s military operations against Anglophone separatists.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that at least 712,800 people have been internally displaced by violence in the north-west and south-west regions, while at least 67,500 have fled to Nigeria. According to OCHA, 1.15 million people are currently severely food insecure.
The armed extremist group Boko Haram is also active in Cameroon, particularly in the Far North region on the border with Nigeria. Since December 2020 at least 80 civilians have been killed by Boko Haram. There have also been widespread allegations of the security forces perpetrating extrajudicial killings during military operations against the group.
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. The government continues to deny the severity of the current crisis and has failed to address the root causes of the conflict or provide a political means for resolving it.
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. What began as a political dispute in the Anglophone regions is now a complex armed conflict and major humanitarian crisis.
The government of Cameroon is failing to uphold its responsibility to protect and requires international assistance to mediate and end the armed conflict in the north-west and south-west regions.
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 2018 Cameroon was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the 2019-2021 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.
The UN’s Special Representatives on Children and Armed Conflict, Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Violence Against Children, as well as the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, issued a joint statement on 21 February 2020 deploring human rights abuses committed against civilians in the south-west and north-west regions of Cameroon.
On 22 June 2020 five Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, along with two former heads of state, other eminent figures and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, called upon all parties to the conflict in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon to declare a humanitarian ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 1 January 2021 the United States Senate adopted Resolution 684, calling on the government of Cameroon and armed separatist groups to end all violence, respect human rights and pursue an inclusive dialogue to help resolve the conflict in the Anglophone regions.
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.
In order to work towards a negotiated solution to the crisis in the Anglophone regions, the government should hold an inclusive dialogue mediated by a neutral player on neutral territory. The government, UNSC and African Union (AU) should support attempts by the Vatican to mediate a comprehensive ceasefire in the Anglophone regions.
The government of Cameroon should grant the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights immediate and unfettered access to the north-west and south-west 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 towards upholding the human rights of all Cameroonians. The AU 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 the situation in Cameroon to its formal agenda.