29 February 2024
Risk Level: Imminent Risk

Civilians in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon are at an imminent risk of atrocity crimes due to continued violence between government forces and armed separatists. Armed extremist groups also pose an ongoing threat in the Far North region.


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 the north-west and south-west regions, an area predominantly inhabited by the country’s Anglophone minority. In October 2017 Anglophone separatists proclaimed independence and declared a new state of “Ambazonia” in the north-west and south-west regions. Since then, armed separatists and Cameroonian security forces have clashed, resulting in widespread atrocities against the civilian population.

During 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 killed, kidnapped and terrorized populations while steadily asserting control over large parts of the Anglophone regions. Separatists and government forces have also perpetrated targeted attacks on health facilities and humanitarian workers, restricting the delivery of vital aid and forcing various international humanitarian organizations to suspend their operations. More than 6,000 people have been killed as a result of the violence since 2016, although actual numbers are expected to be higher. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 1.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in the north-west and south-west regions. OCHA also estimates that at least 638,421 people have been internally displaced by violence in the two regions while more than 63,204 have fled to Nigeria.

Separatists have banned government education and frequently attack, threaten and abduct students and teachers, as well as burn, destroy and loot schools, robbing children of their education. According to OCHA, at least 13 violent incidents against education were reported during the first six months of 2023 and 2,245 schools are not functioning in the Anglophone regions.

Despite the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation, the government of Cameroon continues to deny the severity of the crisis and has yet to take any meaningful action aimed at ending the conflict or addressing its root causes. The international community has also taken limited action in response to the situation. The Council of the European Union, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and others have appealed for an end to the violence and urged government action while additional actors have previously offered to serve as mediators. The UN Security Council (UNSC) has held only one meeting on the situation in Cameroon, an Arria-formula meeting on 13 May 2019, which focused on the humanitarian situation.

In the Far North region of Cameroon, populations are also facing atrocity risks posed by the armed extremist group Boko Haram. Since early 2023 the group has increased its attacks, prompting Cameroonian officials to request additional troops from the regional Multinational Joint Task Force to be deployed. According to OCHA, 246 attacks were reported between January and July 2023. Further attacks between August and late October resulted in more than 40 people killed and at least 14 others abducted.


The security situation remains highly volatile in the Anglophone north-west and south-west regions. During late 2023 and early 2024, armed clashes between government forces and separatist groups, as well as infighting among different separatist groups, continued to affect civilian populations. At least 30 civilians, predominantly from the Boki community, were killed following an attack on 6 November in Egbekaw village, Mamfe, by armed separatists who had accused members of the Boki community of hiring mercenaries from Nigeria to fight them. Tensions in Mamfe increased again during January, when an army officer shot and killed a pregnant woman at a checkpoint.

At least nine civilians were killed when armed separatists on motorbikes attacked a weekly market in Bamenyam town on 21 November. Residents in Bamenda were forced to remain indoors when armed separatist attacked the second district police station in Nkwen on 15 January, resulting in the death of one civilian. Education also remains heavily affected by the security situation in the Anglophone region. On 21 November the vice principal of a high school in Kumba was kidnapped, assaulted and killed by alleged armed separatists. On 20 January a group of armed men attacked another school in Kumba, where they abused and robbed students.


The international community often perceives the conflict in the Anglophone region exclusively as an insurgency by armed separatist groups against the Cameroonian government. However, the situation is much more complex. Although the Anglophone and Francophone areas of Cameroon have been unified since 1961, there is a long history of disputes over the extent to which access to government resources is controlled by the French-speaking majority.

Civilian populations, particularly women and children, are disproportionately bearing the brunt of violence. The targeting of individuals based upon their cultural identity poses a direct threat to Anglophone civilians and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ethnic communities are also often targeted for their alleged collaboration with either side of the conflict.

The conflict dynamics in the Anglophone regions have changed as the crisis has become increasingly financially lucrative, with separatist groups having expanded their sources of revenue through kidnapping and extortion. Armed separatist groups are increasingly disorganized and competing, making the situation – and possible pathways to peace – extremely challenging.

The risk of atrocities will continue if the root causes of the conflict, including poor quality of government services, weak governance and marginalization of parts of the population by a highly centralized state, remain unaddressed.


    • Past or present discriminatory, restrictive or exclusionary practices, policies or legislation against marginalized communities and persons belonging to minority groups.
    • Politicization of identity, past events or motives to engage in violence.
    • Increased fragmentation of armed groups posing a significant challenge to conflict termination and sustainable peace.
    • Policy or practice of impunity for – or tolerance of – serious violations of International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL), atrocity crimes or their incitement.
    • Lack of capacity to ensure the security sector adheres to the highest standards of professionalism, international law and the protection of human rights.


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 IHL and IHRL should be investigated and held accountable. Armed separatist groups must halt attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure. Safe and unfettered humanitarian access should be restored and guaranteed. 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. Civilian protection must be enhanced in the Far North region.

The government should hold an inclusive dialogue with parties to the Anglophone crisis, mediated by a neutral player on neutral territory.

The African Union and Economic Community of Central African States should work with the government to prevent further deterioration of the conflict. Efforts by the UN’s Regional Office for Central Africa, including good offices, must prioritize finding a political solution to the violence and encourage inclusive dialogue. The UNSC should discuss the situation in Cameroon and urge parties to the conflict to end hostilities and find a peaceful solution to the multifaceted crisis.

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