Cameroon’s current struggle between the majority Francophones and the minority Anglophones is the subject of a June 12 Amnesty International (AI) report.
Recent History of Conflict
This report says the “unrest began in October 2016 when “lawyers and teachers in English-speaking cities went on strike in protest at having to use French in schools and courtrooms. In the ensuing clashes, six protesters were killed and hundreds arrested, some of whom were put on trial for charges carrying long sentences or the death penalty.”
English-speaking teachers and lawyers in the northwest and southwest then began calling for reforms and greater autonomy, criticizing what they called “the marginalization of the Anglophone population by French speakers.” In response, the government started a “crackdown, including arrests and an internet shutdown. . . . English-language separatists then picked up the momentum, calling for an independent state.”
The separatists then “burned down schools and killed at least 44 members of security forces in the past year. . . . They have vowed to paralyze the country until their leader Ayuk Tabe, who declared himself the president of the English-speaking Republic of Ambazonia, is released. He was arrested in December  with 48 others in neighboring Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon.”
The government forces then “responded with arbitrary arrests and unlawful killings.” According to AI’s investigation, people “were blindfolded, gagged and beaten with shovels, hammers, planks and cables.” Samira Daoud, AI’s deputy director for West and Central Africa, said, “Security forces have indiscriminately killed, arrested and tortured people during military operations which have also displaced thousands of civilians.”
On October 1, 2017—the anniversary of Anglophone region’s independence from Britain–thousands took to the streets to demand a breakaway state. The military stepped in. Witnesses said troops opened fire from attack helicopters; the military denied this. [As a result,] “thousands of Anglophones fled the ensuing crackdown, which Cameroon authorities said was necessary to restore peace and curb banditry. They described it as an anti-terrorist operation.”
A month later, separatists launched the first guerrilla attacks on security forces, killing four over a few days.
This February witnesses say the government forces used “scorched earth tactics such as burning down villages then opening fire on fleeing residents. Then late last month the conflict’s bloodiest incident happened when government security forces “surrounded and killed more than two dozen suspected separatists in the town of Menka, in Cameroon’s Northwest Region.”
France and Britain, which governed the country under League of Nations mandates after World War I until 1960 have tried to stay out of this conflict. France has condemned separatist violence and urged dialogue while Britain has “encouraged the parties to reject violence.”
Based upon this investigation and report, AI made the following recommendations to the Cameroonian authorities:
- Conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of human rights violations detailed in this report;
- Ensure that those identified as responsible for any human rights violations are promptly and fairly prosecuted in accordance with international fair-trial standards;
- Take all legal measures to ensure accountability for crimes committed by the armed separatists.
Preventing arbitrary arrest and detention
- Ensure that arrests and detentions are conducted in compliance with international human rights standards and domestic law, and that all security forces are trained on and understand these norms;
- Ensure that there are sufficient, recognizable and precise grounds for arrest and that evidence is appropriately gathered. A suspect must only be arrested if there is a reasonable suspicion that he or she may have committed a crime. If there are insufficient grounds for arrest, the person must be immediately released;
- Ensure that detainees are promptly brought before an independent civilian court that upholds international fair-trial standards, are informed of the charges against them, and have knowledge of and access to legal procedures allowing them to challenge the legality of their detention.
Preventing incommunicado detention, torture and death in custody
- Ensure that all detained suspects are treated in accordance with international human rights standards, which includes access to a lawyer of their choice, family, medical assistance, to be held in a legal detention facility, in humane conditions free from cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and torture;
- Publicly order the security forces to end the practice of detaining and interrogating people in unofficial detention sites;
- Ensure that confessions or other evidence obtained through torture will never be invoked in legal proceedings;
- Grant independent international monitors, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), unhindered access to all persons deprived of their liberty and allow them to carry out unannounced inspections of all detention facilities to investigate and monitor conditions;
- Improve conditions in detention facilities and preserve prisoners’ physical and psychological integrity by providing all detainees with professional medical care, adequate food, water, lighting, and ventilation, in accordance with international standards.
Avoiding excessive and unnecessary use of force
- Ensure that security forces abide by international policing standards, including the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, when responding to protests, and in particular restricting the use of firearms to situations of imminent threat of death or serious injury, or the equivalent;
- Issue clear orders to the military, the gendarmes and the police commanders to immediately cease the use of excessive force in the context of cordon, search-and-arrest operations, as well as during public demonstrations;
- Respect and protect the right of all persons to peacefully assemble and to associate with others.
Providing effective remedies to victims
- Ensure that all victims of human rights violations and abuses are granted reparation including measures of restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.
- Restore the confidence between state representatives and the Anglophone communities by initiating an inclusive dialogue and consult with Anglophone population to address their concerns;
- Address deeply-entrenched human rights violations, such as marginalization and exclusion, to prevent the escalation of the crisis and the resurgence of other social conflicts that often generate violence.
For members of the Cameroonian diaspora and for U.S. citizens, please let your elected representatives know of your concern for the welfare of the Cameroonian Anglophones. Support our brothers and sisters in that great country! I also invite comments with other ideas for engaging in this struggle from the U.S.
 Amnesty Int’l, Cameroon: Anglophone Regions Gripped by Deadly Violence (June 11, 2018); Amnesty Int’l, Cameroon: A Turn for the Worse (June 11, 2018); Assoc. Press, Civilians Caught in Cameroon’s Deadly Unrest Over Language, N.Y. Times (June 12, 2018); Reuters, Explainer: Anglophone Cameroon’s Separatist Conflict Gets Bloodier, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2018).