On Saturday, 24 October, a group of unidentified armed men attacked the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy in Kumba, south-west Cameroon, shooting and killing at least eight children and wounding twelve others. Both the government and armed separatist groups have accused one another of perpetrating the attack, but no one has officially claimed responsibility. According to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Cameroon, Matthias Z. Naab, this attack is the “worst atrocity since the resumption of the school year on 5 October.” Schools had been closed for seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, more than 1,000 students and teachers have been threatened, abducted, injured or killed by armed groups or state security forces in Cameroon between 2017 and 2019. Most of these attacks took place in the Anglophone regions in the south-west and north-west of the country, following a declaration of independence by armed separatists in October 2017.
Throughout the conflict in Cameroon, government forces have been widely accused of extrajudicial killings and the burning of Anglophone villages. Armed separatist groups, meanwhile, have threatened and attacked teachers and students for not adhering to their ban on government-controlled education. This has resulted in 80 percent of schools in the Anglophone regions being closed or destroyed, affecting more than 609,000 children. Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund, has stated that all attacks on schools in Cameroon “are a grave violation of children’s rights. Schools must be places of safety and learning, not death traps.”
Despite escalating violence during 2020, both the African Union (AU) and UN Security Council (UNSC) have failed to treat the deadly conflict in Cameroon with the seriousness that it deserves. After three years of armed violence and the displacement of more than 770,000 civilians, the AU and UNSC should help facilitate a ceasefire and an inclusive dialogue between the government and separatist groups, mediated by a neutral player on neutral territory.
All parties to the conflict in Cameroon must immediately halt attacks on schools, students and teachers. As a signatory to the Safe School Declaration, the government of Cameroon should conduct an independent investigation of the “Kumba massacre” and hold perpetrators accountable, regardless of their affiliation.
Last Saturday, 24 October, a suicide bomb detonated outside the Kawsar-e Danish educational centre in Kabul, Afghanistan, killing at least 24 civilians, including teenage students. The attack occurred in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, which is predominantly populated by the Hazara Shia minority community. The armed extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K), who have previously targeted Hazaras, later claimed responsibility for the attack.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) described the attack on the educational center as a “callous and senseless war crime.” ISIL-K was also widely accused of being responsible for an attack in May this year on a maternity hospital in Dasht-e-Barchi, where at least 24 people were killed, including women and newborn babies.
The bombing of the Kawsar-e Danish educational centre was the latest in a series of deadly attacks on civilians in Afghanistan. The use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) across the country has resulted in widespread casualties while air raids by the Afghan government have also killed dozens of civilians, including 12 children in Takhar province when bombs hit a mosque on 22 October. According to Amnesty International, more than 180 civilians were killed in the month preceding 20 October, including at least 16 civilians killed by a car bombing in Ghor province on 18 October.
Deadly clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces continue despite the ongoing intra-Afghan negotiations. On 11 October the Taliban launched an offensive in Lashkar Gar, Helmand province. At least 35,000 Afghan civilians have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the fighting. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has also reported that the provision of critical humanitarian aid has been interrupted, as IEDs have rendered the highway between Kandahar and Lashkar Gar inaccessible.
UNAMA has recorded at least 6,000 civilian casualties so far this year and has called on both the Taliban and the Afghan security forces “to take all feasible measures to protect civilians.” Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “a comprehensive ceasefire must be immediately implemented. The peace talks will be meaningless if they don’t contribute to improved security and respect for the human rights of all Afghans, including the country’s long suffering Hazara minority.”
Clashes erupted between security forces and opposition supporters in Guinea following voting in presidential elections on 18 October. Even before incumbent President Alpha Condé was announced the winner on 24 October, violent protests took place in numerous cities, with opposition supporters contesting the election results and often fighting with supporters of the government.
According to the state news channel, at least 21 people have been killed since 19 October, while human rights groups have reported that security forces have used live ammunition against demonstrators. At least 100 people were also reportedly wounded when security forces surrounded the house of opposition candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo on 20 October, after he prematurely declared himself winner of the elections.
The election occurred amidst warnings by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the acting Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that hate speech and inflammatory rhetoric was increasing ethnic tensions. Election-related violence and violent repression by security forces has been ongoing since October 2019, leading to more than 50 deaths in the past year.
Given Guinea’s past history of political conflict and atrocity crimes, the current violent crackdown by security forces and increased ethnic tensions could have grave consequences. On Monday, 26 October, a delegation from the African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the UN met with both the government and opposition. UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement urging both sides to resolve disputes over the election result through established legal mechanisms, end the violence, and engage in meaningful dialogue. The Secretary-General also urged “opinion leaders and the media to desist from inflammatory rhetoric and divisive appeals based on ethnicity.”
The AU and ECOWAS should exert maximum pressure on Guinea’s authorities to immediately end all human rights violations and abuses committed against Guineans for exercising their right to free speech and peaceful assembly. All candidates, government representatives and political parties in Guinea should publicly reject attempts to further divide and mobilize Guineans on the basis of ethnicity.