On 5 February the Cameroonian National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (CNDHL) expressed deep concern regarding growing political tensions within the country and the ongoing use of violence by the security forces. Cameroonian security forces have been widely accused of using disproportionate and deadly force against civilians in their war against Boko Haram, during operations against Anglophone separatists, and when suppressing demonstrations by supporters of the opposition Movement for the Renaissance of Cameroon (MRC). According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, eight out of ten regions in Cameroon are currently affected by political violence and 435,000 people are displaced in the Anglophone regions alone. The UN Resident Coordinator in the country, Allegra Baiocchi, said that “Cameroon today can no longer be a forgotten crisis.”
On 28 January the MRC organized demonstrations in Douala, Yaoundé, Dschang, Bafoussam and Bafang to protest alleged irregularities during the October 2018 elections. Cameroonian security forces used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the demonstrations. Several protesters were shot while more than 100 people were arrested, including the MRC’s leader, Maurice Kamto.
Meanwhile, deadly conflict between Anglophone separatists and the government continues in northwest and southwest Cameroon. On 5 February separatists initiated a campaign in Buea aimed at disrupting the 11 February Youth Day celebrations, organized to coincide with the anniversary of the 1961 referendum which led to the incorporation of Southern Cameroons into the Republic of Cameroon. Since 5 February at least 47 armed separatists, 6 military personnel and 16 civilians have reportedly been killed in armed violence. There have also been widespread reports of the mass arrest and arbitrary detention of hundreds of young people in several towns across the Anglophone regions.
In response to sustained and systematic human rights violations perpetrated by the armed forces in Cameroon, on 6 February the United States announced that it was cutting its military aid to the government of President Paul Biya. The United States has previously been involved in training Cameroon’s special forces unit, the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR), which is fighting Boko Haram in the far north of the country but has also been deployed to the Anglophone regions. The BIR reports directly to President Biya and has been widely accused of extrajudicial killings and other gross violations and abuses of human rights.
The Cameroonian authorities must end the use of disproportionate and deadly force against civilians and immediately release all those who have been arbitrarily detained. Individual governments and regional organizations should suspend all military aid and training programs with Cameroon. The African Union and UN Security Council must engage with President Biya and ensure the government upholds its responsibility to protect all populations in Cameroon, regardless of language, cultural identity or political affiliation.
Last Thursday, 7 February, marked the 50th day of demonstrations against the government of President Omar Al-Bashir in Sudan. On 11 February Human Rights Watch released a video depicting “ruthless violence and brutality” on behalf of Sudan’s security forces against peaceful protesters, including the widespread use of live ammunition. At least 50 people have been killed and thousands more arrested since the demonstrations began last December. Despite severe repression, last Thursday’s demonstration in Khartoum was reportedly the largest yet.
According to Physicians for Human Rights, Sudan’s security forces have also attacked hospitals, preventing health workers from treating patients who have been wounded during protests. Sudan’s doctors’ union claims that at least 28 doctors have been detained, and that one was shot dead while treating injured protesters.
The demonstrations initially erupted on 19 December in the northern town of Atbara to protest the removal of bread subsidies and the country’s ongoing economic crisis. Protests have since spread across the country and involve a broad cross-section of Sudanese society. Protesters are demanding that President Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 military coup, resign.
When speaking to soldiers at a military base in Atbara last month, President Bashir denounced the protesters and warned the “rats to go back to their holes.” Such rhetoric is dangerous and may incite further violence. Under President Bashir’s command Sudan’s security forces have previously committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces. He is also currently under indictment by the International Criminal Court for genocide and other atrocities committed in Darfur.
President Bashir should halt the use of inflammatory rhetoric and the government should immediately end the use of disproportionate and deadly force against unarmed protesters. The international community should consider the crisis in Sudan during the UN Human Rights Council’s upcoming 40th session and establish an independent investigation into ongoing human rights violations and abuses.
On Friday, 8 February, the UN Security Council (UNSC) held an Arria Formula meeting on “Accountability for conflict-related sexual violence as a central pillar for prevention.” Under international law, conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) may constitute atrocity crimes – including crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. Last year the linkage between CRSV and mass atrocities received global recognition when Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Friday’s meeting highlighted ongoing efforts to end impunity for CRSV. Among the speakers were international prosecutors from the Special Criminal Court for Central African Republic who discussed their efforts to hold perpetrators of CRSV accountable. The other briefers included the Chief of Staff of the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict (OSRSG/SVC), Tonderai Chikuhwa, and the President of the Global Justice Center, Akila Radhakrishnan.
Although CRSV remains unpunished and undocumented in many parts of in the world, there is growing awareness of the need to confront such crimes. On 3 February South Sudan’s opposition leader, Riek Machar, issued orders to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition noting the prohibition of CRSV and the obligation to report all violations. Meanwhile, from 5-8 February the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, visited Myanmar following the signing of a Joint Communiqué between the UN and the Government of Myanmar to prevent CRSV. Special Representative Patten urged Myanmar to ensure that the country’s draft Prevention of Violence against Women law is in line with international standards.
National and international judicial mechanisms for holding those who commit CRSV criminally accountable need to be strengthened, and no amnesty or immunity should be granted to perpetrators of such crimes. An open debate on CRSV is scheduled in the UN Security Council for April 2019.