OpinionOpinion, Opinion column

Cameroon’s Anglophone population at risk

There is a growing risk of mass atrocity crimes due to increasing violence between government security forces and armed separatists…

There is a growing risk of mass atrocity crimes due to increasing violence between government security forces and armed separatists in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions.

Political tensions over cultural rights and identity have been growing in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions since 2016 when English-speaking lawyers, students and teachers began protesting against their under-representation and cultural marginalization by the Francophone-dominated government. Violent repression by the security forces resulted in arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, and the killing of several protesters.

Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon were unified in 1961, but there have been long-term disputes over the extent to which government resources and access to employment have been controlled by the French-speaking majority. Although the Anglophone minority constitutes 20 percent of the population of Cameroon, they are concentrated in the Northwest and Southwest regions. President Paul Biya has held power in Cameroon since 1982.

The recent crisis in Cameroon deepened after Anglophone separatists organized large-scale protests from 22 September to 1 October 2017 and symbolically proclaimed independence, establishing a state of “Ambazonia.” During the protests security forces responded with disproportionate and deadly force, leading to at least 40 deaths. Since then, violence between security forces and armed separatists has escalated. Government forces have arbitrarily arrested and tortured detainees, and destroyed a number of villages in the Anglophone regions.

Separatist forces have also killed at least 44 military personnel and attacked teachers for not participating in a separatist boycott. At least 40 schools in the Anglophone region have been burned down. Some armed separatist groups have kidnapped state officials and sought to make the Anglophone areas “ungovernable.” According to the UN, more than 180,000 people have fled their homes as a result of the ongoing violence.

Military operations against the armed extremist group Boko Haram also continue in the north of the country. There have been widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings, especially following the recent circulation of a video showing two women and two children accused of links to Boko Haram being executed by Cameroonian soldiers.

The targeting of individuals based upon their cultural identity and perceived political allegiances poses a direct threat to both Anglophone and Francophone civilians. Although the government created the Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism during 2017, it has failed to address the root causes of the conflict and provide a political means for peacefully resolving it.

There are also growing concerns that upcoming presidential elections in October could lead to a further escalation and militarization of the conflict.

The government of Cameroon is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect in the Anglophone regions and requires international assistance to end the conflict and prevent potential atrocity crimes.

Since 2017 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has called for the government of Cameroon to conduct impartial investigations into violence in the Anglophone regions. On 17 November 2017 six UN Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement urging the government to engage in meaningful dialogue and halt violence in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon.

On 20 June the European Union called upon the government to allow UN bodies access to the Southwest and Northwest Cameroon.

The government of Cameroon should immediately initiate a dialogue with Anglophone community leaders and constructively address the historic grievances of the English-speaking minority. The security forces must end the use of disproportionate and deadly force and ensure that the human rights of all Cameroonians are protected, regardless of language or cultural identity. Soldiers responsible for the unlawful killing of civilians must be held accountable for their actions.

The government should allow the UN access to Southwest and Northwest Cameroon to investigate potential human rights violations and abuses, including those committed by armed separatists

*Source: R2P Monitor